Language Development for Disadvantaged Infants and Toddlers

ISSUE No. 9 • FALL ’17
Language Development for Disadvantaged Infants and Toddlers
Story by Kelly Hochbein

Early intervention shouldn’t be one-size-fits-all, said Patricia Manz, professor of School Psychology. This is especially true for ethnic minority, non-English-speaking children from low-income families.  

Manz and her team conducted a meta-analysis of all studies involving language/literacy intervention for children between the ages of 2 and 5 that involved a home component. Their findings were compelling—although the interventions worked well for white children from middle-income families, they did not work at all for minority children from low-income families.  

“To put it in perspective, the middle-class and Caucasian kids had really large effect size and the effect sizes we calculated for ethnic and linguistic minority children were so minimal that they didn’t even qualify as a small effect."

Patricia Manz, Professor of Schoo Psychology

In response to this disparity, Manz and her team created Little Talks, an intervention that supports the language development of infants and toddlers from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds. Little Talks fosters multiple approaches to book sharing based on individual parent needs and preferences.

Doctoral students conducted home visits with families for a 10-week initial iteration featuring widely known book-sharing interventions such as the interactive technique of dialogic reading. They then analyzed the data collected during the first iteration and modified the second intervention accordingly. After a series of three iterations and subsequent modifications, Manz and her team developed the modular curriculum for Little Talks, which is meant to be delivered to parents in the context of a home visiting program and implemented over at least six months. Centered on but not limited to book sharing, Little Talks focuses on how parents might engage their children in dialogue and communication.

“Our goal is that we can start with parents where they are in terms of how comfortable they are, but also their natural book-sharing style, [to] strengthen that while we try to expose them to varied and advanced things,” said Manz. 

Related implementation support from supervisors provided home visitors with the skills and knowledge needed to make the appropriate clinical decisions for each family.  

“As home visitors became more skilled with Little Talks and worked with the parents, the parents were showing greater involvement in their child's learning,” said Manz, who just published a paper on Little Talks in the journal Children and Youth Services. “We’re seeing that it also affected the quality of the home visits. So as home visitors became more skilled in some of the implementation supports for Little Talks, they were able to connect better with their families [and] teach their families better.”

Although further study is needed, Manz feels confident about the project’s direction. 

“I think we’re on to something. I feel very comfortable saying that. But there's a lot that we need to do.”