‘Word pedometer’ introduced to aid development

Conversation is crucial to early brain and speech development in children
Conversation is crucial to early brain and speech development in children

Technology that measures the number of words children hear is being used to improve their development.

Home-Start is introducing the American LENA HOME system to the UK and the Arun, Worthing and Adur branch is one of the first to use the programme.

Children wear a ‘word pedometer’ device one day a week for 12 weeks and trained coaches use the results to help families improve their communication with their offspring.

Charlotte Simmons, senior organiser, said: “The results from this new technique are quickly visible, parents are motivated to increase the word count week on week and children are benefiting immediately from the initiative.

“We are thrilled to be exploring this for local families struggling with their child’s limited speech.”

Home Start UK received funding from the Department for Education for the pilot in four areas of the country. Having seen successful early results, the charity has now received £214,805 from innovation foundation Nesta to expand the project to 21 new areas, including ours.

Experts say interactive talk is crucial to early brain and speech development, so it is important to encourage conversation with children aged under three.

Children who have limited speech raise concerns over their readiness for school but not all meet the threshold for therapist support. Home-Start says that is where this new tech method comes in.

The LENA (Language Environmental Analysis) tool measures the number of spoken words the child hears, and trained volunteers support families, at no cost.

The tool can distinguish between adult and child human voices and digital speech, as well as highlighting the quiet times in the day.

The volunteers use the results to encourage parents to talk, read and sing more, using new words to increase their child’s vocabulary and understanding.

The coaching style keeps parents motivated through weekly sessions over three months.

Parents who have used the tool say it made them realise how important it was to talk to their child. They found increasing interaction made their child more content and made them feel closer.

To find out more about this new initiative, or to donate funds to support local families, call scheme manager and LENA lead Bridget Richardson on 01903 889707.