Two faculty members at Eastern Washington University have developed a community research campaign to promote language development in children, helping them to grow their vocabulary and raise their reading levels by having everyday conversations with adults.
Created by Allison Wilson, PhD and assistant professor of early childhood education, and Shanna Davis, PhD and assistant professor of psychology, Project ELLO (Everyday Language Learning Opportunities) launched last September in the Airway Heights Grocery Outlet with colorful signs placed throughout the store to encourage conversations between parents and their children.
Wilson’s and Davis’ project is based on a line of research from the past 30 years called the vocabulary gap – children’s vocabulary skills are linked to how many words they hear before kindergarten, which is linked to word development and reading achievement. Their goal is to engage families in spaces they’re already frequenting, such as the grocery store or library, reducing the amount of time and money parents have to spend on language development programs.
“This isn’t just a good idea that we had because we thought it would be stimulating,” said Davis. “We want parents to know that talking is teaching.”
The project primarily targets children, ranging in age from birth to five, with colorful signs strategically placed in a public space to promote a conversation. For example, a sign placed in the produce section of a grocery store says, “Hello friends! I spy with my eagle eye…something that grows on a tree!”
“Even if your young child is not talking back to you yet, these types of conversations are still really important because they’re internalizing these conversations and building that backlog of vocabulary so that when they do have those motor skills to speak, they have this experience,” said Wilson.
Project ELLO has been in the works for the past two years, with materials most recently added to the Airway Heights Grocery Outlet and Spokane County Libraries. Wilson and Davis hope to create more community partnerships throughout the Spokane region to further the project’s reach.
“The only way this project works is if it is seen in multiple places; it’s a comprehensive approach throughout the community,” Wilson said. “A family is not going to see one poster and change everything, but if they happen to see it in multiple places, they may be likely to engage.”
For more information on Project ELLO, visit their website.