The Thirty Million Words (TMW) initiative, directed by Dr. Dana Suskind, is an innovative, evidence-based intervention program designed to help narrow the language gap between children from lower-income families and those in wealthier households.

Studies have demonstrated that the number of words a child is exposed to before the age of four is significantly correlated with the child’s eventual IQ and academic outcomes. Furthermore, this early language exposure is correlated with income: children from lower-income households hear, on average, about thirty million words fewer than their peers from more affluent homes during this critical developmental period, leaving them less likely to achieve academic success. Dr. Suskind created TMW in 2010 to address this gap by bringing awareness to the importance of spoken language in early childhood development and giving parents the tools and knowledge to enrich their children’s home language environment.

TMW combines education, technology, and behavioral strategies in an interactive multimedia curriculum for parents. Home visits from coaches, animations that make the underlying science of the project accessible, and videos teaching easy-to-follow strategies lay the foundation for parents to enhance their linguistic interaction with their children. Quantitative feedback gleaned from weekly recordings of the home language environment is provided to parents to help monitor progress and set goals.

Recent preliminary trials have showed that parents and caregivers who received this quantitative linguistic feedback spoke and interacted more with their children. In April 2014, TMW was selected for a PNC Foundation multi-year grant that will support a larger-scale, five-year longitudinal study of the program’s impact on vocabulary development and school readiness in 200-250 children. TMW will soon be implemented at the community level with a center-based approach that includes daycare facilities, with the long-term goal of reaching parents and caregivers at the citywide level and beyond.

TMW’s curriculum and the scientific evaluation of its results require a significant amount of computing power and data storage. The TMW team enlisted the CRI’s help with expanding and refining the functionality of its existing software system to allow for more efficient data capture and to find a compliant, secure hosting solution for its expanding databases.

For the first phase of the project, our IT Operations and Infrastructure team has provisioned a set of virtual machines to host TMW’s software in Kenwood Data Center. Over the next two years, the CRI’s application development experts will have the lead role in creating a suite of applications for Dr. Suskind and the TMW team. We look forward to contributing our resources and expertise to this innovative project.

Update, November 2016

Since project initiation in October 2014, the CRI’s application development team has been a key collaborator in developing and supporting the informatics operations for the Thirty Million Words project. As collaborators in this research, the team meets regularly with study personnel in order to align the informatics components of the study with the evolving research. Given the quality of CRI work on the core Thirty Million Words study platform, the CRI was selected to design and deploy software for two associated TMW studies: TMW-Well Baby and TMW-Starting Five. The former went into production in July of 2016 and the latter will be deployed in November 2016. The partnership between CRI and TMW continues to be extremely productive.