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Recipe for Early Vocabulary Success

Closing the vocabulary gap for early learners by creating meaningful experiences with food and literacy.

Photo of Carla Briggs
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Updates: How has your idea changed or evolved throughout the Prize? What updates have you made to this submission? (1500 characters)

At first, EYW met the daily meal needs of small daycare centers. We provided centers with a 4-week menu plan that aligned with relevant books to encourage conversions around meal time. Alignment provided students with access to a variety of nutritious options. Students were able to express their knowledge about the stories they read and the food they ate. This iteration proved to have operational issues such as trouble meeting all regulation demands, being cost-effective for centers, and having human resources to consistently give quality meals. Reconstructing our model to focus on literacy development we began to explore the connections of food found in books. In doing so we were able to see positive changes in student behaviors when we joined books, our tools and intentional experiences with food. Students develop more interest in books and their characters, they were able to re-tell stories and answer comprehension questions. The results of the observation led us to strategically design a 3-month trial to see the effects of a class using EYW as a curriculum. Collecting feedback and monitoring growth we were able to see student double their learning targets. Implemented user feedback in the design of our cards and the way student communicated about their experiences in personal portfolios. Change in design offered us opportunities to communicate about our tool and the effectiveness of using it. We were able to do trial with other centers and organizations.

Name or Organization

Eat Your Words Learning Tools, LLC


We currently serve local schools, daycare centers, and organization in the greater New Orleans Area. Tools and resources can be used and adapted to meet the needs of people across the state of Louisiana and the United States.

What is your stage of development?

  • Early Stage Innovator, with at least one-year experience in ECD


  • For - Profit

What is the stage of your proposal?

  • Piloting: I have started to implement my solution as a whole with a first set of real users.

Describe your submission in one clear sentence

Eat Your Words is closing the vocabulary gap across New Orleans, by creating intentional connections through meaningful experiences with food, literacy, play at home, school and on-the-go. Eat Your Words Learning Tools develops early childhood students into confident readers and eaters.

Describe how your solution could be a game-changer for your selected Opportunity Area (600 characters)

Conversations around food and printed materials is a natural part of our day. EYW leverages these verbal interactions with adults and early learners. Student brain development and future intellectual capacity are influenced by positive verbal interactions with adults around the things they eat and read. Giving parents and educators tools & practice in support of changing the way they communicate with students. EYW is making the ordinary interactions with food and books intentional and extraordinary. Learning is always happening around us we just need to maximize it.

Select an Innovation Target

  • Product: A new or enhanced physical product that creates value for end beneficiaries.

Tell us more about your innovation (1500 characters)

Eat Your Words aims to uses curriculum, experiences, and literacy to develop student skills, train teachers, and assist parents in closing the 30 million word gap. EYW tools are appropriate for early learner. (1) Snack cards and felt food help students make connections with the books they hear and the food they eat. They increase their ability to comprehend stories and recreate real-life experiences. They begin to show awareness of print, math concepts and interest in books. (2)Book tastings and play-dates give parents access to quality books and practices to support language development. For two hours families get to explore and sample book options to change their cognitive home environment. They look at how simple food pairing can encourage the student to try new foods and books. They walk away with the ability to identify and advance their paternal involvement. Play-dates are fun for parents and students. Students explore while parent observes ways to merge students in meal time and prep. They also see how student socially engage with others while learning. (3) Teacher Pantries helps the teacher plan and implement lessons that are student driven. Using a Constructivism model, we Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate collaboratively with educators. Interactive storytelling engages the educators and then explore/experience centers like students. This process allows them to plan on how to explain, elaborate, and evaluate lessons.

What problem are you aiming to solve? (3 sentences)

Language development of students living in poverty is impacted by a 30 million word gap. Lack of resources, the stress of surviving, and limited quality adult conversations leaves them with a disadvantage in development. In New Orleans, 37% of students live in poverty and there is a scarcity of intentional resources to address early development. Shrinking this word gap requires that parents and educators have support to extend conversations with students than shutting them down.

Explain your idea (5000 characters)

The School Readiness Recipe is an 18-week curriculum that creates, develops, and supports students, families, and educators in strengthening verbal interactions around books and food. EYW provides schools and centers with Tool Kits, Professional Development, Coaching and Family Engagement Experiences to close the 30 million word gap. Curriculum Tool Kits Curriculum Tool Kits include assessments, lesson plans, book guides, and learning tools aligned to Louisiana’s birth to five development standards. Concept development, quality of feedback and language modeling tips for best practices are taught and modeled to improve CLASS observation scores. Assessments Educators participate in instructional support assessments to gauge understandings of planning, executing and reflecting on observations on classroom interactions with students. Individual Learning Plans reflect assessment results to train and coach educators. Real-time feedback on product and service iterations are collected and used for development. Vocabulary assessments serve as a planning and growth motoring tools. Assessments are geared to students age and ability. Parent will complete a StimQ2 Cognitive Environment Assessment. Awareness of diversity, quantity, and quality of books is a mindful activity of what types of books are available in the home environment. Supporting student development requires that parents identify their verbal responsivity during routines, play, and activities. Accountability plans and tip sheet guide parents to be active in improving cognitive home environments. Tool Kits Seven Food and Cooking Investigation Topics scope and sequences layout lesson progression for the 16-week instructional time. Topic manuals include weeks at glance pages for planning, daily mis en place (preparation plans), weekly objectives, goals, and learning tools instructions. Each activity and tool is broken down by standards, skill level, and center support guides. Tips and adaptions are readily available. Book guides and learning tools with instructions are included to deepen learning. Professional Development Educators will receive student-driven professional development and coaching throughout the implementation of the 18-week program (2 weeks of pre and post work- 16 weeks of instruction). An introduction to EYW program targets and objectives explained the outline of effective implementation during the first week of training. Tools and resources will be explored to increase comfortability with the products. Educators will receive environment implementation support (organization and storage guidance). Coaching for lesson execution and classroom management procedures. Family Engagement Experiences Family engagement experiences include a 2 hr Book Tastings at the beginning of the 18-week program. Introduced to curriculum goals and objectives are presented during this time. Educators and families build relationships as the sample books together. Educators gain beginning insights of family attitudes and behaviors about books. Educators and parents can offer and receive suggestions about books and food pairing. Creating a neutral exploring environment to set expectations and present incentives for participation welcomes all stakeholders on this journey of building a firm foundation. To reinforce parental involvement in advance development six Cook the Book Play-Dates are schedule over the 18-week program. Servey of best times will offer times for parent to have fun learning with their kids. Accountability check-ins are completed during play-dates. Resources and tips are also provided during this time.

Who benefits? (1500 characters)

Students Student's benefit from a robust vocabulary and new effective ways to communicate with adults and peers. Developed vocabularies assist the early learner in clearly stating concerns and preferences. Students who verbalized their concerns helped us correct a design flaw in our felt food chocolate chips. This discovery during play forced us to redesign, thus benefiting in product development. Experiencing their voice being heard students also develop confidence and value in the effectiveness of their communication. Classrooms benefits were observed during our trial. The teachers found the products were easy to use and very engaging. The instructional tools blended and integrated into the classroom routines to make connections and deepen learning. The seamless implementation that incorporated measurable learning and plays added value to a busy productive class. The observable individual growth of student's authentic engagement helped them perform without being under pressure. Teachers are relieved and encouraged by how many standards are being accomplished in simple intentional activities. Schools and daycare centers have a way to engage families in daily learning with literacy and life benefits. Parents benefit from tools to advance their involvement in the student's development. Students that are ready for success in school are better prepared for life. More citizen with a strong literacy foundation benefits the city, state, and nation.

What kind of impact will your idea have? (1500 characters)

Only 52% of students, in Orleans Parish public schools, have nearly met or meet college and career readiness expectations. Starting in Pre-K 3, allows EYW to use a developmentally appropriate and rigorous curriculum to close the vocabulary and literacy gap with food, books, practice, and play. By 2024, we will serve 3,000 students that are equipped with the necessary tools to achieve basic or mastery in ELA on Louisiana LEAP 2025. EYW will join in with the efforts of the New Orleans Campaign for Grade-Level Reading by supporting the goal to increase school readiness by increasing family participation in the social-emotional and literacy development of children. Using the StimQ Cognitive Home Environment Assessment, student age-appropriate vocabulary assessments and classroom observations we will monitor and record student progress to inform families and educations about student growth and needs. During the 2015 school year, the average Instructional Support CLASS score for Pre- K classrooms was 2.8 on a 7.0 scale. EYW will use Teacher Pantries (Professional Development) to increase the EC educators Instructional Support score to 5 by providing the teacher with effective training that promotes discussions with students that uses higher order thinking. Educators get resources and time to practice instructional techniques to deepen children’s understanding. Collaborate on ways to stimulate and facilitate language development and give effective feedback.

How does or how could your idea impact low-income children? (1500 characters)

There is a vocabulary gap that exists because of the impact of the economic disparities faced by families in New Orleans. Before entering kindergarten, students face skill and knowledge delays that if not address will lead to knowledge gaps that are detrimental to social mobility, health and safety and civic engagement. In New Orleans, 39% percent of children live in poverty and their beginning experiences with print are shaped by their environment both at home and school. EYW tools and resources to support parents and educators to create a literacy-rich environment. Long-term underemployment and unemployment have major effects on the cognitive development of children. Poverty has an impact on the family's ability to invest monetarily in resources related to child development and to invest in emotional resources for the child’s well being. Lack of income prevents parents from making purchases of stimulating learning materials and activities. EYW provide cost-effective tools, books and training to improve paternal involvement. These experiences both at home and in schools are sending more and more children to kindergarten unprepared for education demands. EYW helps parents be active in advance development of students. Students that have teams of adults at school and home to support their learning.

Innovation: What makes your concept innovative? (1500 characters)

EYW uses ordinary things like food and meals to develop early learners. Best practices that set firm foundations for learning and living is not a new idea. EYW uses the proven process and partners them with everyday activities to reinvest parent and educators. Our model interlocks homes, classrooms, and schools equal parts in creating strong learning foundations. EYW strengthens the bonds of the key stakeholders: students, parents, and educators. Bonds are developed, strengthened and reinforced by intentional instruction, the collaboration of adults and repetitive practice of essential skills.

Scale: Describe how your idea could reach a significant number of end-users. (1500 characters)

There are 233 pre-k programs in the 5-mile radius of our location in New Orleans. Strategic partnerships with center director, schools, and lead organization we aim to service 3000 students which add up to about 200 classrooms. Ten professional development cohorts over the 2018-2019 school year will get us to our end-user target. Target centers are feeders to K-8 schools. This allows us to implement scaffold programing from Pre-K 3 to 2nd grade. Product production cost reduces with this market size but still is a barrier to implementation. Solidifying production and market opportunity help us reach our target market.

Feasibility: Where are you with understanding the feasibility of your idea? Describe what you’ve done so far and your plans. (3000 characters)

EYW is creating and market demand by starting small and showcasing benefits to potential customers. The decision maker at schools and organizations are ready to purchase from our sample run. Four major charter networks and local organizations will purchase and use our product for the 2018-2019 school year. That covers only 30 classes towards our end-user goal. We are now seeking out a sales team to support growth and goals. Strategic partnerships with new Early Childhood Initiatives across the city and state will secure our place in the market and open opportunities to reach our end-user goal. We are slowly building infrastructure and organization systems to support customer acquisition and support. Providing consistent exceptional service and products will take a team. We are beginning the search for the best fit for our core team. Early Childhood Initiatives such as the Child Care Curriculum Initiative Guidance Packet gives insight into Curriculum competitors that the state approves and the criteria they used to evaluate them. Our professional experience using varies curriculums and this information will give us a competitive advantage.

Business Viability: How viable is your business model? (1500 characters)

EYW has gained momentum and viability by creating and developing quality products and services that are sustainable. We are working with daycare centers, parents, educators, schools and community organizations to build with them to support early childhood language growth. During our three month pilot, we were able to validate our model and gain valuable feedback. Growth on student assessments doubled, 90% of people attending our events expressed interest in repeat attendance, and adults were able to implement small changes with students after events. We have partnerships with 4.0 Schools, NOLA Edible School, LA Children's Museum, The New Orleans Public Library, and Dillard University to provide our services and products. Our model pitched and won 3rd place at PitchNOLA Education in 2017. We have faithful social media followers that have helped us gained over 3,000 video views to share our vision.

HCD: How have you used human centered design to build or refine your concept? (1500 characters)

EYW was created to support the learning needs of high-risk students in New Orleans classrooms. Tools are created to support students that live at or below the poverty line who are capable of learning but need a creative solution to connect them to learning. Their exposure to high levels of trauma and stress creates challenges for the effectiveness of a traditional curriculum. The struggle to make connects to stories and characters they didn't relate to their lives was frustrating. Student focus led me to things they get excited about food. Using that excitement adjustment we made to make the connection with food and culture through books. Books and the printed word informs the lives we live and it never to early learn that connnection. I was able to capture through photo our 3-month trial making lasting connects with pre-k students. EYW exists because of them and is design specifically for them.

Tell us more about you (3000 characters)

Though I struggled in the traditional classroom setting, there was another "classroom" that become a place I flourished, the kitchen. Education, experience, knowledge, and skills in Culinary Arts and the Art of Teaching have given me the competence and expertise to be a Chef Educator. As a Chef Educator, my unique balance of art and professional experience in the kitchen and the classroom helps me to add a perspective that is desperately needed in education. Teacher training taught me tools to develop student skills but often miss the opportunity to help them apply those skills to their daily lives. Seeing students struggle to read words like “cereal”, burdened and challenged me to change the way I taught. While serving students and families in New Orleans, I have seen the impact of poverty and poor education experiences has on the quality of life of students and their future. Making learning practical and delicious is my way of being the change I want to see in the world. Early Childhood has been the perfect space for exploring my gifts and talents. An investment in early childhood, in my opinion, is a solution and prevention to all other education issues. The return on this investment is so worth it. The organized chaos of true learning is a sweet utopia in education. Best practice and freedom to focus on developing your craft as an educator.

Do you have the people and partners you need to do what you’ve described? (500 characters)

EYW has partnerships with local for-profit and non-profit organizations in Louisiana. Five charter school networks in purchasing products and training. We are working with the public library and museums to provide play-dates and workshops. We have interest and potential users we need support in production and scaling our growth.

As you consider your next steps, what kinds of help could you use? Is there a type of expertise that would be most helpful? (1800 characters)

Curriculum development and design support is our challenge. We need help in developing a team build and implement changes from user feedback. Scaling our professional development do train others is crucial to our growth. To reach our goals we need a strong model to implement.

[Optional] Biography: Upload your biography. Please include links to relevant information (portfolio, LinkedIn profile, organization website, etc).

Chef Carla Briggs is the creator and founder of Eat Your Words Learning Tools in New Orleans, LA. She is a chef, certified educator, and known for her desire to create equality in education and food literacy. Carla has served in varying leadership capacities with faith-based and non-profit agencies in the New Orleans Area She is passionate about seeing students and families authentically live out their Faith through reading and knowing God’s Word. She has knowledge and experience in education,


Join the conversation:

Photo of Peggy Sissel, Ed.D.

Hi Carla, I LOVE this idea! Congratulations. You may be interested in some of the resources that my company, Brain Child Press, has available for programs like yours. We have a curriculum called "All About Farmers' Markets," beautiful fruit and veggie flash cards in English/Spanish, and fruit, veggie, and healthy snacks matching games. We also have nonfiction, photo-illustrated books. Programs such as SNAP, WIC, Cooperative Extension, Head Start, Farmers' Markets, and others in almost every state in the US have used our materials over the past 12 years. Go to to check it out.

Photo of Carla Briggs

Hi Peggy,
Thank you so much for the encouragement. I love the books and flashcards on your site. Can't wait to add them to my collection. I would love to connect and hear more about your company and these amazing tools. Please email Looking forward to hearing from you.

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