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Audio app for parents of 0-3s, backed by research showing significant language development in young children when parents use it regularly .

Photo of Peggy Sissel, Ed.D.
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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)

Business as a Whole vs. Innovative Products & Services ~ I have made several changes as a result of using this platform. My mentor, Jake - is great, & helped me clarify and hone the message about the core of my business. I also realized the importance of separating the VARIOUS innovations that our company is developing, & the need to highlight each of them in the competition. Each is unique & our role, experience, & length of time as innovator differs in each of them. In other words, OUR COMPANY AS A WHOLE FOCUSES ON INNOVATION IN MULTIPLE WAYS. This App as Example ~ Time2Talk2Baby is a TECHNOLOGY, while our proposed Party Platform is a SOCIAL & BUSINESS MODEL INNOVATION. Both are very different from the SURVEY-BASED, prescriptive menu of personalized suggestions that our "Next Steps for Baby" service offers. More Compelling Language ~ I'll admit it: I'm a bit of a WONK & I tend to write that way. Reading how others on this platform have presented their information has made it evident to me that I need to approach the description of our innovative products & services differently; putting passion into the message is just as important as stressing the effectiveness of the innovation. Inspiration! ~ The breadth of groups and individuals contributing to this challenge is AMAZING! While I have plans outlined for ways to disseminate Time2Talk2Babies, this vast collection of efforts has helped me envision even more ways of collaborating - with everyone!

Name or Organization

Words To Grow On, LLC


Little Rock, AR USA

What is your stage of development?

  • Advanced Innovator with 3 to 10+ years of experience in ECD


  • For - Profit

What is the stage of your proposal?

  • Full-scale roll-out: I have completed a pilot and analyzed the impact of that pilot on the users I am trying to reach with my idea. I am ready to expand the pilot significantly.

Describe your submission in one clear sentence

Simply telling a new parent to talk a lot to their infant offers no real guidance; in fact it may cause confusion or uncertainty if their peers don't engage their babies that way, or if they simply can't think of what to say - so the Time2Talk2Baby app was created to send them a daily, 30-45 sec. audio message that is engaging, encouraging, often humorous, rich in vocabulary & packed full of age-appropriate techniques & topics they can listen & use with their babies from birth to 36 months.

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

Time2Talk2Baby is an evidence-informed app that has demonstrated significant improvements in language development as a result of parents' use. While other apps for parents exist, few have actually been evaluated using the gold standard of research (a randomized controlled study) as we have. RESULTS MATTER! Being able to tell parents & pediatricians that using this free app improves language outcomes sets it apart from the rest as a PROVEN, ACCESSIBLE, & SCALABLE intervention. We also offer the LENA Snapshot to users, a PROVEN way to quickly assess & track baby's language development.

Select an Innovation Target

  • Service: A new or enhanced service that creates value for end beneficiaries.

Tell us more about your innovation (1500 characters)

Time2Talk2Baby is an AUDIO COACHING APP designed to encourage parents to talk, sing & read more to their 0-3 year-olds because of the critical role that exposure to & interaction with language plays in children's development. POOR DEVELOPMENT: Up to one half of all kindergartners arrive at school without the cognitive development, pre-literacy experiences, or social-emotional skills they need to succeed. These kids will struggle to learn to read, some because they don't know their letters, but most because they have poor vocabulary & reading comprehension. If these kids don't read at grade level by 4th grade, it's likely they won't ever read well. The problem is huge: since 1992 the NAEP has found that on average 68% of 4th graders fail to read proficiently, meaning that in the U.S. 89.8 million people between the ages 13-36 aren't good readers. Most will become parents whose homes don't provide a rich language environment. PREMISE OF THE PLATFORM: In the same way that children learn to talk by hearing & interacting with others, parents who need suggestions for interacting with babies need to be able to HEAR examples of things to do & say. Rhymes, songs, & new words bring our app to life & parents become engaged & motivated. THE APP'S FEATURES: A new, 30-45 sec. audio tip opens daily with age-based suggestions for topics, ways to engage baby & easy to understand information. Users can sort by category, mark favorites, and even send audios so others can listen too.

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

Having a baby is stressful as parents adjust & figure out how & when to do what babies need: food, diapers, sleep, etc. The same is true with talk: parents may be told to talk to their baby right from birth BUT LEARNING ABOUT the need to enrich baby's language experience isn't the same as learning HOW TO DO IT. This learning is best accomplished with verbal coaching & modeling - not by written suggestions - so Time2Talk2Baby's engaging & vocabulary-rich daily audio tips fill a vital, unmet need.

Explain your idea (5000 characters)

THREE KEY CONCEPTS AT THE HEART OF TIME2TALK2BABY Any initiative to close The Word Gap (Hart and Risley, 1995) must address three concepts: 1) The QUALITY of the words used & the type of interactions parents & caregivers have with babies is as important as the QUANTITY (Fernald, et al., 2013). 2) Increases in both the quantity & quality of language use will require both COGNITIVE & BEHAVIORAL changes (Prochaska et al, 1992, 1997). 3) Suggestions for behavioral changes must be modeled & reinforced in enjoyable ways if they are to be maintained (Bandura, 1977). IMPLICATIONS OF THESE CRITERIA These criteria suggest that any EFFECTIVE intervention designed to improve verbal interaction with infants/toddlers and affect positive change in their language development and would need to be able to do the following things: 1. Provide a clear, easy to understand rationale for why parents should talk more. 2. Model use of second-tier vocabulary to expand low-literate parents' word knowledge. 3. Encourage them to use a wide-ranging, rich level of vocabulary with their babies. 4. Provide them with regular reinforcement. 5. Make the intervention actionable with examples. For instance, demonstrate ways to extend their interactions, to elicit serve & response behaviors with baby, & to talk as they walk - in other words: provide language enrichment simply by narrating what they do. In other words, interventions aimed at encouraging parents to talk more need to be BASED IN TALK. A VERBAL approach must be used which gives parents an AURAL experience. SMART PHONE USE FOR PARENTING INFORMATION Most U.S. adults now have a smart phone (Pew Research, 2014), and mobile apps are the primary way consumers find info, shop, & connect. Smart phones are also successfully providing individuals with support to quit smoking, lose weight, and more (Evans, et al., 2015). A successful example of this is Text4baby - an app launched in 2010 for low income women who are pregnant and parenting infants. Health care providers promote the program & help women enroll. Text4baby then sends text messages 3x weekly encouraging prenatal visits, eating well and exercising, & gives them periodic fetal growth information. Following birth, texts are sent for a full year that address care, feeding, well child visits, safety, & community resources. Users are also asked whether they have attended doctor appointments. READABILITY AS AN ISSUE Evaluations of Text4baby have been positive. Craft (2013) reported 95% of respondents would recommend it to a friend and rated its helpfulness at 7.8 out of 10, however, Gazmararian, et al. (2012) found that women with higher health literacy levels were more able to use & benefit from the texts, which are written at the 6th grade level. This is not surprising, given that 43% of adults in the U.S. read at about 4th grade or below (NAAL, ERS, 2003). Paragraphs of tiny text on a smart phone clearly reduce access for struggling readers. Readability is also an issue with a new (2014) child enrichment app for parents called Vroom. Vroom provides written suggestions via smart phone. No rigorous evaluations of Vroom are yet available, but our two analyses (using both Fry and Raygor instruments) found the instructions & exercises to be around grades 7 and 8, respectively. Broad app accessibility is vital & low literacy levels restricts full accessibility. While the 22% of children in poverty (AECF, 2015) are most severely affected by the Word Gap, MANY OTHER children also suffer from poor language exposure early in life. For example, 64% of U.S. 4th graders don’t read proficiently (NAEP, 2016). If 22% are at or below the poverty level, the remaining 42% of those students must be in higher income families. In my view, this impact on great numbers of children implicates the poor quality of infant-toddler care in the U.S. (Plumer, 2013). According to the U.S. Dept. of Labor, in 2013 61.1% of working moms had babies under age 3 who needed care. Childcare workers typically have low levels of education & few, if any have been trained how to give children a language-rich environment. BEST OF BOTH CONCEPTS Time2Talk2Baby combines the best attributes of Text4baby and Vroom while eliminating readability issues, enhances the user experience through audio, and can expand the target user base to reach not only parents, but also child care providers in all types of settings. Its short, daily 30-45 second messages consist of suggestions, stories, & songs, & actually helps parents & caregivers learn additional vocabulary as it models language use - without being condescending. No reading is required, & what parents & caregivers hear can be directly applied to their interactions with babies. The beauty of this audio intervention versus text only or a video display, is that the app can be used in the car, or when bathing or changing baby, just with one tap, & without impeding the caregiver's role.

Who benefits? (1500 characters)

WHO BENEFITS ~ * Children increase their vocabulary, improve receptive and expressive language skills, enjoy higher cognitive functioning, develop important social-emotional skills, & are ready for school. * Time2Talk2Baby's users learn new information & develop new skills. Parents will begin to enjoy their babies more as they interact & play, & they will also gain more confidence in their parenting skills as they see the impact they are having on their child's development. Through our platform they can track their child's language development easily & regularly, & ease any worries they may have about possible problems. The opposite is also true, for if the language assessment does pick up developmental delays, earlier diagnoses and intervention is better. * Childcare providers who use Time2Talk2Baby are given daily suggestions that can improve the care they give & help them enjoy their job more! MY EXPERIENCE ~ For the past three and a half years, I have engaged with hundreds of people about this idea, including 200 plus moms who have tried out and given feedback about the prototype during the pilot phase and during the random-controlled experiment we carried out. I also had the opportunity to repeatedly test their young children, & provide results of their development. The moms' reactions to the messaging & to the results of their child's test were incredibly meaningful, with the majority expressing gratitude for being able to be a part of the experience.

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

The attached slide presentation (pdf) details the outstanding results of our testing. In summary: In 2016 Time2Talk2Baby was designated as one of the top 10 innovations promoting better early development by the Health Resources and Services Agency's "Bridging the Word Gap Innovation Competition." For the competition we created a prototype & used a randomized controlled experimental design with 90 moms to evaluate its use. Our treatment moms reported that they increased interaction with their babies, gained new knowledge, & even began encouraging others to talk to their own babies. Even more striking, however, were the large differences in developmental outcomes between the treatment babies & control babies. Our findings, as measured by our research collaborators at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, were statistically significant, both in terms of scale score changes (6 points) and differences in the number of weeks the children advanced in their language skills beyond the 9 week trial period (a mean of 7.7 weeks of additional development vs 1.6 weeks in the control group). In addition, a positive correlation was found between the number of times moms used the app & increased outcomes. Based on these strong results we believe dissemination & use of the app will ramp up quickly. Our aim is to have 340 Grade Level Reading Campaign communities (see attached map) promoting it in the next year. Additional partnerships are also being created.

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

LOW INCOME CORRELATES TO POORER DEVELOPMENT While 64% of 4th graders struggle with reading, for children in poverty that rate hovers around 83%. Time2Talk2Baby can help low income families for several reasons: 1) The app is free and provides easy to understand audio instructions & suggestions. 2) Low income parents may not have been read to as children, & may not even know nursery rhymes or simple songs to share with their kids. The app teaches them short verses & songs that range from silly to soothing. 3) If parents don't read well, they resist interaction with books & reading. The app can encourage them to use books without shame, & to share them by talking about the pictures & making up a stories. 4) The app teaches parents about the importance of giving children exposure to far more words & different kinds of sentence structures than they get through regular interaction. 5) The app can help parents enjoy their child more, which is critical since the worry of the lack of resources causes stress that can lead to depression, few conversational exchanges & harsh interactions such as telling children to leave mama along or shut up. 6) The activities we promote & the information the app provides gives parents a better understanding of child development, which is correlated with a reduction in child abuse. 7) Not only is the app free, but all of the activities and suggestions we provide cost either very little, or are free.

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

Innovative Aspects & Features of Time2Talk2Baby PERSONAL & PLEASANT During full scale testing of Time2Talk2Baby, moms expressed the program felt PERSONAL & connected to their lives. They loved the variety of topics & suggestions, & enjoyed the humor & silliness that sometimes accompanied the recording. In comparison, other apps' monotone recitations don't capture or motivate involvement & continued use. SHORT & SWEET Our messages are purposefully limited to 45 seconds. Initially moms felt that even 60 seconds was too much. There are some apps out there with songs for babies, but they are so long, with several stanzas, that users wouldn't be able to learn them easily. And, parents won't have instruments to back them up. They need something short, sweet, & easy to learn. We provide that. BONUS: OPPORTUNITY TO DO LANGUAGE ASSESSMENT Words To Grow On is also licensed to offer the LENA Research Foundation's Developmental Snapshot, a quick, reliable language skills assessment for babies. As one of only a few in the U.S. able to provide this assessment, our combination of services is groundbreaking. We used the Snapshot with moms before & after our random controlled trial as a way to be able ascertain whether their babies development had improved, & if so, how much beyond the norm for their age. With the Time2Talk2Baby app & the optional "Snapshot," parents can now provide kids with the language enrichment they need, AND measure whether it is working.

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

SCALING ~ The attached illustration of our outreach & dissemination plan shows the range of institutional & community points of contact that we plan on using. The Text4Baby program enrolls moms through community health clinics - we anticipate that kind of collaboration as well, along with dozens of other programs. In conjunction with promotion via media of all sort, we envision broad scale use over time, by the parents of the 12 million 0-3 year olds in the U.S. TARGETING ~ Ensuring accessibility in the growing Latina community requires a Spanish version of Time2Talk2Baby. Additional languages may also be considered. Creating a version specifically for African American fathers - with a male voice - is a recommendation that came from a focus group. SUSTAINABILITY ~ At present, funds are needed to create an Android version of the current app for iOS, & for the subsequent versions referred to above. Beyond that, however, ongoing management & updates of the app will be supported through several different revenue streams, including: Ad revenue: Time2Talk2Baby has banner ads in the app, & larger ads on the audio pages, but only those relevant to babies & families. This may be products, services or community information (i.e. a children's hospital, zoo, etc.). In App Purchases: Payment to remove adds, & to access all audios, rather than having one unlock each day. Users may also purchase written transcripts. The Snapshot: The language assessment will cost $10 - 20.

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

IT'S ACTUALLY HAPPENING! Time2Talk2Baby is not only feasible, it is nearly complete. While Version 1.0 for iOS is completed, it is not yet launched as we are continuing to write & record the over 1,000 messages that are required. We anticipate a launch date of May, 2018. FUNDING FOR OTHER VERSIONS As mentioned above, funding is needed which will allow for the creation of an Android version of the current app, as well as iOS & Androids versions in Spanish & others. We will work with the nationwide Grade Level Reading Campaign to determine which languages to include. Translation of the messages will need to be done, & voice talent to record them are also projected into that cost. OUTREACH, DISSEMINATION, & PROMOTION As mentioned above, we have strong plan of action to disseminate the app and encourage its use. In addition, we have a plan for approaching mass media & using social media to create awareness and promote it. ONGOING RESEARCH The current results of our evaluation are extremely positive. One goal for we have for the app, however, is to eventually be designated as an EVIDENCE-BASED INTERVENTION. That designation can only come through continued, rigorous research. Words To Grow On has recently applied to be part of the University of Chicago's Collaboration for Impact Education (CFI) which would provide funding to carry out a series of randomized controlled trials to continue to test for effectiveness of the app. We are hopeful that we are accepted into this prestigious program. The methodology we used, along with the results of the app study are provided in the pdf at the bottom of the submission page.

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

VIABILITY VIRTUALLY ENSURED Based on the testing we have done, the quality of the product, & the promotional plans we have in place, we know that this is a viable intervention. That, in combination with the projected ad revenue & other revenue streams, the business model is sustainable. There are no unforeseen barriers to successful implementation.

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

Also see the attached PDF Prototype Processes attachment.

Tell us more about you (3000 characters)

MOTHER As a young mother 20 years ago, I was surprised when I was encouraged to talk a lot to my newborn son. Happily, I quickly found my voice and immersed him in a world of words and ideas. RESEARCHER At the time, as a doctoral student in adult and continuing education I knew that far too many families struggled with poverty, poor health, discrimination, poor schools, and more. I also fully understood the prevalence of low literacy in the US, and during my dissertation fieldwork at Head Start had personally seen how such difficulties affected family ecology and communities. HEALTH LITERACY EXPERT In 1994, as a researcher in the department of pediatrics at a medical school, I became interested in the emerging field of health literacy and the ways low literacy impedes access to care and understanding of health information. It is because of my work in that field that I always view everything through the lens of literacy: Issues of accessibility, readability, clarity, and cultural competence must - in my view - be a consideration in any initiative. ADVOCATE & LEADER The health literacy literature is also where I learned of Reach Out and Read, the pediatric literacy intervention that takes place during well child visits. I found the connection between health care service delivery, parental literacy, access to resources, and infant development to be so compelling that I subsequently partnered with a local pediatrician and co-founded our state’s Reach Out and Read coalition. What began in 2002 with one clinic has grown to 41, and we have distributed 500,000+ books. In my 15 years of leading Reach Out and Read I have acquired in-depth knowledge of child development and language acquisition, and now provide consultation and training at the local, state and national level. This breadth of knowledge, along with my research background with parents, experience in public health, training in teaching adults, and expertise in health literacy has provided me with a unique perspective on what we need to be doing with parents and caregivers if we are to close the Word Gap. THE TAKEAWAY Words To Grow On, LLC is the result of my understanding of how a parent’s resources, health literacy levels, life skills, and community connections affect their ability to meet their child’s needs, along with the recognition that interventions must recognize and celebrate parents' strengths, be accessible, easy to use, low cost, and ultimately grounded in their social networks (or help them create a supportive group) in order to be a motivational driver that increases engagement and understanding. In addition, creation of this programming needs to include participants themselves, their voices, and experiences.

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

We believe one can never have enough partners, especially in such an important area. We have a strong team to produce & implement Time2Talk2Baby. We could use support staff to help with dissemination & recruit more supportive institutions, agencies, and community groups, of which this platform has many. We hope to involve these groups, along with current partners such as the Campaign for Grade Level Reading & Reach Out and Read to enroll 1 million parents yearly within 5 years.

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)

As mentioned above, funds are needed for producing additional versions of the app. The prize money available here would be used for those purposes as well as to hire/contract with some support staff. Also, as referred to previously, we would hope to include as many people and organizations on the Open IDEO platform to help promote the app and enroll parents.

Would you like mentoring support? [Relevant only for Early Submission Deadline]

  • Yes

If so, what type of mentoring support do you think you need? (1200 characters) [Relevant only for Early Submission Deadline]

NOTE: We requested mentoring support through our submission of the Words To Grow On company as a whole.

Mentorship: How was your idea supported? [Relevant only for our early submission participants] (1500 characters)

I was thrilled to be assigned to Jake because of the business experience he had. My mindset is typically as an academic, & getting to the core of our business in a brief, encompassing pitch has been hard. He was enormously helpful in this. As a result, I did make changes in the pitch. I also make big changes in the submission content here on Open IDEO. I separated out the various products we have, because they are each unique. In doing so it stresses the value of each better than addressing them in one entity. Jake & I have not yet addressed possible opportunities going forward, but I would love to stay in touch and continue to use his expertise. Perhaps he would even agree to serve on the national advisory board I plan to create!

Are you willing to share your email contact information submitted on OpenIDEO with Gary Community Investments?

  • Yes, share my contact information

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

[Optional] Attachments: Please upload relevant attachments or graphics or show us how you prototyped.

See attached
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Attachments (5)

Time2Talk2Baby presentation.pdf

This presentation details the methodology and the statistically significant outcomes of the randomized controlled trial of Time2Talk2Baby.

Prototype process.pdf

Time2Talk2Baby was developed over a three and a half year period. This document enumerates the step by step process of conception to completion. Numerous presentations, consultations, & surveys informed the apps creation, along with formative and summative feedback. Iterations of the platform are ongoing.

Sample Categories Comparing Scaffolding Differential by Age Group.pdf

This chart provides examples of four of Time2Talk2Baby's content categories, and how they are used to construct short audio messages in 4 different age groups: 0-6 months, 6-12 months, 12-24 months, and 24-36 months. Content increases in detail and specificity over time, and builds on and expands concepts previously explored or addressing in earlier messages.

4th & 8th grade reading levels.jpg

The results of the 2015 reading achievement tests done by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The NAEP is also known as "The Nation's Report Card."


Map of the national Campaign for Grade Level Reading communities.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Ashley Tillman

Hi Peggy, great to have you in the Prize! Sorry if I missed this in your proposal, do you have any plans to include diverse voices or translate your app into different languages down the line?

Looking forward to learning more!

Photo of Peggy Sissel, Ed.D.

Hi Ashley! Yes, different languages/versions are mentioned briefly in the Scaling section of the application. Definitely Spanish, but a version done by an African American male was recommended by a focus group. We will also get recommendations from the Campaign for Grade Level Reading, since they are working in 340+ communities across the nation.
The first step after launching this version will be to get an Android version built and available. Additional versions are also mentioned in the "What do you need? section. It all takes money, which is very much needed.

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