EDITORIAL: Talking is teaching

HOW DID YOU LEARN to speak? How could you possibly recall the specifics? Infants hear and repeat and, for the lucky majority, the magic of growth does the rest.

A lot of factors govern that “magic” of early childhood development, things like nutrition and environment, human contact and, for most infants, sound. Not just crying, either. Hungry little kids have hungry minds too. Between birth and three years old most of what an infant does is eat and learn (yes, diapers, too, but thankfully that’s not the focus here).

Some parents have to spend a lot of their time doing their best just to provide safe homes and enough to eat for their families. Other tasks must be deferred—tasks like learning. It’s hard enough to cover the life-sustaining basics working two jobs or because the learning part was absent in the parents’ upbringing. Some parents may not have experienced how little it takes to engage in the learning process with a small child and how much a mastery of literacy can improve the lifelong prospects for almost every child.

There is a new initiative to share simple techniques of early intervention that improve literacy and to provide the tools and the support that some families need to make this literacy a welcome habit rather than a chore. The effort is headed by Columbia Opportunities, Inc. and Greater Hudson Promise Neighborhood with funding from the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation Early Childhood Development Initiative.

Sophia Becker, director of the Hudson Family Literacy Program, Early Literacy and Learning Network, says the most recent initiative came about because only 34% of 3rd graders in the Hudson City School District are reading at grade level. By that point, making up the gap in language skills is much more difficult. The solution is not more hours in front of Sesame Street. The new effort is called Talking Is Teaching. Ms. Becker says it’s about “dialog not monolog.”

Dialog with a months-old infant who can barely hold his or her head up might seem far-fetched to some adults. Others might not feel comfortable discussing national news or what’s happening at work with the tiniest toddler. So what about singing? Little kids usually aren’t music critics but they know when live voices are coming their way. As time goes by they’ll add notes of their own.

A lot of thought has gone into how best to spread the word about Talking Is Teaching. One of the outreach methods involves “trusted messengers,” defined by the program as “people who are already working with young people in Columbia County and have a home visiting component to their work.” There are also materials in Spanish and there’s a Bangladeshi translator available.

Talking Is Teaching recently launched an effort to “saturate local communications with Talking Is Teaching posters and billboards” and to distribute “tool kits” in the form of soft book bags with a book and a bib and mirror and other child-safe trinkets promoting the program not only in the Hudson area but around the county. This newspaper is happy to help with the saturation.

The program will measure the effects of Talking Is Teaching as part of the kindergarten screening process. Presumably this will compare the skills of students who participated in the program with those who did not. And while no one can predict what the data will reveal, it’s unthinkable that any program like this that encourages kids to use and enjoy language could do anything but improve the lives of the children it reaches.

Newspapers aren’t neutral observers in this effort, because too few people get their news printed on paper these days. We’ll have even fewer chances at sustaining this enterprise if we don’t lend a hand to support the readers of the future. That’s a bias we acknowledge with pride. And we are grateful to all those working on Talking Is Teaching as well as the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation for its underwriting.

This program alone won’t fix the disparities in our public education system. It has to compete with all the distractions facing families trying to cope with low wages, high rent, little public transportation and the legacy left by centuries of racism. And with all that, here is a collaborative community project using the best knowledge we have about how children can realize their potential. The goal of Talking Is Teaching is to help more children share a better life. It is the essence of hope.

Want to help? Call Sophia Becker at 518 828-8951 or email .

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