TALK: Text and Learn for Kindergarten helps young kids learn to communicate

During the summer of 2017, major publications like Fortune, The Atlantic, and CNN ran stories with statistics stating that millennials are more likely to use public libraries than any other generation currently living. With a generation starting to have families of their own, public libraries adapt by making their knowledge accessible in ways that meet the public halfway. TALK: Text and Learn for Kindergarten, created by the Ypsilanti District Library, provides ideas to get children under three working on their verbal skills via text messages. 

Gillian Ream Gainsley, Communications and Development Coordinator of Ypsilanti District Library sat down and described exactly how this program will do that. 

How did TALK: Text and Learn for Kindergarten begin?

This project started out with one of our librarians and our director both reading about similar programs in other states. There’s a pretty extensive program in Colorado and there was actually a study done in San Francisco where they did a similar program with text messaging to parents of young children and they were actually able to prove that it had an impact - that it improved these kids’ academic success. So, we had a couple of staff members who had heard of it and both of them thought ‘man, this would be a great thing to do in Ypsi. It would be a good fit for us.’ And then we came across the LSTA funding through the Library of Michigan and thought how it’s the Library of Services and Technology Act and it seemed like a perfect fit for using technology sort of expand library services beyond the walls of the library. It seemed like a really good fit, so we decided to apply for the grant and we got it and here we are.

That’s fantastic. So when did it officially begin?

Yes, it started last week on October 14th. 

Will there be more to this program even beyond kindergarten?

Sure - so it prepares them for kindergarten. It’s for kids from birth to age five and you can sign up a child that is within that age range anytime before their sixth birthday. The parents will get two text messages per week with fun ideas for things to do with their kids.

Can you give an example of some of the text message ideas?

“Talk, answer your baby’s babbles by repeating them and adding a new sound and prompt baby to add a new sound.” 

That’s awesome, so do you sign up depending on what age your child is?

Yes, so you only get asked two questions when you sign up and that’s your zip code and your child’s birthday. It’s totally anonymous. The child’s birthday we use to make sure they’re targeted for each age group and the zip code, we actually send free activities based on what location you are in. So if you live in Ypsilanti, you’ll get some information on what’s happening at the Ypsilanti District Library. If you’re in Milan then you’ll get some information for Milan. 

How did other libraries from different cities get involved?

The grant actually is really interested in coming up with partnerships and not operating in a vacuum by engaging very thoroughly with the community. We also wanted to make this a countywide program. It’s available in Washtenaw County and we have five libraries with us to do the application which are Milan, Saline, Dexter, and Northfield Township, so a total of five. And then on top of that, we reached out to the Washtenaw Intermediate School District and they were a great partner and Washtenaw Success by 6, Great Start Collaborative, those are all sort of part of Washtenaw Intermediate School District. And actually the sheriff's office was really involved which I think will be a really interesting and unconventional partner. They are actually going to send it out through their Nixle Alerts, because they already have people who are getting text messages about crime issues in the area and so those folks may also be interested. They’ll be promoting it through that but also through the community mental health project….the sheriff's office is really trying to do community policing and engage in the community and so they’re a great partner because they engage with lots of people and are really often helping people connect with these resources, so it’s not the partnership you would think of but it is kind of a cool project. 

Right, that’s amazing. So who actually create the tips/ fun ideas? 

It’s two of our youth librarians: Crystal Sexton and Jodi Krahnke are leading the team and then there are youth librarians from each of those partner libraries that are also contributing.

Do patrons sign up on a website or through the library? 

So you can either go to or text “TALK” to 77453.  

Is this program happening for a limited amount of time or are you hoping to make it permanent? 

The funding that we got is for a three-year pilot program. We are creating all of these text messages, and also we’re going to be creating and experimenting with graphics and videos too.  For example, if we say ‘Sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star with your baby’, not everyone knows the words to Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. If they’re from a different culture or haven’t grown up in this country, they may not know that or know a nursery rhyme. We can’t obviously put all of the words in a text message, so we’re going to have a little image and say ‘here’s a song you can sing with your baby’ and have a graphic that we can send along with the text messages. 

So to answer the question, we’re developing all this content and then we’re doing a rigorous evaluation with third party evaluator. We’re going to try to measure how effective it is and we’re hoping that, at the end of three years, we’re going to have all of this content developed and we’re going to hope our evaluation goes really successfully - that it shows we really are having an impact. I think at that point it would be a very attractive thing to get more grant funding or offer it for libraries for it to be adopted statewide. 

I love it. So how does this differ from a parent just reading a book or playing a game with their child?

The big difference is that the research shows that a lot of people don’t necessarily know how important it is to talk to their babies. The most impact you can make on a child’s life is between the ages of zero and three, and if you think of most of the programs that are out there...we have preschools, we have Head Start, but all of those things start at age three.

That’s very true, I never thought of that. 

Yes, so you’ve got this huge impact you can make on kids who are under three years old but it has to come from their parents, because their parents are the most important people in their lives and those are the right people. A lot of parents don’t necessarily know. So I have a 6 month old - he’s not a great conversationalist but if I’m talking to him in the grocery store and I say ‘look at this red apple’, I feel like an idiot. So I might not necessarily do that, but that’s what we are trying to get out there with talks and play. Even if you don’t see them respond right away because they’re little. 

It has this really important impact. So it’s really about getting that message out there and making sure that parents know they can have this incredible impact just by little things. The other message is that it can be easy, it’s not about having the right piece of Mozart at the right moment in your baby’s life - just talk to them as you’re walking along or changing their diaper. The more you talk to your baby, the more successful that baby can be in school later. 

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