A long, long time ago, back when my kids were born, I had one wish for them. (Okay, not true, I had tons of wishes for them. Let me start again.)
A long, long time ago, back when my kids were born, I wanted with all my heart for them to love to read. To me, words, language and the joy of expressing ideas through storytelling are keys to happiness. As it turns out, language at the earliest of ages is also key to success in life. Siren client and education pioneer, VersaMe, is a startup that helps parents invest in their kid’s long term success.
Early development experts now know that babies are not just wired to communicate, they are programmed to speak. Verbal language is, in most cases, inevitable. VersaMe’s founders, Nicki Boyd and brothers John and Chris Boggiano, three Stanford graduates, have built upon that research by designing the Starling, a baby wearable that gives parents the tools to inspire language learning.
What I love most about the strategy is its simplicity – think FitBit for words for babies. The sweet little star-shaped Starling, which is BPA-free and thoroughly drool-tested, clips to baby’s onesie and counts the number of words she hears throughout the day. It works on the premise that language acquisition is actually the product of language exposure and that the more conversations occur with a baby, the more her language skills are accelerated. The Starling iPhone app supplies parents with a daily word count to help track progress, customized goals, and age-related activities designed to increase engagement.
Starling’s debut also puts to rest a common misconception about early language learning. Most of us have been raised with the impression that infants need to hear simplified baby talk in order to get a foothold in more complicated language. Not so, say researchers. Children start identifying words very early on – long before they are physically able to say “Mommy” or “Daddy” or mimic a simple vowel. The guiding influence, VersaMe’s team says, is increasing social exposure where they can not only hear language, but also engage and interact within the context of the words.
In November VersaMe announced a partnership with the National Center for Families Learning (NCFL), a nonprofit organization that encourages education through family participation. The NCFL has led much of the conversation around early literacy training, so by engaging with VersaMe, it can now more effectively measure core programs. For VersaMe, the partnership is also a huge step forwards towards a company goal to “help all children reach their full potential” by giving low-income families enrolled in NCFL’s Detroit literacy and education programs a chance to use the Starling.
According to NCFL, kids in low-income households can be disadvantaged by a lack of exposure to some 30 million words by the age of 4, as compared to kids in mid- to upper-income families. We already know that educational access has a large bearing on a child’s future success, and this research drives home the fact that early literacy programs - blended with smart technology options and family involvement - can offer some interesting opportunities for breaking that social barrier.
Every Saturday morning my daughter and I go to the local branch of the San Francisco public library to exchange one pile of books for a stack of fresh ones. (Side note: did you know you can have 50 books checked out of SFPL at once?!?!?) I am grateful my kids love to read as much as I do, and value VersaMe for building a similar appreciation of language for families all over the world.