Jan 4, 2011 by Bill Jenkins, Ph.D.

building school readiness through language

One of the key members of the Scientific Learning community is Dr. Virginia Mann. A consultant for Scientific Learning, Dr. Mann is also Professor of Cognitive Sciences at the University of California, Irvine and Director of a program called HABLAthat serves disadvantaged 2- to 4-year old children and their parents.

HABLA, which stands for "Home-based Activities Building Language Acquisition," and is the Spanish imperative for "speak", is "a broad-spectrum Latino-focused educational outreach program" whose goal is to go into homes and help parents learn to better speak and interact with their children to build their language and school readiness skills.

Dr. Mann’s research is discovering that the key precursor skills for readingare those that we tend to take for granted, such as understanding and articulating language, naming things and letters, and having a sense of rhyme. All of these skills grow and work together as children develop the foundations that will allow them to succeed in kindergarten. The HABLA program leverages this understanding and, through regular home visits (42 each year for two years), helps parents introduce these skills—in their native language—through reading, speaking and music activities as they talk and play with their children.

The results thus far are promising:

  • Children in the program perform significantly better than their counterparts in the community in terms of these key communications skills. They are above normal where their untreated peers lag behind.
  • As participants learn these core literacy skills, they also learn counting, colors, shapes and more, building the basic concepts and organizational and sequencing skills they will need to succeed in other areas, such as math, science and more.
  • The gains that HABLA establishes in Spanish form a scaffold for learning English in school. Not only do HABLA participants excel in Spanish, they also excel in learning English and continue to surpass untreated children in preschool and kindergarten classes.

To learn more about Dr. Mann and the HABLA program, visit www.socsci.uci.edu/habla/.