ABC's and 123's:

A Blog by Action for Children

LENA Grow: Using Technology to Shape Language Development in Child Care 


Language is critical for children’s development, serving as the cornerstone for communication, cognitive growth, and social interaction. Recognizing this fundamental aspect, Action for Children has long been committed to supporting providers in fostering early language skills among young learners. As technology continues to advance, AFC has expanded its initiatives to include innovative tools like LENA Grow, implementing the technology to reach 300 children and foster growth over 40+ child care centers.

What is LENA Grow? 

LENA stands for Language Environment Analysis and measures language use in early learning settings using technology and data analysis. LENA Grow was developed with the understanding that young children develop language skills through modeling and interactions with the adults around them, often referred to as conversational turns. Software developers and researchers created technology to capture these conversational turns and use it in various settings. By partnering with Action for Children, center-based providers have been able to use LENA to nurture language-rich environments for children in their own classrooms. 
FUN FACT: Conversational turns are simple back-and-forth alternations between a child and an adult. For example: (Child) “Apple!” (Adult) “That’s an apple! Great job! That apple is red.” 

How does LENA Grow work? 


LENA Grow uses devices called ‘talk pedometers’ to measure the amount of interactions heard by the child and the number of conversational turns between the child and adults within the learning environment. The software can distinguish between child and adult talk, and between speech and non-talk like TV or cries. Using a sophisticated algorithm, the software counts speech and conversational turns without recording specific words or conversation. These devices produce meaningful, accurate data in all early childhood education settings, including infant classrooms and in multilingual settings. 

A LENA cycle consists of five weeks where children wear a LENA vest that holds a small device in a pocket in the front one day each week. The devices are turned on and inserted in the vest when the child arrives in their classroom, then it’s turned off when they leave and taken out of the vest to be uploaded to the LENA Hub to be processed into data reports. Data collected show the frequency of adult speech and interactions the child experienced that day, providing actionable data for educators and coaches to build on.  

Source: Action for Children

Action for Children’s LENA Grow coaches print the reports and meet with the teachers to discuss the results. Coaches provide additional strategies that the teachers may use in their classroom to further enhance language development. This happens each week until the final week when they celebrate the growth of language development in the individual children and the class as a whole over the 5-week period! 

How is Action for Children using LENA Grow to empower educators? 

Action for Children has been utilizing LENA Grow since the fall of 2023 to support educators in enhancing language development in their early learning classrooms.

Over the course of the last 18 months, AFC LENA coaches have impacted over 300 children in 46 classrooms. Teachers using LENA have increased conversational turns overall by an average of 12% for all children within a 5-week cycle (3% higher than average), activating critical brain growth and language development for young children.

Action for Children is working to expand this program to further enhance and measure growth in the same classrooms using more complex strategies to enhance language development.  

So how does an AFC coach help? 

Coaches work directly with teachers to develop new approaches towards greater language acquisition in their classrooms through data-driven professional development. LENA Grow Coaches use several strategies during their coaching sessions that can be successfully implemented in any early learning environment! Here are just a few… 
1. Looking for missed opportunities throughout the day when language is not being modeled by the educator, such as during personal care routines, meal times, arrival/departure times, gross motor activities and transitions throughout the daily routine.  

2. Focusing on children that are quieter or multilingual, as they may be more difficult for teachers to understand and less likely to initiate conversations. Learning some common words and phrases in their language in order to show respect and appreciation for their home language, or teaching some simple sign language to help them communicate basic needs are also effective approaches.  
3. Getting to know the children and families at the program! Tapping into their interests can be a great conversation starter and develop natural curiosity and desire to learn and talk. Make conversation meaningful by asking questions and introducing topics that are interesting to the children. 

Early talk with caring adults is important for all children, from birth on. For children exhibiting delays, early screening can help mitigate the effects of most learning challenges by providing additional resources to support the child and their family; this can also include basic health screenings like vision and hearing. Using LENA, it’s possible to identify opportunities to work with other professionals such as Help Me Grow who may have additional expertise in different developmental areas, as they often have more resources and contacts.   

Author: Edie Warner, Action for Children Technical Assistance Coach 
Contributor: Dr. Kat Glenn-Applegate, Director of Child Care Education Initiatives at Action for Children 

Action for Children is the local child care resource and referral agency for central Ohio, and is committed to assuring quality early learning experiences for all children. Our services focus on transforming the lives of children by supporting the everyday heroes who most influence our children’s early growth; care givers, educators, parents, and guardians. Learn More. 
Interested in LENA Grow coaching with Action for Children for your child care center? Reach out to! 

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