Off to a good start


Early language development program upWORDS off to a good start

Almost a year after the launch of a program geared toward improving a baby’s language skills, parents are singing its praises, saying upWORDS has helped improve communication for children and parents alike.

“It definitely met my expectations and beyond,” said Fylasan Hanible, whose son Donnell David Price IV was 7 months old when they went through the program. “I didn’t know that I could increase language as much as I have.”


Alexandrina Gonzalez agreed and said her 22-month-old daughter’s language skills have improved greatly as a result of upWORDS and that the program is something that can benefit any parent.

“This program taught me about things I didn’t realize could help,” Gonzalez said. “As a result, everyone in my family has benefited.”

Developed in association with the LENA Research Foundation, the upWORDS program at Texas Children’s Hospital was launched in June 2016 as a pilot program at Texas Children’s Hospital West Campus in conjunction with the hospital’s Speech and Occupational Therapy departments. Since then, 110 families have participated in the program, which is now being offered at West Campus, Buffalo Creek Elementary in Spring Branch Independent School District, locations throughout Katy Independent School District and at the Children’s Museum of Houston.

Available in both English and Spanish, the upWORDS program includes group classes where parents learn to use the LENA System™ to monitor their home language environment and are taught simple techniques to increase interactive talk with their child.


To measure a participant’s home language environment, the LENA System uses a small recorder that fits inside a vest worn by the child. The recorder measures the amount of words a family speaks to their child and how much their child responds in return. The recording is then translated into data that the parents can use to gauge how much they are talking to their child and identify opportunities to increase the level of spoken interaction they have with their baby.

Personalized care

At Texas Children’s, parents receive individual coaching in addition to the group classes to discuss their data results, gain the best results possible and work through any additional obstacles that could potentially hinder their child’s development.

Dr. Christopher Greeley, chief of Public Health Pediatrics at Texas Children’s, said the response to the program has been impressive and shows an appetite for programs that focus on a child’s early language development.

“We conventionally think of worrying about language skills and children at 2 and 3 years of age, when they’re starting to read and learning their A,B,Cs,” Greeley said. “But the data are clear that babies, even young babies, are mindful of language and mindful of verbal and nonverbal communication even in the first few months of life.”

By the age of 3, 80 percent of a child’s brain development is complete. These first few years of a child’s life are therefore critical and provide the greatest opportunity to influence their success later in life.

Research shows that many children are exposed to nearly 30 million fewer words than their peers by the time they reach 3 years old. The upWORDS program helps parents of infants and toddlers (0 to 24 months) close the “talk gap” by teaching them how to talk and interact more with their babies to increase brain development and positively impact their child’s future. Participants in the program have shown an increase in the number of words spoken, reading minutes, knowledge of child development and confidence in parenting skills.

Generous gift

Thanks to a generous grant from Kohl’s Cares, Texas Children’s is expanding upWORDS to the Greater Houston area via partnerships with child-serving organizations, local government, places of worship, school districts, public housing communities, WIC and other safety net providers.

The funding will allow the program to significantly increase the number of families enrolled in upWORDS through Texas Children’s, train up to three organizations to be upWORDS providers, and participate in more than 12 community events a year that educate the community on the program and the importance of early brain development.

“Our partnership with Kohl’s Cares is a wonderful opportunity to grow the upWORDS program and ultimately empower families, engage the community and do some important community-based research,” said Dr. Kimberly Kay Lopez, senior public health director.

To learn more about or register for the upWORDS program at Texas Children’s, click here.