April 22, 2008 — -- Parents worry about everything when it comes to babies: Is the infant sleeping enough, eating enough, growing enough? Here's another thing to fret about: Do you talk enough to your baby?
A groundbreaking 1995 study showed that how well a child does in school is closely tied to how much parents talk to that child before the age of three.
"Parents, caregivers and family are the first ones who introduce vocabulary and the more words the children hear, the greater their vocabulary," said Judy Montgomery, a speech language pathologist.
That study and other research say that ideally babies should hear 25 million words in the first four years of life – that's an intimidating 17,000 words a day.
But how could a parent possibly tell how they're doing?
Mom Crystal Adams is looking for the answer from "Lena" (Language Environment Analysis), a small digital processor her son Ethan wears inside his jumper.
Lena, created by Infoture, Inc., is a kind of verbal pedometer that helps parents gauge how vocal they are with their child by measuring the number of distinct words a baby hears, as well as the sounds he makes and verbal exchanges between the adult and child.
At 5 months old, Ethan is far from talking, but he does babble. "It's counting the words he hears and then it gives me a good place at the end of the day, I can look at it and say, 'Oh wow, I didn't talk to him as much as I thought I did,'" Adams said.
At the end of the day, you plug Lena into your computer to see how you did.
"It makes graphs, then I can look at the graphs and it tells me how many words he heard throughout the day," Adams said.
And words a child hears on TV don't count.
"The device is designed to screen out or filter out anything that isn't actual speech in that room," said Montgomery.
Infoture says the best way to keep the conversational ball rolling is by narrating everything you do with your baby throughout the day.
The device can also print out a percentile ranking of your child's progress, something child care professionals feel might create unnecessary anxiety for parents.
"The absolute number is probably not as important as the feedback that monitoring it actually gives," said Dr. Christopher Lucas, with New York University's Child Studies Center.
And sometimes, at the end of a long day, all parents want to hear is the sound of silence.