Professor To Evaluate Bilingual School Readiness Program

March 19, 2009

University Park, PA -- Dr. Carol Scheffner Hammer, associate professor of communication sciences and disorders in Penn State's College of Health and Human Development, has received a $500,000 Head Start–University Partnership grant to study the efficacy of a bilingual school-readiness program called Madres Educando a Sus Niños/Mothers Educating Their Children.

Madres Educando a Sus Niños, created by Hammer, is a book-reading program that engages mothers through Hispanic culture. Hammer is examining the idea that providing mothers with books that focus on cultural experiences will promote children's literacy and language development. The program is being tested with children enrolled in Head Start in the Lancaster county region.

In collaboration with writer Suzanne Bradbeer, illustrator Bot Roda, and project coordinator Sandra Rosario, Hammer created eight children's books that focus on key aspects of Hispanic culture.

She has integrated Spanish and English versions of the books into a home visit program. Through the program, trained bilingual home visitors instruct mothers about reading and talking about books with their children. In addition, they provide mothers with supplemental activities that allow them to share their culture with their children while they build their children's vocabulary, language and letter knowledge.

"Through interviews, we have learned that immigrant mothers miss their home country, and mothers who grew up in the United States feel that they don't know their culture as well as they would like," says Hammer. "We also found that mothers wanted to share their culture with children, but couldn't find many opportunities. Now, they have that opportunity."

To test the efficacy of the program, Hammer will assess various components of children's language and literacy development and record changes in maternal behavior while mothers read to their children. She will also measure how frequently Spanish and English are used in the home and how frequently culture is discussed outside of story time. The study includes a control group that does not receive the culture-promoting home visit program.

The project is funded by Head Start, a program within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Administration for Children and Families (ACF) that aims to provide comprehensive child development services to economically-disadvantaged families.

"Our past research has shown that growth of children's Spanish-language abilities during Head Start promotes English and Spanish reading abilities in elementary school children," says Hammer. "Strengthening these abilities in bilingual children is important right now because the number of Hispanic children entering U.S. schools is increasing each year."

Already, the reading program is having a positive effect on families. Some families report using the books with non-Head Start children in their families; others express that they are feeling closer to their children; and one family is having a weekly family night, when relatives come over to read and share the books together with their children.

The project, which began in October 2007, will be completed in 2010. If the home visit program, Madres Educando a Sus Niños, proves to be successful, Hammer will seek to expand the program to include more bilingual mothers and their children.

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Editors: Dr. Hammer may be reached at 717-201-6194 or at cjh22@psu.edu by email.