The Bridging the Word Gap Research Network is excited to foster connections of the Bridging the Word Gap Challenge innovators and the community. The Bridging the Word Gap Challenge innovators are projects funded by HRSA’s Maternal and Child Health Bureau, working to develop and push forward an agenda that addresses the word gap through technological innovations. The Research Network would like to offer the opportunity for interested members of the network and others to read about the teams, and hope you will connect with the teams individually if you see they are a fit for future collaboration and research. This posting does not imply official endorsement by BWG Research Network for the innovators or products posted on this website.


Word Gap App

By Aimee Ketchum


The Product We are Developing/Testing:

Aimee’s Babies Word Gap App uses video modeling to demonstrate positive interactions between child and care-giver. The app contains over 200 short video clips, an extensive database of national resources and tips to address parental stress, as well as the words to 100 nursery rhymes and original songs for additional interactions. They app is built on a point system so the user accumulates points to incentivize use. It is in English and Spanish and it is completely free and it does not use data. It is geared for newborns through school age and it sends notifications to remind the user to use the app and interact with the child. It nurtures the parent and promotes positive interactions. Please visit for details.


Collaborations We Are Seeking:

Aimee’s project is seeking programs or practitioners to pilot her innovation. I would ask practitioners and parents to use the app and fill out surveys for me on the usability and efficacy of the app. I would like for programs with pre-established trust to help me get the app into the hands of families who can benefit from it.

The app is perfect for practitioners working in programs where they go into people’s homes and provide education because they can have the family download the app and the education can continue after the practitioner leaves. The app is geared toward low-income families and offers countless tips for interacting with children and truly changing behavior.

Aimee is also seeking collaborations with other researchers. She is very interested in building the evidence base for my Word Gap App. Collaboration from others in the field will only improve the efficacy and usability of the app. As a pediatric occupational therapist, I value partnerships with other professionals.


For more information contact:

Aimee Ketchum
(717) 471-4633


Read with me, Talk with me

Georgene Troseth, Gabrielle Strouse, Colleen Russo, Israel Flores

rwmtwm-1 rwmtwm-2 rwmtwm-3 rwmtwm-4

The Product We are Developing/Testing:

We created an eBook overlay as an enjoyable and effortless training tool to help parents learn to talk more with their children, both during book reading and in every-day situations. The overlay utilizes dialogic questioning, featuring open-ended questions that encourage discussion. Although this is an effective, research-backed technique, it requires parent-training. Our overlay overcomes this hurdle through modeling— a friendly, dialogic questioner character pops up on each page of the book and provides an example question. Later, the parent is encouraged to think of their own questions, but can always elicit the questioner to receive a hint.


Collaborations We Are Seeking:

The Read with me, Talk with Me project is seeking partnerships with projects. Our labs at Vanderbilt (led by Dr. Georgene Troseth) and University of South Dakota (led by Dr. Gabrielle Strouse) are continuing research on this overlay, as well as the amount of talk happening during eBook vs print book reading.

According to our pilot research, parents talked 4x as much while using the eBook with the overlay compared to parents who read the control eBook (without the overlay). Qualitative analyses demonstrate the success this overlay with parents, both of low- and higher-SES, although it was more helpful for lower-SES parents.

We are open to discussing potential collaborations of this overlay, and are happy to send more information and detailed research results to those interested. Our current book was developed using an eBook from the hit PBS preschool show, Peg+Cat, thanks to a wonderful collaboration with the Fred Rogers Center. We are interested in partnering with programs that have eBooks they would like to develop overlays for, as well as programs that have access to families who might be interested in using our book(s).

Based on the pilot results, the overlay is an enjoyable and beneficial experience for parents and children. Our goal is that our book(s) will train parents to ask questions that generate more opportunities for talk, not just while reading our book(s) but while reading other books and participating in other activities. We are eager to expand to new books and new communities to help us learn more about the impact of our overlay and help us modify/add to it to make it most beneficial based on continued research results.

This project is also seeking researchers to partner with in building the evidence base for their innovation. Other developers have expressed interest, but they are open to multiple opportunities for both research and development of future overlays.


For more information contact:

Georgene Troseth
(615) 322-1522


Starling by VerseMe

VersaMe, Inc founded by: Chris Boggiano, Jon Boggiano & Nicki Boyd

starling-2 starling-1 starling-3

The Product We are Developing/Testing:

The Starling is a wearable device that clips to a child’s clothes and counts the number of words they hear all day long. A companion smartphone app shows parents how they are doing, offers activity suggestions, and allows parents to send messages or questions to an expert. The device is privacy sensitive in that it does not record, counts and reports results in real-time, and comes with a strong clip that will not fall off even the most active child.

Who uses it? A parent or caregiver clips the Starling to a child’s clothing. The parent monitors performance on their smartphone app.

Why do you think it will reduce the word gap? We believe the Starling can reduce the word gap for three reasons. First, it provides simple activity messages that have been shown to modify parent behavior. Second, the Starling provides real-time feedback to parents, which is key to positive behavior change. Third, parents can give access to their information to outside groups (non-profits, home visitors, etc.) who are conducting their own interventions, which allows them to be more responsive and should amplify the effectiveness of their efforts.


Collaborations We Are Seeking:

The developers are currently expanding efforts to work with organizations who conduct interventions with low income families. In this use case, the organizations are seeking to use the Starling to measure the effectiveness of their efforts.

For organizations conducting interventions, the Starling offers a cost-effective way to gather incredibly useful information about a child’s day without intruding on a family’s privacy (the Starling does not record any audio). While word count is currently available, we are working on reading tracking, sleep tracking, and conversational turns to provide a more complete picture of a child’s day. Today, most interventions are starved for feedback data on whether they’re intervention is working. The Starling provides an opportunity to turn that on its head, focus their resources where they have the most impact, and amplify the effectiveness of their intervention.

Starling is also seeking researchers to partner with in building the evidence base for their innovation.


For more information contact:

Chris Boggiano


Háblame Bebé


hablame hablame2 hablame3hablame4
Háblame Bebé is an educational phone application that aims to change this by empowering Hispanic parents and caregivers to engage with their cultural identities, to feel pride in being Hispanic and in speaking Spanish, and to promote bilingualism. It empowers Hispanic parents and caregivers by training them on how to use evidence-based strategies in their heritage language. By speaking in Spanish and passing on their culture, which is entirely free to do, parents learn they have the knowledge and skills to improve their babies’ academic outcomes. This intervention seeks to change conceptions of bilingualism among the marginalized and gives educational apps an exciting new place in early childhood education and caregiving.

Fundamental to Háblame Bebé is the message that parents are their baby’s first and best teachers – regardless of their native language status. Our intervention teaches that just as babies need food for growth, they need “Language Nutrition,” which is the loving, language-rich adult-child interactions that are imperative for brain development. Parents are the number one providers of Language Nutrition, and they should do so in their native language.


The Product We are Developing/Testing:

Háblame Bebé works via the following:

  1. Sound bites and info-graphic lessons in Spanish that provide information on Language Nutrition for the growing brain.
  2. Videos of other Hispanics and of experts talking about the benefits of bilingualism.
  3. Videos of other Hispanics talking about Hispanic sociolinguistic identity as well as pride surrounding Spanish language use.
  4. Information and strategies for maintaining the heritage language with children as they grow.
  5. Suggestions of interaction-based activities according to the child’s developmental stage.
  6. Text message reminders to incorporate as much Language Nutrition as possible in every day, regular routines.


The app visually illustrates a child’s vocabulary growth over time by prompting parents and caregivers to report words that their child is saying in both Spanish and in English and generating a personalized vocabulary growth progress chart that corresponds to the child’s age. This further incentivizes Hispanic parents by showing them that they are driving bilingual vocabulary acquisition.

Additionally, parents earn hearts in the app for the daily routines into which they incorporate Language Nutrition. Parents and caregivers can also upload videos demonstrating talk time with their baby, which they can share on social media.


Collaborations We Are Seeking:

According to our pilot study, low-income Hispanic families who had experienced racism surrounding their use of Spanish were significantly less likely to use their heritage language with their babies. Non-native input is less useful to babies’ language acquisition than native input. When Spanish-speaking caregivers switch to English, it decreases children’s vocabulary in English and slows the growth of their Spanish vocabulary. We must spread this message in order to reduce the word gap in low-income Hispanics and also, in other immigrant groups.

We seek programs and/or practitioners to form partnerships and to pilot our innovation in their local community.

Additionally, we would like to test the intervention with other cultural and dialectal groups within the larger Hispanic community. We seek researchers with whom we can partner in making additional videos about sociolinguistic identity and pride, as well as building home-visitation intervention curricula catered to other linguistic and cultural groups.


For more information contact:

Dr. Melissa Baralt



By: Words To Grow On, LLC

time2talk2baby-logo1time2talk2baby-logo2     time2talk2baby-logo3     time2talk2baby-logo4

The Product We are Developing/Testing:

This free audio coaching app for parents of 0-3 year-olds sends a daily, 30-60 second message with simple ways to build baby’s brain. Grouped by age (birth to 6 mos., 6 to 12, 12 to 24 and 24 to 36 mos.), messages are based on a scaffolded rubric consisting of 40 different categories (i.e. early development, talking tips/topics, suggested activities). Each message explains the idea, why it’s important, and how to do it.

A two-month randomized control study found significant increases in development in children, and high levels of satisfaction and enjoyment among moms. For study results, go to:


Collaborations We Are Seeking:

This project is seeking programs or practitioners to promote the innovation. They are seeking 100 parent for another study to begin in January.

Parents would receive a $10 gift card and two language assessments of their child (using the LENA Developmental Snapshot). Parents will enjoy the program and doing the suggestions with their children.


For more information contact:

Dr. Peggy A. Sissel