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MUSCATINE — Families will have a chance to see how early talk programs benefit their young children through a new program at the Musser Public Library and HNI Community Center.

"It's very unusual that we can do this," Library Director Pam Collins said. "It speaks to the uniqueness of our community that we can do this."

The library received a $59,300 grant from the Community Foundation of Greater Muscatine to bring the Boulder, Colorado-based Learning Environment Analysis, LENA, to the library. LENA is a series of programs that encourage young children from birth to three years old to use language through interactions with their parents and caregivers. Muscatine is only the second location in the state to have the program. LENA Start is also offered through the Ames Public Library.

The grant covers the cost of start-up, training and the first two years of the program. Funding totaling around $4,000 was also donated by local women's groups, Collins said.

A representative from the LENA implementation team, Caitlyn Stafford, visited the library last week to give an overview of the program and answer questions. Stafford said the 13-week LENA Start program includes a one hour session where parents interact with their children and each other at the library.

After the session, families take home a LENA recording device to track their interactions. The device will measure word use and choice, and the conversation turns, or the number of times children and parents took turns speaking. Information from the recording is used to determine where parents can improve speaking interactions with children. Stafford said children with parents participating in the program gain nearly two months of developmental skill every month. Following the presentation, library staff and volunteers received program training. Stafford said if parents aren't sure what to talk to their children about, they can narrate their day.

LENA Start is expanding on the story time program, LapSit, for young children the library already offers. Youth Services Manager Betty Collins said she and Pam Collins first looked into offering LENA several years ago. She said they attended a conference in 2015 when the program was first rolled out. The library was in its former location on Iowa Avenue then and there was talk about moving to a new building so the program was put on hold.

Since then, the program is active in 26 communities across the country and after library staff attended another conference for the program in 2017, plans to bring LENA to Muscatine began.

Pam Collins said families who attended LapSit had stronger ties to the library, but there wasn't a way to measure what development the program may be influencing.

"We want to provide a program that we can say is making a difference," Pam Collins said of LENA.

The anticipated date for the first LENA Start session is April and information on enrolling in the program will be listed on the library's website when it is available. All materials for the program will be available in English and Spanish. Library staff are keeping the initial class size to 10 children who will all receive a number to be used to track their progress through the Muscatine Community School District.

"It stresses that parents have the power to improve their children's lives" Betty Collins said of LENA. She said the program is for every child and every family and emphsizes "why speaking to and interacting with children is so valuable and what a difference that makes for their children."

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