PhilaU Student Advances in HHS Competition to Bridge the Word Gap for Low-Income Children

The app offers scenarios of when to talk to a child using positive language and suggests songs, nursery rhymes and finger plays.

The Word Gap app offers scenarios of when to talk to a child using positive language and suggests songs, nursery rhymes and finger plays.

Aimee Ketchum, a doctoral student in Philadelphia University’s occupational therapy program, has advanced to the finals of a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) competition, which is seeking innovative ways to educate parents about the importance of talking to their babies.

Ketchum’s Word Gap App—now available for free download on iTunes—creates awareness and educates parents on the importance of interacting with their children, from newborns to age 3. Using video, photos and graphics, the app offers scenarios of when to talk to a child using positive language and suggests songs, nursery rhymes and finger plays. The Word Gap App also send alerts to remind parents to interact with their children throughout the day.

The competition stemmed from a 2014 White House Summit on Working Families, where President Obama called on HHS to use technology and innovation to bridge the so-called word gap.

Studies show that during the first three years of life, lower-income children hear about 30 million fewer words than those more affluent, Ketchum said. Because 85 percent of a child’s brain is developed by age 3, this word gap puts poorer children at a significant disadvantage as they move through school and life.

Ketchum, a pediatric occupational therapist and owner of child development company Aimee’s Babies, was named one of 10 phase I winners earlier this year and netted a $10,000 prize. For phase II, she presented at the Word Gap Challenge Demo Day in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 22, where HHS awarded her $25,000 for continued development and testing. In March, Ketchum and four other finalists will compete for the $100,000 grand prize. If she wins, HHS will market her app (available in English and Spanish) as a national solution to the word gap problem.

“I am so excited to have the chance to create an awareness about the word gap,” Ketchum said. “As a mom, I know that when parents know better, we do better, and I want to give parents everywhere the education to give their babies the best start possible.”

Read PhilaU Today’s previous coverage of Aimee Ketchum and the Word Gap App.

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