How Institutionalization Impacts Early Literacy & BLOOM’s Response

Moments after my daughter Naya was born, she stuck her tongue out at me. “Bathoonee hogee (She will be a talker)!” my mother said with a laugh, and she was right. Since that day, my daughter and I are always talking. I would respond to her gurgles and coos in long sentences, telling her all about whatever I was doing. The sound of my voice soothed her. On our daily walk I would point things out, slowly building her vocabulary. When Naya would cry or fuss, I knew she was letting me know that something was wrong. Usually a bottle, a snuggle or a diaper change would do the trick.  

8 years after Naya was born, I found myself at an orphanage on the top floor of a hospital in Meknes, Morocco. I was about to meet my 3-month-old son and begin the kafala (adoption) process to bring him home. One of the first things that struck me that day was how quiet it was. There were rows and rows of metal cribs filled with tiny babies, but barely a sound. In my naiveté, I thought “They must be so well cared for!” I soon realized that babies stop crying, gurgling and cooing when no one responds.  

Deprivation leads to a poor foundation for literacy and success. 

When thinking about literacy we often think about the alphabet, reading, writing and school. Early childhood educators tell a different story, literacy actually begins in the womb! Babies listen to us in utero. Once born, they start communicating through gurgles, coos, cries and facial expressions. When caring adults respond to this baby language, it helps brain development and lays the foundation for language and literacy. As toddlers continue to learn and explore, vocabulary is built along the way. Talking, singing, reading, writing and playing are a child’s work, and build a strong cognitive foundation. This development, known as ‘early literacy’, is critical for school readiness and academic success.  

Children who are spoken and read to have been shown to have larger vocabularies, be more attentive, become better readers, and ultimately do better in school.  

* Based on studies of children in the United States  

“When parents talk, read, and sing with their babies and toddlers, connections are formed in their young brains. These connections build language, literacy, and social–emot