education Blog

Brain Gain: Boosting Children’s Vocabulary by Talking, Reading & Singing

TRS website home pageA promising new campaign called “Talking Is Teaching: Talk, Read, Sing” launched in Oakland in late July. The campaign, developed for the Bay Area Council in partnership with the Kenneth Rainin Foundation, highlights how simple actions done every day from birth—such as describing objects seen during a bus ride, singing songs, reading aloud or telling stories—can significantly improve babies’ ability to build vocabulary and can boost their brain development.

“What makes this campaign different is that it’s not just another brochure,” said Jim Wunderman, CEO of the Bay Area Council. “We are bringing learning opportunities to Oakland by giving parents actual tools—a onesie for the baby, a blanket, a bath towel—that will spark conversation. We’re placing billboards and bus shelter ads that will remind parents that everyday activities are an opportunity to help your child develop.”

Photo credit: Raising a Reader Bay Area

The campaign kicked off with a citywide baby shower at Children’s Fairyland on Thursday, July 24. Two thousand Oakland families received clothing, blankets and books and were joined by performer José-Luis Orozco, storytellers, storybook characters and community leaders. Pediatricians from Kaiser Permanente and Oakland Children’s Hospital welcomed new babies to the city and prescribed talking, reading and singing to families.

According to recent field research, fewer than half of parents and caregivers in Oakland report reading to their children every day, and even fewer report talking about their day and singing to their children. These activities have been shown to have a profound impact on the early learning of very young children, whose brains develop approximately 80 percent of their capacity by age three. In fact, talking, reading and singing in daily routines builds children’s vocabularies—and a large vocabulary is a key predictor of later reading success.

In addition to the billboards, there will be television public service announcements  in the Bay Area and a website,, where parents can learn more.

man giving bag

Photo credit: First 5 California

The onesies, blankets and other materials will be distributed in a Talk, Read, Sing tote bag that will be distributed at more than 15 locations: Oakland hospitals, pediatric clinics, family playgroups, childcare programs and First 5 Alameda County. The clothing and blankets are produced by local clothing retailer Oaklandish. The creative idea for the campaign was developed by advertising agency Goodby Silverstein & Partners.

While the tote bags will be distributed free of charge at certain locations, parents can also order materials directly from the website at

The campaign caught the attention of Too Small to Fail, a joint initiative of Next Generation and the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation, and they are sponsoring the initiative as well, with plans to make it a national model. Other partners include UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland and Kaiser Permanente. Marc Benioff, founder and CEO of, has donated $3.5 million to develop the campaign in Oakland.

This campaign is really about helping to make Oakland a literacy-rich city and the Rainin Foundation is proud to support this important work. Learn more about our efforts to make Oakland a literacy-rich city here.


Paula Ambrose
Education Program Officer

Email questions or comments to

P.S. Check out the Urban Strategies Council blog on Talk, Read, Sing.


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