Image credit: EarlyBird Education
The game that can spot preschoolers at risk for reading deficits
EarlyBird Education is a startup company that has developed a game-based app aimed at detecting early literacy challenges, such as dyslexia in children as young as four years old and pointing educators to the right interventions, thus shifting a deficit model to a preventive support model.
In a Business Wire press release, the company announced last week it raised $1.5 million in seed funding. Amplify Capital, Flare Capital Partners, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Solve Innovation Future are all investors in this round. The current round of funding follows a successful round that raised $1.0 million to support the development of the screening assessment platform at Boston Children’s Hospital, and a two-year validation study. This included philanthropic funding from the Heckscher Foundation for Children, Oak Foundation, Poses Family Foundation, Peter and Elizabeth C. Tower Foundation, and Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation.
Developed and scientifically validated at Boston Children’s Hospital in partnership with faculty at the Florida Center for Reading Research, EarlyBird helps educators identify and support children at risk for dyslexia and other reading difficulties — even before they learn to read. It does this through a cloud-based technology platform that incorporates a comprehensive screening assessment, customized action plans, and evidence-based intervention resources for teachers.
Image credit: Boston Children’s Hospital
Children can administer the assessment themselves, and teachers get resources on how to respond if students are missing key literacy milestones. A child using the app will be guided through different assessments by their friendly toucan friend, Pip. The assessments are designed to test literacy milestones which are shown to be predictive of future reading success.
“Despite an intense focus on reading for decades in U.S. schools, identification and intervention for struggling readers often comes too late, resulting in negative academic, social-emotional, and societal impacts,” said Carla Small, co-founder and CEO of EarlyBird Education. “Our funding partners come from the worlds of education, health, and technology, and are keenly interested in transforming the way educators, parents, and physicians identify and support children at risk for reading difficulties.”
The EarlyBird Solution Story - Moving From A Deficit Model To A Preventive Support Model
When Massachusetts passed a law in 2018 requiring school districts to screen for dyslexia, Dr. Nadine Gaab, an associate professor of pediatrics at the Boston Children’s Hospital and the Harvard Medical School, was glad the state was taking a proactive approach to prevent early reading difficulties.
But in the professional development sessions she provides for teachers in the area they told her they weren’t trained to screen and if a screening showed that a kindergartner did have signs of the learning disorder, they didn’t always know what to do next.
That’s why she wanted to provide educators with a screening tool children can administer themselves, and one that provides strategies to help children when they miss key early literacy milestones in areas such as vocabulary, oral listening comprehension and phonological awareness.
The Boston Children’s Hospital Early Literacy Screener was born as a 15 to 20-minute game that tests children’s early literacy skills and generates a red flag for those in need of extra support. Piloted in 42 schools in nine states and enrolling about 800 kindergarteners or entering kindergarteners, the game was also selected as one of eight winners by the 2019 MIT Solve for Early Childhood Development Program, a competition for tech entrepreneurs held by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Image credit: The Boston Children’s Hospital Early Literacy Screener App
The game is administered on a touchscreen tablet. Kids as young as 4-years-old do tasks geared at assessing their literacy skills with the help of on-screen cartoon animals. Those include touching the picture that matches the word that is said out loud, identifying rhyming words, and finding the picture that matches a spoken sentence. After a student finishes the game, the program creates a risk profile for that student and provides resources for next steps on an online platform.
The funding will be used to support the commercial launch of EarlyBird in fall 2021, and continued product enhancement.