Three great stories we found on the internet this week.

Small talk

By the time they reach kindergarten, children from low-income households have heard up to 30 million fewer words than their wealthier peers. All that lost vocabulary can have consequences for literacy attainment and language skills. So a project in Alabama is using wearable word counters to keep track of how many words young children hear — and encourage their caregivers to stay chatty all day long.

The program, called Birmingham Talks, currently has 250 families enrolled. Each kid gets a “talk pedometer,” a small Fitbit-style device that counts the number and variety of words the child hears, and produces detailed data breakdowns for the parents. Not only does this help them figure out how much vocabulary their child is absorbing, it has a “nudge effect” that appears to increase the variety of words those parents use around their kids.

A study of a similar program found that 56 percent of children involved were exposed to more adult words once they started wearing the device. Best of all, the kids who started out with the lowest exposure to words saw the biggest gains, from an average of 8,000 words per day to more than 12,000. “This provides parents with actual data to make sure they are meeting their goals,” said one of the program’s directors.    

Read more at 100 Days in Appalachia

Local flavor

The pandemic has dealt Phoenix a triple blow in terms of its food needs. Restaurants and caterers are facing a devastating slowdown, unsold food is spoiling in fields and warehouses, and food insecurity is rising as locals lose their incomes. Now, the city is using the CARES Act to connect local food producers with demand, helping to solve all three problems.

Few cities are using CARES Act funding for emergency food relief, in part because using federal dollars for this sort of thing involves copious amounts of red tape. “Looking at federal guidelines, we would have had to have farmers submit three years of tax returns and huge forms and other reporting requirements,” one local organizer told Next City. “I said we can’t do it that way, so what can we do?” 

To take the bureaucratic burden off farmers, the city improvised its own documentation system in which the city’s Office of Environmental Programs uses receipts and photos to track the food being procured. The food will be sent to local restaurants and caterers for preparation, and each meal will contain at least three locally produced ingredients. These meals will then be distributed to residents experiencing food insecurity. The city council was so impressed that it allocated $500,000 in CARES Act money to put the plan into action — three times what had been requested. 

Read more at Next City

Clean save

The U.K.’s biggest pension fund has officially begun divesting from fossil fuels. With nine million members, the National Employment Savings Trust (NEST) handles the pensions of workers who save for retirement in the country’s auto-enrollment program. Some £5.5 billion ($7.2 billion USD) will be redirected in “climate aware” investments, which are expected to get a boost from new policies aimed at making Europe’s economic recovery a green one. “We have a unique opportunity to support sustainable growth and transition towards a low-carbon economy,” the fund’s chief investment officer told the Guardian.

Read more at the Guardian