Chapter 3 Clothing

In this video we are going to discuss clothing.

Let me start by answering something I’ve been asked many times: you cannot have the recording hanging from a string, or in a pouch, or in someone’s pants’ pocket. All such recordings will have noise that will make automated analyses impossible. Your only option is to have the recording worn 10-20cm away from the child’s mouth, as stable as possible with respect to the child themself. This means one of two things: either in a custom-sized or adapted pocket, or clipped to the child’s outermost layer of clothing. We speak about each in turn.

3.1 Custom-sized pockets

3.1.1 LENA t-shirts

If you are planning to use the LENA device, you are probably going to buy the clothes they are selling, usually t-shirts. These t-shirts are excellent, like the device, but like the device they are also quite pricey (25 US$ per unit). If you have chosen babyloggers, we also recommend LENA clothing – we explain why in a moment.

If you don’t buy LENA t-shirts, you have a few other options.

3.1.2 Non-LENA t-shirts

First, you can try and replicate what LENA decided, meaning having t-shirts with a pocket sewed on them. In our experience, buying 100% cotton t-shirts and having pockets sewn on them is going to cost you more or less the same as buying LENA t-shirts, with a lot more hassle, since you need to find someone for the sewing, send them a prototype, etc. If you are using LENA or Babylogger as your device, then you’re probably better off buying t-shirts from LENA.

However, you may have no choice than custom-made clothing. This could happen because you work in conditions where t-shirts are not ideal - perhaps it is too cold, with children outside most of the time wearing several other layers of clothing, in which case the recording will be muffled. It may also happen because you have chosen the USB system or a hand-held recorder – these devices require pockets that are a different size from LENA’s device (and pocket).

In this case what we suggest is that you make pockets where the device can fit perfectly snugly, so that it doesn’t move while recording and this avoids recording too much noise. The pocket must be really very, very tight, so that there is absolutely no friction between the clothing and the recording device. Additionally, the t-shirt itself should be tight against the child’s body, and not hanging loose.

Second, you can buy a t-shirt that already has a pocket, even if the pocket is not the right size, as long as you stuff something in so that the device itself doesn’t move. You can use fabric, or cotton – whatever you use, just consider that the family should be able to retrieve the device to turn it off and put it back in after turning it on, without causing bad quality data. That is, parents may put the stuffing in front of the device rather than behind it, so that the sound is muffled. Additionally, you need to consider whether the stuffing may present any kind of hazard to the child. How to close the pocket

When having the t-shirt made, ask the sewing person to sew a pressure button on the pocket, like the ones LENA t-shirts have. This person will probably complain about this because they are hard to make if you do them by hand. But there is really no alternative to these pressure buttons because they are both childproof and easy to use by parents/researchers, plus they make sure the device doesn’t fall off.

One alternative we used in the past is velcro strips. These are fine if you work in an urban setting, which is very clean, and if you are not going to use the t-shirts over and over. We used them in a field setting and we were not happy with them. To begin with, dust and/or sea air caused the velcro not to stick. Also, as we washed them, they became less adhesive.

The last option you have for closing the pocket is a regular button with a button hole. You should think carefully before pursuing this, because if the children you are going to work with are a certain age (old enough to play with the button, but young enough to not realize the risk), small buttons can be a choking hazard.

3.2 Alternatives to t-shirts

If none of the options above are good for you, you have some more.

3.2.1 Vests

If you are going to work with populations where t-shirts are just the lowest layer (because they live in cold places), then t-shirts are simply not a good idea, because there are always going to be more clothes on top of the recorder and this causes noise and muffled sound.

An excellent alternative are vests. LENA does not sell them anymore, but you can ask around and see if someone still has them because they are really terrific: the child can wear them as inner or outer layers of clothing, so they can be a good solution for moderate and cold climate.

3.2.2 Harness

How about places where it’s so warm that children often do not wear any clothing? A possibility is that you create a system of straps that kind of looks like a harness (or a bra). One researcher that uses them is Marisa Casillas. We give a link to her paper in the resources section of this video. The paper contains a picture of her harness: it has a pocket on the front where you can put the device and elastic straps, to fit children of different ages. It can be used in very warm climates, as the only layer, and very cold climates, as the outermost layer.

3.2.3 Attaching the device to a piece of clothing

Another option is to buy a money clip or a very large paper clip, so that you can attache the device onto the child’s t-shirt or sweater. If you do that, remember to check whether there is something in this system that might cause a choking hazard: the clip needs always to be childproof and child friendly. Remember also that families need to access the on/off button to make use of their right to withdrawal.

3.3 Final comments

I’ve already said this but I cannot repeat this enough: To ensure the best quality audio,

  1. Try to use clothing where the device is completely stable (tight-fitting clothing, device firmly attached): you want to avoid noises from clothes rustling as much as possible;
  2. Place the recorder in the outermost layer of clothing possible to avoid muffled sounds.

3.4 Resources

  • LENA t-shirts: LENA no longer has a section where you can view their products. You should approach them for a quote via the LENA contact form
  • Custom pockets: We don’t yet have a publication for this.
  • Harness-like: Casillas, Marisa, Penelope Brown, and Stephen C. Levinson. “Early language experience in a Tseltal Mayan village.” Child Development 91.5 (2020): 1819-1835. pdf