Texts Increase Parental Involvement

Parent involvement in literacy varies widely by household, but a new study by Stanford researchers shows that an early literacy text messaging program for parents of preschoolers has had a positive impact on the children’s kindergarten readiness and literacy development. The program, READY4K! has been implemented in some San Francisco Bay area preschools, and researchers are optimistic about the use of text messages to prompt parents to dedicate time to early literacy.

So, how exactly can texting parents help their children develop literacy skills? READY4K! send texts with tips and ideas for parents to engage their children in easy-to-achieve literacy practices. During the 2013-2014 school year, 31 preschools from the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) participated in the READY4K! pilot program, hoping that it would boost family engagement in literacy.

"I believe that all families want to be involved in their child's learning, but many feel they don't have the time or perceive that supporting their child's learning might be labor intensive or something that the teacher is better at," explained Meenoo Yashar, executive director of program quality and enhancement at SFUSD. "The texting program offered some simple nuggets around literacy strategies and validated that families do want to be involved, if given information that is easy to receive and useful."

At the end of the eight-month pilot program, children from families who received the texts scored significantly higher on literacy assessments.

"Our text messages had enough of an effect on the parents that it trickled down to the children, which is really encouraging," said Benjamin York, a doctoral student at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, who created the texting program with Professor Susanna Loeb. "But it's not parenting-by-text. The texts are there to just help facilitate authentic parenting."

Parents received tips such as using alliteration, or pointing out letters on the shampoo bottle during bath time. The texts suggest ways to integrate literacy into everyday activities. They serve as little reminders to parents of simple, yet meaningful teachable moments.

As the researchers evaluated the pilot program, they found that children whose parents received the text messages were better able to identify upper- and lower-case letters and sounds. Furthermore, parents who received the texts spent more time fostering literacy through activities than parents from the control group.