Early Childhood

Study Says That Texting Reading Tips to Parents Improves Students’ Literacy Skills

By Karla Scoon Reid — November 20, 2014 2 min read

Who would have thought that texting—with all of its acronyms and emoticons—could actually improve a student’s literacy skills?

But that’s exactly what a new study of San Francisco preschoolers found. According to the study, released by the National Bureau of Economic Research, preschoolers whose parents received occasional text messages with reading tips performed better on literacy tests than their classmates whose parents did not receive those messages. Parents receiving those reading tips from the READY4K! text-messaging program also were more engaged in literacy activities at home and were more involved at their child’s school as well.

Most of the study’s 440 participating families whose 4-year-olds attended preschool in the San Francisco Unified School District had low incomes and qualified for financial assistance to cover preschool enrollment costs.

Over eight months during the 2013-14 school year, half of the study’s parents received texts three times a week with messages like “Say two words to your child that start with the same sound, like happy & healthy” or “When you’re bathing your child, point out the letters on the shampoo bottles.” Parents also were sent messages encouraging them to interact with their child’s teacher, for example: “Ask the teacher about your child’s knowledge of concepts of print. Concepts of print include knowing how books are organized & that words have meaning.” The electronic parenting prods were aligned with California’s preschool standards.

Meanwhile, the study’s other parents did not receive reading tips. Those parents received two informational text messages a month notifying them about school issues like vaccinations.

The study’s authors, Benjamin N. York, a doctoral student at Stanford University , and Susanna Loeb, a professor of education at Stanford, wrote: “The widespread use, low cost, and ease of scalability of text messaging make texting an attractive approach to supporting parenting practices.”

The texting program cost less than $1 a student because 80 percent of the families had unlimited text messaging plans on their cellphones. (The study notes that black and Hispanic adults, who often have the highest parenting program dropout rates, send and receive texts more often than their white counterparts.)

The study found that home-visiting programs could cost almost $10,000 per child while requiring parents to dedicate a considerable amount of time and effort to participate. Conversely, the study notes that the texting program requires a minimal demand on parents’ time since the tips are short and easy to use.

Could the future of parenting and literacy outreach efforts be found in :) and LOL? WDYT? (That means: What do you think?)

A version of this news article first appeared in the K-12 Parents and the Public blog.