Boosting preschoolers’ literacy can be as simple as sending their parents a few texts – but it’s important not to overdo it.

That was the key finding of a recent study that was conducted of a text-messaging program developed at Stanford University that is meant to improve parental engagement. Kalena E. Cortes and Hans Fricke – together with Susanna Loeb and David Song – are interested in the best ways to improve children’s academic performance.

Through the program that was studied, parents get three types of text messages: facts, tips and growth text messages.

Facts include general information about important literacy skills and parent-child activities, such as, “Children need to know letters to learn how to read & write. Research shows that kids with good letter knowledge become good readers.”

Tips include actionable advice with specific examples of parent-child literacy activities, such as, “Point out the first letter in your child’s name in magazines, on signs & at the store. Have your child try. Make it a game. Who can find the most?”

Growth messages provide continuous encouragement to parents of preschoolers throughout the school year: “Keep pointing out letters. You’re preparing your child 4K (for kindergarten)! Point out each of the letters in your child’s name. Ask: What sound does it make?”

Discovering What Works

For our study, we wanted to know why the text-message program works and how to make it more effective. More specifically, we wanted to know if the advice being provided through the program was working and whether more text message tips would make the program even stronger.

To do this, we carried out a randomized experiment with 3,473 parents of preschoolers in a large urban school district in Texas. Four out of 5 of the preschoolers in our study came from families that are considered poor. Sixty-seven percent of the preschoolers are Hispanic and 28 percent are black.

We divided the parents of preschoolers into three different groups. The first group only got one text tip per week – on Wednesdays. The second group got the same thing as the first group, plus a fact message on Monday and a growth message on Friday. The third group got a text message five days a week. More specifically, this last group got a fact message on Mondays, a tip message on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, and a growth message on Fridays.

Three is the magic number for engagement

What we ultimately found is that three is the magic number for parent engagement. One tip is not enough and five text messages is too many. We found that parents who got one tip reported to engage less often with their children than parents with three text messages, but that five text messages were more likely to lead parents to opt out of the program. That is, parents who got five messages opted out at a rate of 8 percent, while parents who only got three texts opted out at a rate of 5 percent.

We also found that the effectiveness of the program to improve children’s literacy development, measured in 1-on-1 assessments, depends on how strong a preschooler’s literacy skills were in the first place. If children were lower performing, the single text message was not enough and in fact their literacy strength dropped compared to children whose parents received three texts. For instance, when children were asked to identify whether or not a word pair rhymes, lower performing children in the single-message program identified, on average, 0.6 out of nine word pairs less than those in the three-message program.

But those who were higher performing increased more in the single-message program – the one that offered just a tip – than in the three-message program, which included a fact, tip and growth message. As an example, the higher-performing children in the single-message program named around one common object more in one minute than those in the three-message program. The five-message program made no difference compared to the three-text program.

The bottom line is that for a text message program to work for parents, it pays to pay attention to what kind of messages are being sent and how often they are being sent. Parents of lower-performing children may benefit more from general information and encouragement, whereas parents of higher-performing children may only need tips on specific activities.


This article was originally published on The Conversation

Here are Offspring Magazines top picks this winter for both kids and adults.

Along came a different    Ages 0-5     Author and Illustrator: Tom Mclaughlin

The Reds sure do love their hats and their music, but this is a problem for the Yellows, who consider the Red’s music to be far too loud. Don’t forget about the Blues, wearing their fancy bowties and playing their blue guitars, further dividing the groups up. All three colours strongly dislike each other, until one day a new colour turns up and wants to be friends with the Reds, Yellows and Blues! Young readers will learn that everybody can be friends, even if there are people out there who are different.

Lets Go ABC!    Ages 2-4    Author: Rhonda Gowler Greene    Illustrator: Daniel Kirk

A unique and exciting way for children to learn the alphabet, all the way from A to Z! Every letter in this wonderful picture book has an association with a vehicle of some sort. Kids will not only learn the alphabet but also be taken on a thrilling journey with the wonderful illustrations, making it an even more enjoyable experience to learn.

Being a Princess is very Hard Work  Ages 3-5   Author: Sarah Kilbride   Illustrator: Ada Grey

It’s not an easy thing being a princess. There are far too many thrones you have to sit on, too many hands to shake, and worst of all, too many frogs to kiss! From the bestselling author of Princess Evie’s Ponies comes a story for young woman about the struggles a princess must endure.

Migration Incredible Animal Journeys     Ages 7-9   Author: Mike Unwin   Illustrator Jenni Desmond

This book contains 20 stunning animals, with vivid illustrations and exciting facts about these creatures, including the great white shark, African elephants, and the emperor penguin, just to name a few. Not only will you get to view and learn about these fascinating animals but you will be joining them on their migration journey.

David Walliams Book of Stuff   Ages 8+  Author: David Walliams  Illustrator: Tony Ross & Sir Quentin Blake

A Hilarious book for David Walliams fans, old or new.  Inside you will find quizzes, facts, and all sorts of wacky knowledge about the characters in David’s books, providing hours of entertainment for all readers. Not to mention it’s also a wonderful companion alongside any of David Walliams’ novels.

The Doctor’s Diet   Ages -Adult    Author: Alessandro Demaio

Doctor Alessandro Demaio, star of ABC’s Ask The Doctor provides not only 120 healthy recipes in this book but some fantastic advice and tips on how to stay in shape. Alessandro explains why the best diet is a simple one that is based on unprocessed ingredients, and just as importantly, should always taste great.

For 20 years, Harry Potter has indulged the imaginations of children millions of times over, and with the recent announcement of two new books being released later this year, the debate of whether future generations should be exposed to witches, wizards and wands will no doubt reignite.

As much as reciting the spells, waiting for an acceptance letter from Hogwarts or imagining what Diagon Alley looks like, there is more to the Wizarding World than meets the eye.

Here are five important lessons children can learn from the Harry Potter franchise.

1. Friendship. Throughout the series, the strength of the friendship between the characters is what holds everything together.  This is especially important for children to witness that having a large group of friends isn’t necessarily better than having a couple of strong friendships with people you know will always have your back.

2. The importance of reading. Hermione’s love of reading and knowledge was one of the things that got the trio of protagonists through sticky situations. If Hermione, a strong, intelligent female, can love to learn, and read, hopefully it’ll inspire a new generation of children to be like her.

3. Bravery. The books exemplify how being brave isn’t just the people who fight in battles, but are too the ones who stand up for what they believe in, even when it’s difficult.

4. To always stay true to yourself.  The characters can teach children that no matter who you are, what, or whom you love, you shouldn’t change for anyone.  This is particularly important now more than ever as children become adolescents and feel an enormous amount of pressure to “fit in”. Sometimes the people who aren’t like the rest are the most interesting.

5. Never be afraid to ask for help. Asking for help can be one of the hardest things to do at any age, but if children can see that Harry would ask for help when he needed it they can see that it’s nothing to be afraid or embarrassed about.