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One Step at a Time: The Effects of an Early Literacy Text Messaging Program for Parents of Preschoolers. Download 06/2017

TIPSbyTEXT is a text messaging program for parents of preschoolers designed to help them prepare their children for kindergarten. Each week during the school year, parents receive three texts about important kindergarten readiness skills. For example:

FACT: Bath time is great for teaching your child important skills for K. Start by asking: What are the things we need for bath time? Why?
TIP: When you’re bathing your child, point out the letters on shampoo bottles. Ask your child to name them & the sounds they make.
GROWTH: Keep using bath time to prepare your child 4K! Ask: What rhymes with tub (cub, rub), soap (rope, hope), & bubble (double, trouble)?

TIPSbyTEXT text messages, which were developed at Stanford University, are based on child development research and linked to state educational standards (e.g., Developing Early Literacy: Report of the National Early Literacy Panel, 2008). More importantly, they are effective. In a study in San Francisco, parents who received TIPSbyTEXT text messages engaged far more frequently in learning activities at home with their children than parents who did not receive the texts. TIPSbyTEXT parents were also more involved at school according to teachers. Ultimately, children of parents who received TIPSbyTEXT texts gained two to three additional months of learning in important areas of literacy (York, Loeb & Doss, 2017).

Background: Substantial differences exist in young children’s home learning experiences. Hart and Risley (1995), for example, finds that by the age of four, poor children hear about 30 million fewer words than wealthy children. Such disparities are troubling given the strong relationship between what children experience at home and their development of motor, social, emotional, literacy, and numeracy skills (e.g., Anderson, 2006). Many existing parenting programs are ineffective, and effective programs aren’t widely available, either due to costs or the demands place on parents’ time and effort (e.g., Aos, Lieb, Mayfield, Miller & Pennucci, 2004). Most programs try to rapidly change complex parenting behaviors over a short period of time.

A more promising approach is to: a) break down the complexity of parenting into small steps that are easy to achieve, b) provide continuous encouragement and support to parents over an extended period of time, and c) leverage technology to reach as many parents as possible. Currently, text messaging is the ideal technology for putting this strategy to work. Ninety-seven percent of American adults under the age of 50 have cell phones, 98 percent of cell phone owners can access texts, and text messages have a 95 percent open rate (Ehrlich, 2013; Zickuhr & Smith, 2012). In addition, texting is inexpensive, easy to scale, and has proven efficacy in similar applications (e.g., Castleman & Page, 2013). TIPSbyTEXT is the first research-based text messaging program for parents of preschoolers.

Anderson, M. (2015). Technology device ownership: 2015. Pew Research. Retrieved, December 15, 2015 from ownership-2015

Aos, S., Lieb, R., Mayfield, J., Miller, M., & Pennucci, A. (2004). Benefits and costs of prevention and early intervention programs for youth (No. 04-07, p. 3901). Olympia, WA: Washington State Institute for Public Policy.

Castleman, B.L., & Page, L.C. (2013). Summer Nudging: Can Personalized Text Messages and Peer Mentor Outreach Increase College Going Among Low-Income High School Graduates?. Center for Education Policy and Workforce Competitiveness Working Paper, (9).

Ehrlich, S. (2013). Mogreet releases best practices guide for successfully navigating text marketing rules and regulations. The Wall Street Journal, February 17, 2013.

Hart, B., and Risley, T.R. (1995). Meaningful differences in the everyday experience of young American children, 1st ed. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing.

Lonigan, C. J., and Shanahan, T. (2009). Developing early literacy: Report of the National Early Literacy Panel. National Institute for Literacy. Retrieved, August 15, 2005 from

Zickuhr, K., and Smith, A. (2012). Digital differences. Pew Research Center. Retrieved, December 15, 2015 from PEW_Class.pdf