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

November 20, 2014

By Karla Scoon Reid

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."