Text-based tips may help parents and preschoolers learn

January 24, 2018

By Daisy Yuhas

Tending toddlers can require endless reserves of energy. Just ask Huyen Le, supervisor of a family resource center in San Jose, California. After a full day’s work managing children’s reading programs and parenting workshops, she returns home to her own two-year-old daughter, Katelynn.

“We do a lot in our center. Sometimes, I forget to do it with my kid at home,” Le says. Seeking inspiration, she turns to her phone where, for the last 10 months, she’s been receiving text messages with simple educational games, tips on how to engage with Katelynn and reminders of simple learning activities they can do together.

The texts come from a team of researchers at Stanford University’s Center for Education Policy Analysis (CEPA) Labs. Each message goes out to parents or other caregivers and reminds them of the skills young children will eventually need for school and how to help kids build them.

The approach is inspired in part by “nudge” techniques, that is, behavioral interventions that push a person during decision-making towards a certain goal. For example, many employers nudge you to save for retirement by contributing a portion of your paycheck to a 401k. You could always opt out, but making saving a default decision spares you the task of regularly choosing how much to put away – it lightens your cognitive load, so to speak.