Children from low-income families typically have fewer opportunities to develop language skills than middle-class children, which creates learning gaps evident on the first day of kindergarten.
Research shows that parents can close that gap if they read regularly to their children and take advantage of everyday activities like grocery shopping and doing laundry to build literacy skills.
But educators have long struggled with how to get that message heard widely, without spending too much money.
Stanford researchers recently tested one promising solution — text-messaging — that provides parents with bite-size tips that they can use immediately with their kids.
Benjamin York, a doctoral student at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, created the texting program with Stanford education professor Susanna Loeb, and tried it out last year with the parents of 4-year-olds in 440 mostly low-income families at 31 preschools in the San Francisco Unified School District.
Their study, published in November by the National Bureau of Economic Research, showed that parents randomly selected to receive the text messages did more at home with their children to promote literacy than a control group.
More importantly, kids in the program, called READY4K!, performed better on some early literacy tests.