Pocket Literacy Coach

Using mobile technology to help parents and young children succeed

With the unprecedented growth of mobile technology in recent years, leading early childhood and research organizations have begun to advance a national conversation about how best to use new technologies to support young families and children. To explore the potential for digital learning in early childhood, the Ounce, researchers at Northwestern University, and the educational technology company Parent University formed a unique partnership to examine an innovative family engagement strategy: delivering parenting tips and support through text messaging.

Through this project, parents at three Head Start programs in the Chicago area enrolled in the Parent University texting service. Parents received one 160-character text message from Monday through Friday. Each daily text message provided a fun, easy idea for a parent-child activity focused on supporting early childhood literacy or math development, and critical thinking.  The idea was simple: could a simple text message, once a day, prompt families to engage in everyday moments of learning?

Researchers conducted an experimental study, with a treatment and comparison group, to answer this question. The results of this study are promising: Parents who received the text messages reported engaging in a larger variety of learning activities with their children than parents who did not receive the messages. This finding represents an intriguing contribution to the early childhood field – indicating that text messaging is an effective tool for delivering educational and parenting information to low-income families. Research and innovation efforts are currently underway at the Ounce to build on these promising findings at the intersection of digital learning and family engagement.