Effects of a text-messaging parent intervention on preschoolers' literacy development

Effects of a text-messaging parent intervention on preschoolers' literacy development

First Author: Sonia Cabell -- Florida State University
Additional authors/chairs: 
Tricia Zucker; Jamie DeCoster; Susan Landry; Maria Carlo
Abstract / Summary: 

Purpose: Low-cost scalable solutions to improving parent-child interactions are gaining popularity via text messaging services (e.g., Text4Baby) and mobile apps (e.g., Vroom) that offer parents suggested activities to implement with their children. This randomized controlled trial tested a text messaging program designed to enhance language and literacy interactions at home.

Method: Participants were 174 parents and their 4-year-old children enrolled in a rural district that prioritized enrollment for children living in poverty. Within each classroom, half of the parents were randomly assigned to receive language and literacy text messages while the other half received messages on alternate topics (e.g., behavior, nutrition). Parents were sent text messages three times per week across 23 weeks.

Results: Contrary to expectations and past research (York & Loeb, 2014), results indicated a general negative effect of the treatment across six measures; only the name writing measure reached the level of significance. This main effect is qualified by a treatment by pretest interaction effect, where the intervention was beneficial for those with stronger baseline abilities, but not beneficial for those with weaker initial abilities for three measures – letter names, letter sounds and rhyme.

Conclusions: The surprising negative effect of the intervention, particularly for the most vulnerable children, calls into question its utility in the absence of a school-home aligned curriculum. It is possible that the text messages were not beneficial because the suggested activities were too challenging for this high-needs population or because they led to an overly skill-focused orientation to literacy behaviors at home.