Iowa Area Education Agencies

Texting for Tots gives parents tool to improve literacy

January 21, 2015

Parents are a child’s first teacher! As educators, we are always looking for new, innovative ways to impact parent participation to increase readiness for school and positive educational outcomes. In today’s busy society, it is common for both parents to work outside the home. Often parents become frustrated with the lack of time they are able to spend with their child and many are unaware of what they should be doing with the limited time they have to help their child learn. Many believe that their child’s learning is something that happens upon entering the school doors.

In order to change this belief and empower parents to improve their child’s literacy, Prairie Lakes Area Education Agency (PLAEA) is expanding its Texting for Tots program.  Texting for Tots utilizes the web-based program, Remind, to send three text messages a week to subscribers reminding them of easy ways to assist in their child’s learning. Sample texts from Miss AEA include:
“Ask them about snow; what is that on the ground? Is it cold? What does snow feel like?”  or “Let your child “read” to you.  Let them hold the book, turn the pages, and say what they think is happening.”

Texting for Tots got its start with the help of a University of Northern Iowa practicum student who worked with the Prairie Lakes AEA Early Childhood Department.  A survey asked parents if they were interested in receiving text messages with quick and easy ideas about how to increase their child’s early language and literacy skills. Given the strong interest in receiving short concise tips that could easily be incorporated into daily routines, the “texting for tots” idea emerged.

“I believe that Iowa’s goal to ensure that each child is skilled in reading by the third grade cannot be accomplished until we understand the importance of brain development,” said Denise Wasko, chairperson of the the Prairie Lakes AEA Early Childhood Department. “Children’s academic successes at ages 9 and10 can be attributed to the amount of talk they hear from birth through age 3.”

The concept of using simple text messages to improve literacy outcomes for children is backed by research.  A study sponsored by the National Bureau of Economic Research shows that mobile technology may be an inexpensive, effective aid for improved childhood literacy and parental involvement. 440 families with 4-year-old students enrolled in a public preschool in San Francisco were followed in the study. Half of the parents received texts three times a week for eight months with messages like, “Say ‘ttt’ in taco and tomato”, or “Let your child hold the book. Follow the words with your finger from left to right.”  The other half of the parents received one text message every two weeks with simple information about kindergarten enrollment or vaccinations.

The study found that preschoolers whose parents received the reading tips via text performed better on literacy tests than children whose parents did not receive such messages. Parents who received the literacy texts were far more likely to report pointing out rhyming words or describing pictures in a book to their children than those who received the more general texts.   Teachers who were not aware of which parents were placed in which group also reported that those who received the literacy messages asked more questions about their children’s lessons.

According to one of the study’s authors, the increases in parental activity and involvement translated into learning gains for children. The children of parents who received the texts scored significantly higher on a literacy assessment than those in the control group who received the general information text messages. And when the children were given tests of letter and sound recognition, those whose parents had received the literacy texts had scores that indicated they were about two to three months ahead of those children whose parents had received only the general information texts.
While the Prairie Lakes AEA Texting for Tots program hasn’t measured gains in literacy for its participants, it has received a great deal of positive feedback from parents and the results of the study are encouraging.

“As educators, we understand that parental involvement greatly impacts a child’s future,” said Marcie Lentsch, PLAEA Early Childhood Leadership & Learning Consultant Literacy Coach. “Technology-driven tools, such as texting, may be the next innovative approach to inform and empower parents and ensure every child has the best possible chance at success.  Early childhood experiences impact the rest of a child’s life!”

To sign up to receive messages via text, text "@textingfo" to 81010. Participants can unsubscribe from messages at any time by replying, "unsubscribe @textingfo."
 This program will also be available in Spanish very soon. Visit the PLAEA website at for additional details.



Iowa Area Education Agencies
Central Rivers AEA Grant Wood AEA Great Prairie AEA Green Hills AEA Heartland AEA Keystone AEA Mississippi Bend Northwest AEA Prarie Lakes AEA
All Iowa AEAs are required to adhere to state and federal laws that prohibit discrimination in programs, activities and employment practices. For specific information, contact your AEA.
Iowa Area Education Agencies
Connie Johnson
Statewide Communications Director
Iowa Area Education Agencies
712/335-3588 ext. 2015

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About AEAs
Iowa Area Education Agencies (AEAs) were created in 1974 by the Iowa legislature to ensure equal educational opportunities for all children from birth through age 21. As regional service agencies, AEAs provide special education and school improvement services for students, families, teachers, administrators, and their communities.

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