The Behavioral Insights and Parenting Lab at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy recently published in The Journal of Human Resources results from a study showing that using text messages to help parents set goals for reading to their children and to remind parents of their goals can double the amount of time that parents of Head Start children spend reading to their children using a digital library.“Previous research has shown that reading to young children is associated with greater literacy and numeracy skill,” noted Prof. Susan Mayer of Harris Public Policy, one of the researchers who designed and conducted the Parents and Children Together (PACT) experiment. “Yet we know that many parents, especially lower-income parents and parents with limited education seldom read to their children. So we created a program that uses behavioral tools to help parents overcome cognitive roadblocks to spending time reading to their children.”
Behavioral Insights and Parenting Lab co-directors Mayer and Prof. Ariel Kalil of Harris Public Policy, along with Philip Oreopoulos of the University of Toronto and Sebastian Gallegos of the Inter-American Development Bank, invited parents from eight preschools in Chicago to borrow an electronic tablet for six weeks. The tablets included a library of more than 500 children’s books along with an application that would record the time, audio and video of parents reading to their kids. Parents were randomly divided into a treatment group and a control group.
Parents in the treatment group were asked to set a goal each week for how much time they would read to their child. Then they were sent several text message reminders each week to work toward their goal and weekly feedback on the actual amount of time they spent reading to their child. Parents also received a social reward in the form of a digital badge for meeting their goals.