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Using Mobile Messaging to Improve Parents’ Support of Preschool Children’s Science Learning

Wed, April 7, 1:10 to 2:40pm EDT (1:10 to 2:40pm EDT), Virtual


Children who engage in science activities early in life are more likely to be interested in science as adolescents and are more likely to participate in science-related careers as adults (Patrick, Mantzicopoulos, & Samarapungavan, 2009; Alexander, Johnson, & Kelley, 2012). However, many parents of young children report struggling to answer children’s science-related questions and lack the confidence and resources to engage in science activities in daily life (Authors, 2018). Prior work has documented positive impacts of parent-facing text messaging programs on improving parent-child interactions (Bigelow, Carta, Lefever 2008) and children’s early literacy skills (York, Loeb, Doss 2014). To date, there has not been a rigorous examination of how text messaging can impact parents’ beliefs and practices regarding early science learning.

This study examines the impacts of the Parent Science & Engineering Texting (PSET) program (an eight-week, science-focused parent-facing text message program) on parents’:

1. Confidence in their ability to help their child engage in science,
2. Perceptions of the importance of parental involvement in their children’s science learning, and
3. Engagement in science-specific learning activities with their children.

The authors randomly assigned the parents of 431 four- and five-year-old children from five U.S states to receive either the PSET message program or control condition. Treatment-assigned families received a tablet computer, access to child-appropriate, science-related videos and games, and three text messages each week designed to encourage parents to support their children’s science learning. Control-assigned families received a tablet computer and access to the science-related videos and games, but were not sent text messages.

Data were collected via online surveys provided to the participating parent or caregiver. We examine the impacts of the text messaging program using multivariate regression models in which we control for parents’ baseline confidence in helping their children learn science at home, family income, child age, and child gender. Data collection and analysis procedures are consistent with those described in our submission to the Registry of Educational Effectiveness Studies. Attrition from the study was 7% in the treatment group and 2% in the control group.

Results indicate that the intervention did not lead to statistically significant differences in parent attitudes but did lead to differences in parent behavior (see Tables 1 and 2). Parents exposed to PSET messages, on average, engaged in a greater number of science learning activities with their children each week than did the parents in the control condition. We also find suggestive evidence that treatment-assigned parents were more likely than control-assigned parents to practice some types of media co-engagement activities with their children.

The findings from this study suggest that efforts seeking to support children’s science learning through brief messages to parents might best focus on providing parents with specific ideas for engaging their children in science learning activities. Findings also suggest that interventions focused on co-mediation of media use might target efforts on improving the quality of conversations around the media, rather than on increasing co-viewing which is a time-consuming practice that is not feasible for many parents.