May 8, 2019

Text tool helps kids get READY4K

READY4K header image

A text messaging tool supported by United Way makes bath time more interesting for Valerie Jens’ daughters.

The girls, 2 and 4, can learn and have fun almost anywhere thanks to Ready4K, a research-based text messaging program for parents of children aged 8 and under. Registered users receive weekly fun facts and easy-to-incorporate tips that make every moment — even bath time — a moment for learning.

One tip encourages Valerie to have 4-year-old Aubrey point to letters on a shampoo bottle. Another message, later in the week, reminds Valerie to build on the tips at bath time by encouraging her daughters to find words that rhyme with tub, soap and bubbles.

At United Way for Southeastern Michigan, we know that learning begins at birth and parents are a child’s first teacher. By investing in tools like Ready4K, we help parents take the guesswork out of early learning.

Valerie Jens poses for a photo with her children.

Valerie Jens poses for a photo with her children. Valerie finds helpful tips through United Way’s READY4K text messaging resource.

An important tool in the toolbox

Valerie, who works as a supervisor at Eastpointe Early Learning Center, has been using Ready4K since United Way funding made it available to parents in her district last fall. The program is offered free of charge to community members, schools and school districts.

“I’m an educator, but I don’t know everything,” Valerie said. “As a parent, I know extra tools are always helpful. It helps to keep it interesting for you and the kids.”

Ready4K sends parents three texts per week: A fact about child development, a tip that provides an activity to do with a child and a reminder to encourage parents to build upon the activity. The messages vary depending on the child’s age.

Valerie says the nice thing about Ready4K is that the text messages never go away. Even if she can’t complete the activity at that moment, she can refer to the message later.

“It’s nice to have easy tips at your fingertips,” Valerie said. “I can grab my phone to find an activity next time we’re in the bathtub or at the store. It’s great.”

Making the most of every moment

With Ready4K, texting evolves from a potential disruption into a way to bring parents and children together and prompt moments of engagement and learning.

“The research is there to prove it,” said Jeff Miles, director of innovation and early childhood at United Way for Southeastern Michigan.  “With proven tools like this we can turn wasted time — the time spent in line at the store or in the car — into powerful parent and child learning opportunities.”

In multiple randomized control trials, participants showed significant literacy and development gains and were more engaged at home and at school.

Valerie Jens and family in front of a water fountain

Valerie says READY4K helps keep things interesting for her children.

Planning for the future

In the future, United Way plans to link Ready4K messages to the results of the Ages and Stages Questionnaire (ASQ), which tracks your child’s developmental progress.  This will help further personalize the content and monitor progress over time.

Valerie, who is also the mother of an 18-year-old and a 14-year-old, shared that she’s excited to see how education will evolve with more modern approaches.

“Very small shifts in a parenting approach can have very powerful effects,” Jeff said. “It doesn’t take a significant amount of time; just commitment to the process.”

Editor’s note: Tips to better engage and educate your child are just a text message away. Text UNITED to 70138 to get started. There is no cost to enroll in Ready4K, but data and message rates may apply.