Language intervention engages diverse group of parents, but does not improve children’s language skills.
TipsByText was a text-messaging intervention for parents of children enrolled into kindergarten. The objective of TipsByText was to reduce differences in children’s language skills before they start school, primarily by promoting language development in those children who face the greatest challenges.
Working closely with Professor Susanna Loeb, language consultants from selected local authorities and Pia Thomsen, PhD and Child Language Researcher, the ROCKWOOL Foundation Interventions Unit adapted the initiative and tested it through a randomised trial conducted in partnership with five partner municipalities: Høje-Taastrup, Ikast-Brande, Langeland, Lejre and Middelfart.
TipsByText did not succeed in improving the early language development of Danish children
The language assessment scores were neither better nor worse among those children whose parents received language-stimulating tips than among children whose parents did not participate in the intervention. Even among the group of children with the poorest language assessment scores at the start of the intervention, we could not detect any indicators of a possive effect on their scores immediately after participating in the intervention – nor one year after their parents had received the final tip text.
That said, the qualitative evaluation of TipsByText reveals that many parents enjoyed participating in the intervention and used the text messages on an everyday basis, resulting in their dedicating more time to their children’s language development and inspiring them to adopt new behaviour. Parents were inspired to find simple, entertaining activities to share with their children, and the text messages helped increase focus on the development of their children’s language skills.
Given the positive reception the intervention received, it may seem surprising that it did not have a noticeable effect on the children’s language assessments. This highlights the importance of taking a thorough, methodical approach to evaluating interventions, and shows that both quantitative and qualitative evaluations are essential in investigating the impact, usage and significance of a given intervention.
TipsByText was a parent-oriented text-messaging intervention built on the assumption that all parents want the best for their children. However, everyday life for parents with young children is often complex, involving multiple tasks and chores. The fundamental concept of TipsByText was therefore to make it easier for parents to support their children’s language development at the same time as assuaging the guilty conscience and the sense of burden that many parents of young children experience.
In practice, parents received three text messages per week containing tips and reminders for how they could use fun, new and simple approaches to stimulate their children’s language skills as an active part of their everyday routines. TipsByText ran over a period of 32 weeks, where parents received three weekly messages consisting of one fact, one tip and one development (growth) text.
TipsByText was originally developed in the United States by Professor Susanna Loeb of Stanford University, where the initiative has proved to have positive effects on children’s language development.
In adapting the concept to a Danish context, emphasis was placed on creating a system that could be used by all parents with children in the 3–5 age group. The objective of TipsByText was thus to support children’s language development so that all children can make a solid start on the life that awaits them.
Four themes distinguishing parents’ usage of TipsByText
About the evaluation
The evaluation is built on knowledge from two different studies.
• Impact evaluation, which examined the extent to which the intervention fulfilled its purpose of boosting language development in children. This evaluation was executed as a controlled, randomised trial involving 3,600 children in five municipalities. It was developed by Professor Marianne Simonsen of Aarhus University and Professor Susanna Loeb of Stanford University, in consultation with Postdoc Michala Riis-Vestergaard of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Rambøll Management Consulting assisted with the data collection.
• Qualitative evaluation, which examined how parents responded to TipsByText, and how they did or did not utilise the intervention. This evaluation was based on 50 in-depth interviews with 40 registered parents, 20 interviews with parents who withdrew from the intervention, 10 interviews with kidergarten teachers, and five interviews each with day-care leaders and day-care managers. It was prepared by Evaluator Zazie Tolmer of Co-Intent, in partnership with the ROCKWOOL Foundation Interventions Unit.
Text messages to support children’s early language development