SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WCIA) — A new partnership sponsored in part by the Illinois State Board of Education is aimed at boosting school readiness for preschoolers via text messages.

The goal is to prompt parents to engage in the development of their children’s school readiness while at home.

The program, called Chat2Learn, is available to 50,000 parents and caregivers of preschool-aged children in Illinois Preschool for All and Preschool for All Expansion programs.

The messages will begin coming to parent phones on December 6 and will last through June 30, 2021. According to a news release from ISBE, Chat2Learn “applies behavioral tools to prompt natural conversations between parents and children that inspire learning, exploration, social-emotional connection, and creative thinking.”

Funding for the project — which was also developed in conjunction with the Behavioral Insights and Parenting (BIP) Lab at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy — comes from $370,000 in federal dollars from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund.

Parents who enroll in the program will receive several text messages every week throughout the remainder of the school year. Messages are designed to help parents engage in conversations with their children at home that build literacy, mathematics, and social-emotional skills for kindergarten readiness. The messages are based on research evidence collected by the BIP Lab.

Examples of the prompts include:

  • “A Chat2Learn is quality parent time with your child. Ask your child today, ‘What is your favorite thing to eat that is round like a circle?’”
  • “Did you Chat2Learn each day this week? Today ask your child, ‘What 3 words describe you best?’ Share words you think describes your child with him/her.”
  • “Part of being a parent is getting to know your child better every day. Ask your child, ‘If you had a day to do whatever you wanted, what would you do?'”

COVID-19 threatens to deepen the gaps in skill development and educational outcomes between advantaged and disadvantaged children that appear before kindergarten and remain throughout compulsory schooling. Chat2Learn was created to support economically disadvantaged parents in creating learning habits at home that support their children’s readiness for kindergarten. Although Chat2Learn has been developed to address the challenges facing parents during COVID-19, it can continue to support parents even when children return to the classroom.

Chat2Learn is delivered by SMS text message, so it does not require Wi-Fi access or app downloads, making it accessible to all families.

Parents and caregivers of children in Illinois Preschool For All and Preschool For All Expansion programs can sign up for Chat2Learn online or by texting the first name of their preschooler to the program. Early childhood center administrators and teachers are encouraged to enroll families on their behalf. For more information on Chat2Learn, visit the BIP Lab website.