For Immediate Release
Monday, November 9, 2020

Pritzker Administration and UChicago launch text message program for Illinois preschool families to promote learning at home

​The new partnership will support parents in building a habit of engagement at home to boost children’s school readiness

SPRINGFIELD –  The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) and the Behavioral Insights and Parenting (BIP) Lab at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy today announced a partnership to deliver a text messaging program called Chat2Learn designed to boost school readiness. The program will engage up to 50,000 parents and caregivers of preschool-aged children in Illinois Preschool For All and Preschool For All Expansion programs. Parents can start signing up now and on a rolling basis. Text messages begin on Dec. 6 and continue through June 30, 2021. The project is funded through $370,000 in federal funding from the Governor's Emergency Education Relief Fund.
“I’ve set a goal for our state that Illinois will be the best state in the nation for families raising young children. I’m pleased to announce this innovative partnership with the University of Chicago that will help us achieve that mission,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “As governor, even as I made difficult decisions to balance our state’s budget and choose which projects to prioritize, I knew that our youngest children were one of the most important investments in our future. While the ongoing pandemic has changed the way kids are learning, this program will help make sure our youngest students receive the support they need.” 
The Chat2Learn program aims to establish a habit among parents of engaging in the development of their children’s foundational skills for school readiness at home. This is especially important while in-person learning at early childhood centers remains limited due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The program draws on behavioral science to reduce informational and cognitive barriers to parents’ engagement in their children’s learning. Chat2Learn applies behavioral tools to prompt natural conversations between parents and children that inspire learning, exploration, social-emotional connection, and creative thinking.
“The Chat2Learn program is another part of making Illinois the best state in the nation to raise young children,” said State Superintendent of Education Dr. Carmen I. Ayala. “Parents of young children are busy and have a lot on their plates, especially right now. Chat2Learn offers an extra layer of support and reinforces the importance of family involvement to school readiness. Sending parents prompts and reminders via text messages is a quick, effective way to ensure parents have the support they need to encourage their children’s lifelong success."
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?'" 
“The approach of Chat2Learn is to make parent engagement enjoyable and frictionless and to create habits of learning through everyday parent-child exchanges,” says Professor Ariel Kalil, BIP Lab co-director. “We applaud ISBE for identifying the pressing need to support parents in meeting their young children’s learning needs during this time when early childhood centers are either closed or operating at a limited capacity.” 
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.
BIP Lab Co-director Susan Mayer adds, “We are glad to play a role, in close coordination with ISBE, to support parents during this unprecedented time and beyond for many families across Illinois. Chat2Learn builds on what the BIP Lab has learned about the impact that practical, behaviorally informed interventions can have to support parent engagement and better childhood outcomes.” 
Chat2Learn is delivered by SMS text message, so it does not require Wi-Fi access or app downloads, making it accessible to all families, including those with limited access to technology. The program is low-cost, simple, and easily scalable. 
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​.