One common question reverberates around the country and at the community level where the work of early literacy is conducted—how do we engage parents of young children?

That question caused the Reading Success by 4th Grade initiative (RS4G), backed by The Irene E. & George A. Davis Foundation in Springfield, Massachusetts, to undertake a series of focus groups with parents of young children.

Springfield has high poverty and less than 40% of third graders read proficiently. RS4G has had success in aligning the community, educators, business leaders and media around the goal of all of Springfield's children reading at grade level. But engaging parents, where they live and work and recreate, has been elusive.

Focus groups of parents, and largely moms who participated in one of our three sessions, revealed what we knew: that parents have clearly moved into the digital age. Email, for anyone who has children, is almost recognized as a thing of the past. Moms told us almost universally that their primary engagement with the world comes through social media and texting. The smartphone serves as the communications tool of choice.

The bottom line message was clear from parents of young children—text us or find us through social media if you want our attention. So, we began thinking about what would make for a compelling texting initiative. In a world where analytics are now so readily accessible, it might be embarrassing to launch a texting campaign and have no one "opt in."

So, how would we create interesting and engaging content—texts—about something like early literacy? We decided early on it had to be a "community" texting campaign, where early literacy and tips for parents were just one component of the campaign.

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Sally Fuller, Project Director, Reading Success by 4th Grade, a Springfield MA community-wide initiative whose goal is to increase the quality of children’s language and reading environments across the many settings in which they are growing up, from birth to age 9. To do this, Springfield is engaging in collective action and creating a culture of literacy in which the families, schools and community support children – from birth – as they begin the journey which will result in reading proficiency by the end of third grade.

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