Six remote and hybrid caregiver engagement models that boost child outcomes
This is a guest post by Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA).
Caregiver engagement is vital for early childhood development. When parents or other caregivers actively participate in their child's learning, provide a nurturing and supportive environment, and engage in meaningful interactions—children benefit in multiple domains, including cognitive, social, and emotional. Yet, many caregivers, particularly those in low-resourced households, may face challenges in optimal engagement. Factors such as limited time, financial constraints, lack of access to educational resources, and other socioeconomic pressures can impact the level of caregiver engagement.
A survey of 62,837 caregivers of preschoolers in four countries—Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Peru—revealed that caregivers with high socioeconomic status (SES) generally had more time available, while those with low SES faced resource and time constraints. High-SES caregivers invested more time in child development activities and utilized learning resources, provided by the ministries of education, more frequently compared to low-SES caregivers.
These disparities highlight the need for targeted interventions and support for low-SES caregivers to engage with young children. To understand what works, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and Innovation for Poverty Action (IPA) partnered with ministries of education in Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico, and Peru. A series of six randomized controlled trials (RCTs) generated evidence on how the engagement of caregivers can support child development and learning in the preschool years. Recognizing the financial constraints of scaling caregiver engagement interventions, the evaluations leveraged hybrid methods that combine in-person and remote interactions or entirely remote approaches.
Jugando Aprendo: Play-based Learning in Mexico
In 2021, the Consejo Nacional de Fomento Educativo (CONAFE), a decentralized agency of Mexico’s education ministry, incorporated Jugando Aprendo into its Early Education Service Units in the state of Morelos, where 59.4% of children live in poverty. Through play-based learning activities between caregivers and children, Jugando Aprendo incentivizes the learning, emotional, and cognitive skills development of children aged 0 to 4.
Over a 12-week period, CONAFE educators provided weekly coaching by phone and face-to-face sessions to 480 families in the treatment group. The play-based activities differed by age group, focusing on four main areas: personal care, mathematical thinking skills, environmental awareness, and socio-emotional development.
The experimental findings show that the knowledge of play-based learning increased by seven percentage points, together with an increase in played-based practices proposed by the program by 0.5 standard deviations, among educators compared with their peers in the control group. The authors also find a positive impact on caregiver investment, as caregivers of the treatment group have a Family Care Indicator (FCI) that is 0.13 standard deviations higher than the control group. When disaggregating the index, the study finds that the treatment group performs the following activities more often: reading books/looking at pictures (0.12 standard deviations), singing songs (0.11 standard deviations), and playing with toys (0.17 standard deviations).
Growth mindset in El Salvador
Mindset is defined by individual beliefs regarding intelligence, personality, and talents. It shapes one’s social perspectives, determines reactions in different situations, influences motivation and affects how one copes with setbacks and failures. People with a growth mindset tend to attribute their mistakes to a lack of effort and seek to learn from these experiences. People with fixed mindsets attribute their failures to a lack of skills. A growth mindset links conflict resolution and a propensity for problem-solving when faced with a challenge, as well as greater self-regulation and social adaptability. Ensuing life outcomes include higher levels of resilience, higher academic performance, greater self-esteem and mental health, and lower levels of risky behaviors and criminality. While literature in high-resourced country contexts shows that child outcomes can improve by changing caregiver mindset beliefs, research has yet to investigate the development of growth mindsets in children in developing nations.
The Growth Mindset project in El Salvador evaluates the caregiver-child transmission of mindset attitudes. It employs various tools: in an initial visit, caregivers of preschoolers viewed videos discussing the differences between growth versus fixed mindset theory. Following the visit, they received 4-5 months of biweekly meetings through community educators of the education ministry, using a curriculum in mindset theory, as well as nudges via text message. Caregivers in the treatment group expanded their growth mindset attitudes by 0.22 standard deviations compared with their peers in the control group. Children improved their expectations to complete a task by 0.02 standard deviation compared with preschoolers in the control group.
Text-message Nudges to Caregivers in Costa Rica and Guatemala
Extensive literature suggests that caregivers may struggle to invest in the development of their young children, and this can stem from two main factors. First, many caregivers, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, may lack access to vital information about the importance of early childhood investments and the specific activities that promote optimal development. Second, behavioral biases can influence caregiver decision-making, leading to suboptimal investment in young children. Providing accessible and comprehensive information to caregivers about the benefits of early investments and evidence-based practices is crucial.
In response to this challenge, the education ministries in Costa Rica (MEP) and Guatemala (MINEDUC), IPA and the IDB joined forces in a regional behavioral economics pilot. Caregivers receive a set of text messages that combine caregiver education about positive parenting and family health, with math and language learning activities for children.
The results show a 0.11–0.12 standard deviation improvement in the cognitive skills of students whose caregivers were assigned to the text message campaign. The effect is explained mainly by improvement in early numeracy skills. Caregivers increased the number of activities they performed with their children proposed by the text messages by 0.39 standard deviations. They also reported an increased likelihood of complementing distance education programs with additional activities. Consistent with the improvement in students’ cognitive skills, caregivers were more likely to update their beliefs about their children’s skills. We do not find evidence of caregivers increasing their perceived capacity to guide their student’s learning process – or self-efficacy. These results suggest the effect to have been driven by increased caregiver involvement through the proposed activities from the text messaging campaign. The messages were effective only when schools were closed and education is provided remotely, with no effects in hybrid or face-to-face school settings. The short-term effects are compelling, given that the intervention lasted only 15 weeks.
Think Equal – Caregiver Coaching to Foster Socioemotional Learning in Colombia
Across the world, many children do not reach their socioemotional learning (SEL) milestones. This reality is linked to poorer academic performance, higher risks of dropping out of school and problems with the development of meaningful relationships.
To support SEL of preschoolers, the IDB, the Colombian Institute for Family Wellbeing (ICBF), la Fundación Escuela Nueva, and IPA, teamed together to bring the Think Equal model to 1,800 Colombian preschoolers in vulnerable areas. The curriculum is structured around an extensive library of children’s books in 36 SEL topic areas, ranging from celebration of diversity to empathy and gender equality. To teach preschoolers to name and measure their feelings, the model uses a Mood Meter that helps children identify their emotions by color. When the emotion is 'red', it is time to calm down until the Mood Meter becomes 'green' and 'happy'.
The model was provided through a blended attention model with center- and home-based learning, and a chatbot was developed to facilitate communication between the community centers and families. Preschoolers in the treatment group their self-awareness (0.14 standard deviations) and their prosocial behavior (0.13 standard deviations) compared to a control child.
MateWasi – Caregiver Coaching with Interactive Radio in Peru
When preschools closed during the pandemic, the Peru Ministry of Education (MINEDU) worried that students would be unprepared for first grade. During the summer break of 2021 (January to March), MINEDU, the IDB and IPA designed and evaluated a program called MateWasi that provided forty 15-minute lessons broadcast on public radio over a period of 10 weeks during the summer break to rising first grade students. Bolstered by educational coaches, caregivers received guidance and encouragement to conduct activities designed to accelerate the development of core mathematical skills.
The program did not cover the entire preschool mathematics curriculum but concentrated on the concepts key to preparation for the mastery of upcoming grade level content and skill development. These include one-to-one correspondence (i.e., the ability to count objects), number sense, spatial reasoning skills, classification and seriation, patterns, comparisons, measurement, parts and wholes, numbers and symbols, graphing, mathematical language, mathematical reasoning and problem solving.
The intervention improved cognitive outcomes in mathematics by 0.12 standard deviations. Moreover, it showed that remote coaches increase the likelihood and frequency of caregiver engagement in mathematics-related activities, suggesting that learning gains are driven by greater caregiver involvement in child skill development.