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Mel Gravely

Interruptions in Early Education Can Affect Development and School Readiness

Although many of us will luckily never experience the symptoms of the COVID-19 virus, many more of us will bear the burden of its ancillary effects. Because of staff and student cut-backs, schools closing completely, lack of access to materials for remote learning, and the flaws in remote learning, children and teenagers of all ages aren’t receiving the quality of education they truly require. But it is infants, toddlers, and early learners that are falling behind the most from not receiving adequate education during their most important developmental stages of life.

In USA Today’s article on educational interruptions due to the pandemic, we read that a child’s learning experiences are very predictive of their success later on because most brain development occurs before age 5, tripling in size during the first two years of life. The article cites studies that show that “students who start kindergarten without preschool are more likely to repeat a grade, require special-education services or drop out.”

“A slew of studies show that children who attend quality early-learning programs are more likely to enter kindergarten with a solid grasp of language and math and to have positive relationships with their parents, for example,” the author writes.

Unfortunately, even before the pandemic students from low-income families had few opportunities to prepare for kindergarten, and child care was out of reach for most Americans. Head Start and Early Head Start programs served only 11%-36% of eligible children throughout the nation, which means over half of low-income children started kindergarten without being ready for it. Now add the pandemic circumstances to that statistic.

Today, the children who are able to receive education at least remotely are also falling behind. Parents juggling their day jobs and their child’s education are not able to fill in the gaps where educators normally would. Children learn best when their learning is experiential, when they can touch and handle objects and gauge the reactions of their teachers, and they just aren’t getting that same level of observation and support that they would in an in-person classroom. 

Beyond the limitations of virtual early learning, many children are also missing out on physical activity and playtime with their peers which promotes healthy development. Meanwhile, centers that remain open often have to limit students’ interaction, relegating them to their own play areas and thus limiting their ability to practice sharing. It’s in those moments, that children build social intelligence, how to manage disputes, and negotiate with a friend and be likable.

Parents should know and remain that they are empowered in offsetting the losses, by not necessarily replacing educators but putting their energy towards teaching their children other skills. There are learning opportunities throughout the day that can keep a child’s mind engaged. 

Experts and advocates say an infusion of federal money is needed to ensure the country’s youngest children thrive after the dust of the pandemic settles, and “The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act,” passed in March by Congress won’t be enough. For the benefits of opportunity to stick, recent studies suggest, children will also need to receive quality elementary education. And that, too, is hanging in the balance during the pandemic.

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