Friday, May 20, 2016

Early Childhood Education and Poverty

Poverty and its impact on education and the ability of children to succeed is a great concern to many of us. It has a tremendous impact on children and their ability to thrive later in life.

Researchers have been looking at why children of the poor have such a hard time making it later in life. One study found that there is a huge gap in the words spoken to poor kids and those from middle and high incomes.

University of Kansas researchers Betty Hart and Todd Risley entered the homes of 42 families from various socio-economic backgrounds to assess the ways in which daily exchanges between a parent and child shape language and vocabulary development. Their findings showed marked disparities between the sheer number of words spoken as well as the types of messages conveyed. 

After four years these differences in parent-child interactions produced significant discrepancies in not only children’s knowledge, but also their skills and experiences with children from high-income families being exposed to 30 million more words than children from families on welfare. 

Follow-up studies showed that these differences in language and interaction experiences have lasting effects on a child’s performance later in life. (The full study is here.)

This and other similar studies cause us to ask if early childhood education alone is enough to close that gap. As a educator it seems that we also need to include the extended families of these children in the educational processes to elevate their vocabularies as well. 

What can we do to support poor families?

Gary Sweeten

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