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New COVID Research: Preschoolers are Missing Opportunities for Learning

A nationwide survey by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at the Rutgers Graduate School of Education found that America’s preschools failed to provide students adequate support after shutting down in-person instruction in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The online survey results were collected from a nationally representative sample of one thousand parents with children aged three to five between May 22 and June 5, 2020. A few highlights of the survey are listed below.

  • Most parents reported their children received some remote educational support services when preschool classrooms closed, but the support was often minimal.

  • After two months, less than half of preschool children continued to receive remote learning support from their programs (among those receiving support, including preschool-provided activities, majorities of children participated less than once per week),

  • In addition to the loss of classroom learning time, the survey found evidence of declines in some parent-child activities, which could worsen learning losses.

  • Preschool shutdowns appeared likely to worsen educational inequalities.

    • Home learning environments are more unequal than preschools; public preschool programs provide the greatest benefits to the most disadvantaged children.

    • Most young children with disabilities experienced a loss of the services required by their Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), with almost a quarter receiving no supports after classrooms closed.

Study co-author Dr. Kwanghee Jung notes that parents face unprecedented stresses from the pandemic shutdown including working from home, travel restrictions, lost income, and difficulties providing for basic needs. This has made it difficult for parents to continue their usual home supports for young children’s learning, much less expand their efforts to replace preschool classroom activities.

Dr. Steve Barnett, NIEER’s senior co-director and a study author, shares: “the best way to address this inequality is to reopen schools for our youngest children, who learn best through hands-on activities and engaging with responsive adults and other children. The challenge of protecting the health of our young children – and their family members and teachers…should not be underestimated, and preschools will need funding to mitigate risks.”

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