The current economic downturn is hugely reducing educational funding: class sizes are increasing, great teachers are being laid off, programs are being cut, and at the same time, academic standards are increasing. The effects of smaller school district budgets are visible by most people, but there are many more negative effects of the economy on families and children that we see in our jobs as teachers.
The kindergarteners who are entering school today were the babies born at the beginning of the recession. Many of these children have seen their parents struggle to keep or lose their jobs, some have moved many times or have not had access to well-rounded nutrition. This generation has lived their whole lives with constant stress as the norm. As the years of economic recession continue, these children are entering school, where they face more challenges.
The economic crisis has forced many families to make difficult decisions about childcare. Families that used to be able to send their children to preschool can no longer afford the expense, and therefore many more children are entering school without any previous structured experiences. The children who would have received structured daycare in the past are now being watched by neighbors or relatives in order to make ends meet. In some cases this is great, but in other situations, children may be lacking structure, social interactions, or miss out on the valuable skills that they need before they enter school. Some children are entering schools without knowing how to hold a pencil, how to take turns, what “learning” looks like, and how to follow routines. There is a large discrepancy among students in overall social skills, fine and gross motor skills, the ability to pay attention, and academics.
We can’t blame parents for having to make tough decisions in tough times. But we need to recognize that families and children need our help and support. We need to acknowledge these side effects and put safeguards in place in order to minimize the challenges that await students in school.
While parents cannot control their financial situations, they can make sure that structure is put into place when they are home. Regular family meals, bedtime routines, and specific times for socialization can help children develop many of the skills they need to be successful.
Schools can identify families who are in need and provide supports to the children, for example: serving free/reduced meals at school, connecting families with social service agencies, and making sure that students have a way to get to school. Teachers can also understand that not every student has help with homework at home.
In times like the present, out of the box thinking can yield huge results. What other ideas are out there? What programs have been successful? Please leave your comments.