Early Learning Programs Stretched by Pandemic

Study shows that programs serving Dual Language Learners urgently need additional resources

Young Asian-American boy reading a educational play book.

Early Edge California and the American Institutes for Research (AIR) released their research brief, California’s Early Learning and Care Providers: Essential Workers Who Need Support, which shares results from seven focus groups* conducted with Early Learning providers across the state about their needs and experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. This research shows that the crisis has taken a significant toll on Early Learning providers, including those serving the state’s large and growing population of dual language learners (DLLs); and that Early Learning programs need more resources to continue serving families.

“The results from this research evidence the need to provide more resources to Early Learning teachers and the children they serve during these unprecedented times,” said Patricia Lozano, executive director of Early Edge California. “It’s clear that we need to provide more guidance, resources, technology, and support to them to get through this crisis. This pandemic has revealed deep disparities that need to be addressed to create an equitable system that supports learning for all children.”

The focus group findings showed that providers are committed, resilient, and doing their best, despite facing considerable challenges during this time. Many providers are finding creative and flexible ways to support children’s learning. Even staff who are no longer getting paid due to program closures or who are being furloughed reported that they check in regularly with families and children and help as they can. And communication with families goes beyond providing learning resources or ideas for the children—it also includes helping families find food, access physical and mental health supports in the community, and navigate technology.

Providers are also making extra efforts to connect with DLL families, but supporting the learning of DLL children was noted as a particular challenge. “Engaging children under 5 in distance learning experiences is no small task,” explained Dr. Rebecca Bergey, senior researcher at AIR, “but ensuring effective learning opportunities for DLLs over Zoom is a real challenge. Providers need more guidance on distance learning for all.”

Limited, delayed, and changing guidance has left providers to figure out things on their own.

“We’re in the dark about what we’re supposed to be doing,” said one focus group participant.

Providers also indicated that the COVID-19 crisis has taken a significant financial toll on their programs and that many are struggling to get the basic supplies they need for their young students.

Based on the feedback from these focus groups, Early Edge and AIR recommend the following actions:

  1. Continue to fund state-contracted programs.
  2. Support home-based care through local and statewide networks.
  3. Support private programs with guidance and access to resources.
  4. Provide guidance for all programs on how to operate in the new context.
  5. Ensure all programs and families have access to technology and resources to meet basic needs.
  6. Share distance learning resources with all programs.
  7. Help programs better support DLLs in distance learning.
  8. Capitalize on connections with families to strengthen engagement.
  9. Share resources with DLL families to promote home language development.
  10. Support Early Learning providers as people.

To learn more about these recommendations and other findings from the focus groups, see the report at the following link: https://bit.ly/3fSeqNY

*To further understand the challenges faced by early educators and caregivers, the American Institutes for Research (AIR) and Early Edge California conducted seven focus groups in May 2020 with 32 Early Learning providers (including administrators, teachers, and caregivers) who work in a variety of settings (school-based; center-based; Head Start; State Preschool; family childcare centers; and family, friend, and neighbor care) across the state. Most providers from center- and school-based programs, whether publicly funded or private-pay, told us they were closed for the direct provision of on-site care while the state was under stay-at-home orders.

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