Children from 3 to 5 years of age have lost important learning opportunities due to the pandemic, according to a nationwide survey by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at the Rutgers Graduate School of Education.
Preschool enrollment rates were down nearly a quarter across the nation, with in-person education down even more. Lost opportunities extended beyond the classroom as there was also a sharp decline in parent at-home support for learning through book reading and other learning activities. Parents also reported unusually high rates of mental health problems for their young children relating to social and emotional development.
“The pandemic has dealt a one-two punch to the nation’s young children, decreasing opportunities to learn in preschool programs while sapping parents’ capacity to support learning at home,” said W. Steven Barnett, NIEER’s senior co-director and founder and an author of the survey report.
Most children who attended preschool did so in-person, but young children in poverty did not, the survey shows. Young children in poverty had less than a third the access to in-person education obtained by their higher income peers. Yet, young children learn best from hands-on activities and face-to-face interactions, and most parents found the demands of supporting remote preschool overwhelming.
The survey revealed seven impacts from the pandemic on preschoolers’ learning and their parents:
- Participation in center-based preschool programs remained substantially below pre-pandemic levels and much of what did occur was not in-person.
- Support for young children with disabilities appears to have suffered.
- Many more young children had high levels of social and emotional difficulties than expected.
- Preschool programs continue to struggle with assuring all young children eligible for either free or reduced price meals get them.
- Parents had considerable difficulty with their children’s preschool programs—particularly if their children were attending remotely.
- Among the hardships parents reported from the pandemic, the most common was getting less work done due to child care and education issues.
- Fewer parents reported reading to their children and teaching their children pre-academic skills.
Seven Impacts of the Pandemic on Young Children and their Parents: Initial Findings from NIEER’s December 2020 Preschool Learning Activities Survey is available here.
Survey results were collected from a nationally representative sample of one thousand and one parents of children age three to five. The online survey was conducted in December 2020. Funding for survey development and administration was provided by the PNC Foundation and the Foundation for Child Development.
This is NIEER’s second survey on the pandemic’s impact on preschool education in America. The first survey was conducted between May 2020 and June 2020 and is available at nieer.org.
The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at the Graduate School of Education, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, conducts independent research to inform early childhood education policy.