At a pregnancy center last week, a Moroccan couple came in to request assistance for their fourth baby, due in July. They already had a 2-year old, 3-year old and 7-year old and had arrived from Morocco 4 years ago. The father, whose English was good, explained that he worked as a bus driver for a county bus service making $60,000/year. He spoke for the mother, who had very limited English skills and stayed home with the children.
He expressed that he and his wife, in addition to needing assistance for their baby, wanted information about pre-kindergarten programs for their 3-year old son, who would be turning 4 in August. He stated that his $60,000/year salary was “too much” for receiving assistance from government-subsidized pre-K programs. He stated that the family did not qualify for Head Start because of his salary. They spoke to each other with great concern, as relayed by the father, and explained that they worried their 4-year old would not be ready for kindergarten the following year without attending an English-speaking pre-K program.
The Center on Children and Families at Brookings’ paper titled “Starting School at a Disadvantage: The School Readiness of Poor Children” tells us what we know already. Whether it is that mothers are unmarried or the toxic stress too often associated with single parenthood and lack of resources, poor children are at serious risk for starting school less ready than their peers. We know that poor children, by the age of 4, can be up to 18 months behind their peers developmentally for crucial school readiness skills involving language understanding and use, social-emotional skills and sensory processing skills. And, we know that the solution for increasing school readiness for children living in poverty is attending preschool.
However, for the Moroccan family above who is not poor, and so many others like them, what is the solution for their child and his school readiness? As they will not qualify for no- or low-cost quality programs, we must be able to provide real solutions to help them get their child ready to attend kindergarten and to be on equal footing with affluent as well as poor families whose children attended preschool. Middle class families looking to build school readiness skills in their child should consider the following:
- Push both Republicans and Democrats to write and pass laws that support universal pre-K for all children, regardless of income level. A National Academies of Sciences reported in an article titled “Who Should pay for Preschool for the Middle Class?” estimates the total cost of universal pre-K would run to $140 billion a year, Evidence in the report suggests such an investment would pay dividends running to the trillions of dollars in money saved on social services and raised through income taxes on higher incomes from a better educated taxpayer base.
- Utilize free resources at local libraries and online, such as those provided by Care.com and Education.com.
- Last, but most importantly, help middle class parents feel empowered that they are a child’s best teacher and have what it takes to get their child ready for school! If there is extra money to put towards a child’s preschool education, sources such as k12, offers an online learning program called EmbarK12, which is “designed to help preschoolers from ages 3–6 prepare for Kindergarten and offers that strong academic foundation they’ll need for future years.” The cost starts at $99/year. Other companies, such as UPSTART and Time4Learning also offer online preschool learning options. Some experts wonder if online preschool options are good for children, since some of the most important skills necessary to be ready for school involve developing social and emotional skills that cannot be learned online, but the overall hope is that parents will not simply put their child on the computer for hours on end for online learning.
Until there are better and more options for middle class families who cannot afford preschool for their children aged 3-5 years, offering some real solutions for families is better than no solution at all.