On the first day of virtual public school in Los Angeles, teachers marked 6,000 kindergartners as absent, according to the LA Times.
Early numbers show that kindergarten enrollment is down throughout the country. This data highlights, according to some educators, the need to more closely examine the challenges of remote learning for children and parents during this pandemic.
Anna Markowitz, an assistant professor of education at UCLA who researches this issue, says only 17 states and Washington, D.C., require children to attend kindergarten. Kindergarten also has a history of redshirting, when parents choose to hold kids near the birth date cutoff back for a year until the child is more developmentally ready.
“Parents are really concerned that virtual school isn't actually going to get their kids the skills they need,” she says. “Parents can be really attuned to their kids needing social interactions and kind of learning how to share almost more than sort of learning academic content.”
Kindergarten teaches kids self-regulation as well as social, emotional and motor skills — which can be tough to get through online learning, she says.
On top of that, many parents need to work from home during the pandemic. Parents need to balance finding a way to give their kids the necessary skills and getting them out of the house for a bit, she says.
Kindergarten — a rite of passage for kids — gives kids space to form social, emotional connections with other children in the classroom. Virtual learning sets up an environment where parents need to be involved with a child since 5 year olds likely can’t sit in front of a computer for long periods of time.
Markowitz says several of her friends decided to send their kids to child care instead of virtual kindergarten for the social interaction. Beyond LA, data collected in Southern states shows preschool teachers feel that the quality of classroom interactions with both other kids and instructors has declined since transitioning to virtual learning, she says.
According to her research partners in Louisiana, child care centers in the state are seeing an uptick in enrollment for older kids in kindergarten and first grade. Some parents sent their kids to child care instead of kindergarten, while other children will complete their online school at a child care center, she says.
Over the past few decades, there's been a big push to get children into school earlier to provide an advantage as they move through the education system. Parents in an “impossible position” need to decide what’s best for their kids with respect to getting their own work done, she says.
“I think we're going to see some real expansion of inequality down the line where, you know, kids are coming into first grade with really, really different preparation for school,” she says.
While this decision is tough for all parents, families with children who have a special need or require access to school services for other reasons face an additional difficulty, she says.
Whether it’s completing kindergarten at home, in child care, with a small pandemic pod, or not until next year, Markowitz says parents should do what feels right for their child.
“I think it's going to be really sort of hyper-local and hyper-individualized solutions,” she says. “And school districts are going to have to sort of collect the data and see how this plays out a bit more.”
This segment aired on September 3, 2020.