On March 21, the Schubert Center hosted Ariel Kalil, PhD, Professor and Director of the Center for Human Potential and Public Policy at the Harris School of Public Policy Studies at the University of Chicago for a talk titled Parenting and the Home Environments of Poor Children. Kalil’s talk described income- and education-related skill gaps in child development, focusing on the home environment for a point of intervention for reducing developmental disparities in children under three.
Widespread research has demonstrated that children typically stay at the the socioeconomic level birth through adulthood. A significant achievement gap exists between children of wealthy versus poor economic backgrounds and children whose parents have a high level of education and a low level of education. A gap in early literacy and mathematics skills emerges even before age three – when poor children become eligible for the Head Start preschool program – and persists throughout the educational system and the life course for most children. Growing up poor is associated with: fewer years of schooling, lowering earnings, working fewer hours, receiving more government assistance in the form of SNAP or TANF, poorer health, higher levels of psychological distress, and higher BMI.
Kalil presented that current programs, which target children beginning at age three, remain insufficient to remedy the achievement gap since this gap already exists as children enter preschool. She further suggested that the poor quality of parenting in low-income households may diminish the impact of Head Start and other early childhood education programs over time. She proposes that programs should instead target the home environment and focus on helping parents teach their children early literacy and mathematics skills before starting school. However, traditional programs targeting parents have encountered many problems, including a high dropout rate, high expenses, and difficulty in increasing the scale of promising programs. She described several innovative programs that use technology to teach parents at home, which hope to avoid some of these common pitfalls. Kalilis currently conducting a study that uses tablets to teach parents how to engage their children with math skill development, with the hope that these programs will develop habits of math learning engagement with children throughout their lives.