Sun-Sentinel Op-Ed: Early childhood education was among pandemic’s victims

Through the first few years of a child’s life, we watch them grow exponentially. From coos to sentences and crawls to runs, parents watch in amazement at how quickly their child learns new things and moves from one stage of development to the next. During a “normal” year, thousands of local children under the age of 6 are enrolled in a child care or prekindergarten program in which their development is enhanced by daily learning opportunities and activities.

Unfortunately, this year, many families who would have otherwise had their children in one of these programs, made the hard choice to keep their young children at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, there is great concern among parents and those in the early learning industry about the impact of so many children missing out on important learning they would have otherwise received at a child care program, especially in low-income communities where data shows many children start Kindergarten already behind and struggle to catch up. This is a valid concern, as preschool learning is so important, laying the foundation for future learning and success.

Renee Jaffe is CEO of the Early Learning Coalition of Broward County.
Renee Jaffe is CEO of the Early Learning Coalition of Broward County.
And while we don’t yet know the full impact of the pandemic on young learners. Here is what we do know:

According to a national survey conducted by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER), fewer parents reported reading to their children and teaching their children pre-academic skills.
NIEER also concluded that the pandemic resulted in significant loss of important learning opportunities for young children through the fall into December. Participation in preschool programs declined sharply from pre-pandemic levels.
A recent study from NIEER, led by Dr. Steve Barnett with support from the PNC Foundation, found that many 3-to-5-year-old children have suffered from a lack of hands-on activities and socialization due to the pandemic.

As a community, we need to understand the depth of potential learning loss and/or preparedness for Kindergarten both from an educational and social/emotional standpoint. It is imperative that local and state elected officials, governmental early learning entities and nonprofit organizations devise innovative ways to support young children (and their families) who have experienced learning loss or who have fallen behind as a result of the pandemic.

Sufficient funding and resources needs to be available to provide necessary services to ensure children are developmentally on track and ready and able to succeed in Kindergarten. We have an opportunity and a responsibility to use the $635 million Florida received in supplemental child care federal stimulus funding earlier this calendar year through the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations and the additional $2.5 billion for expanded child care assistance and child care stabilization through the American Rescue Plan Act to strengthen the child care industry and help those children educationally that it need it the most.

For parents, the good news is, you are your child’s first teachers. It may sound overwhelming, but research indicates no amount of formal teaching can compare to the influences the family has on children. Simple, daily connections and interactions between family and child will keep the learning and development going even if they are not in a daily educational setting. There are little things that can be done every day to help build a child’s brain and help them learn and grow. By simply taking time each day to talk, sing and read to their child, parents are building a developmental foundation of early literacy skills needed for future success. By counting out loud with children any time there is an opportunity, parents are building crucial math skills.

There are also free and easy resources for parents/guardians to keep young children learning at home. The Early Learning Coalition of Broward County offers free books for children under the age of five through Broward Bookworms, the 3Ts: Tune In, Talk More, Take Turns initiative and the Doc Portal, a virtual tool for online learning.

When you are ready, there is no greater partner for learning and development than your child’s preschool. In Broward County, 99% of all preschools are back open. If you need help locating a child care center that works for you, please let the Early Learning Coalition of Broward County help you. Call us at 954-377-2188 or check out our website at

If you are concerned about your child’s learning loss or have any questions about your child’s development, other options include speaking with your child’s pediatrician; contacting the ELC of Broward’s Warm Line, which will answer questions and concerns about development of children birth to five at 954-295-0672; calling Early Steps at 954-728-1083 for concerns about children birth to 3; and FDLRS Reach/Child Find at 754-321-7200 for children 3 to 5.

Renee Jaffe is CEO of the Early Learning Coalition of Broward County.