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Sunday, May 28, 2017

The "Gaps" in Childhood

**This is not exactly great writing...just my heart. Thanks for reading!**

As I was browsing Facebook I saw some pictures posted by a family I know. Looking at their happy faces, it made me think of the children I serve that live in poverty. I know that may seem strange, but education is a passion for me.

My mind drifted to the thirty-million word gap the majority of children in poverty bring with them to kindergarten.

Here's a good place to start if you are interested:

 https://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/periodicals/TheEarlyCatastrophe.pdf

I then began to think of all the other gaps with children in poverty, and the reality is that these gaps add up and end up more of an ocean.

There is an experience gap. Many children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds never leave their county. Put those children next to the ones who have been to the Grand Canyon and Disney and museums and various other places. One child may have been to Europe last summer, and the other watched cartoons. I'm not even sure how you could quantify the differences in experience between the two. One has tried new foods, flown on a plane, experienced a different culture, visited landmarks and learned some history, and countless others. The other sat at home.

This adds up. By the time they enter public school, one child has lived a lifetime in experiences compared to another. When children are learning new words, think of the concepts one child would know over another. One has seen an airplane in the sky. The other flew in one. One has never heard of Van Goh. One has seen his paintings in person. One has never heard of a violin. One has been to the symphony. One has never heard of a toucan. The other has seen that and many more at the zoo. There is no comparison.

There is also an enrichment gap. Dance, sports, art, and music lessons are commonplace among wealthier children but are out of reach for many children in poverty. When parents struggle to keep food on the table and electricity in the house, dance lessons are not in the budget. Imagine not only the basic dance skills learned, but all that comes with it. Vocabulary is expanded by learning the names of the moves, new connections are formed in the brain by learning to move the body various ways, physicality is improved, teamwork and dedication are emphasized. The child experiences the thrill of performing for an audience. They are encouraged to keep trying to learn new dances and techniques. Self-confidence grows. Meanwhile, that child in poverty plays on an iPad all evening or watches TV.

I also think of the stress gap. By that I mean think of the stress a child in poverty faces compared to the wealthier child. If you grew up in wealth you knew dinner would always be there. You knew you had school supplies. You knew when August rolled around you would go school shopping. You knew if you had a fundraiser at school your parents would help you out. If there was an upcoming field trip, you knew your parents would send you the money.

Children in working class or poor families see those things as luxuries. This is a constant stress on a child. And there is no escape. In a family with more resources vacations are common. That is not the case in a struggling family. Vacations cost money, so there is never a break from the stress. 

There are so many instances of this. Children of wealth tend to eat healthier, play outside more, and get more regular medical care. They can afford the good shoes so their feet don't hurt. They can have salads and fruit when the other mom buys ramen because it's cheap. They have yards and safer playgrounds. Many kids in poverty live in places where it is unsafe to play outside. 

I know some kids in the world have it worse, and this isn't about them.

I don't know why this is on my mind so much, but it's been bothering me. If your children are blessed with these advantages they are already ahead of the curve. Please don't be quick to judge a child that isn't blessed with as much.