Understanding the Sociocultural Context of Families is More Important Than Ever
This blog is a part of "Supporting Families and Teachers Through Change", a blog series where authors from many perspectives and roles in early childhood explore ways to support educators and the families they serve during this period of rapid change. In this blog, Dr. Brian Wright argues that for teachers, right now, understanding the socialcultural context of families is more important than ever.
During these times of heightened stress due to COVID-19, children and their families want to be seen and to know that they matter. Without this recognition of their humanity and their lived experiences from teachers, any attempts to support children and their families toward adapting consistency in routines are meaningless. Understanding that childhoods are unequal along lines of race, class, and family life is essential to keep at the forefront of one’s mind. Sadly, elevated stress and coping with it are familiar ways of life for families living in poverty. This existed pre-COVID-19 and has been exacerbated by the continued spread of the virus.
Understanding that childhoods are unequal along lines of race, class, and family life is essential to keep at the forefront of one’s mind.
Black and Brown children and their families have been impacted disproportionately by this pandemic that has resulted in disruptions and interruptions to their routines of school and work. The closing of schools due to the pandemic interrupted the routines of education (P-12), nutrition (daily school lunches), social-emotional stability (classrooms as potentially safe places, although not all), and other supports (access to the school’s guidance counselor, nurses, if their school has one) in the lives of countless children and families. For many families, the loss of employment has affected their ability to provide food, shelter, clothing, and in some cases internet access, Wifi, and necessary devices needed for access to remote learning. While it may seem that hosting online meetings or providing packets of learning materials is an easy solution to help families with distance learning, there are some families who cannot take advantage of these opportunities with such limited access.
While it may seem that hosting online meetings or providing packets of learning materials is an easy solution to help families with distance learning, there are some families who cannot take advantage of these opportunities with such limited access.
Daily routines such as meals, school work, household chores, bathing, brushing/flossing teeth, bedtime story, and sleep reflect the lives of some children and families but not all. Reassessing the notion of these routines requires a renewed focus on the wellbeing of families; and in particular families of color. In light of the reality that childhoods are unequal, teachers should know the following to support children and their families as they adapt to preserve routines:
Meals in some families may occur when food is available instead of on a set schedule.
Not all families have equal access to reliable Internet, electronic devices, and wifi and they may be more focused on budgeting for meals instead of these luxuries.
Household chores can be an enjoyable learning opportunity for young children, under the watchful eyes of an adult. There are many ways for young children to learn math, language/literacy, and science through everyday activities at home, and reminding families of this gives them an opportunity to continue playing a part in their child’s learning.
Keep in mind that some families could be homeless and may not have opportunities to learn in a home or apartment, so be sure to learn about children’s out-of-school lives to ensure that we understand and are responsive to the full range of routines as dictated by context.
Bathing and brushing/flossing teeth will vary depending on the availability of resources. For this reason, bathing may happen once-a-day versus twice a day and likewise for brushing teeth. Flossing may not occur at all due to an added expense. How can schools contribute to closing this resource gap?
Expecting that families will read to their child nightly is unrealistic and access to children’s books is limited for many families due to other more pressing expenses. Teachers can provide affordable books and help families see language and literacy learning opportunities within the child’s home environment.
Context matters for bathroom and bedtime routines too. Adequate sleep is vital to children’s growth and development. Teachers should keep in mind that many of the things mentioned above impact and determine the quality of children’s sleep and personal care routines.
Brian L. Wright, PhD, is an associate professor and program coordinator of early childhood education in the Department of Instruction and Curriculum Leadership in the College of Education at the University of Memphis. He is also the coordinator of the middle school cohort of the African American Male Academy at the university. Dr. Wright is author of The Brilliance of Black Boys: Cultivating School Success in the Early Grades, with contributions by Shelly L. Counsell, which won the National Association for Multicultural Education's 2018 Phillip C. Chinn Book Award. [email protected]