The Impacts of Poverty on Early Education Experiences







By Courtney Hazen and Morgan Nicely

What is poverty?

According to the Habitat for Humanity Organization, “Poverty is defined in either relative or absolute terms. Absolute poverty measures poverty in relation to the amount of money necessary to meet basic needs such as food, clothing, and shelter. Relative poverty defines poverty in relation to the economic status of other members of the society: people are poor if they fall below prevailing standards of living in a given societal context.”



"A child born today in the developing world has a 4 out of 10 chance of livings in extreme poverty."- UNICEF




Challenges that impoverished children face









Poverty affects children in multiple aspects, such as:



  • Academics

  • Emotional and social challenges

  • Stressors

  • Cognitive lags

  • Health and safety



Effects of Poverty on Academic Achievement and Social Emotional Development



Academic Achievement




Poverty creates strain and stress for the students and their families that negatively impact students ability to achieve academic success. These strains and stressors start in the early years of life. According to Center for the Study of Social Policy, “Young children who experience poverty in the first years of life are approximately 30 percent less likely to complete high school than children who don’t experience poverty until later in life.” Some specific factors that directly impact a student’s academic success are family income, health factors, and often times instances where student have cognitive or speech delays that require critical services. Educational attainment is one of the main ways to escape poverty because it sets them up for professional success. Due to the lack of educational attainment most individuals face with poverty, achievement gaps tend to widen over time.


Social Emotional Development



Often times students who live in poverty may act out in the classroom. When they act out it is normally because they want to take the tension off the task at hand because they may not have attention and support at home that each child deserves. Acting out gives them the attention they long for even if it is for negative reasons.



Children that face the stress of poverty may also struggle to bond and work with their peers. With the lack of human interaction, children in poverty tend to have limited emotional expression and proper communication skills. Often times, children are left unsupervised and find themselves engaging in developmentally inappropriate activities, such as television shows meant for older audiences.



It is common for educators to see these tendencies as a lack of manners and respect. However, these children do not have the same experiences as others. In response, teachers can not assume children have acquired these skills prior to schooling and should spend time teaching and modeling the appropriate responses and circumstances in which to use proper social and emotional skills.




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What Educators can do to help students in poverty succeed


Educators can connect and validate children who live in poverty in many ways. Educators can first establish a caring and believing environment in their classroom and school. This can be done by building relationships with students and incorporating their experiences, needs, and interests within their education.


Poverty is not an excuse to lessen expectations for students in poverty. Rather, teachers should have high, consistent expectations and practices for all students. It is important to create a positive and encouraging learning environment. Teachers can model how to find positivity in individuals and situations.  


Educators need to be informed and aware of resources that can help meet the needs of students. It is the educator's duty to network and communicate with other staff members such as counselors and paraprofessionals.


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