Research Report

Seven Impacts of the Pandemic on Young Children and Their Parents

Initial Findings from NIEER’s December 2020 Preschool Learning Activities Survey

pandemic toddler and child


Early learning experiences at home and in classrooms build the foundations for children’s later success in school and life. The pandemic has upended homelife and preschool programs, making it more challenging for both parents and communities to provide optimal learning experiences for young children. These changes are likely to have important consequences for young children’s learning and development (social, emotional, and physical as well as cognitive) and mental health.

To learn about the pandemic’s impacts on young children’s learning and development NIEER developed a parent survey regarding children’s home learning activities and preschool participation during the pandemic. The first survey was conducted in Spring 2020.1 We followed this up with a second survey in December 2020 with a national survey of parents of children ages 3 to 5 and not yet in kindergarten. As with the first survey, the second includes some questions from previous national surveys such as the National Household Education Survey to compare current circumstances with those prior to the pandemic. It also included a standardized measure of children’s social and emotional development and well-being.

Overall, we found 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. Although most who attended preschool programs did so in-person, this was not true for young children in poverty who had less than 1/3 the access to in-person education of children in higher income families. Parent supports for learning through booking reading and teaching basic skills also declined sharply. So children lost learning opportunities both at home and in preschool programs. Not surprisingly, parents reported unusually high rates of social-emotional or mental health problems for their young children.

We summarize key findings and then present charts with detailed information on seven impacts the pandemic has had on young children and their parents.

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