Poverty is an epidemic and escaping it can be a daunting task. Children who grow up in households and communities that struggle with low-incomes have more obstacles in learning and development. Think about a child raised by a high-class or professional family. According to, www.weareteachers.com, they will have heard nearly 45 million words by the age of four. By the same token, a child living in poverty will have only heard 13 million words by that age. This is a 22 million word gap in their vocabulary; before they even hit kindergarten they're at a disadvantage. Imagine now that this child has gone off to elementary school and their job is to focus on learning. Thankfully, many school districts now provide free breakfast and free/reduced lunch programs but what about dinner? Come mid-afternoon I know that I am starting to get hungry and here we have a student, sitting in class, who is not focused on 2+2 or who the president was in 1905 but whether or not they are going to eat before the next school day. Not only is this a frightening reality, it can damage neural connections related to the control of their emotions.
What Can I Do?
Your role, as a mentor, is vital to helping children from low-income households overcome these discrepancies. Here is a list of five ways you can foster increase towards their brain power.
1. Read together: Grow and stretch their vocabulary by unlocking meaning from classic stories. An added bonus is that, whether they tell you or not, children love to be read to.
2. Create Discrepant Events: Find opportunities for your Little to try a new activity and discover that their method doesn't work. This gives you the chance to explain and build their schema (the file cabinet of knowledge we store in our brains to recall on later). Science Experiments are GREAT for this!
3. Allow Choice: Children in low-income household rarely have a say in anything that goes on in their lives. They are limited by food, money or parental illiteracy which means giving them a choice can provide a sense of control that they are otherwise lacking.
4. Be Aware but Don't Coddle: It is important to be sensitive to the needs of those that we are mentoring but it is not essential that we excessively cater to them. Often times individuals in poverty don't see a way out and therefore the cycle continues. Motivation is important but you can not do everything for them. They have to keep the fire going and put in the work to grow and learn.
5. Encourage: Be the voice that pushes them towards their goals and dreams. Everybody needs a cheerleader and you may be the only one they have!