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Recession Turns Homes into Classrooms

New America Media, News Feature, Vivian Po Posted: May 23, 2009

Editors Note: Unemployment and the long wait lists for preschool are prompting some Chinese parents, whove traditionally valued education, to turn to a new way to teach and care for their toddlers preschool at home, reports NAMs Vivian Po.

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif-- Unemployment and the long wait lists for preschool are prompting some Chinese parents, whove traditionally valued education, to turn to a new way to teach and care for their toddlers: preschool at home.

More and more Chinese parents asked to join the playgroup programs. They want to learn the skills to teach their kids at home, said Suzanne Cheung, a former commissioner of San Francisco's First Five child development program.

Playgroups, for children 6 and under, began in the Chinese community to support inexperienced parents. During these sessions, parents participate in lessons with their kids and learn skills to teach and communicate with them. Free playgroup programs are offered by many organizations, such as the Asian Womens Resource Center and the Asian Perinatal Advocates.

Paste alt hereSophia Jang, admission director of
Chinese American International School.


Playgroup has now become a place where parents learn child care and teaching skills. We instruct them on how to read to kids, how to engage children in artwork, we help parents build an in-home preschool environment, said Cheung, who designed the curriculum.

As demand for the playgroups has spiked, Cheung now offers classes twice a week, instead of once, doubling the number of families involved.

So, why are Chinese parents embracing preschool at home? For some, its a hard economic choice.

The line for low-income subsidized preschool with at least 2,500 people on wait lists has lengthened under the current economy. Those wait lists are likely to swell as more parents switch from unsubsidized preschool, which can cost as much as $20,000 per year, to subsidized preschool.

Fewer parents attended meetings held by the school this year for recruiting future students, said Ying, a parent who applied to the Chinese American International School (CAIS), an unsubsidized program, twice for her daughter.

Sophia Jang, admission director of CAIS, said the school saw a 10 percent drop in the number of applicants in the latest application period, while applications had been booming in previous years.

It is the economy, but it could also be that our applications have reached a cap and slowed back down, Jang said. Parents may also be delaying enrolling their children until they are older, she said.

And, as subsidized preschool programs prioritize low-income children, it may be kids from middle-class families who have to do without preschool.

Some parents may opt for preschool at home because their work hours were cut or they lost their jobs and can now spend more time taking care of their children.

I can no longer support my sons child care services, but I have the time to look after him now, said Yang, a mother of a 3-year-old boy, who lost her job as a cleaning professional last year. They are now living off her unemployment check and her husbands income.

Yang said, with more free time, she plans to take some child care classes. I dont think I can find a job in the near future, thats why I want to learn more, I want to teach him while he is waiting for his spot in the system, said Yang, who registered her son for subsidized preschool when he was born and is still waiting to be admitted.

Lucy Tao, family case counselor of Asian Womens Resource Center, also recognizes that parents like Yang are coming in for help, but she said, even playgroup services are limited. We would love to expand our services to include more families but funding is hard, she said.

Though the economy is driving children from schools to homes, there may be an upside to the trend,

If the parents are patient and persistent, it doesnt make much of a difference between going to a school or staying at home to receive preschool education," Cheung said. "In-home education can greatly strengthen the parent-child relationship.

For Chinese families, who traditionally value education, the drive to provide preschool for their children, regardless of the setting, affirms that many families value early childhood education in their children's future success.

Paste alt hereYing and her daughter, Samantha, who is attending
Chinese American International School this fall.


Competition is great in San Francisco, said Ying. You have to have a great start, and that means you have to start early with education. We certainly cannot give up that part.

Jane Chen, director of New Concept Chinese School located in Sunnyvale, agreed that Chinese parents highly value preschool education. At my school, parents who lost their jobs are only moving children from full time to part time preschool," she said, "but not sacrificing their education.

Mei is paying $40 per month for her second son to go to preschool, a significant expense considering she has a household of five and lives on about $1,000 after rent. Still, she said, the investment in early education is key. My first son went to preschool for just a few months, he was very behind when he first attended kindergarten. I then recognized the importance of attending preschool.

Jiang, a father of a 3-year-old son attending Kai Ming Head Start, shared the same viewpoint. We immigrated to America for our children, he said. If they are not able to receive the best education and be successful in the future, it defeats the purpose of coming here.

Related Articles:

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SCHOOL MATTERS: Active Parents Key to Black Students' Success

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