3 Studies: Poverty Is Toxic to Childhood Learning

Tanya H. Lee

No one doubts that poverty harms children’s ability to learn in myriad ways, from causing a child to go to school hungry and tired, to making unavailable the resources a child needs to do homework, to living in dangerous neighborhoods or households where domestic violence and drug and alcohol abuse distract from schoolwork and may even prevent a child from going to school regularly.

But recent research indicates that poverty—and the stress it engenders in children’s lives—has even more serious impacts on children’s learning than previously thought because it can affect brain development. Some of the effects of stress on young brains directly affect cognitive skills, but many of the effects are to the so-called “soft skills” that are required if a child is to succeed in school. Those skills include focusing on a task, paying attention to the teacher, remembering what happened a few minutes ago, regulating emotions, not becoming distracted, controlling impulses, planning ahead, understanding consequences—the non-cognitive skills that are essential to learning.

Here is some of the research:

The Effects of Poverty on Childhood Brain Development

A study by Dr. Joan Luby et al. published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics in December, “The Effects of Poverty on Childhood Brain Development,” found that “exposure to poverty in early childhood materially impacts brain development at school age…. Poverty was associated with smaller white and cortical gray matter and hippocampal and amygdala volumes.” The authors point out that these findings put childhood poverty squarely in the realm of public health issues.


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Dr. R's picture
Dr. R
Submitted by Dr. R on
"Poverty" is a term that must be defined to make one aware of it. If I live in a dirt home, with no running water and use an out-house for waste disposal; am I in poverty? If I choose to believe I live in simplistic terms how does that make my children know, before school age, that they live in "poverty?" How does their brain's physical development know that we live under a specified money income range? The term "poverty" is a trap, a means to addict those who do not live according to another's definition of wealth to demand for "free" items to bring one to some social standard. Instead this article should be emphasizing the need for all parents to address the nutritional needs of their children as well as the emotional/spiritual needs. Parents need to teach their children: which is what parents are: teachers of the future generations. Do not fall victim to the word-game: you are in poverty if you believe you are poor. But know that "poor" to those people means "less money." Not what your value is. And if you do subscribe to the european term of what "poverty" is then do something to live differently. If you believe that material goods and amounts of money are only a trap to ensnare one into someone else's version of what your life is about then make sure your children know they are loved, wanted and that you are the care of and the teacher of their lives: not some doctor who is making money selling other people's concepts and definitions.