Jenn Smith | Recess: Stand up and be counted by census

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As schools continue to roll out their online learning plans, I've seen teachers and parents come up with scores of creative ways of learning math at home.

Examples include food fractions through recipes; counting up returnable bottles and cans and calculating the sums of deposit values; and drafting garden grids for the growing season. The possibilities to do practical math are endless.

But here's another exceptionally important lesson to teach at home: stand and be counted.

April 1 marked Census Day in the United States. Not a hard deadline, rather a friendly reminder to count and tell the Census Bureau who's living and sleeping in your home as of April 1. While there's plenty of time left to respond, the folks at the bureau encourage residents to fill out their forms sooner rather than later so as not to overwhelm the system and ensure a fair and accurate count gets to Congress and the president's office by the end of the year for future planning and funds distribution.

Most importantly, count your children.

The America Counts staff reported that children under age 5 were the most undercounted population during the 2010 Census. Bureau estimates indicate that nearly 1 million children, or 4.6 percent of children under the age of 5, were left out of the last census. This time around, census workers are stressing the importance of counting young children who are living and sleeping in a household most of the time, including newborn children born on or before April 1.

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The more children left out of the count, the less likely families with young children are to receive public benefits like nutrition assistance, Head Start education and home visits, special education, foster care, housing assistance, and coverage through Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program.

There's only one new exception to the April 1 headcount rule: in most cases, students living away from home at a school, college or university should be counted at school, even if they are now temporarily elsewhere due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Kids are often left out of the count because of complex household situations, which includes multigenerational households or situations where grandparents are caring for their children and grandchildren; unrelated families living together, so-called "couchsurfing" and housing insecure families, blended and foster families. According to the last census, about 40 percent of all America's young children counted were living in a complex household situation. This is nothing to be ashamed of but also really important to note, especially if support is needed.

So here's an idea: Make filling out the 2020 Census a full-family affair.

Visit the Sesame Street YouTube channel and check out the "Make Your Family Count" PSA filmed with some familiar friendly characters. Learn the catchy "Everyone Counts Singalong!" song, as part of the U.S. Census Bureau's "Statistics in Schools" campaign.

Gather around the kitchen table or curl up on the couch and read the questions aloud together. Take an accurate head count, or task older children and teens to help figure out how to do so. Taking the census together is also a good opportunity to talk about filling out forms and understanding demographics, something all of us will continue to do throughout our lives.

Currently, the planned completion date for data collection is July 31. So if you haven't already, schedule the 2020 Census into your family activities this week. The country is counting on you.


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