Public Policy Center, University of Nebraska


Date of this Version



Iheoma U. Iruka, Mark DeKraai, Janell Walther, Susan M. Sheridan, Tarik Abdel-Monem, Examining how rural ecological contexts influence children’s early learning opportunities, Early Childhood Research Quarterly, Volume 52, Part B, 2020, pages 15-29, ISSN 0885-2006,


According to Bronfenbrenner’s bioecological theory (Bronfenbrenner & Evans, 2000), children’s early development and learning are influenced by multiple systems, including the microsystem (e.g., family poverty level), mesosystem (e.g., home-school partnership), exosystem (e.g., community type, early education policies), and macrosystem (e.g., rural culture). Given the lack of early education studies focused on rural communities, we sought to explore how these ecological systems are linked to children’s early learning experiences, with a particular focus on educators’ perceptions of how these ecosystems influence children’s learning environments and opportunities. Based on interviews and focus groups with school leaders, educators, and parents in 10 rural school districts, we found that children in one rural state experienced diversity in ecological systems that may impact their opportunities for learning. In particular, there was a range in the level of familial poverty, early education access, family-school engagement, available community resources, and cultural diversity in these rural communities. Implications for policies and practices to support children’s early learning in rural communities in light of their unique challenges and assets are discussed.