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As this school year wraps up, I’m starting to hear this message from worried parents: “I’m concerned about COVID-19 learning loss. What can I do to make sure my child isn’t ‘behind’ when schools starts back up in the fall?”
No matter how smoothly distance learning unfolded for your family and your school, you may find that your child’s reading, writing or math skills are not as solid as you’d like them to be.
There are many possible reasons for this COVID-19 learning loss.
Your school district may not have had the resources to shift to distance learning quickly. Your child’s teacher may have run into challenges as they learned how to deliver instruction remotely. You might have a busy household full of energy that made it tough for your child to concentrate and participate in online instruction. Maybe your child isn’t comfortable with online instruction, and wasn’t fully engaged. Or maybe, just maybe you and/or your child burned out on it all and couldn’t put forth as much effort as you wanted to. And that is just fine.
The unexpected pivot to distance learning was not ideal for many families, but it doesn’t have to result in your child falling permanently behind.
Once your family has had a chance to take a deep breath and decompress (and please, please do!) there are plenty of steps you can take this summer to offset COVID-19 learning loss.
Take it “Offline”
My first recommendation is to balance tech-related activities with “offline” activities. I’m thankful that technology made it possible for children around the world to continue learning this spring, but I also know that most kids are in need of more hands-on, in-person learning.
To improve or maintain reading skills, the best thing you can offer your children this summer is plenty of time spent reading and listening to books that they love.
Establish (or re-establish!) a nightly read aloud ritual. For younger kids, read aloud classic picture books every day. If you have older kids, choose a classic, beloved book and enjoy it as a family. Weave reading throughout your day, making it a regular part of your family life this summer.
Remember to include audiobooks in your bag of tricks, too. They’re fun alternative to reading aloud, and a great way to make the most of quiet time at home. Your family can enjoy just listening, or you can have your child follow along in the book at the same time.
Make sure your children spend time reading great books on their own, too. I am always shocked at quickly reading skills become rusty.
Here’s a great strategy for making sure kids are reading books that are “just right” in terms of difficulty level.
Open a book the two of you are considering, and have your child start reading a page that is full of text. (Not the first page, as the print often begins halfway down the page, which can skew the results of this quick assessment.)
Each time your child gets stuck on a word have them hold up one finger. If five fingers are raised before the end of the page, the book is too hard for independent reading. If your child has their heart set on reading it, set it aside in the “read aloud” pile. If fewer than five fingers are raised, the book is probably appropriate for your child to read on their own.
Keep a Journal
Make writing fun this summer! Pick a journal you know will appeal highly to your child, such as these fun themed ones.. A great option is a blank comic book. Just as graphic novels often appeal to reluctant readers, blank comic books can win over reluctant writers. Let them start off with illustrations and short dialogue, then as time goes on, gently encourage more writing and fewer illustrations.
For younger children, have them draw a picture of a favorite person or activity, and then write a few sentences. It’s fine to help out by letting them dictate words they are unsure how to spell. Or, tell them to “say it slowly, and write down the sounds you hear.” Then, scoot in with your pencil to fill in any missing letters. This is a powerful way to support spelling development without discouraging young writers.
In addition to a cool journal, be sure to provide writing utensils that will help your child be motivated and engaged. Consider colored pencils, mechanical pencils, glitter pens, fancy markers, or highlighters. Stickers are also a great way to increase children’s motivation to illustrate or decorate their journal entries.
Back to Basics in Math
While I do believe that Common Core math strategies teach kids to be better critical thinkers, I don’t think that parents should stress out about teaching Common Core at home during the summer.
If you are worried about your child’s math skills, spend time this summer reinforcing the basics. Common Core math curriculum often assumes that children have deep mastery of math computation skills. Kids without this well-developed foundation often struggle with the higher level thinking skills Common Core requires. It’s not that they don’t understand the concept being taught, it’s that they can’t properly explore the concept because their computation skills are not fluent and automatic.
So work on developing your child’s automaticity with math basic facts. Use flash cards, and start with small sets of facts that your child knows. Gradually add in the ones that they don’t know. Practice for short periods of time (5 minutes or less) twice a day if possible.
For addition and subtraction facts that your child struggles with, provide counters and let them work out the answer themselves. For multiplication and division facts that have them stumped, have them draw an array to find the answer.
Send your child back to school with strong computational skills, and let the teachers help them apply those skills to Common Core.
Workbooks get such a bad rap, don’t they? None of us, teachers or parents, want kids’ instructional activities to consist solely of workbooks and seatwork. But there’s a time and a place for everything, and this summer of 2020 might well be the time and place for well-designed summer workbooks to provide a safety net for parents.
If I had elementary-aged children at home, I would definitely have them spend a few minutes a day working out of a summer workbook. And as a teacher, I would be thrilled if my students returned in the fall having done the same.
Here are a few summer workbook series that I like. Click through to choose the one that seems best for your family.
Keep it Short & Sweet
No matter what academic learning activities you provide for your child this summer, don’t overdo it. COVID-19 learning loss can be offset by as little as 45-60 minutes per day, broken up into smaller periods of time throughout the day. Stay flexible and relaxed, focusing on staying consistent over time.
And for goodness sake, as much as you safely can, make sure your kids get outside to play! If there ever was, this is the summer for bikes and scooters, sidewalk chalk and bubbles, jump ropes and sprinklers.
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