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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.
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.
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.
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.
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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If you are trying to create a literacy-rich home environment and raise kids who are passionate readers, be sure to add listening to audiobooks to your list of family activities.
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Here are eleven compelling reasons to make audiobooks a regular part of your family life – or to give the gift of audiobooks to the families on your holiday gift list.
1. Listening to audiobooks promotes a literacy-rich home environment. Kids who grow up in a literacy-rich home environment tend to learn to read easily, and develop a lifelong passion for books and reading.
2. It fosters your family’s identity as readers and book lovers. Prioritizing time to listen to audiobooks together sends the message loud and clear, “We are a family that loves stories and books.”
3. Enjoying audiobooks together creates shared memories you’ll treasure forever. My husband and young adult children still reminisce about listening to Holes by Louis Sachar on a road trip to Sedona, Arizona.
4. Listening to audiobooks can involve all family members, no matter their age level. You’ll be amazed at how many children’s chapter books and novels are enjoyable for adults, too. Did you know that kids’ listening comprehension levels are typically two years above their reading comprehension levels? Younger children who may not be ready to fully understand a story can sit nearby and enjoy quiet activities or a snack while listening and being a part of family time. You can choose a wide variety of books without worrying about leaving anyone out.
5. Listening to audiobooks together leads to terrific family discussions. Listen to a chapter while cooking dinner, and then discuss it together as you eat dinner. While listening in the car, pause after each chapter to let everyone share their thoughts and reactions to the story.
6. Relaxing by listening to an audiobook reduces stress and calms the mind and spirit. When life gets crazy and the energy level in your home is too rambunctious, load up a favorite audiobook and feel the chaos subside.
7. Listening to audiobooks improves language development and vocabulary in children of all ages, and improves speech articulation in younger kids. Audiobooks are a fantastic way to expose your children to the rich vocabulary found in high quality literature. Skilled voice actors model crisp, clear pronunciation and speech articulation.
8. Audiobooks help kids improve their listening and visualizing skills, which are crucial for good comprehension. Children who listen to audiobooks develop the ability to listen carefully and visualize the events in the story.
9. Listening to audiobooks is a powerful, effective way to support struggling or reluctant readers. Listening while following along on a device or in a book improves decoding, fluency and comprehension. It also builds confidence and motivation by giving kids access to the same popular books their peers are reading.
10. It improves fluency in readers of all ages, by modeling reading rate, phrasing, tone and expression. Kids start to model their own oral reading after the expert readers and voice actors who narrate audiobooks.
11. Audiobooks offer an attractive, persuasive alternative to screen time. Instead of breaking out the tablets in the car, load up an audiobook. Experiment to find other times to substitute an audiobook for screen time. Once your kids have become accustomed to listening, you might be surprised at how willing they are to accept this alternative!
Listening to audiobooks is a powerful strategy for developing literacy in your children.
Fortunately, audiobooks are easy to find these days, and the cost doesn’t have to be prohibitive.
My favorite way to get audiobooks for free is through Overdrive, a network of libraries and schools. With a card from a participating library, you can check out any eBook or audiobook for as long as 21 days. Unlike many sites that feature free audiobooks, Overdrive provides access to just about any title available. This is important because you will want access to quality children’s literature.
The easiest way to purchase audiobooks is through Audible by Amazon. You purchase credits by the month or in bulk, and then use them to buy audiobooks. (Each audiobook costs one credit.) Credits start at $14.95 per month for one credit and range up to $229 for 24 credits.
Credits do roll over from month to month, but not indefinitely. Be sure to check the current terms of service. The selection of available titles is vast and up-to-date, and Audible offers a 30% discount on any additional titles you purchase.
To start your family’s free 1 month Audible trial, click here.
5.Make reading time fun, and make sure your child can see how much you enjoy it. Your little ones are looking for you to model what is important in your family. In this case, it is books and reading! If you take delight in books, so will your child.
6. For kids of all ages, let them see you enjoy reading on your own. Keep books and e-readers around the house where your children can see them, and see you reading them. Let your kids hear you talking with other adults about what you have read.
Discover and Follow Your Child’s Passions
7. Make regular trips to the library and/or the bookstore so that your child can explore different types of books.
8. When your child shows an interest in something, provide books on that topic. I really can’t emphasize this enough. With toddlers and preschoolers, you are embedding books and reading into all parts of your child’s life. With older kids, you are showing them that reading is a way to enrich any part of their life. This tradition can continue for years – I still bring home relevant books for my young adult children, and my parents still pick up books for me on topics they know I am interested in!
9. With older kids who may not be spending enough time reading on their own, find engaging books that match their passions, and are slightly below their independent reading level. Read a few pages out loud each day, and leave the book in a visible, accessible place, without comment. It may take a while, but eventually you are likely to see your child pick up the book on their own. Another variation of this strategy is to read the first book in a highly regarded series, and leave the second book in a handy place.
Use these tips to super-charge your children’s interest in reading and books, and watch their motivation soar!
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