Last Spring, during home learning, one of my children rolled around on the floor instead of completing an assignment. I joined him on the floor because I was also tired of the whole thing. That moment of pure frustration represents the totality of home learning to me. Everybody is trying there best, but sometimes it just isn’t working.
The pandemic has severely disrupted traditional schooling and parents and educators are increasingly concerned about learning loss in children. Learning loss is basically forgetting key academic skills, like reading comprehension or multiplication.
As the first wave of standardized tests come out from the past year, we have evidence of significant learning loss for many children. Younger children are especially vulnerable to falling behind – which makes sense given that the foundation skills of phonetics or counting have not been established.
To be completely honest, we have all experienced learning loss. If you are an American child and ever went on summer vacation, you are a summer learning loss statistic. Each summer, students lose about a month of school knowledge that they must reteach in the fall. Some families can cushion the learning loss or the summer slide effect. This is mostly through exposure to books, summer learning programs, and other enriching activities like camps.
Although the learning loss due to the pandemic is considerably more, we can use information about summer learning loss to guide us in how to approach pandemic learning loss.
One of the main factors in whether a child can overcome learning loss is socioemotional. If home life is chaotic and stressed, kids have more summer learning loss, and it is harder for them to catch up.
This pandemic year has been nothing but chaos and stress for families.
So, what do we do?
Kids cannot learn well until their basic social and emotional needs are met. Just like you can’t focus on work tasks when you are overwhelmed, your child cannot learn math when they are overwhelmed. There can be no catch up in learning until kids are in a good place socially and emotionally.
Many educators I know are working on this. In school, many classrooms are focusing on building social and peer skills again and talking a lot about emotions. But there is much work to be done, and us families need to take on some of the load ourselves.
Here are 6 strategies to prepare your child to overcome learning loss:
- Reduce stressors in your child’s life. If your child is a rigid eater, now is not the time to work on that. Evaluate what is stressful for your child and try to reduce it. You can’t take away all stress – for instance, if your child finds school stressful, they still have to go. But there is probably something else that you can change. Be creative.
- Find ways to get our child outside with friends. We know now that playgrounds and outdoor playdates are quite safe for children. Find ways to get your child re-connecting with peers. Just like riding a bike, it will come back to them. But they need opportunities to catch-up on social skills.
- Start a new family tradition that releases stress. Be it a consistent Friday pizza and family movie party, Wednesday cookie-baking, or a Saturday morning dog walk, find a fun family activity that everybody enjoys. By adding in this tradition now, you are building stability and consistency. You are also providing a new chance for family connections to grow stronger through inside jokes, shared history, and conversation.
- Be an after-school special. Remember those TV specials from the 80s and 90s that talked about real-world social issues? It’s time to start that in your home. Talk about learning loss as a problem, fighting with friends, issues around race and police, the pandemic, and all of the stressful things in our lives in a developmentally appropriate way. By talking about this with your toddler, child, and teen, you take back the power of scary things happening in the world. Your child’s stress will be relieved from knowledge. Just make sure the information you provide is age appropriate.
- Talk about feelings. Recognize all the complex feelings that children (and adults!) are having now. Name your own feelings and your child’s – both the positive feelings, like optimism and happiness, and the upset feelings, like anxiety and sadness. If you are having a bad stressful day (well, more than the pandemic normal), say that. If your child is having a bad day, give them the same space to name that. Giving space to feel emotions is ultimately going to help your child cope with them.
- Go back to a schedule. Many of us have gotten out of routine over the past year, but it is time to bring that back. Children thrive with consistency. By making home life stable and predictable, you’ll ensure a strong foundation for your child to thrive.
I do believe, quite strongly, that the learning loss from this pandemic are temporary for kids. Children and teens are incredibly resilient. They will rise to this challenge. But like children during the Great Depression or children during 9/11, our children will be shaped by this pandemic.
This does not have to be a bad thing. It can be a strength, and advantage, an experience that can grow our children into stronger, more resilient people.
The first step to helping our children overcome learning loss is attending to their social and emotional development. To ensure that our children continue to thrive, parents should focus on getting their kids in a good place psychologically. Once that is in place, we can begin the work of helping our kids catch-up to learning milestones.