It's been a challenging school year filled with constant changes for students, teachers and parents. And the concern that students may be falling behind or lost valuable learning time is only adding to the stress.
"The sense of saying 'Oh this will all cure itself, it will all be fine' is very human at this point. It’s also a mistake," said Dr. David Steiner, the executive director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy.
Dr. Steiner said its understandable parents have felt the pressure of being their kids' at-home teacher, especially when students were doing all remote learning. But he says now that more school districts are doing hybrid learning, parents can focus on other aspects of raising their children.
"The social, emotional well-being is really your first responsibility as a parent. You shouldn’t think of yourself as a second academic teacher."
He said one of the biggest mistakes parents can make when addressing potential learning loss or gaps is using phrases like "falling behind" or "catching up" in front of their kids.
"Not going backward, just saying here we are, here’s the work we’re going to do together this week that you’re working on at school and we’re going to look forward. We’re not going to look backward," he said.
Here are a few tips Dr. Steiner had for parents who want to keep their kids on track in school and during the summer:
- Don't focus on the deficit, or what they missed or didn't fully comprehend. Concentrate on their most current assignments.
- Communicate with their teacher about what they're learning, i.e. what books are they reading, what math concepts are they learning, what eras are they covering in history, etc. so parents can be involved with the school work.
- Create fewer learning targets or goals and keep them manageable.
- Don't expect perfection. Mistakes are part of the learning process.
"Believe that your child can catch up, believe that if you manage the learning expectations and keep those learning outcomes manageable it will work," Dr. Steiner said.
He also highly recommends using tutors, whether its one-on-one or group sessions. He believes many school districts will be offering free tutoring with funding from the federal COVID-19 relief package.
Stephanie Newman, founder of the Literacy Tree, said she's seen huge growth in the world of virtual tutors. She works with elementary school students who are struggling with reading.
"Confidence is everything and they don’t want to feel like they’re the only one. When they’re part of a group its a community," she said.
One of her recommendations to parents is to do activities with their kids that lend themselves to learning opportunities, like going on nature hikes, visiting historical places or even going to a restaurant and reading the menu aloud. She said any of these activities will help with their language comprehension skills.
"That just helps them to understand what they’re reading so they can focus on looking at the words instead of also trying to figure out what they’re reading about."
She also suggests parents use proper vocabulary and not "dumbed-down" words with their children and be engaging when reading with them.
"Let them ask what a word means because once they have that word in their word bank, [when] they see it, they understand it."
"Ask questions about the reading, make predictions, make inferences, show them how to do this so once they are reading on their own they’ll be in the habit of doing that," Newman said.
Above all, Dr. Steiner wants parents to understand that learning gaps are nothing new, so focus on the positive and not the deficit.
"I want to stress to parents your children are resilient. They will be able to do grade-level material with the right support and engagement. Just don’t expect it to be perfect, don’t expect it to be without stumbles."