6 Tips For Parents Who Fear Their Kids Are Falling Behind in School
Next Steps to Address Learning Gaps Due To The COVID-19 Pandemic
Are you worried your child is falling behind in school? In an NPR/ISIS poll released last week, 62% of parents surveyed said that their child’s education had been interrupted by the pandemic and 48% said they were worried about their child falling behind. As a parent and an educator, and I know I worry about this for my own children.
So here are the big questions.
Are our kids really falling behind in school?
And what can we do as parents if we are concerned about learning gaps?
Here are 6 tips to help frame our thinking about whether our kids are truly falling behind in school.
1. Know that practically all parents and caregivers are feeling the same way—we are all afraid our kids are falling behind in school.
I would make a prediction that every parent feels the way you do right now. We all feel that our kids are falling behind in school. We are all a bit nervous. This year has been an educational disaster for many families. Schools will have to take that into consideration during the following school year(s?) and make adjustments as needed. Right now we are all making predictions as best we can and we still don’t know what the long-term effects will be.
2. Know that learning is not a linear process and it’s not limited to classrooms. Learning gaps happen.
Learning is not neat. It is circuitous and messy, it’s choppy and non-sequitur. There are lulls and plateaus that naturally happen in the best of scenarios. Learning gaps occur. I remember a friend who missed several months of high school due to illness. She didn’t fall behind in school. She graduated at the top of her class.
Learning doesn’t happen just in the confines of our school classrooms. I am willing to bet that our kids have still learned a ton this year, even outside of the traditional learning setting. Here’s the quote to write on a sticky note and pop on your refrigerator so you can see it every day (from the Huffington Post):
Kids have learned how to make omelets, to enjoy the beauty of a snowy morning, to play guitar, to make conversation at the dinner table, to build pillow forts, and how to enjoy their family. They’ve learned how to be flexible, how to persevere, how to be tough, and how it’s okay to break down and show emotions. I would encourage everyone to do an inventory of all the things their kids have actually learned and celebrate those things.
3. Remember there’s no “one-size-fits-all” with educational benchmarks and milestones.
And know that state-mandated benchmarks don’t define students. Children’s learning develops at different times, at different rates, and on their own schedules. I worry about what our obsession with assessments has done to look at kids as whole people versus test scores or benchmark levels. Your child is more than just a “Level K reader” who is falling behind in school because the benchmark is that they will be a “Level M reader.” And what we don’t want our kids to feel—especially when they are old enough to internalize it as part of their identity—is the pressure of being deemed “behind.” They are kids, and they are only behind the benchmarks that we may or may not have arbitrarily instituted as truths.
We are dealing with a loss of instructional time (not falling behind)
Another thing to keep in mind is that there has been a real loss of learning time for a lot of kids. There has been a loss of instructional time with a professional educator in front of them, instructing them and supporting their learning. Think of this as working out at the gym. If we shrink our hour-long, 5x week sessions with our personal trainer to 2x week for only 15 minutes, we are not going to see the same results. The gains are smaller. Our children have missed a lot of instructional time this year, so there is a good reason they may not hit those end-of-year benchmarks. They haven’t been able to put in the time. And that’s okay.
The problem with benchmarks is that there is no such thing as “one-size-fits-all.” There is no perfect calendar date for a child to meet a benchmark—we have those benchmarks as guideposts to help guide instruction. But if our kids aren’t meeting the benchmarks at the exact times we want them to according to a district calendar—that’s okay. As long as they are making gains and growing.
I relate this to parenting. One of my stepsons could ride a bike (with no training wheels?) by age 5. Another stepson couldn’t do the same until he was 10. But they are both skilled bike riders now, they just hit that benchmark at different times. And that’s okay!
Here’s where benchmarks do matter:
These are some of the best tools for helping teachers see exactly where kids are in their learning so we can give them more personalized instruction. So we can meet them where they are at and figure out what they need to keep moving forward. Here is what being a bit behind that bike-riding benchmark did for our late bloomer: It told the grown-ups that he needed extra support to help him progress. And so we did, and so he did.
And when we look at other countries:
There is a great point of reference point when we zoom out and look at international education. Children in Finland don’t start school until the age of seven. SEVEN! And they still outperform our kids in reading, science, and math. Until the age of seven, their education at home and daycares is built around the philosophy of creative play and physical activity. Those are some benchmarks I think we could all get behind.
4. Talk to your child’s teacher if you think your child is falling behind in school.
Even better, talk to several of them. Talk to your child’s guidance counselor. Talk to your pediatrician. Voice your concerns about your child falling behind in school. See what they say. Take all of their thoughts into consideration and triangulate that information. Let that information sit for a day or so, then plan out some next steps to move forward.
5. Focus on the emotional well-being of your child.
There are a lot of teenagers out there who are not doing okay right now. There was a Pro-Publica article that stopped me in my tracks this morning: The lost year: What the pandemic cost teenagers. I see it in my own house—the missed proms, canceled graduations, remote freshman year of high school, dismissed varsity soccer season. This year has been ROUGH on many kids. So is your kid smiling? Feeling okay? That’s the most important win right now. It’s much more important than you child falling behind in school. (And if your kid is like many of ours, not doing okay, we have found great solace in getting outside help—talk to your pediatrician).
6. Reach out to an education partner to address any potential learning gaps.
The most rewarding part of my job as the Chief Learning Curator of my tutoring company is taking the stress off parents’ plates and seeing the smiles when kids start to really connect with learning again. This has been a great opportunity for many families to truly think about personalizing learning and helping their kids find joy in learning. Just in our local Florence area, public school kids are out of school on Wednesday afternoons, leaving that time open for some creative learning options. And many kids are gaining confidence due to our partnerships—check out this message we received this week!
Education Week stated recently that “There is widespread agreement that of all the ways to help students struggling academically due to the COVID-19 pandemic, “high-impact” tutoring is the most promising: It’s personalized. It’s an approach that’s been used for centuries by the well-heeled. And it has a lot of research behind it.“
I am a firm believer that the right teacher can make all the difference for a child. I’ve witnessed it time and time again. Relationship matters. And offering families a partnership through high-impact tutoring that pairs their child with an education expert that is the perfect fit is something that has helped many families. They are no longer worried that their child is falling behind, but they are sleeping easy knowing their child is a step ahead.
If you are interested in learning how we can help give you peace of mind by providing high-quality, high-impact tutoring, email me or give me a call. We are here to help.
Photo courtesy of Edge2Edge Media on Unsplash