In May, Harvard University released the broadest analysis of pandemic learning loss available to date, looking at data from 2.1 million students across 10,000 schools. Ultimately, the report found that the speed in which schools returned to in-person teaching was the key factor in how students performed.
Harvard estimates that 20 percent of American students learned in schools that continued virtual learning for most of the 2020-21 school year – something which led to the loss of 22 weeks of learning.
Locally, schools in our region returned to in-person instruction in September 2020, long before others across the country – a positive benefit for our students. However, they also just ended their third school year of the pandemic, with schools balancing academic needs with increased social-emotional and mental health needs.
Summer learning has always been important for our students, but it has become essential the past couple of years. I encourage families to look for summer enrichment opportunities (or summer programs offered by schools) and to utilize available community resources such as our public libraries and museums. Encourage your children to spend less time on digital devices and to read books of their choosing and learn by visiting local museums. If the weather is rainy or stormy, this is a perfect opportunity to read together as a family and to explore the topic further.
Look for ways to incorporate learning into car drives, family vacations or everyday activities through fun and creative games and activities. Tap into your child’s interests or curiosities by finding books or movies based on these interests. You can also reinforce math concepts by using real-world examples with cooking using recipes and reviewing receipts, mileage, or gas.
Early reports are showing the pandemic’s impact on children not yet old enough for school. There has been an uptick in developmental delays and challenging behaviors with children born during or shortly before the pandemic. They may be talking, walking, or interacting later or less frequently.
A study by the Rhode Island Hospital and LENA Foundation found infants born during the pandemic are “talking” less and engaging in less verbal “turn-taking” behaviors that are critical to language development. Researchers found that the pandemic stressed families in ways that reduced parent-child engagement.
Experts note that it is not too late to help pandemic babies catch up through early intervention. Children should be screened for their progress toward developmental milestones established by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The AAP recommends general screenings at nine, 18 and 30 months, or whenever a parent is concerned. Your doctor can refer you to a specialist who can further evaluate or offer guidance on services.
Children do not have to be labeled “special education” to receive services or get extra help. The key is not waiting. After all, a young child’s brain is like a sponge. Their brain can adjust if an issue is identified and addressed early on within their first three years. This may include speech, physical or occupational therapies, as well as mental health counseling.
If you have limited access to a doctor, please contact the NYS Early Intervention Program (EIP) at www.health.ny.gov/community/infants_children/early_intervention/ or call 800-522-5006 or 518-473-7016.
Parents and guardians can also help by supporting their child’s skills development by engaging in conversations; sharing books; and talking about words, sounds and syllables. Parental involvement was critical during our school closures in the spring of 2020 – and it remains equally important today given that the effects of the pandemic will be felt for years to come in our schools. We need our parents as partners as together we can better support our learners through their schooling journey.
I hope you and your families are enjoying a wonderful summer. Summer is a great time to help children explore their interests and try new things, and to keep them excited about learning and school.
This column appeared in the Register Star and The Daily Mail newspapers.