As a new year begins, help kids sustain the learning momentum and fill in possible gaps

Just one short year ago, the idea of little ones starting kindergarten online was largely unthinkable, and for most of us, “zoom” was simply another word for moving quickly. A virulent virus has shown just how creative, resilient, and adaptable we and our kids can be. A new year, with its promise of new possibilities, is a good time to put a plan into play for fun, effective, supplemental learning strategies.

Here at School Zone, as schools have moved online, then in-person, and sometimes back-and forth—maybe more than once--we’ve repeatedly heard the following comments and concerns: “I’m a mom, not a teacher.” “What if I don’t teach something the right way? Will I mess my kids up?” “I’m fearless until it comes to teaching my kids at home.”

Fortunately, most families went “back to school” and stayed there in one form or another, but most moms and dads still find themselves more actively involved in their kids’ learning than in the past, working in close partnership and collaboration with teachers, often while juggling working remotely.

Megan Dean, a kindergarten teacher in Spring Lake, MI, and mom of two—a kindergartner and a second-grader—says teachers appreciate families’ help in balancing out their child’s day. Acknowledging it can be hard for parents who are working from home, she recommends that “parents find times outside of Zoom calls to snuggle up with their child to catch up. Ask how their day is going.” She adds that “They can also try to ‘sneak in’ some fun, quick, educational activities to help provide an on screen/off screen balance.”

Dean notes that as a parent, she keeps a bin of School Zone resources near the couch to build in “play and learn” time with her child. She says, “We love using Alphabet Flash Cards, Memory Match [app in Jr. Android, and non-Jr. iOS and Android versions], and even the Big Kindergarten Workbook with fun crayons and markers to color and complete activities together.”

Putting her teacher hat back on, she also notes that “When my learners are working remotely, I feel confident in recommending they spend time on their device using the Anywhere Teacher app. While engaged with it, students have the choice to either interact with activities via free play or from the Kindergarten Adventure Path.” Dean continues, “I know they are not only having fun learning, but they are practicing important education standards that will benefit them in the years to come. Anywhere Teacher does an amazing job of allowing kids to learn through their choices.”

Dean further says that “In addition, each and every activity hits an important kindergarten standard. So not only are kids having fun and learning, they are building their navigational skills with their device; thus, giving kids more confidence and independence in their remote learning.”

For kids in this younger age group, it’s super important to help them build fine motor skills as well as academic skills. That’s where supplemental work in print workbooks like the one Dean mentioned and this Little Hand Helper Cut & Paste Workbook for preschoolers comes into play. The activities help build the hand strength and finger agility needed for writing and everyday tasks such as buttoning buttons and zipping zippers.

How much did last spring’s shortened and modified school year affect kids this year? Brookings, in an undated article titled “How Is COVID-19 Affecting Learning? Initial Findings from Fall 2020,” reported that they had projected “roughly 70% of the learning gains in reading relative to a typical schoolyear” and “even smaller learning gains from the previous year” in math—less than 50%.

In actuality, their findings suggest that “Students in grades 3-8 performed similarly in reading to same-grade students in fall 2019.” They speculate that “possible explanations are that students read more on their own, and parents are better equipped to support learning in reading compared to other subjects that require more formal instruction.” The report notes, however, that “the math achievement of students in 2020 was about 5 to 10 percentile points lower compared to same-grade students the prior year.”

Here again, reinforcing and supplementing school math lessons with adorable workbooks such Big Math for grades 1-2, Multiplication Facts Made Easy for grades 3-4, and Multiplication & Division, also for grades 3-4, can help increase skills, better preparing them for higher-level math.

As a new year begins, supplementing in-school lessons, along with giving periodic hugs and “how’s it going” checks, can help maximize kids’ gains and minimize their losses.