For all the pending school year questions, “keep ‘em learning” is the answer

What will school look like a few short weeks from now? We don’t know with any certainty. But a quote attributed to English novelist Margaret Drabble can help ease anxiety and boost optimism: “When nothing is sure, everything is possible.”

Even in times of upheaval, we can still count on certain things—the need for counting skills and ABCs are two fundamental examples. We also know that as the seasons transition, days grow shorter and nights, longer. Whether kids go to school face-to-face (F2F), online, or some hybrid combination, they will, as in any year, need help with the transition in routines.

Oh, and one more thing is for sure: Whatever the school year looks like, many of us will be wearing more than one hat, managing information overload, and looking for productive shortcuts.

One way is to sandwich learning into other life tasks. Two years ago PBS For Parents published “Why Reading Aloud to Kids Helps Them Thrive,” by Deborah Farmer Kris. She says, “Reading aloud to kids has clear cognitive benefits. For example, brain scans show that hearing stories strengthens the part of the brain associated with visual imagery, story comprehension, and word meaning.” But that’s far from all it does. She cites research that reading “also strengthens children’s social, emotional, and character development.

In short, it’s super important.  That’s why ideally, parents read to and with kids at least once a day, often at bedtime. But on the crazy-busiest of days, reading with kids doesn’t always have to mean stopping everything else. Ask kids to read out loud to YOU as you are driving or cooking dinner. Meal prep can also offer math lessons by letting kids help measure ingredients or jot down and add up amounts that you read to them. For older kids, ask them how you would double or halve a recipe. It’s a natural strategy, and it also develops a practical skill.

Flash cards and game cards can also build both math and language skills, and some offer solo or paired play and different play strategies for different ages. For example, with Alphabet Flash Cards slightly older kids can say the beginning letter and sound it makes, and younger kids can just say the word name for the picture they see: apple.

 Kids from preschool on up can learn from Animals of All Kinds flash cards. Younger kids can practice the beginning letter sound of each animal name, and kids of any age will expand vocabulary and learn about the size, habitat, class, and characteristics of each animal. Again, older kids can help younger non-readers. Find these two sets and lots of other great School Zone flash cards!

What else can parents do to prepare kids for success whatever the primary location or configuration of school? Lots! And they can do it “here and there” in small time commitments that are not overwhelming for themselves or for kids. Once again, getting dinner ready? Tear out a workbook page, sit your child down at the table or counter, and challenge them to have it finished when the oven timer for the lasagna goes off. Virtually all 64-page School Zone workbooks, as well as 320-page Big Workbooks (and most in between) have perforated pages for easily turning them into individual worksheets.

Whatever the next few weeks bring, schedules are sure to change, and it’s good to inch kids back into earlier bedtimes. Several years back Cleveland Clinic’s Health Essentials posted “5 Tips for Getting Your Kids to Sleep Earlier.” One idea? “Start by shifting their wake time earlier by 30 minutes each or every other morning.” Kids will naturally become “sleepier earlier and be able to fall asleep earlier over time.” Explain the “whys” to kids, and combine these changes with teaching younger kids how to tell time. Make it more fun with Telling Time Flash Cards app, which is also one of the 2000+ activities on School Zone’s online learning program Anywhere Teacher.

While this fall may pose large and looming question marks when it comes to school, helping kids gain proficiency in math, language, and other essential skills is always an “answer”—one that’s achievable in small steps that help kids make big strides.