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Keeping kids learning over the summer will be more important than ever

When life feels two parts question mark and one part chaos, it’s good to remember the words of English novelist Margaret Drabble, who said, “When nothing is sure, everything is possible.”

OK, maybe not everything. Right now, in most parts of the country we can’t throw a party. Our kids are not doing play dates or sleepovers. Even many warm-weather staples such as summer camp and music festivals continue to be cancelled, partly due to the planning and prep required and partly due to the logistics of social distancing.

Realistically, much is up in the air. But possibilities come in many forms. For all the specific things that may not be possible right this second, effective learning is possible and in turn, helps ensure kids’ success not just today but going forward.

States, school districts, and parents are all looking at the most effective ways to make up for educational disruptions due to COVID-19-related school closures and bumpy transitions to distance learning. For example, an article published in mid-April by the Thomas Fordham Institute, titled, “Three Ways Ohio Schools Can Use This Summer to Stem Learning Loss from the Coronavirus Pandemic,” by Jessica Poiner, suggests that possibilities on the table in Ohio include replacing the traditional summer break with some type of instruction or starting the next school year a month early.

Because of what Poiner calls the “quick pivot to distance learning,” for every school or district “whose previous experience or extensive planning allowed for a smooth transition,” she says, ”there are many who struggled for weeks with ramping up meaningful learning opportunities.” The article also notes that special needs families face even greater concerns.

A Chalk Beat article by Matt Barnum and Kala Belsha, titled, “Students Will Go Back to School Eventually. Here Are 5 Concrete Ideas for Helping Them Catch up, Readjust,” reinforces these ideas. It says, “And even though lots of schools are attempting remote instruction, students will likely have lost academic ground when buildings were closed.” It suggests that yet another option in some districts will be extended school days.

Another possibility the article presents is “looping,” a practice “in which a teacher follows a group of students to the next grade,” something the authors suggest “might make particular sense when students come back.” Katharine Strunk, a Michigan State University researcher, is quoted as saying, “The benefit would be that those teachers would know immediately where the kids in the classrooms were, at least when they left the classroom.” The article also notes it could lend a degree of emotional security to kids and that research shows it can help students learn more.

Of course, even in a normal year, lessons fade over the summer. The Hechinger Report, in the article, “Every Student Needs Summer School This Year to Combat Coronavirus Learning Loss,” by Andre Perry, points out that “…for all kids summer learning loss is a setback.“ Perry writes, “A 2017 review of the literature by my Brookings colleagues found ‘on average, students’ achievement scores declined over summer vacation by one month’s worth of school-year learning’ and that the loss was especially great for math.”

Parents sometimes forget that seemingly small things can produce big results. For example, early–level math lessons for kids can involve setting the table, measuring for a recipe, identifying shapes and patterns, speaking in terms of “greater than/less than,” and/or dividing a pizza into halves, then quarters, and then eighths delivers important—and practical—math lessons.

An Atlantic article that Ashley Fetters wrote in mid-March, at the beginning of school closures, includes tips that have ongoing value. In “How Parents Can Keep Kids Busy (and Learning) in Quarantine,” Fetters says, “Parents can do a number of activities alongside their kids that facilitate active, engaged learning.” For example, she quotes Allyssa McCabe, a psychology professor at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell who specializes in children’s language development. McCabe says, “’Reading interactively with (not just at) children is very beneficial for language and literacy instruction.'”

In an email to Fetters, McCabe also says, “’Parents should encourage their children to talk about pictures, predict what will happen next in a story, and what characters feel.” McCabe also encourages taking walks outside and ”talking about whatever catches children’s attention,” including asking them questions about what they are seeing and thinking.

One way to give kids ages 2-8 lots of fun learning activities in one place (for one price!) is School Zone’s Anywhere Teacher online learning curriculum. In the month of May, with the code HELPMOM, parents can get a one-month subscription free that gives access to 2,000+. With that subscription multiple kids in a family can access the site from multiple devices simultaneously.

With much about school still “to be determined,” seemingly little things can add up to success!