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The question of pandemic-related “learning loss” is a fraught one for educators and families alike. In the context of a global pandemic, what does it mean to say students have “fallen behind”? Do students’ reading and math scores even scratch the surface of what the past year has meant for children? What about all the skills kids have developed and demonstrated in spades, like resilience, creativity, and patience?

The bottom line is, students, families, and educators have done their best, and it’s still been an impossibly hard year. With summer on the horizon, we’ve been focusing a lot on what kinds of activities and camps are open and safe for your kids to engage with so they can step away from screens, have some fun, and be social with their friends again—all things they’ve been sorely missing.


At the same time, we shouldn’t ignore the hard truth that many students’ academic skills aren’t where they would otherwise be after a year of interrupted schooling (or worse, no school at all). So what are families supposed to do?

“Depending on your kid’s age and readiness, consider reading news articles together or listening to news radio in the car. Encourage them to ask questions, share reactions, and put their critical thinking skills to good use so they stay sharp for the return to school.”

This summer is a critical time for kids to have access to many things at once: freedom, social time, fun, and some academic skill-boosting activities. And it is possible to fit all of those things in. Here’s what we recommend:


Keep reading on the menu. Your kids don’t need to spend all day working on their literacy skills—but daily reading should still be part of the summer vacation deal. Consider adding it to your family dinner agenda so you can all enjoy a book together. And remember that listening to audiobooks counts too (listening is an important piece of their literacy skill-building!). So if you’re on a road trip to see family, borrow an audiobook from the library and listen along the way.


Make the most of the library. Libraries might not be open for hanging out all day like they are in normal summers (sigh), but they may still be offering summer programming like the ever-popular summer reading club. Check out your local offerings and make sure to sign your kids up as soon as possible—these programs often include fun incentives to keep them reading.


Don’t forget math. Okay, so it’s a little bit harder to practice math without the kids noticing that they’re practicing math. But they don’t have to spend hours poring over Khan Academy (unless they’re into that kind of thing). Consider using a math app like Bedtime Math to do some quick and fun practice every day. We also have some sneaky ways to hide math, science, and literacy in your family’s everyday activities.


Talk about the news. There’s a lot going on in the world. Depending on your kid’s age and readiness, consider reading news articles together or listening to news radio in the car. Encourage them to ask questions, share reactions, and put their critical thinking skills to good use so they stay sharp for the return to school. (Of course, use your judgment about what your children are ready for.)


Write together. While it can be easy to find opportunities to read with your kids, how to write together isn’t always obvious. The National Writing Project has some ideas for writing activities you can do as a family, so your kids can get some practice putting pen to paper while you’re having fun together.

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