“School is going to stink this year.” Feel less hopeless with a sorta-take-charge plan

A 2nd grader on my street summed it up perfectly: “School is going to stink this year.”

Not sure how he knew it, but his words speak for the masses — parents and teachers everywhere are feeling the same way, or worse. And while the little guy I was talking to surely wasn’t alluding to the education part, he might as well have been. 

Remote Learning Isn’t A Real Substitute

Teachers have been killing themselves to come up with a plan that will salvage the semester, but there is no way to duplicate the intensive 6-hour in-school experience when kids aren’t in school for 6 hours every day, or they aren’t in school all the time. With so much less instructional time, children won’t learn as much no matter what teachers do. 

Forced Home Learning is a Lose-Lose Situation

For most parents, the focus is appropriately on childcare rather than education right now. While last August families might have been worrying about whether their child has the best teacher in the grade, this year the search is on  for any warm body to take their child for long blocks of time; to put someone else, anyone else, in charge. With the country in crisis, parents are in triage and priorities have shifted. What keeps them up at night is the question no one is answering:

What are my kids going to do to fill their time, so have time to work and clean and pay bills and then lose myself in bad tv so I can get up and do it all over again?

Too Many Things to Worry About at Once

When uncertainty is the only thing we know for sure, strong instruction for little ones has to be sidelined.
Because even if:

  • we can figure out childcare (a very big if for millions of families across this country), and 
  • we can stay healthy (a similarly difficult and everyday struggle), and 
  • we can keep our jobs (or somehow make do with what financial support the government finally sends)

…is there any space left for worrying about our children’s learning?  I doubt it.

But eventually, how our children are doing on the learning front will get shuffled to the top of the pile. 

Two Easy Things to Do Now that will Help Your Child Later

It’s hard to think that far in advance, but because some small things done now can make a big difference later, I think parents should do two things to make sure their children don’t fall too far behind in the most important skill of all, reading:

  1. Find out where your child is as a reader. Use our Abound app to do it or find another way, but check in so you know about where things stand. Why should you assess your child’s reading ability?
    • You need to see your time as an economist would: use each precious bit of caring and strength you have around his education on what he needs most. After a checking-in on his reading skills, you will be better able to figure out how to use your energy –and his– so you move him forward.
    • Knowing where he stands will put you ahead of the game in the long run. When this nightmare is over and suddenly everyone is back worrying about how much kids didn’t learn, you’ll be set up to work with his teachers to get him the intensive instruction he needs. You’ll have a sense of the skills he’s lacking, and a better hold on whether the right books are in his hands. Just being on your game when we re-enter the real world and he resumes real school will mean less lost learning time overall.
  2. Find a great chapter book on tape and start listening together. You can read the books aloud if you want, but don’t feel obliged. So many skills are learned while listening, and it will take everyone’s blood pressure down.
    • “When do I find the time?” I’d do it over dinner, when you are spent from the day and yet feel obliged to think of interesting things to talk about with the same people you’ve been with most of your waking hours. Think of it as dinner and a show. Sip a cold beverage while you get transported away from the chaos, and watch your children work to take in the words and story, often without looking as if they are engaging. Stop and clarify in the beginning if they have trouble following, but keep at it. Talk about the story again later and let them know you can’t wait to hear what happens next. Just touching on what the plot is or how the characters might feel is teaching them, and building key skills.
    • When that book is almost done, have another in the queue. Maybe find a different time or place to read or listen, but keep it up until you find yourselves talking about how one book compares to another; how a character’s decisions in one story might have been wiser had he known what a character in another story went through. That’s when the biggest ideas come out. Compare and contrast.

Small Wins Mean Everything, and Add Up

While we may just feel like getting into the fetal position in a corner of some room somewhere, we have no choice but to get through this as best we can. Fortunately, nothing improves the sense of helplessness like taking a bit of control — even just a little. And when the sorta-take-charge plan includes being whisked away by the power of a great story, you’ll be especially glad you stepped up.

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