Parents can help their kids catch up and get back on grade level after a year of online and hybrid learning by stepping away from screens and turning to hands-on opportunities this summer.
“Just try to incorporate activities that require focus, like musical instruments, STEAM projects, science projects, sports,” said Deborah Bradley-Kramer, Ph.D., head of school at MUSE Academy in Brooklyn, New York. “All of those sorts of things that do require you to step away from the screen, hopefully, and focus intensely.”
The Cause of Kids’ Learning Loss
Bradley-Kramer, who is also the director of music and performance at MUSE and a lecturer in music at the Juilliard School, has a hunch about the cause of some learning loss parents have observed during the past school year. “Frankly, some focus issues that children are facing this year are because of the hybrid learning, because of the back-and-forth to different types of formats,” she said. Children can also be disoriented by the sudden transition of computers and laptops from a “fun back-seat play screen” to “the essential and sacred school tool,” noted Bradley-Kramer.
How Summer Schools and Camps Reverse Learning Loss
In order to bring kids back to some sense of normalcy, she suggests parents “zero in” on the focus issue through interactive learning in the summer — “anything that requires a lot of intense focus would be very helpful for children.” One way this can be achieved is through summer school and summer camp opportunities, which Bradley-Kramer believes are plentiful.
“Now, the offerings are just expanded because some of these [camps] are going to be on-site, but they’ve also expanded many to include online opportunities,” she said. STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics), literacy and writing, coding, sport, music, and outdoor exploration are some areas of focus the head of school proposed. Brooklyn Music School, with which MUSE shares space, some faculty, and resources, has “all kinds of incredibly focused classes over the summer,” she suggested.
How to Avoid the Summer Slide
If summer camp or classes are not an option, worry not. “Parents can do any of those things with their children,” Bradley-Kramer emphasized. “There are plenty of tools at their disposal from libraries, of course, but also online.” Libraries especially can be a goldmine of information: “Sometimes we forget about that, that most of us have one in walking distance in our neighborhoods,” she said. “Most likely you can find plenty of resources there.” These resources can help kids avoid the summer slide, or summer slump.
Parents are also always welcome to speak directly with their child’s teacher regarding summer school and tutoring opportunities. And, of course, remaining supportive and nurturing through this difficult time is key. “Children of all ages have been under a lot of stress, just like adults have been,” noticed Bradley-Kramer. Focusing on “underachievement,” grades dropping, and test scores may not be ideal at this time. “Right now, the best approach is to just support the kids, not create extra stress. We’re just emerging from this.”
“Once the kids are back into some sense of normalcy, they are so resilient,” said Bradley-Kramer. “I’m sure just like most of us they will recover and they will step up to the plate and make up for a lot of lost time.”
Parents Poll On Academic Performance
MUSE Academy has been committed to in-person learning since the start of the academic year, according to Bradley-Kramer. Because of small class sizes and daily engagement with the arts at the Pre-K through 2nd grade school, she believes MUSE was able to dodge some of the distraction challenges other schools have faced through the pandemic.
Over 90% of New York City parents noticed a “learning slide” as a result of changed methods of instruction during the pandemic, according to a poll of 290 individuals sponsored by MUSE in April. These parents have children currently in preschool or elementary school at both public and private institutions in the City.
More than 35% of respondents reported that their child’s instruction this academic year was fully online, with another 55% reporting mainly online or hybrid online/in person schooling. Over half of all polled observed a moderate learning slide, with an additional 30% and 10% observing noticeable and severe slides, respectively. Only 8% of parents said they hadn’t noticed any academic decline in their child.
In a free-response section of the poll, one parent observed a “lack of motivation in both teachers and students.” Another felt, “My children aren’t getting the education they deserve.” Another wrote that online education was “tough, but doable.”
A Return to In-Person Learning
Despite great efforts from teachers, administrations, and schools, Zoom is not cutting it for everyone. “They are doing the best they can, but online learning will just never be the same,” wrote one parent polled. “We need to go back to full-time, in-person [learning] as soon as possible before they start falling too far behind.” Another parent felt similarly, writing, “The teachers in my child’s school try very hard to engage the students, but it’s difficult when they’re just a window on the screen.” One parent simply put, “They tried, they really tried, every day is like pulling teeth.”
Others felt satisfied with the results of the past few semesters online. “Aside from attending virtual classes,” wrote one parent, “the comfort factor in being at home helps the learning process and allows for additional work at home without losing any time.”
Another observed that “the school has done a really good job in a challenging situation and I don’t think my kids have suffered significant academic loss (nothing that can’t be made up). The instruction is live and adaptable and the teachers work hard and know my kids.”
Despite everything, New York City students and their parents still have a lot to be thankful for: continued instruction through the past year, an in-person future, and a vaccine for young kids on the horizon. “I think it’s amazing that in a pandemic we could have school at all,” wrote a parent. “The teachers did so much, and I know it took them a lot more work with all the uncertainty of Covid.”
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Sophia Moore is a journalism student at NYU who has covered style, social issues, and current events. She is originally from Vermont, and also studies Portuguese and Italian.
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