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Parents will need to fight ‘COVID learning slump’ over summer: B.C. literacy experts

Parents who play an active role in educating their children this summer can reverse the slump by nearly 80%, says Janet Mort
Dr. Janet Mort of Brentwood Bay joined the Order of B.C. in 2020. (Janet Mort/Submitted)

Youngsters learning how to read are facing a “COVID-19 slump” and early learning experts say it will likely fall on parents to play catch-up this summer or risk their child falling behind.

Students already lose roughly 30 per cent of their school year reading gains during summer break, explained Guofang Li, a language and literacy professor at the University of British Columbia.

The pandemic shut children out of classrooms for two extra months starting March 17, 2020. Remote learning forced elementary school teachers to rely on parents in a way they never have before, to supervise their children and carry through lesson plans.

Li is encouraging parents to help their kids practise what they’ve learned.

“Teachers got an hour of screen time at most with Kindergarten students,” said literacy expert Janet Mort, education advisor for five Vancouver Island school districts. “Parents had to make sure their six-year-old sat down in front of the computer screen and listened to their teacher.”

For some low-income families, the pandemic presented extra challenges – including limited access to a computer or internet – that prevented their children from attending online lessons. These students tend to experience a greater reading loss over the summer, Li said.

“These students may be facing an up 60 per cent learning loss,” Mort added.

READ ALSO: Learning from home may present challenges for young students amid COVID-19

Half of Kindergarteners, Grade 1s and 2s behind

Principal Christi Munch of Little Prairie Elementary in Chetwynd said her teachers reported half of their Kindergarten, Grade 1 and Grade 2 classes are behind in reading.

“In a typical school year, say in a class of 20, you’d expected two to three students to have that gap but this year we’ve had to reteach entire classes to help them get caught up.”

Munch attributes the literacy gap to the seven months of in-person classes the children missed in 2019 and 2020.

“They came back in September with huge learning gaps,” she said.

Since then, Little Prairie teachers and support staff have intervened with afternoon sessions which see students practising words, their sounds and reading aloud in small groups.

Province funding learning impact assessments

There is no substitute for in-class learning, the provincial ministry of education told Black Press Media in an email.

“We are continuing discussions with our education partners to support school districts and independent schools to identify students who may need further support as a result of the pandemic.”

In April, school districts in the province were provided $5.9-million to assess the learning impacts of COVID-19 on students and to develop and deliver additional resources to address them.

At this time, there appears to be no clear statistics to show exactly the effect the pandemic had on learning across the province or Canada, but the ministry said it expects to release some details of what families, students and staff can expect in September later this month.

ALSO READ: Teen bookworms could be setting themselves up for richer future: Stats Canada

Eleonore Alamillo-Laberge, 6, reads a book in Ottawa on Monday, June 12, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Eleonore Alamillo-Laberge, 6, reads a book in Ottawa on Monday, June 12, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Learning literacy through playing

For parents trying to help their children catch up this summer, Mort says the key to literacy learning can be found in playing.

“If you can make it a game they will learn it,” she said. “Our goal is to get parents on board with us in these summer months.”

Mort says for younger children, learning the alphabet means they need to be able to identify the letter, its sound and know how to write or replicate its shape from memory. In order to overcome COVID-19 learning losses, she suggests a 20-minute lesson each day that focuses on the same five letters until the child is confident with each.

“Make it fun. Hide alphabet letters in the backyard, call out the names and letters together, make the letters out of sticks while out on a walk, draw them in shaving cream or jello.”

Mort said she’s seen parents who play an active role in their children’s education reverse their learning slump by nearly 80 per cent.

Developing the cognitive capabilities necessary for reading also helps children with their problem-solving, memory and real-world skills, Li added.

“Literacy a lot like exercise. You have to use your muscles to grow and get better at using the alphabet and reading.”

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