In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, schools across the nation transitioned to meeting online. Given the abruptness of the transition and lack of preparation parents had in becoming in-home teachers’ aides, many parents and educators are worried about a “COVID slide” or “COVID slowdown,” where students fail to retain any new information learned before and during the pandemic — as well as over the summer, when students are not in school.
Families with more resources may have a way of halting that slide and actually help their children retain what they learned during the past academic year, according to California State University, Northridge special education professor Wendy Murawski, executive director and Eisner Endowed Chair for the Center for Teaching and Learning in the Michael D. Eisner College of Education.
“I would recommend that family members try to continue to build children’s skills in whatever ways they have accessible to them,” Murawski said. “There’s a real significant and, I think, accurate fear that this time away from school will increase the educational divide, but I don’t think that means we give up. We support one another in any way we can. We build from this together, and educational groups are coming forward to provide resources, strategies, free WiFi — anything we can to help.”
Murawski said families with access to the internet will be able to find online resources to help them get involved with their children’s education. She pointed out that organizations such as the Council for Exceptional Children are offering free memberships, and CSUN’s Eisner College has a page of “Virtual Instruction Resources” that can be accessed by anyone.
She also encouraged families to take advantage of messaging apps and social media, such as WhatsApp and Instagram, to organize study and peer groups for their children. There are also board games, such as Monopoly, that can get children thinking about math and strategy.
“You could have a math problem of the day on your calendar,” Murawski said. “You could cook or bake together, build a doghouse and do measurements, figure out angles to shoot a basketball. There are all these possibilities, depending on your time. You don’t have to be a mathematician or a scholar yourself. Just keep kids thinking.”
Murawski said it is also important that families speak with their children about current events and to focus on their student’s mental health.
She noted that socioeconomic status might affect how much time families can commit to their children’s education, especially if parents are concerned about providing enough food and shelter during this time. And for students with learning disabilities or mental health issues, their families might not be trained to oversee their education, she said.
“Every family is different,” Murawski said. “Every family has unique stressors and mental health needs to be considered. Our college supports all families, and we understand if parents are focused on work, timing, housing, food or other factors, and they don’t have the time, energy or resources to also support optimal in-home education with their children. We are here to share resources with schools, teachers and parents as we all work together during this challenging time.”
Shari Tarver-Behring, dean of the Eisner College, noted that discussions are still taking place at K-12 districts across the state and the nation on when schools should reopen. While some schools might plan on returning to some form of in-person teaching as soon as fall 2020, others might continue to stay fully or partially online.
Tarver-Behring said she sees a silver lining in the unexpected shift to partial or total distance learning, noting that, if the situation allows, many parents have become more engaged in their children’s education.
“The more that parents know about education in the school, and the more that they can partner with teachers in working with students, the better the chances are that students will learn and benefit. Virtual teaching also allows teachers to learn more about the socio-economic and cultural worlds that their students live in, and this allows teachers to be more responsive to their the needs of their students,” Tarver-Behring said.