Ever since March 2020, we’ve all been doing the best we can. Parents, caregivers, educators–we’ve all had to make enormous adjustments to our lives and how we support our children. With changing guidelines, ever-shifting goalposts, and the daily stresses that have been taking a toll, it can be hard to focus on what to do next for our kids.
The last thing anyone wants to consider is that after all the effort to keep children safe, healthy, and happy, there might be learning gaps that still need to be filled in.
But according to many teachers, the pandemic gaps aren’t only in academics. They’re in the social emotional needs that can so often go unnoticed and untended. This shouldn’t be a surprise, considering how everyone’s mental health has been tested over the past two years. And many families have been forced to deal with acute issues of crisis, illness, instability, and more.
It’s no wonder that children are struggling with emotions, routines, and social situations. These problems can lead children to withdraw, act out, or miss out on advancements that make learning possible.
If emotional healing and support aren’t there, filling in academic gaps will be that much more difficult. Childhood is the time to build foundations for lifelong cognitive ability and emotional intelligence. Now might be just the right time to check in with children at an emotional level, consider where their needs can be met differently, and seek out more advanced help, if necessary.
Finding ways to create meaningful connections for kids can be invaluable. Are there activities, sports, informal get-togethers, book clubs, or multiage social events nearby that you can join, or even create? This can be an important step in filling in the social emotional gaps that may have been missed over the past two years. These connections can also lead to educational experiences, as well.
There could be ways to bring kids together over shared passions and interests, or shared support. For example, a reading buddies group can help younger children with phonics skills while offering a fulfilling mentorship opportunity for older children. A board game club can foster math skills while giving kids a social outlet. Hosting an end-of-school-year field day can help with sportsmanship and cooperation, while bringing in some fun science questions to answer together.
- Focus on creating routines, even with summer break on the horizon.
- Set aside time on a daily basis to talk and touch base in an open, empathetic way.
- Start a journal for you and your child that you pass back and forth, to stimulate conversations.
- Communicate with teachers, coaches, and other adults about ways to support all children as they navigate social-emotional roadblocks.
And while social-emotional gaps might be more immediate in some cases, that’s not to say there aren’t academic areas where extra support would help. With the strain of the past two years, paired with inconsistent schedules and often, full cancellations of activities, it’s worth checking in to see if there are academic losses to fill in.
Younger learners were especially hit hard with the challenges of identifying letters, grasping phonics, and practicing writing while learning remotely. Older students may have missed key lessons on academic topics or the chance to practice building-block skills in math, science, or other subjects.
While there are more traditional solutions to learning gaps, like summer study or hiring a tutor, there are also ways to be a bit more creative. There are online programs like Outschool and Skillshare, which are fee-based. But there are also countless free virtual field trips, activities, and lessons from museums, zoos, arts centers, science centers, and more. With any of these outlets, kids have the opportunity to sharpen skills and pursue learning outside of the classroom. They can internalize concepts they may have missed.
The most important thing when recognizing either academic or social-emotional gaps, is to not panic. Try to take a deep breath, meet your child where they are, and support them from a place of encouragement and growth, instead of fear and pressure. Certainly this is easier said than done, but we all deserve to give, and receive, extra grace and compassion during this time. That includes our children, too.
Christie Megill is an editorial and marketing intern at Cardinal Rule Press and she spends most of her spare time reading children’s books. She has experience as a writer, elementary school teacher, curriculum developer, and literacy specialist.