School closures. Widespread distant learning and hybrid classrooms. Two summer breaks. Since the pandemic started in March 2020, students in the United States have faced numerous challenges. While educators nationwide have done their best to shift learning to reach all students, studies show cumulative learning loss could impact students for years to come, especially for students of color.
What is learning loss?
“Learning loss refers to how much knowledge a student loses or misses over a period of time,” said Dr. Rebecca Palacios, Age of Learning, Curriculum Board Member. “Summer learning loss happens when schools close for summer vacation, but new studies show the shifting learning environment during the pandemic had a similar impact on knowledge gain and retention.”
On average, students lose between 25% to 30% of their school-year learning over the summer, according to the Brookings Institution, with Black and Latino students losing more over the summer compared to white students. This learning loss is compounded by pandemic learning loss.
Last fall, McKinsey research found that students in grades K-5 were on average three months behind in mathematics due to the pandemic. Students of color were about three to five months behind in learning, while white students were about one to three months behind. Reading skills loss was found but not as significant, with students a month and a half behind historical averages.
Hispanic communities in particular have faced pandemic hardships, which exacerbate student learning loss. According to the Pew Research Center, about half of Latinos in the United States have a family member or close friend who has been hospitalized or died from the coronavirus. Additionally, a similar amount say they or someone in their household has lost a job or taken a pay cut during the pandemic.
How to help students
One of the most impactful ways you can assist students with learning loss happens at home. Palacios said parents and caregivers can create an environment of learning by taking a few simple steps and encouraging kids to engage in learning every day:
Step 1) Quality screen time
Children have more readily relied on screens for entertainment throughout the pandemic, but not all screen time is created equal. Monitor what your kids watch on TV and opt for educational programming that underscores age-appropriate social and educational skills. Choose smartphone and tablet apps that are a positive influence on their development as well.
One example of fun, quality screen time is ABCmouse. Designed by educational experts, and utilized in classrooms, this affordable program features more than 11,000 learning activities in literacy, math, science, social studies, art, music and more. Parents, caregivers and children can navigate major features in English or Spanish, and there is a tracker that allows parents to see how much progress a child is making. Research has found that with as little as 45 minutes of ABCmouse per week learners show significant gains in math and reading.
Step 2) Daily reading
Reading is an important activity that helps support the developing brain in addition to helping children learn important literacy skills. Whether it’s reading out loud to a young learner or helping select a book to grow a new reader’s confidence, supporting students’ reading matters.
In addition to traditional books, explore audio books, digital or e-books, as well as other sources for reading such as newspapers, comics and magazines. Know a second language? Make time to read in both with children. ABCmouse makes it easy with over 1,500 books, puzzles, and activities in Spanish. Just 20 minutes of reading a day can have a big impact on students learning and help them catch up from learning loss.
Step 3) Teachable moments
Hands-on learning is one of the most effective ways for students to retain knowledge, and fortunately for parents and caregivers, learning opportunities present themselves every day. Shift to an educator’s mindset and look for ways you can include your child in daily activities to help them learn new skills.
For example, involve kids in measuring and mixing while cooking in the kitchen. Get the family outdoors to help grow a garden. Count your change together at the grocery store. Have older children help you build a project or fix something around the house. Life is full of teachable moments if you take the time to pause and get children involved.