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

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

Students already lose roughly 30 per cent of the school year’s reading gains during summer break, explained Guofang Li, professor of Language and Literacy Education at the University of British Columbia.

And since the COVID-19 pandemic shut children out of classrooms for two extra months starting March 17, 2020, Li is encouraging parents to help their kids catch up this summer.

Months of remote learning have forced elementary school teachers to rely on parents in a way they never have before, to supervise their children and carry through their lesson plans.

“Teachers got an hour of screen time at most with Kindergarten students,” says 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 many low-income families, the pandemic presented extra challenges – including limited access to a computer or internet – that prevented their child from being able to attend online lessons. These students tend to also experience a greater reading loss over the summer, Li said.

“These students may be in a slump of an up 60 per cent learning loss,” Mort added. “Many have fallen back and haven’t caught up.”

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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 through play

For parents, 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 Grade 1 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 beat 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 has seen parents play an active role in their children’s education and reverse the learning slump by nearly 80 per cent in students as high up as Grade 4, who read books with their parents over the summer.

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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