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Supporting Your Child Through Learning Loss

Since its outbreak two years ago, the COVID-19 crisis has disrupted education centres globally, affecting young learners at all stages of their academic journeys. At its peak, some 1.6 billion students were affected, with schools, colleges and universities closing their doors to in-person teaching, and many being forced to take up online learning provided to them by their school.

At the time, distance learning in this way was the obvious solution to a rapidly developing crisis, allowing students to keep open communication with their teachers and peers and access valuable resources to maintain their learning. 

Yet, as the pandemic progressed, and parents and teachers began to reflect on the impact that remote learning was having on students, questions were raised about how detrimental the lack of in-person teaching was to academic, social, and motor-skill progression.

Commonly coined as pandemic ‘learning loss,’ these concerns around the impacts of lockdown learning are now being corroborated by real data.  Recent learning loss statistics suggest that children in England are three months behind their studies since the pandemic began, with that figure rising to around 74 days in total of learning loss for children in other international communities.

Despite differing variants of the virus continuing to impact day-to-day living, schools are now open in the majority of countries, supported by robust health and safety measures and good uptakes of vaccination against the virus. But the effects of learning losses, health and well-being of students continues to be sizable, with priority towards educational support essential if we are to reduce its impacts.

Thanks to the united efforts of countries and educational organisations around the world, including UNESCO, who continue to spearhead campaigns to bridge the gap created by learning loss, education systems are being supported during this recovery process. 

For parents, there are plenty of things you can also do at home to help support and mitigate the effects of learning loss on your children as we continue to emerge through the pandemic. We’ll share a few suggestions below on ways to get started.

Request syllabi and readings lists from your child’s teacher 

Firstly, one of the best ways to support your child’s learning loss is to get a better understanding of exactly what they’re learning at school - so you can put additional resources and support in at home where it’s needed. 

If you haven’t already, ask your child’s teacher(s) to give you a copy of the syllabus for each subject your child is studying, as well as any recommended reading lists or supplementary materials you may be able to purchase at home. 

There are plenty of textbooks and resources available to purchase online, and your child’s teacher will be able to recommend specific titles which are most closely aligned with your child’s current abilities and learning style. 

You could even consider hiring a tutor, using the syllabi you’ve been provided as a way to guide your child’s tutoring sessions. The tutor will be able to assess your child’s ability in each area and offer a more tailored learning experience that addresses the areas they’re weakest in. 

If your child is at secondary school and studying for nine or more subjects, trying to offer support in all could be a significant cost and time commitment for you. Instead, request a meeting with your child’s form tutor to discuss any subjects where their grades are below target, giving you a more tailored approach to aid their learning. They may also be able to give you specific topic areas where your child’s knowledge gap is most noticeable.

By having a more comprehensive idea of your child’s current learning needs, you’ll be able to start laying the foundations outside of the school environment to fill in any areas where they may need additional support.

Help them with goal setting

When it comes to supporting your child to bridge the gap between their current and desired academic ability, it can help to sit down and help them with goal planning - giving them clear and actionable steps to take in order to improve their academic performance. 

One of the best goal-setting methods for students to consider using is the SMART goal planning method. SMART is an acronym for a specific set of criteria that can help students dive into their overall goal and further invest in the outcome - increasing their motivation towards reaching that goal and reduce the chances of procrastination.

When broken down, the acronym can be used to help build out and define a student’s goal:

  • Specific: How can the goal be written in a way that is clear and concise? The more specific, the easier it will be to know what is needed to complete the goal.
  • Measurable: How can progress be monitored to ensure students are on track to reach their goal?
  • Achievable: Is the goal challenging enough while still remaining realistic? Something too challenging could demotivate students.
  • Relevant: What impact does the  goal have towards a student’s future ambitions? E.g. If their goal is to get a Grade 7 in GCSE Chemistry, does it help them on their way to becoming a doctor in the future?
  • Time-bound: What’s the end-date for the goal? Having a deadline will hold students accountable.

To support you with helping your child put SMART goal planning into practice, we’ve created a SMART goal planning sheet to help them identify, plan and visualise new goals. 

The sheet offers students a space to consider all the points above and write a goal down in one place. Print off as many copies as goals they want to make. Once complete, you should consider sticking this somewhere where the whole family can be reminded of them - the fridge, noticeboard, or office wall space - it’s a good reminder of everything they want to achieve and help them stay on-track.

Click the link below to download the sheet.

DOWNLOAD SMART GOAL PLANNING SHEET

Establish routine ‘learning’ as a family

Every parent knows the struggles that can come with trying to encourage their child to put in additional study hours outside of school - especially if you already have a busy family calendar filled with extracurriculars. 

If this is something you often struggle with in your household, we encourage you to set aside some time each week or even fortnight that promotes more creative and collaborative ways of ‘learning’ together.

Children are creatures of habit, and the more you can incorporate ‘learning’ in a fun but also more normalised way as a household, the less resistant they may feel to participating in additional learning ventures at home. 

Set aside specific periods of ‘learning’ time - either once a week, fortnightly, or even monthly - when you and your family spend time together trying something new that reconsolidates everything they’re learning at school. 

Now, this doesn’t have to be actual ‘learning’ as such, but setting your child’s subject in real-life contexts in the home environment to help them better their understanding. 

Don’t be afraid to get creative here with how you do this; make use of what’s available to you at home to establish exciting family activities, such as ‘battle re-enactments,’ or even exciting ‘kitchen science experiments’ together.

Perhaps once a month you could even visit museums in the local area that offer exciting displays and activities around the topics your children are covering in class? Or maybe you could see if your local theatre is showing any performances of a play or writer your child is studying at school? 

There’s no end to the types of activities you can sample at home with plenty of resources available online. Again, you may want to consider speaking with your child’s teacher to see if they have any recommendations on places to visit or activities to try that may be best aimed at your child’s learning style.

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Speak to your child about any support they feel they need

When considering the best options for supporting your child’s academia, it can be very easy to overlook their personal needs and leave them out of the conversation - especially if you and your child’s teacher(s) have a very open line of communication about their current academic challenges. 

From the very beginning, we encourage you to sit down and speak with your child about any support they think they may need. This won’t only help you gain a more rounded understanding of their needs but also encourage healthy communication between you both about school.

For example, from a conversation with your child you may find that they are struggling in a particular area in class because remote learning has impacted the way the subject is taught. For example, it goes without saying that science subjects benefit from in-person experiments and various other kinaesthetic activities, allowing children to get hands-on and learn how and why different things work. 

In this case, it might be that a trip to the science museum will help give them that physical reference to the subject and reinforce their understanding of it. Or, it may be an opportunity to get creative at home and try some (safe) but alternative science experiments so your child can get hands-on experience with their learning. 

Another example; you may think that you need to sign your child up to an after-school club to consolidate their class learning, while your child may explain that they’d benefit more from one-on-one learning with a tutor who can tailor the learning experience to them. 

Talking to your child can open up a whole range of conversations and opportunities for you to support them. Include them in the conversation right from day one to keep them engaged so that you as a family can all find a method for moving forward that works best for you all.

Encourage positive daily conversations around school

Aside from the obvious learning loss impacts that came with school closures during the pandemic, research has also shown that in general, children's’ wellbeing and personal development has been negatively impacted as a result of reduced social contact.

For children, especially those at a younger age, school is an opportunity for them to learn and develop essential communication, problem-solving and other key soft skills. Interacting with their peers either in the classroom or on the playground allows them to bond with others their age and learn how to navigate through the world around them. 

Without that daily contact during the pandemic, Ofsted - the UK’s official education inspection organisation - have reported a halt in child development and, with some younger children even regressing back to earlier stages of progress.

Plus, decreases in physical activity outdoors and an increase in sedentary behaviour have all been attributed to worsened mental health in children, with many feeling more anxious and lacking motivation towards their futures. 

This is without mentioning the obvious learning loss that billions of children have experienced as a result of the school closures, with concerns around progression, ability and future prospects all contributing to a more heightened state of nerves. 

As schools begin to return to normality, it’s important to encourage positive conversations about school to support any concerns your child may have. Whether it’s reassuring them that you’ll put in additional help at home to support their academia, or simply being a hand to hold onto until they’re feeling more confident in themselves - it’s key that the home environment helps them feel safe and comfortable, while also positive reinforcing the benefits of returning to school. 

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Summary

The COVID-19 crisis disrupted education globally, causing learning loss. Recent data shows children in England are three months behind. Schools are reopening, but learning support is crucial. Parents can help by understanding the curriculum, setting goals, establishing routines, and fostering positive conversations about school.

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