Navigating learning loss: How to help parents support education at home

Students across the country are still struggling. This makes it all the more essential for parents to play an important, active role in their child's academic journey.
Kathleen Law
Kathleen Law
Kathleen Law is a reading coach, Structured Literacy, Orton-Gillingham and Science-of-Reading-certified teacher, and content specialist for IMSE.

The COVID-19 pandemic influenced our educational system in unforeseeable ways. Remote learning created barriers for all students, from preschool up through college, as children and the adults tasked with educating them struggled to create an entirely new way of learning from a distance.

Educators had to reinvent learning environments and apply restrictions on group work, collaboration and checking out books. Sadly, the Nation’s Reading Report Card, published by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, reports that “the percentage of 13-year-olds who reported reading for fun has declined,” with 31% saying they “never or hardly ever” read for fun.

Students in a hybrid or virtual setting had limited access to developing and strengthening the writing process and responding to literature questions. Educators were left with no other option but to conduct lessons over Zoom, leading to the de-personalization of class time. Students had to shift to typing out their responses digitally without prior keyboarding training.

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Many students became lost in this shuffle, particularly neurodivergent students who experienced exacerbated difficulties having to learn virtually, and all students missed out on in-classroom collaboration with their peers and teachers. Additionally, studies suggest that time spent out of the classroom during COVID allowed for the misdiagnosis of learning disorders.

Research by NWEA suggests that students are not yet on track to catch up to where they should be, had the pandemic not happened. As we continue to witness the far-reaching impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on education, one critical question emerges for parents: “What can we do to help our children overcome learning loss?”

Educators have demonstrated creativity and determination to offset COVID’s effect on students, but even so, students across the country are still struggling. This makes it all the more essential for parents to play an important, active role in their child’s academic journey.

Navigating learning loss from home

Navigating learning loss as a parent can feel overwhelming, and at times, there is a sense of hopelessness. To support students, particularly struggling readers, parents should educate themselves on how they can act in their child’s best interest.

Individualized tutoring is one way to provide additional support to a struggling reader; however, we have to recognize that this is not an option for the majority of families. Costs associated with tutoring can be high and access can be limited. Fortunately, there are many other ways to help.

Connecting with and maintaining relationships with teachers is a great way for parents to understand their student’s course load and the first step to reinforcing lessons at home. It’s also important to know how to fill the gaps when it comes to times when a student may not be in the classroom, whether that be for summer vacation or other life events.

At IMSE, we share various ways parents can incorporate learning at home. A few examples include:

  • Help students access reading and writing in fun, practical ways with activities that involve written instructions like baking, building, or science projects.
  • Students can write or type about their interests in the form of journaling or by practicing writing emails or letters to friends or loved ones.
  • Support the student by making a reading checklist of titles provided by teachers and mark each book off as it is read.
  • Integrate descriptive vocabulary words into conversations, experiences, and games.
  • Help children develop social skills with play dates or programs.

Most importantly, during their conversations with teachers, parents can ask questions to ensure their child gets the adequate resources they need at school. The following is a list of questions parents can and should ask as it relates to reading:

  • Does your state have legislation regarding the science of reading training? What are the professional development plans for teachers to complete training?
  • After the course is completed, how is the district level using that knowledge to change practices in the classroom?
  • Do teachers have support in teaching reading with literacy coaches?
  • What assessment is my child taking, and what literacy measures are being addressed?
  • When should I expect to receive my child’s results?
  • How do I read the results, and how can I support my student at home?
  • What school supports are in place for students who don’t score at benchmark on these assessments?
  • Is there any parent-focused literacy awareness training to encourage at-home learning opportunities at the district or school level?
  • What are the district’s literacy goals? School goals?
  • Does the superintendent have literacy goals in their contract?

To ensure every child can read by third grade, all educators must be trained in the science of reading — an evidence-based approach to teaching the understanding of sounds, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. According to Donald J. Hernandez, a professor of sociology at Hunter College, third grade marks a critical transition or “pivot point” for students. Those who have not developed strong reading skills begin to fall behind, and the gap often only widens from there.

Learning loss cannot be treated in isolation from other home and community concerns. This collective experience has changed us as human beings and has dramatically altered the way we teach and learn. And many of these changes—both good and bad—will likely impact K–12 education for years to come.

Parents play an important role

According to a report conducted by the National Human Services Assembly, parental involvement in education can be a powerful variable in a student’s academic performance, having the potential to increase achievement in reading, grades, and test scores, among many other benefits.

States continue to evolve in terms of legislation to support students who struggle as a result of learning loss. But when nearly 60% of teacher preparation programs spend less than two hours of instructional time teaching candidates to support struggling readers, and 81% of programs do not require a practice opportunity focused on this group of students, parents need to stay engaged and involved to help their child/children navigate the effects of learning loss.

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