Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, parents and caregivers have been tasked with navigating a series of obstacles, from potential changes in employment to balancing virtual learning and the resulting educational and social voids.
By August 2020, 70 percent of parents reported their childcare program had either closed or reduced hours or capacity, according the Bipartisan Policy Center and Morning Consult. A full one-fourth of programs remained closed at the end of the year; and, more than half of public school parents said their children are attending school only remotely or online in 2021, according to a survey by the National Parent Union. This of course includes Jefferson County Public Schools, which has practiced non-traditional instruction since March 16, 2020.
Research in child development has confirmed that children are learning from the time they are born. Early childhood, defined as birth to 8 years old, is a time of transformative social, emotional, and intellectual learning that can shape the individual for the rest of her life. It is understandable that 69 percent of parents worry that the changes in learning that have occurred since the start of the pandemic will have a lasting effect on their child’s education.
Focus has thus turned more than ever to parents, many of whom have—in effect—taken on the role of a classroom teacher due to limits of virtual instruction. Parents and caregivers recognize this shift, as 30 percent said it would be helpful to have more information on how to support their child’s learning during the pandemic, and more than half said they wanted help keeping their children engaged in good activities.
The hopeful news is that parents have and always will be their child’s first and best teacher, for research has shown that the greatest impact on school performance is parents’ support of learning at home.
At the National Center for Families Learning (NCFL), engaging multiple generations of the same family in learning together has been a fundamental and distinguishing aspect of our work. For 31 years, we have developed programming and resources to foster family engagement, working with parents and caregivers to be full partners in their children’s education.
Our work has reinforced the truth that parents are equipped with the tools and expertise to help their children in this moment and beyond. By adding just a few simple practices to their daily routine, parents and caregivers can turn each remaining day of the coronavirus pandemic into a unique and enriching opportunity to learn. Following are a few ideas:
- Try out the Serve and Return strategy. Pay attention to a child’s focus, then react to that interest various times throughout the day.
- Make a point of showing a sense of wonder. When adults attach awe to the things around them, children catch the curiosity bug. Visit our free learning platform org to find a new wonder each day, or check out a list of more simple ways to learn.
- Encourage the use of manipulative materials to promote creative play. Items such as playdough, blocks, or other stackable or building materials can provide a blank slate for creative play and decision-making.
- Promote reading. NCFL’s Cultivating Readers Family Guide, which is available in English and Spanish, provides tips to grow reading skills from birth to age eight, exploring shared learning activities to make reading active and fun.
While many resources and strategies promote useful at-home learning opportunities, it is important to remember that no one can tackle them all. Though parents and caregivers face many daily demands, being realistic and setting boundaries are just a few ways to lessen the pressure while still supporting your child. As we try to overcome the persisting challenges of a year turned upside down, we must understand our limits and afford ourselves grace.
Learning during early childhood is vital, and with the right approach, it is possible even during a time such as this. We applaud all families who persistently build learning into their everyday lives, propelling the next generation in the process.
Brian Hancock is the Digital Communications Manager at the National Center for Families Learning (NCFL). Since 1989, NCFL has partnered with educators, literacy advocates, and policymakers to develop and provide programming, professional development, and resources for families in more than 150 communities across the country.
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