Updated: Aug 31
I am sure you have an interesting story of what happened in your life in March of 2020. Everyone has their own story about what happened that very unusual spring and the entire year of the pandemic. Schools were closed so suddenly. I was substituting that year - trying to decide what to do when I grew up. I had been in classrooms from preschool to high school. I had finally decided for sure to take the master's degree in dyslexia that I had been thinking about for years. I could see a need for it in every school that I went to. My classes would start in June. So for the rest of the school year, I planned to substitute. I was substituting in a preschool classroom for the aide and they had asked me to return the next day. I left school promising to be back in the morning. The next day I got up early and drove to school without turning on the news. "This is strange," I thought as I pulled into the parking lot. I was the only one there. Just yesterday after school they had all planned to be there. After looking on my phone I discovered that the entire school district had closed already because of Covid. We had known that this might happen but I had thought we would have a little more warning than that. Teachers were completely unprepared when they had to take their teaching online. Trying to interest a whole class full of young children while simultaneously learning new technology was very difficult. Maybe impossible. Keeping the students' interest and attention so that they could learn new things was also not happening. I was thankful that I was not the actual teacher. I was only a substitute so my job was suddenly over. I thank God that my husband's job continued almost as usual. I spent the next few months in my garden and loved it. My garden has never looked better than it did that year because I had lots of time to spend in it. But boy was I ever glad I wasn't a teacher having to try to figure out how to do a bunch of technical stuff to teach children online!
How strange to think that now I teach online and love it. But there is a big difference between what I am doing and what they were doing then. I am teaching one child at a time. That child has to pay attention to me and it is easy for me to tell if they are because they are the only one I have to keep track of.
But I have been noticing that many news articles are talking about students falling behind in reading and math because of the pandemic. Do you think your child might be one of them?
The teachers who taught during the pandemic and after it surely have my admiration and respect. They did a very difficult job and if children are behind in anything after that year of the pandemic I do not blame teachers. But many children are behind. Some of them are just struggling readers and would be behind even if there had never been a pandemic. There is no need to place any blame. Instead, let us just work on solutions.
Here are some ideas of things you can do with your child to help them recover from a pandemic slide or whatever else may be holding them back.
Remember the old saying - "practice makes perfect." I do not agree with this. What we should say is "practice makes permanent."
So my caution is - when practicing reading make sure you are not practicing guessing. If your child knows how to sound out the words, they are ready to practice reading. If they do not already have the skills for decoding words in the book then don't have them try to read that book.
I am not talking about just telling your child to go read to themselves. You should listen to them read. A child who gets feedback when reading makes more progress. A poor reader who is left alone with a book is probably not reading. So you should have them read aloud to you for a few minutes every day. If you want help choosing a book that is appropriate for them you might be interested in my last blog. You can read it here.
2. Read aloud to your children
You should read aloud to your children or listen to audiobooks together. Everyone should do this. You can learn so much by listening to a wide variety of books read aloud.
This will help your child gain background knowledge that will help their comprehension. You can learn about any subject that interests you by reading aloud. You can also learn about subjects that, at first, did not interest you. The more you learn about anything the more interesting it will become. The more you know the more you can learn. Then when the teacher talks about it at school your child will already have a little background knowledge to attach the new learning to.
Also, the vocabulary in books is much richer and more diverse than in conversations. Even if your child cannot read this rich vocabulary they can understand it. Reading aloud and listening to books together will help them gain knowledge through words that they will probably never encounter outside of books. This way they will not fall behind in knowledge even if they are behind in reading skills. And as a bonus when your child does get to the point where they can read those words they will have a huge advantage if they already know the words. If your child does not know the word they are reading they will not know if they are pronouncing it correctly and will stumble over the words with a question mark in their voice. But if they have already learned the vocabulary through read-aloud they will recognize the word and read with confidence.
3. Let your children watch Reading Buddies:
You can find Reading Buddies on YouTube. The Reading League produces it. Dot and Dusty will teach your child all kinds of things about reading in a very entertaining way. So if your child is in Preschool - 1st grade they will enjoy this program. It would be something you can do to help their reading without any work from you. If you listen to the program also you will get lots of ideas. You can do some of the same things in odd moments with your child to improve reading. By the way, this is the only suggestion that is not for older children. Even though it would not hurt them I am guessing many of them would not appreciate it. But if you have younger children you can have them watch the program and the older child may benefit from hearing it also.
4. Practice the alphabet together:
Alphabet knowledge is one of the best predictors of reading success. Many people think their child knows the alphabet because they can sing the alphabet song. But they do not know it as well as they should. Here are some ideas you can use for practicing the alphabet even with older children. As you do these things you might realize that your child does not know the alphabet with confidence. If they know it one day and not the next then they do not know it well enough. Try doing these things consistently every day until they know it very confidently every time for a long time in a row.
Buy a set of magnetic letters. Throw them out on the table in a pile and tell your child to put them in order.
Ask your child to point to the letter that makes the sound you are making. Or you point to a letter and ask your child what sound that letter makes.
Ask your child to point to a letter and then ask them what letter comes before or after that letter. This is a way of reinforcing before and after, and the directionality of reading.
Have a set of alphabet flashcards. Go through the alphabet in mixed order, or backward.
Make a set of flashcards that have ab_, bc_ , etc. and mix them up and have your child read them including the missing letter.
Have fun making some simple words such as "cat" & "dog" together.
5. Play games with sounds in words.
To become good readers children need to be able to hear the individual sounds in words. They need to hear that "cat" is 3 sounds, and that "cat" and "hat" rhyme, and that "confidence" has 3 syllables.
You don't need to sit down and act like you are having school to do this. You don't need to find extra time for practicing. Just do it while driving, cooking, or tucking into bed.... You are just helping your child to become more aware of sounds in words. Here are some ideas of things to do.
Think up rhyming words together. Some of them can be silly non-words. For example, ask your child "what would your name sound like if it started with B?"
Ask your child if they can say "sandbox" without "box" or "feet" without the "f".
Whenever you happen to say a bigger word talk about it and count the syllables together.
Talk about which syllable is accented. In a multi-syllable word, one syllable is a little louder and lasts slightly longer - that is the accented syllable. If the wrong syllable is accented the word sounds funny. This is often why foreign speakers sound a little funny. You can have fun playing with words and putting the accent on different syllables.
Read words that are similar but have only one difference and listen to how they sound different. For example,- hat, hit, hot, hut. You can write words like these for your child to read or you can say them clearly for your child to write.