4 things to do this summer to get kids ready for school this fall

SPOKANE, Wash. — Students are learning in class again, but it doesn’t mean they’re caught up on everything they should know.

Research shows students are falling behind in learning. Between those months of virtual learning, transitioning to hybrid, then full time, there was no stability.

Even with many students back in school again, there is no guarantee they would be in class every day. The uncertainties of the virus still lingers.

West Valley High School just had to shift all its students to virtual learning for a week and a half because of an increase in COVID cases.

The instability and switching back and forth is having an impact on students, and for some it’s made them fall behind. Experts want to note that it is not a loss of learning—just ‘unfinished learning.’ Students are still needing to learn what they haven’t yet, rather than losing or missing information.

“It was a learning experience for me, too,” said Carrie Saunders, a mom of two.

Saunders isn’t the only person who went through a learning experience through the pandemic; everyone’s learned something in the last year.

Many people had to adapt, and school as we all knew it changed.

Students spent months learning from home when the pandemic hit. That transition was so quick, schools had to switch gears in an instant. But even last spring, students were barely learning.

Some school districts said they would check in with students once a week at that point. However, once fall hit, there was a little more stability compared to spring.

Saunders’ third grade daughter, Kourtney, had to keep learning remotely until February.

“She was getting so far behind that she wasn’t meeting even her half year goal mark,” Saunders said.

Kourtney needed that face-to-face interaction with her teachers. She couldn’t do it over a screen.

“It was hard for her to do over the computer with her teacher. It felt like she wasn’t soaking it all in,” Saunders said.

Kourtney wasn’t alone. Even though most students haven’t taken state tests in two years, local school districts are keeping track.

“Standardized testing is really a big picture system-wide look at how students are doing, how a districts is doing, how buildings are doing. If you’re looking at an individual student, you’re looking – how are they doing day-to-day in class. There are assessments happening all the time,” said Vicki Leifer, the assistant superintendent of West Valley School District.

The Central Valley School District, for example, saw scores decline in the last year. The district says its reading scores in elementary schools saw a learning loss of about 6 to 9 percent on average. Even going up to 12 to 15 percent in some schools.

That means that nine percent loss in reading means the district has 350 to 400 more students that are not meeting benchmark compared to the year prior.

RELATED: Report shows students are falling behind in school

Students are also falling behind in math.

The Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) compared math scores from fall of 2019 to 2020. Students in third to eighth grade fell five to 10 percentile points. In math, that’s tough when grade levels build on what was learned the year before.

“Math particularly, when you get into 4th, 5th grade, it becomes a little more abstract, a little more conceptual. You get past that multiplication and division and into fractions and ratios, all of those things that we may not be as prepared to teach remotely as some of the other subjects,” said Chase Nordengren, a senior research scientist at NWEA.

With less than two months left of school, there’s not much more that being done in the classroom to make up for that lost time. But, there are things that can be done this summer to get kids back on track.

Address students’ emotional needs. This is a big part in helping kids have the motivation to learn.

If students are behind in learning, it’s OK. They are not alone and let them know that. Tell them that progress does take time.

“If they’re dedicated to it and they’re able to connect that with their own goals, it is definitely possible to make really impressive learning in a short amount of time,” said Nordengren.

Practice, practice, practice. Get that repetition in, and don’t let the summer be another time to let things slide.

“Some of the practices we would do in a non-pandemic year, I think are just as valuable as when we are in a pandemic year, as far as engaging that reading, doing some of those fun games at home as well,” said Cindy Sothen, the principal of Chester Elementary School.

Another way to help students with math over the summer, have them help out while at the cash register and count with them.

Check for summer school programs this summer. The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction is requiring schools to have a learning recovery plan in place. That means – in addition to traditional summer school, some districts are creating even more opportunities for students to continue learning over the summer.

That’s what the Central Valley School District and West Valley School District are doing.

“There’s always a need. I think the need is probably even more so this year and we have the ability to do it, so we want to provide that support for our students,” Leifer said.

Get outside with kids. It’s about to be another beautiful Inland Northwest summer and there are many ways to incorporate learning in your own backyard.

Families can head to the park. One example: The City of Spokane is almost ready to open its new Ice Age Floods playground. The parks and recreation department says it will  have learning stations throughout the park.

While outside with kids, remember to take a breath of that fresh air. Parents, remember to take a break and give kids a break.

Students are resilient, and they can bounce back with time.

Like Saunders’ daughter, Kourtney, did getting to be back in class again.

“Her teacher said she’s just blossoming. She’s growing,” Saunders said.

While it doesn’t always show up in test scores, many people have learned a lot during the pandemic. Kids have gained life skills, knowing and going through everything they did this last year.

“There’s this balance between a loss of school as we knew it, and the learning loss. Our kids have learned so many more things this year than we would have thought,” Leifer added.

In addition to those four things, there’s a bonus tip.

Check out the local libraries. Both the Spokane County Library District and Spokane Public Libraries tell 4 News Now they will have plenty of activities and events for kids to take part in and learn.

READ: 20 activities to stimulate your child’s brain this summer