Worried Your Kid Is Falling Behind? You’re Not Alone

July 30, 2020

The other day my mother gave me a book called “What Your Second Grader Should Know.” A quick flip through it revealed that a few weeks from now, my son would need to label an insect’s thorax, know the names of a dozen Greek gods and discuss the role of Dolley Madison in the War of 1812. In the wake of some serious distance learning burnout, the most educational thing we’d done all summer had been a contact-free library pickup of the latest “Captain Underpants.” I suddenly wished we’d done a little more.

If you’re concerned that remote learning may have set your child back academically, brace yourself: It probably has. When students return to school, research shows that most will be behind where they would have been if classroom instruction had continued as normal. And with an increasing number of districts announcing a return to online learning, the collective angst in my own parenting circles has reached a fever pitch. The question comes up constantly: When do we need to start panicking about our children falling behind?

Deborah Stipek, Ph.D., a professor at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education, said that may not be the right question to ask. “I think a more useful one is, ‘How do we ensure that our children get the best possible opportunities to learn under these challenging circumstances?’” she said.

For preschoolers, that starts with prioritizing the crucial social-emotional skills that form the building blocks of learning, said Elisabeth Jones, a preschool teacher at the Child Development Center at Texas State University. When kids go back to school, she said, “they’ll be expected to wait their turn and share materials, and many aren’t getting the opportunity to practice that right now.”