After an unparalleled year and a half, families are in the thick of back to school preparation. If you’re like many parents, you may be wondering what going back to school will look like this fall, how to make sure your child is ready – both academically and emotionally – and what you can do to support them as they return to learning.
“Parents know their children much better than anyone else,” says TakeLessons Partner and math teacher, Julie Lopez, “Compared to even the most decorated educator with masters and doctorate degrees, a loving parent is still the best and most influential teacher for their child.”
While the upcoming school year may seem filled with big changes, and the past year may have been packed with challenges, it’s important to remember that, as a parent, you have the power to create a positive narrative around your child’s upcoming learning experiences. You, as a parent, can ensure the relationship your child has with their education is impactful, rewarding, and growth-filled. Let’s get started!
How to Prepare Your Child for Going Back to School?
In this article, we’ll take a look at the impact of the last year and a half on K-12 students’ education. But most importantly, we’ll look at some of the strategies and resources you can use as a parent to build your child’s confidence, passion for learning, and to set your child up for success in the 2021 – 2022 school year.
We’ll look at:
- How other parents are approaching back to school preparation
- Academic challenges many kids are facing today
- Whether or not to test your child’s academic progress
- How developing a growth mindset can help your child thrive
- And how to discuss learning with your child, so they gain confidence and passion around their academic growth
If you’re wondering how to get ready for school to start this year – you’re in the right place. Let’s get started!
What Are Other Parents Saying About Back to School Preparation?
How to Get Ready for School to Start
The best way to navigate the big question of how to get ready for school to start is to gain an understanding of where your child is on their learning journey, and what your options are as a parent. Every family is different, every child is unique, and so your young learner may thrive in a different environment than another learner.
Keep this in mind as you navigate your local school district’s offerings, online education options, and homeschool curriculums. Let’s get started by taking a look at what’s happened in education over the past year and a half.
What Kinds of Challenges Are Kids Facing Right Now?
While young people have a comparatively low risk of infection from COVID-19, the impact of the pandemic on children under age 18 has been significant. According to an article published by the US National Library of Medicine, “The stress confronted by [youth] poses their condition as highly vulnerable.”
This year, many children are grappling with both academic setbacks and the emotional impact of an interrupted year of learning. Here’s a look at the numbers:
- 55 million children were out of school during the 2020 – 2021 school year according to researchers at Harvard and Brown University.
- 9 in 10 parents reported being worried about their children falling behind academically due to coronavirus-related school closures more than any other financial or socioeconomic concern according to The Education Trust.
- The average student could fall 7 months behind academically by the end of the pandemic according to research from McKinsey & Company.
- 8 in 10 parents say their child(ren) experienced heightened stress levels during the COVID-19 pandemic according to The Education Trust.
- 63% of young people are suffering significant symptoms of anxiety or depression according to a Survey by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
- Nearly 60% of teachers from the United States rated remote learning effectiveness at between one and three out of ten, with lower income schools rating lower than higher income schools according to a global survey conducted by McKinsey & Company.
Children across the spectrum of age, race, geographic location, and socioeconomic status were impacted by school closures and interruptions in their learning. Let’s take a look at what that means for kids’ academic readiness for this upcoming year, and what the most effective steps might be for back to school preparation.
1. Many Children Are Struggling Academically
If you’ve spent time grappling with how to help your child cope with school during the past months, and how to prepare for back to school this year, you’re not alone. The Education Trust found that during the pandemic, 9 in 10 parents said they were worried about their children falling behind academically due to school closures. In fact, parents ranked this fear higher than any other issue, including financial and socioeconomic concerns.
And those worries aren’t necessarily unfounded. School closures, transitions to online education, and a year of learning that was frequently disrupted by changing policies caused many students to fall behind standard academic performance.
But, What Does “Struggling Academically” Really Mean?
When getting kids ready for back to school, we hear a lot about children struggling academically. But what does that actually mean? Let’s take a look at the numbers.
- According to researchers at McKinsey & Company, when all of the impacts are taken into account, the average student could fall seven months behind academically.
- Another national study by the assessment company, Curriculum Associates, found that during the winter of 2020-2021, there were reductions of up to 16 percent in the number of elementary school students performing at grade level in math, and up to 10 percent in the number of students performing at grade level in reading.
- What’s more, by using data from prior literature and analyzing the summer learning patterns of 5 million average students, a working paper from the nonprofit organization the NWAE as well as researchers at Harvard and Brown Universities estimates students could go back to school having lost as much as a third of the expected progress from the previous year in reading and half of the expected progress in math.
- And finally, testing experts warn that the impact of the pandemic on learning could be greater than is currently visible, as comprehensive data is not yet available to accurately assess the nation’s K-12 population as a whole.
During school closures throughout the 2020 – 2021 school year, 55 million children were out of school. But those children’s experiences were dramatically different across the spectrum of age, race, geographic location, and socioeconomic status, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Suzanne B. Goldberg, Acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education says that, “We know from early studies that for many students, the educational gaps that existed before the pandemic – in access, opportunities, achievement, and outcomes – are widening.”
The numbers from research institutions across the country indicate that – while the impact on young learners differs across the nation – children across the US are grappling with the repercussions of an interrupted year of learning.
Measuring Academic Success? It’s Just a Piece of the Puzzle
Of course, measuring academic progress is just a piece of understanding students and their learning experience, and academics are just one element of back to school preparation. Emotional well being is one of the key factors that help students thrive. School closures, lack of social contact, reduced access to resources, and increased rates of unemployment set against a backdrop of a global pandemic heightened stress levels for youth across the United States.
- A survey by the CDC indicates that 63% of young people are suffering significant symptoms of anxiety or depression, and the US is seeing a national behavioral-health crisis, with stress, social isolation, and unemployment fueling up to $140 billion in added spending according to McKinsey & Company
- According to research findings published in the psychiatry journal, The Lancet, “It is already evident that the direct and indirect psychological and social effects of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19 pandemic) are pervasive and could affect mental health now and in the future.”
- Nearly all students have experienced some challenges to their mental health and well-being during the pandemic according to research findings from the U.S. Department of Education.
- School and activity center closures led to “debilitating effects on educational, psychological, and developmental attainment as they experience loneliness, anxiety, and uncertainty,” says an article published by the US National Library of Medicine. These effects were exacerbated by the fact that in many communities, schools are also the hub for supports such as school meals, mental-health counseling, and childcare.
While longitudinal studies that measure the long-term effects of school shutdowns on youth haven’t been possible, researchers are already unearthing the impact of the pandemic on children’s well being.
Remember though, that while it’s important to look at some of the ways the past year has affected kids, these numbers aren’t predictors of what’s to come, and as a parent, you have the ability to lay the groundwork for your child’s success as a learner.
You Have the Power to Help Your Child Thrive – Regardless of Their Experience This Past Year
A big part of back to school preparation is mindset. That’s because the emotional relationship children have towards learning counts for a lot. As a parent, you have some power to influence the narrative of your child’s education; you can help shape your child’s relationship with learning, and subsequently, transform their performance as a student.
Research shows a direct connection between a student’s mindset and academic success. In a 2019 national experiment with results published in the science journal, Nature, which sought to reveal whether having a growth mindset can improve achievement, researchers discovered the positive impact of, “leading students to see intellectual abilities not as fixed but as capable of growth in response to dedicated effort.”
How Can a Growth Mindset Help My Child’s Academic Performance?
Developing a growth mindset could be an important part of getting kids ready for going back to school. Growth mindset researcher, Carol Dweck points out that, “Individuals who believe their talents can be developed (through hard work, good strategies, and input from others) have a growth mindset. They tend to achieve more than those with a more fixed mindset”.
One study followed a nationally representative sample of 12,000 ninth-grade students from 65 US schools as they made the transition to high school. One set of those children participated in a 45-minute online intervention session designed to counter the belief that intelligence is fixed and that effort or mistakes indicate lack of ability. The control group did not engage in this online session.
Students who received the intervention reported a reduction in fixed mindset beliefs compared with those in the control group. This was also accompanied by an increase in GPA for lower achieving students and an increase in advanced math course enrollment in the following year across achievement levels.
Teachers’ mindsets count for a lot, too. In another longitudinal study of 150 STEM professors and their 15,000 students, researchers found that classrooms led by professors who believe ability is a fixed attribute had racial achievement gaps up to twice as large as courses taught by faculty with a growth mindset.
How Can You Help Your Child Develop a Growth Mindset?
So, how can you help your child develop a growth mindset? How can you combat a difficult year which may have impacted academic and emotional growth with the attitude that our brains are always capable of becoming more intelligent? How can this help with back to school preparation? If you do choose to test your child’s academic growth, how can you frame that decision in a way that doesn’t negatively impact your child’s confidence and desire to learn?
“The best way to help your child to gain confidence is to be their cheerleader,” says TakeLessons partner and public school math teacher, Mary Lou Hoffman, “Don’t be false, but when they accomplish a goal – any goal, no matter how small – cheer them on to reach the next goal.”
Here are a few other helpful tips:
1. Change the Narrative
As a parent, you have an opportunity to change the narrative around your child’s relationship with learning, which can be a huge part of tackling how to get ready for school to start after a year of disrupted learning. Start by telling your child that “brains can get stronger.” Begin using the word “yet” when your child says they can’t do something. Remind them that instead of saying “I can’t do that” they can add a “yet”, as in, “I can’t do that yet”.
2. Demonstrate a Growth Mindset
Parents are some of the most important role models for young learners. One of the ways to nurture your child’s growth mindset is to demonstrate it yourself. Say, “I’ve decided to learn a new language. Even though I don’t speak it yet, I know that by working hard I’ll be able to gain fluency.” Or when you speak about work, “Today I had a challenging situation come up, but I knew it was an opportunity to try a new way of solving a problem.”
3. Effort Over Results
Notice when your child works hard and is persistent, and call out those moments for your child. Say, “I can tell how hard you’ve been working, and I can see your progress. Well done!” Instead of waiting to observe your child’s end result on a project or test, call out the moments they’re focused on the process. Whatever a child’s grade is, the effort they put into an assignment or project should always be celebrated.
4. Embrace Challenge
In a growth mindset, challenges are merely chances to grow. Remind your child that challenges are exciting, and nurture their ability to engage in creative problem solving. When your child is stuck on a school project or homework assignment, ask questions like, “What are some different ways we can solve this problem?” and “What ideas do you have?” In addition, cheer your child on when you see them digging into a challenging situation, or using a creative solution to solve a problem.
5. Celebrate Failure As Opportunity
Giving kids permission to fail will open up their willingness to take risks, and will take some of the anxiety out of trying to succeed. The ability to embrace failures simply as opportunities for growth is a valuable skill your child will likely keep with them as they work through high school, college, and into adulthood. And it’s an important part of back to school preparation this fall.
Most importantly, be there for your child, “When parents pay attention to their children, and learn things together with their children, their relationship gets stronger, which builds the child’s confidence,” says TakeLessons Partner and math teacher, Julie Lopez, “Talking to your child is very important, but listening to your child is the most important.”
Should I Test My Child’s Academic Performance?
If you’re like many parents, you’re not only deciding how to get ready for school to start, but likely also wondering whether or not to test your child this year to measure their academic achievement, and to identify any challenges or setbacks they may be experiencing.
While the Biden administration has told most states that unlike in 2020, they should plan on testing students this year, in part to measure the “educational inequities that have been exacerbated by the pandemic,” many education experts are arguing that testing could put unnecessary stressors on students, and are worried about the risk of stigmatizing young learners.
Pros of Academic Testing
Research has found that tests can be valuable tools. Measuring your child’s academic progress can provide insights that help you make informed decisions as a parent. Tests can help determine appropriate instruction by illuminating academic areas of strength and weakness. “Standardized tests, designed and used appropriately, can help teachers improve instruction,” says Bari Walsh of the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
Cons of Academic Testing
On the other hand, many educators say that the annual testing ritual can take valuable time away from the actual act of learning, and that the emphasis on memorizing knowledge by rote doesn’t assist in children developing their academic skills. Experts also caution that testing could put unnecessary pressure on students who have already experienced a year of learning changes and challenges.
What to Remember If You Choose Academic Testing
In addition to knowing where your child is in their academic progress, a big part of successfully figuring out how to get ready for school to start is boosting your child’s confidence in their academic abilities.
With that said, if you do choose to test your child’s academic progress this year, make sure you’re still engaging in the growth mindset-focused conversations outlined above.
- Mention the effort they’ve put into their studies this year, as opposed to the score they receive on their test.
- If they struggle in a certain academic area, remind them that that’s an exciting indication of where they have room to grow.
- If they say they “can’t do that” remember to help them add “yet” onto the end of their sentence, so they develop a belief that they are capable of achieving what they put their minds to.
Should I Have My Child Continue Online Learning?
Many parents engaged in back to school preparation are wondering if online learning is a smart option. Can children learn as much online as they can in-person?
McKinsey & Company’s findings show that students at the best full-time virtual schools can do as well as or better than those at traditional ones, but that it’s not necessarily right for every student in every situation.
Resources available to students and teachers make a huge difference in the quality of education received, with teachers who taught at public schools giving remote learning an average global score of 4.8, and their peers in private schools – which often have more funds and resources – an average rating of 6.2.
Research regarding online learning and teaching shows that they are effective only if students have consistent access to the internet and computers and if teachers have received targeted training and support for online instruction, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
For some children, learning online is an exciting and rewarding way to learn. “Some children actually liked virtual learning and wished they could continue to stay home,” says TakeLessons partner and public school math teacher, Mary Lou Hoffman. For others, it might be challenging to stay engaged using an online curriculum.
Your child’s learning experience this year was likely very different from many other children’s experiences, and vice versa. That means that as you dive into back to school preparation and grapple with how to get ready for school to start this year, your experience will likely be different, and impacted by how your child has been influenced by the pandemic. Remember, always be patient with yourself and your child as you navigate new and changing options.
Should I Send My Child Back to In-Person School?
“It is critical for schools to open and as quickly as possible for in-person learning,” says the CDC, “Schools play an important role in children’s educational achievement, health, and wellbeing.”
And yet, if you’re taking a close look at options and wondering what the best choice is for this fall, you’re certainly in good company. While the CDC and other world health and education leaders are strongly recommending a return to in-person learning, the idea of heading back to traditional school isn’t universally appealing to parents and their children, with many weighing different options as part of their back to school preparation.
“For every child and parent who has leaped at the opportunity to return to the classroom, others changed their lives over the past year in ways that make going back to school difficult,” says the NYTimes. In fact, one of the strongest predictors of attitudes toward in-person learning is whether one’s own school has reopened, according to research from the American Enterprise Institute.
Not all online and in-person learning environments are the same, and when making the decision between these two learning formats, it’s important to determine the best quality education option available to you and your family.
For example, in a global survey by McKinsey & Company, teachers who taught at public schools gave remote learning an average global score of 4.8 out of 10, and their peers in private schools – which often have more funds and resources – an average rating of 6.2. Teachers working in high-poverty schools found virtual classes to be especially challenging and ineffective, rating them 3.5 out of 10.
Additionally, no two learners are alike, and that means that the path you choose as a parent as you navigate how to prepare for back to school will be influenced not only by the resources available, but also by the method by which your young learner learns best. Data shows more positive correlations between in-person classrooms and student performance, but with the right support in place, it’s possible for children to perform on par or better through a virtual learning environment.
Whatever you choose, remember to be patient with yourself and your child. TakeLessons Partner and public school math teacher, Mary Lou Hoffman advises that for parents, students, and teachers, “We’ll all take time adjusting to the new year that is newer than any other year.”
Should I Get a Tutor for My Child?
“Tutors can provide the kind of one-on-one academic support and encouragement that children need to thrive as learners,” says Steven Cox, CEO and Founder of TakeLessons, “Tutors can help students gain confidence, overcome roadblocks and challenges, and discover a love of learning that will stay with them for a lifetime.”
By having a tutor addressing your child’s more challenging areas and bringing out their strengths, they’ll discover ways in which they can thrive they didn’t know were possible. “The learning in a tutoring session goes at the student’s pace, not the pace of a group lesson, which can sometimes be either too fast or too slow for the individual,” says TakeLessons Partner and math teacher, Julie Lopez, “Also, in a tutoring session it is difficult for the student to ‘fall through the cracks’ or disengage.”
“A child will often relax around another person more than their own parent,” says TakeLessons partner and public school math teacher, Mary Lou Hoffman, “I know that if I build a bond with that child and then bring the parent back into the games that help them to learn, I’ve helped to build a winning team that will make that family grow for the remaining school years.”
Paid tutoring services have become more accessible with the growth of online learning resources in recent years, and free tutoring services can be a valuable resource for learners of all ages as well. That’s why TakeLessons has structured both private tutoring sessions in-person and online, and free tutorials to help young people thrive this year. Both can be a helpful element in back to school preparation.
Private, Paid Tutoring
Successful tutoring often involves a private tutor who customizes sessions to your child’s needs; empowering them to overcome challenges and gain confidence in their academic abilities. Great tutors align sessions that support your child’s school curriculum, while addressing their unique strengths and weaknesses, so that they grow holistically throughout the school year.
Free Tutoring Resources
Luckily, the days of overpriced tutoring services reserved only for high-earning families are behind us, and there are myriad resources available for families without the means to hire the private tutors. TakeLessons YouTube channel is designed for all young learners; with daily group tutoring sessions that cover topics in math, reading, sciences, and other academics, as well as the arts.
When it Comes to Back to School Preparation, We’re In This Together
Whatever your unique experience during this past year, the way you’re tackling back to school preparation, and whatever your plans are for the fall; as teachers, parents, and lifelong learners, we’re all in this together. At TakeLessons, we’re always looking for new ways to support students along their path to success. Share your experiences with us by commenting below, find a one-on-one tutor for your child in our database of expert educators, or join us for joyful group tutoring sessions that will help your young learner thrive this year. Here’s to a year of helping your child reach their full potential!