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How to help your kid catch up from pandemic school disruptions

Kindergarten students backpacks and jackets hand on the wall.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Students' jackets and backpacks hang at Stix Early Childhood Center in Forest Park Southeast.

As educators are raising concerns about how the pandemic affected student learning, many parents are wondering what they can do for their child. We asked parents on social media what they are wondering right now and got multiple questions.

Katrina Brown is the director of program operations at Home Works, an organization that helps teachers get parents more involved in their child’s education by facilitating teacher visits to families’ homes and other parent events.

Brown spoke with St. Louis Public Radio’s Kate Grumke about ways parents can help their kids learn — outside of school.

 Katrina Brown, director of program operations at Home Works, sits in the studio on April 11, 2022 at St. Louis Public Radio.
Kate Grumke
St. Louis Public Radio
Katrina Brown, director of program operations at Home Works, says parents can incorporate learning into daily activities with children. She was photographed last week at St. Louis Public Radio.

Kate Grumke: Why is it important for parents to take an active role in supporting their kids' education?

Katrina Brown: It's pivotal in the long-term educational lifespan of a child for their parents to be involved. You all are their teachers, you all are their first teachers. So for parents to be able to understand what's going on in their children's school and what they're learning and the various strategies that they can transfer to their home is huge in making sure that kids are feeling supported.

Grumke: I think we should acknowledge that although we want to offer tips for families to support their child's learning, it's not all on them. So what do you think about the pressure families are feeling right now?

Brown: It's more prevalent than ever before, and I totally understand why parents are feeling like the weight of the world is on their shoulders. And so you're right, you're absolutely right. It's not all on the parents, and that's where that communication with your school and your teachers and your administrators comes in. That's why Home Works is big on building family and engagement. We love to be able to see teachers and parents work together.

Grumke: We got a question about the best ways to teach children to read. David Wise asked, “I live in south St. Louis County and I was just wondering — how do I teach a 5-year-old child how to read?” What tips do you have on that subject?

Brown: The biggest thing is talk and talk often. You will be surprised. Learning is happening in your everyday life all around you. Sometimes reading doesn't just have to be sitting down and reading a book, per se. That's great, but sometimes, look at the things that are going on around you. If you grab the mail out of the mailbox, have your kiddo read the mail with you. When you're riding in your car or you're traveling wherever you're going, have them talk about what they're seeing in the environment. Have them look around and label things. So make it fun, talk a lot and just find those spaces in your day where you all can just have a conversation and build the reading skills.

Grumke: We also got multiple questions about how to help students who are struggling with the social and emotional aspect of school. Do you have advice for parents on that front?

Brown: Yes. Parents, first and foremost, take care of yourself, even when you feel like that's the last thing on your plate and the last thing that you can do. Take care of yourself because as I've said before, kiddos take their cues from their caregivers. And you know, a lot of things are evolving and changing around us as we're trying to move back to our normal, you know, so help your child just regulate, you know, have conversations with them, be present.

But try to carve out their time where you're really just focused on having a conversation with your child. Allow them to tell you how they're feeling. Let them have that space to be able to express themselves if they can't verbally do it. Maybe they can write it down.

And again, speak with your teachers, speak with your administrators. Allow them to give you pointers of maybe things that they're seeing in the classroom that's working for the child so that it can transfer over to home.

Grumke: And it sounds like it's really important for parents to be communicating with teachers, but I know that teachers have a lot on their plate right now as well, and I think maybe parents might be a little worried about putting something else on their plate. So what have you heard from teachers about having more parent involvement?

Brown: Teachers want that. They want that parent involvement because the more they know about the dynamics of the family, the better they're able to understand if they need to tweak and adjust or change the way they're doing things in their classroom. And it does not always have to be negative items. Be in contact about those successes; be in in contact, about those things that you want to see your child growing on. So parents, please know that teachers definitely want to hear from you so that they can also learn what things that they need to adjust so that the child can be successful.

Grumke: Final question, where can people find more resources?

Brown: One of the first places you can look is on the Home Works website. Our website has a spot for parents where you can see various resources that will help you with social needs, it'll help you with mental health concerns. It'll also help you with questions that, as a parent, you can ask of your teachers because you absolutely have the right to know what's going on. It will help you facilitate a conversation about any concerns you're having for your kiddo.

And again, speak with your schools, and they will be able to also let you know if there are websites that they are teaching from that they're pulling curriculum from, that you can also pull from. We have so many different avenues that you can start with, but Home Works is a great place to start. And again, your schools are also a great place to start.

Lara Hamdan contributed to this piece. 

Follow Kate on Twitter: @Kate Grumke

Kate Grumke covers the environment, climate and agriculture for St. Louis Public Radio and Harvest Public Media.