Worry about COVID slide? Not until I talk with the teacher

Every time I hear the phrase “COVID slide,” I joke that it sounds like a dance. But the truth is that as a parent of a son who learns differently — and as an educator — I’m not really laughing. I’m worried.

If you haven’t heard about this not-dance, COVID slide, it’s similar to “summer slide.” But definitely not the same.

Summer slide is when kids lose important skills and knowledge over summer break. It’s a problem for many kids. But kids who struggle with learning in school are more at risk for summer slide, in part because they may need extra help to learn those skills in the first place.

COVID slide worries me more, though. When my son left school on March 13, 2020 (Friday the 13th, I’d like to point out), nobody had any idea it was the last day he and his fourth-grade classmates would be in a physical classroom for the year.

Nobody really knew how to jump into distance learning. We still don’t know what type of learning will be happening in the fall. And even though I’m a teacher by training, I don’t know whether my son has lost skills.

I know what he knows how to do — and that his struggles with math during remote learning nearly broke my husband. But I don’t know if he even learned what he was supposed to by the end of fourth grade.

Normally, if I had questions about my son’s progress, I would have met with his teacher. But trying to adapt to the change in my son’s learning was plenty to handle. So the year ended, and I have no idea.

It’s easy enough to look up what kids should know for the beginning of fifth grade or what fourth-grade skills look like in action. What’s not easy is knowing where things left off and what was covered during distance learning.

How much unfinished learning is there? And if it’s unfinished, should I be worrying about COVID slide or worrying about how that learning gets “finished” when school resumes? Am I supposed to get him caught up? If so, which skills need work? There are just too many unknowns for me to meaningfully take this on.

I’ve realized that I can’t do this without the help of his teacher. And since the new teacher won’t know much about my son, or what the last few months have been like for him, I’ll be reaching out as soon as possible when school starts again, no matter what school looks like. I’ll find out then if he needs to do any catching up.

So, while I wouldn’t say I’m not going to worry about COVID slide, I’m going to put it to the side and focus on what I can control before he goes back to school. Here’s what that looks like for my family:

  • We’re going to focus on teachable moments and life skills. It’s time to teach my son how to do the laundry and how to maintain friendships while social distancing. It’s time for him to practice wearing a mask without sensory overload.
  • We’re going to prioritize play. There hasn’t been a lot of lightness lately. This summer, I’ll make sure my son spends time outdoors, plays, and has laughter in his life.
  • We’re going to overcommunicate with teachers. My son is going back to school with different fears and experiences than he had when he left. His teachers need to know what’s on his mind and happening in our house so they can give him the right support.

I know how important it is to make that connection with teachers. So, we’ll start as soon as possible, even before school starts. I have information that can help the teacher. And I need information coming to me so I can help my son stay on track. But right now, I don’t have the knowledge, or the bandwidth, to do that.

The pandemic has been hard on all of us in my family. Like many families I know, we’re having to adapt to all sorts of new things. Adding the stress of trying to prevent COVID slide on top of that just isn’t a reasonable expectation for most families — mine included.


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