Have the children lost an entire year of schooling and social development? It depends, say UArizona experts

By Kyle Mittan, University Communications

April 7, 2021

Children across the country have started returning to school as new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests classroom learning can be done safely.

This may be a welcome change for families who have had to juggle parenthood, schooling and jobs over the past year. But a year of online learning and social distancing has affected different students in different ways, University of Arizona experts say. College of Education.

Have American children lost an entire year of education and social development? It depends, they said.

The pandemic amplifies socioeconomic disparities

Ronald Marx

Ronald Marx

“You can imagine a scenario where some kids actually thrive in that situation,” said Ronald Marx, dean emeritus of the college and professor of educational psychology, pointing specifically to children with social anxiety or bullying.

But socioeconomic conditions could make the biggest difference in how children have been affected by the pandemic, Marx said.

Negative impacts on a child’s development typically stem from two areas that strain their family life, he said: stress and resources.

Stress often manifests itself in the behavior of parents – they may argue more often, resort to harsher forms of discipline, or be removed from the child’s life. Resource challenges may include food insecurity, limited or no access to extracurricular activities that cost money, a lack of dedicated space at home to study, and a lack of necessities for the learning environment. today, like computers.

Researchers and educators have long known that these issues exist and disproportionately affect children across the country, but the pandemic has magnified the issues, Marx said.

While it was easy for children in some families to switch to online learning, it was nearly impossible for others, Marx said. Many students who didn’t have an internet connection at home moved to charter or private schools that remained open, Marx said. But some children from poorer families simply did not attend classes at all.

“It’s not like poverty dooms you for life; it’s that it increases the likelihood that you’ll have challenges,” Marx said. “And that’s what’s happening now.”

Lost opportunities for social and emotional development

Iliana Reyes

Iliana Reyes

With learning taking place primarily at home, some of the younger school children have not only missed out on academic progress. Students in preschool, kindergarten and first grade also lost a typical year of social development by not being regularly around other children, said Iliana Reyes, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs and Community and Global Partnerships at the College of Education.

Reyes is a developmental psychologist and professor of early childhood education whose research involves working with families — especially immigrant families — and schools to learn how children adjust in the classroom.

“Children learn based on their own social attachments — how they interact with their family and other people around them. They learn to transfer that security to form emotional relationships with others,” Reyes said. “A lot of kids missed that transition.”

At the onset of the pandemic, classroom reading sessions, which are essential to early childhood learning not only for teaching basic literacy but also to help with emotional development, were also largely lost. at the start of the pandemic. Many schools, Reyes said, invite parents and family members to stay for morning reading sessions before leaving for work. This gives the opportunity for children and parents from different families to read together – another chance for children to learn to socialize.

But such opportunities have been lost during the pandemic. While many schools have tried to recreate them online, it’s not the same, Reyes said.

“Even through touch, we learn so much about our senses and what we perceive,” she added. “We feel different emotions when we are close to each other.”

Socially and emotionally — just like academically — each child will be affected differently by the pandemic, Reyes said.

Many families have been able to enhance their children’s emotional development by staying connected to a close “nest” of other families with young children. Others have also been able to maintain virtual connections with video calling apps — something immigrant families were doing long before the pandemic to stay in touch with loved ones in their home countries, Reyes said.

Returning to the classroom will not immediately stem the effects of the pandemic on children’s social development, Reyes said. Children are drawn to routines and regularity, and when they return to school, new routines will be needed to meet public health guidelines, which means children will have to readapt.

Challenges for Children with Behavioral Disorders

Rebecca Hartzell

Rebecca Hartzell

The past year has been particularly difficult for parents whose children have emotional or behavioral difficulties, said Rebecca Hartzell, Assistant Professor of Disability Practice and Psychoeducational Studies. Now those children could be much worse off than they were a year ago.

Hartzell is the director of the College of Education’s graduate program in Applied Behavior Analysis. Her research focuses on understanding children’s behavior and she often works with schools and clinics to help students with issues such as autism, depression, eating disorders, or self-injurious behaviors. or harm others.

Parents of children with behavioral disorders typically rely heavily on schools and clinics, Hartzell said. Before the pandemic, specialists like Hartzell spent a lot of time with children to observe their behavior and develop personalized plans to deal with those behaviors — a process that requires consistency to be effective.

When COVID-19 sent students home to learn online, “that consistency isn’t necessarily there,” Hartzell said.

“Mom and dad still have to work; they can’t sit still and be the constant interventionist we need for this child,” she said, adding that telehealth isn’t as effective as professional support. in person.

Catching up with lost progress in children with behavioral disorders will require reassessing every plan they previously used, Hartzell said. She also expects that many children will need a new plan that slowly returns to the schedules they had before the pandemic because picking up where they left off would be too difficult for many.

“The majority of these kids will have to start out this way: a tiny bit of work, then that big chunk of preferred activity time, and then you’ll come back to that tiny bit of work,” Hartzell said. “You have to have someone who is here to handle this all the time.”

What parents can do

Going back to school may ease a burden for some parents, but it won’t be a quick fix for last year’s effects, experts said. Both families and educators will face challenges as they figure out how to catch up on lost progress.

Parents should rely on resources from their extended family and community, Marx said, especially organizations such as the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, YMCAs and others specific to local areas.

“Don’t try to make up for the territory you think your child has lost on your own,” he said.

Working through this, Hartzell said, is going to require a common understanding.

“I know teachers really, really need support from parents and I know parents really, really need support from schools,” she said. “We’ve had a tough year, but now let’s say, ‘OK, where is your kid right now? Let’s make a plan, because the plan we had before may not be relevant now.'”

Many young children may have questions about modifications to classrooms to make them safer, Reyes said. She said parents should welcome these questions and see them as an opportunity to grow together in what will likely be a different learning environment for everyone.

As odd as plexiglass dividers and masks in a classroom may seem, parents should adopt these measures as part of the environment, Reyes said. Doing things like decorating the plexiglass or letting the kids choose their own masks will help kids adjust to what will likely be a very different classroom.

“Make it fun in the given context,” she said. “Even if they have to wear a mask and stay 3 or 6 feet apart, you can still feel close as long as you make the social connection.”

Joel C. Hicks