Spring of 2020, I think, will be one of those times that we will all remember “where we were” when the world first shut down. It was like I was in the twilight zone, that it wasn’t really happening. At first, I was excited to have both of my boys home every day, learning from the safe comfort of their bedrooms. That is until I realized how comfortable my boys were actually becoming during school hours.
Much like other parents around us in Michigan schools, we immediately saw the negative aspects of the kids’ learning habits they were forming during their online schooling experience (especially my teen boys!). I would often catch my younger son playing Fortnight during math hour and my high schooler sleeping through his first through third hours, waking up, maybe by lunchtime. Clearly, there was a lost year of learning in my home, not much unlike other homes of school-aged kids.
Private schools near us seemed to have had an easier time catching their students up as for one, they have fewer students than their public school counterparts, but maybe because studies showed that parent participation in school-related activities was higher for students in private schools than for students in public schools. Research has demonstrated over and over again that parent involvement motivates children to learn, leading to higher grades. The higher the degree of parental involvement, the higher the impact on the child’s academic achievement.
But how do we handle this lost year? I’m certainly not an expert on this, but fortunately, teams of experts are driving research and finding solutions.
According to an article in The Atlantic, “The achievement loss is far greater than most educators and parents seem to realize. The only question now is whether state and local governments will recognize the magnitude of the educational damage and make students whole.
Adults are free to disagree about whether school closures were justified or a mistake. But either way, children should not be stuck with the bill for a public-health measure taken on everyone’s behalf,” said Thomas Kane. Thomas Kane is an economist and the faculty director of the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University.
Kane is also part of the educational-assessment nonprofit NWEA, which has been investigating the impact of remote and hybrid instruction on student learning during the 2020–21 academic year.
The same article poignantly brought attention to the fact that when schools (across the world) shut down in the spring of 2020, it was “like flipping off a switch on a vital piece of our social infrastructure. Where schools stayed closed longer, gaps widened; where schools reopened sooner, they didn’t. As Horace Mann famously argued, schools truly are the ‘balance wheel of the social machinery,”.
How to catch students up after COVID
One of the biggest challenges some parent face is getting their kids to “care” again. Unfortunately, many students lost their “will” to learn after the COVID online experience. Personally, I know scores of kids that failed miserably, not just online during the shutdown but, then again, that first year returning to in-person learning in 2021.
Word has it; many school districts gave students a “free pass,” so to speak. Some kids got wind that schools were not going to care much about grades but were going to focus on mental health. Although it is SO IMPORTANT (another article, another time), it backfired. So naturally, when word got out, many kids did absolutely nothing because there were zero consequences. I mean, I do not blame them; they are kids. It was hard as a parent to watch my boys go from A-B students to nearly failing all of their classes. I can tell you that did a number on their self-esteem for sure.
But something has to be done to catch them up!
For example, we have our kids in therapy to help them find their “why”. Why do they want to succeed? Once they have that, it becomes easier to help them find the “how”.
According to an article in Forbes, “Research has shown that people high in hope take more actions towards their goals and persist longer in the face of difficulties than those low in hope.
One solution is to focus on the “will” and not the “skill”. In other words, we need to reframe how we see education. We need to look at the big picture of what kids need to succeed in school and life. A lot of this has to do with mindset. We need to give them the tools they need to succeed.
When we focus on the “will, ” we focus on the student’s internal motivation. This includes things like grit, determination, and a positive mindset. And this is exactly the main issue with my kids; lack of will. Somewhere along the line, they lost the “will” to do well or even care about school. We need to help them find that again.
For us to succeed in motivating our children, let us first discuss and define what motivation is.
To understand why a child acts as they do and how we can help them, we need to understand there are two kinds of motivation: extrinsic and intrinsic.
- Intrinsic or internal motivation is the driving force that allows you to do things because you want to do them. This type of motivation is compelling. It is the drive inside of us that pushes us to pursue the things that we love and enjoy doing.
As infants, we are intrinsically motivated to learn and explore the world. However, depending on how parents deal with this intrinsic motivation, a child’s drive to learn and explore can either be suppressed or encouraged.
- Extrinsic or external motivations are the things you want to have or people you want to be like. External motivation pushes us to do things to achieve or succeed with our goals and aspirations.
External motivation can also be encouragement from essential people in one’s life. It can be parents, siblings, friends, and other significant persons. What we see and feel about our surroundings are also powerful forces that a child can take to motivate himself.
Children need both of these types to succeed at school. As parents, our level of encouragement will serve as their extrinsic motivation.
While their natural drive to learn and explore will be their intrinsic motivation, parents will also have a part to play so that the child won’t lose this motivation.
In helping a child cultivate their intrinsic motivation, start by tuning into their feelings of accomplishment and the pride, they feel after a job well done.
How do you motivate a child that doesn’t care?
I can say that the “will” was definitely lost during the shutdown for my kids. Getting them back on track took a lot of work, and we are still not out of the woods yet. It’s just one day at a time because the learning loss was so significant that we can’t even see what we need to see yet. So we just keep plugging away and hope for the best.
Here are some suggestions to follow in the process:
- Be clear about expectations: Give kids a chance to succeed by reminding them what is expected of them.
- Embrace natural consequences: When the punishment is specific to the offense and logical, kids have a better chance of modifying their behavior.
- Praise the right actions: Don’t just punish the wrong behaviors.
- Observe your kids. Pay attention!
- Before they play video games, make sure it is earned. (oh, how I wish I were better at this one!)
- Talk calmly.
- Kids are motivated when you ask them about their dreams and aspirations.
- Do not raise your voice when they don’t seem to care.
- Tell your kids that their dreams matter to you, too.
- Don’t do your child’s tasks for him (Don’t let your child learn “learned helplessness”. Learning this will make them think that if they can’t do something, somebody else will. This is a destructive approach!)
How to handle the kids’ lost year of learning
So, if you are struggling with how to get your kids to care again or how to help them catch up, know that you are not alone. And also, know that there is no easy answer, but anything is possible if you can find the will to do so and be willing to help your children find theirs’ too. Good luck!