Practical At-Home Strategies to Reverse & Prevent Learning Loss
22 Mar, 2021
As a parent and an educator, I know firsthand that at-home learning can be challenging. When this pandemic started, I had visions of at-home learning grandeur. I set up a little classroom and created a schedule. I pulled out all of my Teacher Created Materials curriculum resources.
I gave my then first grader a reading benchmark to identify his instructional reading level, and I reviewed the data from my preschooler’s developmental assessment. Our home school was on!
Then, about a week into distance learning, our home school/distance learning plan began to crash, and the students started to meltdown. They were not impressed that mom was once a teacher and wanted none of it. I had to find another way to facilitate and support continued academic growth while keeping our familial relationships healthy and strong.
I went back to the simplest and most impactful strategies that promote student gains and prevent learning loss. I focused on meaningful learning experiences over busywork and took a quality over quantity approach. And along the way, I uncovered some important lessons.
Tips for At-Home Learning
- Give yourself grace. First, I just gave myself some grace, realizing that the home wasn’t the classroom, and it wasn’t going to look and feel the same. There is no professional distance, and this is something I have never done before. Moreover, children and students don’t regulate their emotions at home in the same way they do at school. They, too, are experiencing a whole new normal.
- Keep in mind learning can occur in a lot of ways. I also thought about all the ways that learning was already happening in our home and ways to increase and maximize those opportunities.
- Learning is occurring in the home through:
- connection and relationships
- play and games
- reading and writing
- listening and speaking
- making art and music
- home life activities, such as cooking, doing home improvement projects, and writing notes and cards
- using technology
- sports and physical activities
- healthy living
- mindful moments
- Learning is occurring in the home through:
- Believe all children can achieve at high levels. Next, I maintained my core beliefs that all students can achieve at high levels and that high expectations set the stage for learning. The human brain has plasticity. It can adapt and grow within a short time. For this reason, we need to abandon ideas related to students’ abilities.
- Foster a growth mindset. We continued to build a growth mindset. Students with a growth mindset believe that hard work and effort determine your learning and achievement. Research has shown that students with a growth mindset make greater gains over time than students with a fixed mindset.
I ask such questions as:
- “What is something you worked hard at today?”
- If you are stuck, what is something you can try?”
- And “What is a goal you are working towards?
- Combine online and offline learning experiences. Screen time in our home has exponentially increased over the past year. And I have been trying to find ways to manage it. I would love to tell you that I have the formula for success, but I don’t. It has worked to take “screen time hiatuses,” where screen time is limited to a little TV watching and school work for days and weeks at a time. We also brainstormed a list of play ideas that we go back to when we need offline activities or are bored.
- Keep it simple. I found that simple, opened-ended learning experiences that my learners generated made the biggest impact. And as a side benefit, these also occupied them for the longest time frames. One day, my boys spent an hour investigating ice properties, smashing ice cubes with a play hammer, and watching it melt. And this was their idea.
Educators provide bulleted, step-by-step directions if possible. Complex activities and tasks can be very frustrating for parents and learners to carry out at home. Also, put all the activities, assignments, and technology links in one central place like the learning management system (LMS) and set up routines within the LMS for doing at-home learning.
- Provide choice and build on interests. Choice and building on students’ interests empower learners to be agents in their learning journey. Sometimes my children see through my choices and realize that they are “fake choices,” such as do you want to take a shower or bath before bed. But when the options are genuine and meaningful to them, it can change their motivation and engagement.
Using choices boards and independent investigations for at-home learning is a structured way to incorporate choice and build on interests.
Meaningful and Engaging At-Home Learning Experiences
Building on these lessons learned, I thought about the types of at-home learning experiences that would engage my learners and foster the development of the whole child. I focused on:
- wide reading and writing for authentic purposes
- hands-on learning
- critical thinking and problem-solving tasks
- bringing on the fun through good old fashioned play and games
I also didn’t try to recreate the wheel. I started using Let’s Learn! to provide meaningful and engaging at-home learning experiences in all of these areas.
Below are a few of my favorite strategies in each of these areas.
Wide Reading and Writing
Reading Challenge Challenge learners to see how many books they can read related to themes, topics, or genres.
Code the Text Have learners interact with the digital or print text by marking it up. They use symbols to identify “aha!” moments, questions, important information, themes, big ideas, and connections. For books and non-consumable text students, can use sticky notes or Wiki Stix. Discuss students’ text codes.
- Do Word Work Have younger learners practice matching upper and lower case letters, identifying sounds, making and writing their names in different ways, matching rhyming words, and learning sight words.
- Journaling Implement a journaling routine. Brainstorm a list of topics and then have students choose what to write about each day. Set up a time or a way for learners to share journal entries.
Develop Scientific Thinking Have learners observe and record their observations through photos, videos, drawing, and writing the world around them. Grow plants. Play with forces. Do science experiments with household items, like mixing colors.
Bring Social Studies to Life Have students analyze primary sources and record what they see and think. Create timelines using Padlet. Talk about the news, and write newspaper articles about current events. And make maps.
- Integrate the Arts Listen to different kinds of music and make music with pots and pans. Play charades, paint and draw about text, concepts, and vocabulary.
Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
Generate Solution Pathways Give students problems that can be solved in more than one way. Have learners see if they can generate more than one way to solve a problem or solution pathway. Have students create their problems to solve.
Create Mathematical Models Have students build or draw mathematical models to represent real-world problems or math concepts.
- Do Hinkie Pinkies, Plexers, and Puzzles–Build critical thinking and have fun by doing puzzles, such as Hinkie Pinkies, Plexers, Sudoku, What Doesn’t Belong, or turn squiggly lines into pictures related to the topic of study.
Bring on the Fun with Games and Play
The Power of Play Encourage all kinds of play experiences, pretend play, sensory play, block play, action figure play, music and art, movement, and games. Find those teachable moments during play, but don’t take students out of the “play flow.” Talk about them, highlight them, or reenact them afterward.
- “Roll and Do” Roll a number cube, and based on the number rolled, students have to do an academic task. For example, the numbers on a number cube relate to different two-dimensional shapes or specific vocabulary or spelling words. Learners roll the number cube and use the shapes related to each number rolled to create a funny picture. Or they use words for each number to write sentences or a story using the worlds.
- Create Games Have students make games based on what they are learning.
I hope these tips and ideas have helped you. What are your favorite at-home learning strategies and activities? Capitalize on the learning opportunities already occurring in the home and focus on progress over perfection. Remember, you are just the educator, parent or caregiver your learners need at this time. I, too, will be learning right alongside you and cheering you on!
For a deeper dive into at-home strategies to prevent learning loss, I invite you to watch my on-demand webinar. I will give you a more in-depth look into practical tips and ideas for facilitating academic learning at home.