COVID-19, Family

Ways to Keep Kids on Track With Reading During the Pandemic

Not many kids want to wear a tuxedo to school, but that didn’t stop this second grader.

Let’s call him “Robert” – not his real name – to protect his privacy. When Robert heard that visitors were coming to observe him reading with his literacy tutor, Robert decided to put on his best outfit. His reason was simple: He was so excited to show off his reading skills that he wanted to look his best.

Only two months earlier, Robert had been struggling to sound out basic words. More importantly, he thought he couldn’t do something as well as other kids his age. Robert’s tuxedo was, in fact, more than a garment: It became the symbol for his feelings of confidence, belonging, and pride.

Having strong reading skills is particularly critical for younger students like Robert. These skills are the foundational building block for the rest of their education. That’s why educators work so hard in the early years to ensure that children read on grade level by the end of third grade. 

As parents settle in to becoming homeschool teachers overnight, the challenges they’re facing can certainly feel daunting, especially at a time when most are worried about their health and financial well-being. For good reason:

  • Most states have decided to extend this “new normal” until the start of the next school year.
  • Parents and educators are afraid of students falling behind without the structure, supports and services provided by school.
  • Many students don’t have proper access at home to the same tools that allow them to learn effectively in classrooms. These include books on their level, math manipulatives, devices, and peer interactions.

Despite those fears, when it comes to keeping our young ones on track with their reading, simplicity, and repetition can have an outsized impact: The more words children hear, the better they read, and the more they read, the better readers they become. Plus, children are more likely to read if they feel it’s something they’re actually good at.

As parents juggle uncertainty in the coming months, there are small yet important things they can do to send their children back to school in the fall with a sense of confidence. Reading prowess may end up being the biggest measure of success.

At The Literacy Lab, we work with 6,000 struggling readers like Robert every day, helping them achieve big literacy gains via just 20 minutes per day. Evidence-based practice from our work at The Literacy Lab shows that small things, when done purposefully and repeatedly, can make a big difference – even from home.

Parents have tools to support their children’s learning and help them to stay on track:

  • Hone in on a very specific skill. This can mean focusing on just one letter or word at a time.
  • Drop the paper and pencil. For the youngest learners, it’s all about developing an awareness of the different sounds in words or in the environment. Rhyming games, word play, songs, or simply talking to your child will help him or her develop early reading skills.
  • Remember that small is beautiful. As a rule of thumb, kids’ attention spans are usually around two to three minutes per year of their age. If you can keep your 4-year-old engaged for eight minutes, you’re doing great.
  • Think beyond the desk. Reading doesn’t need to be formal. Kids are still learning even if they’re moving, so maximize active and transition times, like when you’re cooking a meal or walking around the neighborhood.

Knowing this, give the following activities a try. You’ll be surprised at how easy they can be.

  • Try a sound hunt. Have your child look for things around the home that start with a certain letter sound. You can do just one new letter sound each day to keep it manageable.
  • Read the same book daily. Do this for a few days, and point out and talk about different vocabulary words each time. Repetition helps build vocabulary and comprehension.
  • Practice rhyming. Say a word and have your child see how many real or made-up words they can say that rhyme with that word. Go in a circle and include the whole family. Kids love made-up silly words. Allowing them to use their imagination in this way helps them focus on the skill of rhyming.
  • Have your child read a book passage aloud. For kids who are able to read whole sentences, pick a book and challenge your child to read a passage aloud “like a news reporter.” Have them do it several times in a row, increasing their comfort with it each time. This will help them build their fluency and expression.

By the time you child goes back to school this fall, you may all feel like wearing formal attire yourself to celebrate a job well done.

Ashley Johnson and Tom Dillon are the co-founders and co-CEOs of The Literacy Lab, a nonprofit that works to close the literacy gap among low-income children from age 3 through grade three.

Read the complete article on U.S. News and World Report.

Ashley JohnsonTom Dillon, Ways to Keep Kids on Track With Reading During the Pandemic, May 14, 2020,