By Heather Mallick Toronto Star Columnist
Mon., Nov. 30, 2020 timer 3 min. read
One of the most upsetting losses of the pandemic has been an eight-month delay in improving reading ability in children in Grades 1 to 3. In retrospect it seems obvious that this was likely to happen, but what a loss.
Many children, I would say, leave kindergarten already knowing how to read. But between then and Grade 3, they don’t just absorb the basics and improve their skills, they become able to read to learn.
This year’s spring move to online classrooms — not nearly as good as actual classrooms, not even close — left them behind, Globe and Mail journalist Caroline Alphonso has reported. Some kids will be able to catch up, but struggling readers will also struggle in other subjects, including writing and math, and it will snowball.
The delays will show up throughout their school years.
Worse, the distanced classrooms of this fall have made it harder for teachers to help with young readers who have fallen behind. There are teachers who specifically intervene with struggling readers in Grades 1 and 2, but they may be teaching other classes now, given the intense demands on schools in the pandemic.
Many lucky children will have families with parents and grandparents available to read with them every day, filling the reading gap between school and home. But in a home where both parents work, the extra time isn’t there.
This is the life management gap that had always existed but was laid bare by COVID-19. Canadian families survive on the same just-in-time inventory that big box stores do, with no margin for error.
In industry, goods don’t rest in stores but in distant supplier warehouses. They are quickly put on the shelf when there is demand, although the pandemic revealed that merchandising wasn’t as just-in-time as it thought it was.
If a child can’t read, the school will teach her and give her extra help, as will parents, just in time. But when the school can’t do that, parents at present can’t do that either. They’re trying to work and parent at home, with no extra time for hours of reading.
Everything had been going swimmingly, as long as nothing went wrong. And then it did.
One of the greater sorrows is that children from homes without little libraries in their bedrooms, without quality TV and recreational learning, won’t find it in school libraries either.
Once a child learns to read, the world is open. Theoretically, the birth of a lifelong love of reading can take a child anywhere. The phenomenon of the autodidact, the self-taught, is not spoken of much in Canada — but it is possible for such children to read their way out of bad families, bad surroundings and bad schooling.
“The association between books for children and autonomy for children is very strong.” So imagine losing that opportunity in your first three years of school. It’s a loss for life.
There is another loss when schools don’t operate as usual. It is tough for a child in a bad family situation to learn social skills without being in the presence of other children, who are more than happy to tell you that what you did was not socially skilled at all, or in the parlance “no fair.”
You learn to socialize by socializing. You learn now to make friends, edge away from the scary kids, to join in with new friends, to try new things. We talk a great deal about adult loneliness at this time, but hopefully this is a temporary matter.
The loss of early reading will be a lifetime loss. Reading is everything and is key to Math and Numeracy.
Heather Mallick is a Toronto-based columnist covering current affairs for the Star. Follow her on Twitter
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