Psychology Professor Explains How Kids Are Experiencing a “COVID Slump”
Temple University College of Liberal (CLA) arts students and educators know as well as anyone how much and how rapidly education changed this spring because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But while our spring semester has ended, most primary school children are still attending Zoom classes from home.
For most teachers, students and parents, this is a unique way to learn that presents many new challenges. CLA Psychology Professor Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek, a developmental psychology and child development expert, has written about strategies for keeping kids healthy and happy, the value of early childhood educators and what she’s termed the “COVID slump.” Following is a conversation with Dr. Hirsh-Pasek about these topics, lightly edited for length and clarity.
You’ve written that children need routines, but those are difficult to maintain during the COVID-19 shutdown. How stringent should parents be with their children’s routines right now?
Stringent was out the door at week two. We can forget stringent. As parents we're lucky to get through the day. It's hard to keep up and keep a positive mindset when you're trying to do so much. It's important to have some routine or structure because when kids have expectations, they know what's coming next. It also helps prevent chaos and the kind of reaction that children will often give to chaos, which is not something you really want to live around. But if they have a Zoom call at 1 o'clock, then it's solo block-building time, then they’re going to go outside and have nature time, they’re much better off because they know what's coming.
Speaking of building things and nature, you seem to be of a mind that arts and outdoor activities are equally as important as those core math, science and English skills.
We’re learning that to be fully educated for success in the 21st century, it's going to take more than being able to fill in the numbers of the math test. That doesn't mean that filling in those numbers isn't important, but what I'm not saying is drop math, drop the reading. I think they're critical, but you've got to round it out. And what people in the corporate world are telling us now is that they need a lot of the stuff that the robots can't do—the creative stuff. We need to augment the school learning with learning about how to be collaborative, how to be a good communicator, how to think critically and creatively and how to persevere even in the face of failure—what Roberta Michnick Golinkoff and I call in our book, Becoming Brilliant, the 6 C's.
To shift gears a bit, I’ve seen you talk extensively about this idea of a COVID slump. Could you explain to the CLA community what that is?
We had a situation where during the summer, children—especially children from under-resourced environments—ended up losing about 30% of what they gained in math during the school year and about 20% of what they gain in reading. With COVID, it's kind of like the summer slump on steroids. We called it COVID slump because you have to add that kids couldn't even go to museums if they want to. They can't go to their friends’s houses. Notice how many of the 6 C's are put in immediate jeopardy because we're not getting some of the suite of skills that we need.
Do you have any thoughts as to how long-term the effects of the COVID slump might be?
We don't know, to be honest. Every kid will catch up, but the whole world is in COVID slump. The question we should be asking isn’t, “What happens if you're a runner and I set the start line back by 50 yards?” It’s, “What happens if I set it back by 50 yards for everyone?”
Now, you're not really all in the same boat, because kids from under-resourced environments didn't even get the advantages of the teachers trying to teach Zoom classes. In Philadelphia, what they did is they handed out computers and iPads. But if the kids don’t have connectivity or know how to use them, then they’re not worth much. And for 30% of low-income kids, they don't have connectivity, so they're not getting those lessons.
Therein lies what may be even a bigger disparity. Because the kids who are getting online education are getting more than they would if they got nothing, for sure, but they're not probably getting as much as they would get if they were in school. So, the question now is what do we do about the COVID slump and its effect on under-resourced kids? I think decisions haven't been made on that yet. We don't know if kids are going to have to repeat half a grade or what that's going to do to the whole system and how we rearrange the core learning. What has to be learned doesn't change, but the timing of it is definitely going to change.
And as you’ve pointed out in one of your blog posts, parents, now that their children are attending school at home, are increasingly realizing that the educators—especially early childhood teachers—responsible for teaching those lessons are maybe being undervalued and underpaid. Why do you think it took these dramatic circumstances for parents to start admitting that?
It's a really interesting question. I recently spent some time on a call with folks from Australia where they actually have very strong early-childhood education. It's interesting because certain cultures seem to respect kids and families more than other cultures do. We're probably not at the top of that list. We tend not to respect those jobs. We don't respect the education that people bring to those jobs. And I think that result is we underpay our teachers. Can you imagine that our early childhood educators just earn what donut makers earn?
I get that people want to crimp where they can crimp. But, boy, if you put it on a list of whom I would trust my money with versus who I would trust my kids with. I know my kids would win out. And I'm not saying that that means they deserve as much money as bankers, but certainly more than donut makers.