by Abby Tozer

The silent and damaging effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on elementary school children…

Without question, the past two years have fundamentally shifted how our society functions. Not only did many lose their lives, but the COVID-19 pandemic has transformed how many jobs, relationships, and services operate. Though pandemic times thankfully seem to be coming to an end, the many ramifications of these two years of lost time have only slowly begun to start revealing themselves. 

What are the ramifications?

During my undergraduate experience at UC Berkeley, I worked at a children’s linguistic development lab (LCD lab). I specialized in early childhood linguistics and the associated brain functions of learning a second language during the “critical period” of monolingual vs. bilingual children. As is common knowledge, the advantages of a bilingual education are huge, but not just on a scientific level: these children are far more advanced in reading, writing, and their abilities to ingest new material and retain it. In short, our study was to prove that regardless of the number of languages a child mastered, it was most important that their exposure to this new material occurred during their “critical period.” On average, this age range is between 5-7, which also happens to be the typical age of reading and writing acquisition, grades 1-3. 

Over the past two years, I have started taking on younger students who suffer from “ADHD” or “learning difficulties” and am noticing a trend: these children all spent the past two years learning inside, most likely with their parents, on 30 minutes of Zoom class per day, or a scrambled amalgamation of the two. They spent their “critical period” in quarantine and do not know how to develop outside of it. Their attention spans are extremely limited, making eight-hour in-person class days seem endless and tiring (posing as ADHD) and lessons in handwriting and reading much more difficult than would normally be. It is perfectly logical that teachers and parents recognize this as a learning difficulty, as it is out of the norm for what we expect, but it begs the question: what is “normal” for this new age group of COVID developers?

Who’s talking about it?

In a recent study published by Carrie Spector of Stanford Graduate School of Education, first through fourth graders’ ability to read fluently “largely stopped in the Spring of 2020 after school closures due to the COVID pandemic” (Spector, 2021). Growth remained stagnant throughout 2020 and has failed to return to pre-pandemic levels since. Reading fluency is paramount for success in all areas down the line, and this gap in education will prove especially malignant on children currently ages 5-7, now seeing the deleterious effects of home education (or lack thereof). The New York Times just published a study outlining that “a third of children in the youngest grades are missing reading benchmarks, up significantly from before the pandemic” (Goldstein, 2022).

What am I supposed to do about it?

Thankfully schools are back open and there is less to worry about on that front, but what can you do to support your child in developing and combating these two years of lost time? That’s where tutors come in. Of course, the best way to help a child develop reading and writing skills is constant, guided practice. Reading books with them every night, having them journal with consistent writing goals and prompts. 

Is my child too young for tutoring?

It may seem like a child in first or second grade is too young to benefit from one-on-one tutoring, but I would argue for it based on the benefits I have seen.  The majority of parents come to me with children who are “distracted” or “behind” when, in reality, their child is just a victim of the COVID learning curve. These kids are hungry for one-on-one attention and need the nurturing of a disciplined environment to get them back on track. I think they benefit most from the restraints of having to focus, without distraction, for an hour at a time with someone they are less familiar with. I highly encourage any frustrated parent with a young child to consider reading to them every night, working with them on their handwriting (keeping a journal)...and getting a tutor!



Stanford study from March 2021
By Carrie Spector

New York Times Article March 2022
By Dana Goldstein