Resources for Providing Young Children Academic Support During the Quarantine

We have been asked by many parents how best to work with their gifted children while they are at home from school because of the quarantine. While this is a stressful and uncertain time for many of us, it is important to remember that tremendous childhood memories can be grounded in times that would otherwise seem bleak and dreary. While many of us are concerned about our employment, our obligations, and our health, our children often see this as a time where they get to spend additional time with their parents and other adults they love. As Robert Louis Stevenson demonstrated more than a century ago, hard times can result in wonderful memories:

The Land of Counterpane

When I was sick and lay a-bed,
I had two pillows at my head,
And all my toys beside me lay
To keep me happy all the day.

And sometimes for an hour or so
I watched my leaden soldiers go,
With different uniforms and drills,
Among the bed-clothes, through the hills;

And sometimes sent my ships in fleets
All up and down among the sheets;
Or brought my trees and houses out,
And planted cities all about.

I was the giant great and still
That sits upon the pillow-hill,
And sees before him, dale and plain,
The pleasant land of counterpane.

            —Robert Louis Stevenson

                                    (1850-1894)

The tone and atmosphere for learning that you set will be noticed and internalized by your children. With a little effort, you will be able to provide your gifted child with a learning environment that is caring, challenging, captivating, and compelling. Try to embrace and enjoy this time to learn about a different side of your gifted child.

During this unexpected disruption to your child’s schooling, it is important to remember that there are many things you can do to help support his or her learning and development. Gifted children have an instinctive curiosity and love of learning and are eager to continue learning and expressing their creativity while at home. It is also important to remember that you cannot replicate children’s school experience, and that you should not try to do so or feel badly because you cannot do this. Instead, remember:

  • Most schools are providing some sort of online instruction or support for children during this time of quarantine—begin there, and use the expertise of your child’s teacher and school;
  • School provides many important opportunities for children to socialize and learn how to interact with others who are not their family. You CANNOT possibly reproduce this, and should not try to do so. Instead, provide your child with love and try to build their love of learning and get to know them in a variety of ways;
  • Each of you is in a unique and individual situation. Some of you have one child who has been identified as gifted. Others have a child who is gifted in some areas but not in all. Several of you have children who are twice exceptional. Still others have a gifted child or children and other children who are not gifted. Just as there is no “one size fits all” scenario, there is no single way to approach supporting your child—pay attention to his or her interests and passions, as this is usually a terrific place to start; and
  • Finally remember that these are trying times for everyone. Disruption to routines is especially difficult to young children, so do your best and celebrate your successes and efforts. Try to enjoy this additional time with your children, and forgive yourself any bumps that may come along the way.

Again, begin with the materials and activities your child’s teacher and school provide. If your child has been identified as gifted, his or her school may have additional resources that you may use. Below are some materials that may help you to supplement those, and to provide your child with valuable, interesting, and age appropriate things to do.

Young Children

Young children have short attention spans and are, for the most part, unable to engage in abstract thought. It might help you to think of time in 20 minute blocks, and to remember that most children are receiving some sort of instruction from their school so you do not need to provide 6 hours of activities per day. The hours of instruction offered by schools varies across place and time—while schools provide much more than childcare, one of their primary responsibilities is to provide children with a safe place to be during the day. The resources below are grouped by academic areas, although as you might expect for young learners, there is a great deal of overlap between some of these.

Remember, too, that your situation is unique. You may have a four-year old who is already reading—he or she may need little or no work on alphabet recognition or phonemic awareness or phonics (although some or all of these may greatly assist the child’s spelling). In that case, don’t worry about those areas, but instead focus on vocabulary and comprehension skills, most of which are acquired by reading and thinking about what one has read. Conversely, you may have an eight-year old who is profoundly gifted in mathematics, but who struggles in reading. That child may benefit from phonics instruction, even though this has tailed off for most children by the time they reach the end of the second grade (which usually occurs by the time children are seven). Match the instruction to the need, rather than worrying about what you think your child should be doing. When in doubt, contact the child’s teacher for his or her assessment of your child’s performance in various areas.

Reading/Language Arts

Reading and language arts (speaking, listening, reading, and writing) is generally considered to be one of the most important academic areas for young children, and about 40% of the day in many classrooms is devoted to this. Reading instruction focuses on five essential areas: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.

Phonemic awareness

Phonemic awareness involves the ability to hear the sounds used and produced in oral language. It is a foundational skill, and is vital for children in Pre-Kindergarten through second grade, after which it recedes from the curriculum. Reading to young children helps to build these skills, and excellent things to read include nursery rhymes such as Mother Goose or Dr. Seuss books. There are also some online resources, many of which can be found here.

Phonics

Phonics involves knowing that various sounds in language are associated with specific letters or letter combinations. This requires being able to hear the sounds in language (see phonemic awareness above), knowing the names of the 26 letters that comprise the English alphabet, the sounds that these make, and then the connections between the sounds and specific letter combinations. Your child’s teacher has years of training in how to do this—you do not. Do not expect yourself to be able to provide your child the support his or her teacher would, and focus on the child knowing the letters and practicing hearing the sounds in words. Here are some online resources that may help you with this:

Fluency

Once children begin decoding (a term that refers to seeing combinations of letters and using their knowledge of the patterns these form to make words), we want to build their fluency. If a child is a non-reader do not worry about fluency. Fluency involves both how many words a child can decode in a minute, as well as reading with expression, smoothness, and effortlessness. The best way for a child to build fluency is for him or her to read. Having children read for a set time each day will assist their fluency (think 1 hour per day for third graders, 40 minutes per day for second graders, and 20 minutes per day for first graders). Additional fluency resources can be found at Reading Rockets.

Vocabulary

Children learn about 150 to 250 words through direct instruction each year, although they learn 2,000 to 3,000 overall each annum. How do they learn all of the other words? Through reading or being read to by a parent or older sibling. Most of this can be covered through the activity above, although for a richer vocabulary you should be reading books to your child that are above their reading level. Some of you can access E-books through your public libraries, and Amazon has a terrific number of books available, many of them for low- or no-cost.

Comprehension

Comprehension concerns understanding what one has read. It is built mostly through the child reading (or books being read to the child), and then asking the child questions about what has been read. Many books are available on a variety of tablets and other handheld devices for a fee. For those seeking no-cost children’s literature, Project Gutenberg has a variety of classic children’s works available for download or viewing for free

The best way to build a gifted child’s understanding of what they have read is to talk with them about the books that they have enjoyed. To assure that you are not just asking simple recall questions, you might look at the resources designed to improve the quality of questioning included those found at Reading Rockets.

Mathematics

Mathematics involves more than just being able to perform certain operations such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, but also being able to think about problems and to use mathematical reasoning to solve these, number sense, measurement, time, and a variety of other topics. Look at the materials your child’s teacher is providing for him or her to work on mathematics at home—these should provide you with a good idea of where the child is performing (if you think the work he or she has is too hard or too easy, ask the teacher for guidance). Some excellent strategies, online manipulatives, and games that you might use to augment the materials available from your child’s school may be found here:

Science, Social Studies, and the Arts

Science, social studies, and the arts are also vital parts of the day in school. Certainly two birds may be killed with the same stone, and reading choices above can be selected to cover these areas as well. A variety of museums have online resources to help you expose your children to some wonderful virtual experiences, some of which can be found in the following:

Several art museums, symphony orchestras, and other organizations provide tremendous access to their collections for the public. This includes opportunities to view and download works of art or performances, lesson plans, and other activities that can be used by young learners. These include both resources that can be used and enjoyed by young children working independently, as well as those that will require the assistance of an older sibling or an adult. Some of the best online art resources include:

Other Resources

A variety of other resources exist that can assist you in keeping your gifted child engaged and involved during this challenging time. National and statewide organizations have gathered a variety of resources and materials that many of you will find helpful. Joining one of these organizations will help you to connect with others who share your interests and passions, and resources that are specifically tailored to your gifted child.

Conclusion

In closing, we wish to again remind you that you are not your child’s teacher. You are their parent and wish to support your child’s learning during this quarantine. Gifted children are still children—they often have the need for attention, love, and support as do their non-gifted age peers. Talk to your children, include them in activities such as cooking and yardwork, love them, and enjoy this time you have with them. By all means use some of the resources above to help support the efforts of your child’s teacher and school, but also realize that teachers train for many years before they work with children for a reason.

Most importantly, remember that you are helping to shape and create your child’s memories of this uncertain time. When children feel loved, and can use their imaginations and pursue their interests, they will have positive and warm memories of that time. If you can establish for them this warm and supportive learning environment, they in turn will see, “dale and plain,” the many magical aspects of learning that lay before them waiting to be explored.

About the Author: Dr. Stephen Schroth is a Professor of Early Childhood Education/Gifted & Creative Education, Graduate Programs Director, in the Department of Early Childhood Education, College of Education, Towson University, MD. He also serves as Vice President, of MCGATE (Maryland Coalition for Gifted & Talented Education).