Teachers say kids fell behind dramatically during pandemic, lack basic skills

'A huge part of early schooling in the U.S. is being socialized,' one expert says

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Teachers across the country are reporting that their young students have fallen dramatically behind on basic life skills, such as tying their shoes, following school shutdowns during the pandemic. 

"There’s a huge gap that goes beyond the academics, it has to do with social and emotional components and just how to behave in school," Dan Domenech, the executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, told the Washington Post. "That is something young kids have not learned."

Teachers across the country told the outlet that students, stretching from pre-kindergartners to even some middle schoolers, have fallen behind on life skills during remote learning, and that many struggle with basic activities, including cutting along a dotted line with scissors, twisting a plastic cap off, squeezing a glue bottle an appropriate amount of adhesive comes out, and engaging in more playground spats.

Classroom with empty wooden desks. (iStock)

Classroom with empty wooden desks. (iStock) (iStock)

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"You’d say, ‘Okay, can you show me how to tie your shoes?’ and most of them would just kind of look at me, like, really confused," Christine Jarboe, a first grade teacher in Fairfax County, recounted of her students. "They really weren’t sure even where to start."

Another educator - Jenna Spear, a teacher-naturalist in New Hampshire - said she noticed second grade students who were back in classrooms this year didn’t know how to sit when she read them a book. 

"Normally, when you read a story in second-grade, kids know to sit down so everyone can see the pictures," Spear said. "But you’d have kids standing in front, like right in front, of everybody."

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One expert told the Washington Post that it was expected that children might lack these skills after missing in-person instruction, in some cases, for more than a year.

"A huge part of early schooling in the U.S. is being socialized, learning to sit still and listen quietly," Frank Keil, a Yale professor of psychology, said. 

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The news that students are falling behind on life skills comes after numerous reports found children are also behind academically. A study released last month by education software company Renaissance Learning found that students fared worse academically during the second year of the pandemic than the first. 

Louisville Schools Open For In-Person Learning LOUISVILLE, KY - MARCH 17: A teacher walks among the the masked students sitting in a socially distanced classroom session at Medora Elementary School on March 17, 2021 in Louisville, Kentucky. Today marks the reopening of Jefferson County Public Schools for in-person learning with new COVID-19 procedures in place. (Photo by Jon Cherry/Getty Images)

Louisville Schools Open For In-Person Learning LOUISVILLE, KY - MARCH 17: A teacher walks among the the masked students sitting in a socially distanced classroom session at Medora Elementary School on March 17, 2021 in Louisville, Kentucky. Today marks the reopening of Jefferson County Public Schools for in-person learning with new COVID-19 procedures in place. (Photo by Jon Cherry/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

"All signs suggest that this is going to be a multiyear recovery," Gene Kerns, vice president and chief academic officer at Renaissance, said in a statement. 

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For students in first grade or below, for example, reading results were "concerning," according to the study. Students in grades K-12, overall, registered lower scores in math and reading during the 2021-2022 school year compared to the same period the previous year.

Teenagers, meanwhile, experienced an increase in mental health issues stretching from persistent feelings of loneliness to suicidal thoughts last year amid school shutdowns and government-mandated restrictions during the pandemic, according to a recently CDC study. 

Fox News’ Audrey Conklin contributed to this report.