Academic Fitness During a Pandemic – PediaCast 460

Show Notes 


  • School work and learning must go on, even during a pandemic. Our neuropsychology team visits as we explore tips, tricks and resources for parents as they partner with schools and provide additional learning moments for children and teens… while staying home. We hope you can join us.


  • Academic Fitness 
  • School Work and Learning 
  • COVID Slide
  • COVID-19 Pandemic




Announcer 1: This is PediaCast.


Announcer 1: Welcome to PediaCast, a pediatric podcast for parents. And now, direct from the campus of Nationwide Children's, here is your host, Dr. Mike.

Dr. Mike Patrick: Hello, everyone. And welcome once again to PediaCast. It is a pediatric podcast for moms and dads. This is Dr. Mike coming to you from the basement of my home because we are physically distancing just like many of you.

Not social distancing, though. We've had more, I don't know I've seen more of my family, you know like the extended family that you typically see on holidays and such, really seen more of them since the stay-at-home orders have been put in place over Zoom, regular Zoom meetings and so. I don't know, I almost feel more social but physically distant than ever before. And I imagine some of you are feeling the same way.


This week we are going to talk about "Academic Fitness During a Pandemic", it is Episode 460 of our podcast for April 15th, 2020.  You know as a pediatrician, I'm always asked lots of health and medical related questions from patients and families and my own family and relatives. And you, the audience, listeners, all write in as well. 

And really right from the beginning of this pandemic, one of the things that has come up pretty often is "What if my child has underlying chronic medical conditions and they typically see a medical professional on a regular basis for this?" And then what about their immunizations and their yearly,  or more often than yearly for babies, well check-ups? Should we go to those?


And at the beginning of the pandemic before telehealth really started to get ramped up and when we weren't really sure what was going to happen, right now, it seems like, wow this was, you know, we did all these and there aren't nearly as many patients coming in to emergency departments in the hospitals. In some isolated cases, they are overrun, but certainly not on a national scale. There's lots of open hospital beds and there's lots of ICU beds, there's lots of ventilators at this point.

But at the beginning, we weren't sure what was going to happen because the public health officials had not issued stay at home orders yet. We had not really made an effort to flatten the curve. And in many areas of the country, the curve is definitely, not only flat it is squished. 

And so, there aren't a lot of people heading to emergency rooms and doctors' offices. So before we've said, if your child's doing well or even as an adult, if you're doing well with your chronic illness, you're on regular medicine, you have a nice supply, you're taking them, you're not experiencing any difficulty. And that includes children with chronic health conditions too, kids with asthma, diabetes. 


If things are going well, keep doing what you're doing, checking with your doctor by phone. But maybe now is not the best time to venture out or go to your doctor's office or go to emergency rooms. But that has changed a little bit now that we are squishing the curve because of physical distancing.

Doctor's offices are not very busy. And pediatric, urgent cares, and emergency departments are not very busy. So, I think at this point, of course,  always check in with your regular doctor. But if your child does have a chronic medical condition, it is still important to see your doctor for those, and especially, well check-ups.


Now those still could be done by telemedicine if your child's not due for immunizations. Or even if they are, you could maybe hold off on the immunization, but still do the telehealth visit. Because there's lots of health related topics that often you feel like you just don't have time to talk about those things, because there's so many different health-related issues that you could talk about your normal cheek-up. There just not time during a visit to talk about all of them. And so, now maybe a good opportunity to talk about some of those things with your healthcare provider, your child's healthcare provider.

So, definitely keeps up those telehealth visits. But if you are due for immunizations, and especially babies, I would not hold off on those. Before we said, we don't know what's going to happen if the doctor's offices are overrun with folks with COVID, you don't want to expose your babies to the doctor's office where they might catch that. Because we do know that infants do have a bit of compromised immune system, when it comes to viral infections.

But with the offices not necessarily being overrun at this point, it's a good idea still to get those immunizations. So, talk to your child's doctor. But those are going to be important because as much as we don't want children to be infected with COVID, we also do not want them to get the diseases that once upon a time folks realize, "These are really bad diseases. We need to make a vaccine form because they're so bad and it affects so many kids in such a potentially devastating way that we want to make vaccine for it." Just like what's happening right now with COVID.

A lot of work and effort went into those vaccines to protect our children today. And it's still very important that you get those so that your children don't have to experience things like measles and chicken pox, and pertussis, and diphtheria, and polio and all of the other diseases. Couple really other important ones are the Hib vaccine and the pneumococcal vaccine. Those protect against two different bacteria that not so long ago caused a lot of really bad disease in kids, meningitis, blood infections, epiglottitis which is really shuts off the airway.


Just really a lot of bad players that we can protect with immunizations, and so now that things aren't quite as busy as we predicted that they may become. And that's not because COVID-19 isn't as bad as we thought it was. It's because people are following to stay-at-home orders and flattening the curve.

Of course, we want to continue to pay attention to our public health officials and as restrictions are relaxed just a little by little by little with lots of watching and hopefully testing and contact tracing. So that when it does start to reappear, we can get it under control. With those things happening , there's going to be a little more movement in society and one of those movements really ought to be getting your kids protected against the diseases that we can protect against in a thoughtful way.


That's going to include wearing masks and face coverings if that's what your local public health officials are advising. They are advising that here in Ohio and likely they're advising that in your area. So, if your child is over the age of two, make sure you do have a face mask on them and on yourself as you head out to see your doctor for those visits.

For kids less than two, we worry about choking and suffocation with something right up against the face. But as you move from the car and to the doctor's office and back again, you can cover their carrier or if it's a 18-month-old and your holding them, you could put a blanket over your shoulder and over their head just not up close their face so they're suffocating. And your right them with them constantly supervising. But then does not protect others from them and them from others as you move about and get those well checkups done.

We have been covering COVID-19 pretty extensively here on PediaCast. Some of our past episodes, COVID-19: What You Need To Know, we've talked about social distancing and flattening the curve, our new routine. And we're now have done a little mini-series on fitness during the pandemic. We first covered mental fitness and then we covered physical fitness. Today, we are going to talk about academic fitness during a pandemic.


And by the way, all of these COVID-19 related episodes are available in a single playlist for you over on SoundCloud. You'll find them all together. And if you subscribe to PediaCast, wherever you listen to podcasts, you'll find all those recent episodes together as well.

So, academic fitness during a pandemic, schools and learning have suddenly become remote online endeavors. Some school districts were ready for the quick change, others were not. Many are really gearing up as quickly as they can. But even with best efforts on the part of school districts, there is the potential for summer slide. Although, in this case we're going to call it COVID slide.


Summer slide, you recall is when kids lose reading and math skills over the summer. And then, they have to spend a chunk of the next year learning those skills again even though they had learned them before. Stay at home orders during the COVID pandemic are essentials for saving lives but they also have the potential to cause a very big COVID related learning slide.

However, there is some good news the impact of the COVID slide can be lessened. There are things that we can do as parents to minimize its effect and pump up your child's academic fitness. Of course, it won't be easy, but who said parenting was easy, right? 

We certainly understand that parents have their own jobs. That you're working from home. You're keeping house. You're maintaining schedules, routines and orders. Do you really have time to be a teacher on top of everything else you are doing? And the answer to that is no. You do not have to take primary responsibility for your child's education. That's still up to the school and their teachers at school.


But there are some things that you can do to help. We'll have some practical tips to help you along the way today. We'll also consider kids with learning differences, those with IEPs and special education. How can parents help keep those students on track? 

And as we have been doing the last few episodes, we're going to have tons of resources for you in the show notes this week to help you keep your kids learning and hopefully minimizing the impact of the COVID slide. We'll have websites, app and other resources to help you with the language and reading skills, math and science, all from the comforts of home. 

And oftentimes, learning in a fun way. And in fact, this maybe an opportunity for us as parents to learn some of those skills again and kind of freshen ourselves up on math and science as we help and learn right along with our kids.

And I have two terrific guests joining me this week as we explore learning in academic fitness during a pandemic. Dr. Christine Koterba is a neuropsychologist at Nationwide Children's Hospital and her colleague, Dr. Camille Wilson, also with Neuropsychology at Nationwide Children's.


Before we get to them, I do want to remind you, you can find PediaCast in all sorts of places. We are in the Apple Podcasts app, Google Podcast, iHeart Radio, Spotify, SoundCloud and most mobile podcast apps for iOS and Android.

Reviews are helpful wherever you listen to PediaCast. We always appreciate when you take a moment to share your thoughts about the program.

And we love connecting with you on social media. You'll find us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram. Simply search for PediaCast. 

Also, if you have a question for me on the program. There's a topic that you would like us to cover on PediaCast, especially as it relates to all of us being at home during this pandemic, I'd love to hear from you. It's easy to get in touch just head over to and look for the Contact link. 


Also, I want to remind you, the information presented in every episode of the program is for general educational purposes only. We do not diagnose medical conditions or formulate treatment plans for specific individual. If you have a concern about your child's health, be sure to call or contact your doctor.

Also, your use of this audio program is subject to the PediaCast Terms of Use Agreement which you can find at 

So, let's take a quick break. We'll get our experts connected with the studio and then we will be back to talk more about academic fitness during a pandemic. That's coming up right after this.



Dr. Mike Patrick: Drs. Christine Koterba and Camille Wilson are neuropsychologists at Nationwide Children's Hospital. They're here to talk about  academic fitness during a pandemic. We talked about mental fitness a couple weeks ago and physical fitness last week. Today, we explore the challenge of attending school and learning as we stay home and continue to flatten the curve of the COVID-19 pandemic.

So, let's give a warm PediaCast welcome to Drs. Christine Koterba and Camille Wilson. Thank you both so much for joining us today.           

Dr. Christine Koterba: Yeah. Thank you for having us.

Dr. Camille Wilson: Thanks for having us.

Dr. Mike Patrick: Yeah. Really appreciate you taking the time out of your schedules. So, Dr. Koterba, let's just with what is neuropsychology? That maybe a term that some folks are not familiar with. What exactly is a neuropsychologist and what role do they play within healthcare?

Dr. Christine Koterba: So, neuropsychology is a branch of psychology that basically deals with the relationship between the brain and behavior. So neuropsychologist do testing with both adults and kids and what we are really interested in looking at are their thinking skills. And what we want to do is try to figure out what their strength and their weaknesses are.


So, we use tests that look at things like overall intelligence, communication skills, so their speech and language, their visual spatial skills, so kind of how they process visual information. We also look at things like attention and problem solving, memory. We look at their fine motor skills. And then, we also often test things like emotional and behavioral functioning. 

Then we use these results and we make recommendations that help people function and really reach their full potential and be as successful as possible at home, school, and work.

Now, at Nationwide Children's Hospital, we work with children who are very young. So, around three to four years of age, all the way up to young adulthood. And in healthcare setting, we work with kids who have a medical condition.


So, these could be kids who have had something happen to their brain, like a brain injury or an illness that might affect how the brain function. And our testing can really help us to figure out the day-to-day impact of their injury or their illness and then ways that we can help them to overcome or compensate for any confidently thinking problems that they may have.

Dr. Mike Patrick: Yes. So, your wheelhouse is helping folks who have underlying problems whether that be with their brain, with whatever setting that they're in, sort of the life around them, and helping them adapt to school and learning. And that really fits in quite nicely with what all of us are going through right now because things are not normal. 

So, Dr. Wilson, how is academic fitness impacted, and learning and schoolwork by this pandemic?

Dr. Camille Wilson: I think that's a great question. And as we're looking out the pandemic and how it affects children's learning, we're seeing multiple layers of how academic fitness has been affected by COVID-19. In many parts of the country, school districts are closed. In many states, requirements for state testing has been waived. 


Schools have had to be really creative and work really hard to figure out how to provide their students access to learning materials. Maybe they're providing instructions online, maybe they are making paper copies and distributing them to their students. Some teachers are even making phone calls or texting families just to check in and make sure how the students are doing.

But instructions have to be adopted in really unusual ways given our current circumstances. Teachers have to rethink how they administer tests to measure what students are learning. And what we see is that online instruction is very different from in-class instruction. Everyone had to kind of pivot at the turn of a coin just to think about what can we do to help our students learn.

But what we're also seeing in the news and from educational reports is that not all students in a classroom or in a district or a region or state may even have the same access to learning materials. It can look different from place to place.


The other thing I think about when I think about how academic fitness is impacted by the pandemic, some of your previous guest speakers have talked about this, but I think it's really important to recognize that students are experiencing more than just a change in where they're doing their learning. 

They don't have their normal, social and emotional supports. They don't have their friends, their classmates, their teachers, maybe other school staff. And when there's a loss or change in routines, it can really impact the child's social and emotional wellbeing and that can have a really important effect on a child's readiness to learn. When a child is feeling scared or worried, maybe angry or frustrated, they may have a harder time engaging in the learning process.

Dr. Mike Patrick: Yeah. There are so many variables that come into play. And even to the point of we sort of have a learning style, right? And so, if you're used to books and paper or in the school classroom, and as you said, being there with your social supports and your friends. And then, you get home and things are just completely different, it can really throw you for a loop.


And folks who were normally really outstanding students might be struggling. And on the other hand, there may be some folks who will really do well in this environment. Maybe there's less distraction, maybe they are really prioritizing things so that there aren't as much going around. It's more difficult for some, but for other families, it may actually be a little bit easier, right?

Dr. Camille Wilson: Absolutely. Yeah, and it can look different. I think it's a hard to predict who's going to thrive in this setting and who may struggle more. And as we think about different family contexts and settings and household, they look different. And some may adapt more easily to this online learning setting and others may struggle more.

Dr. Mike Patrick: I know we have talked about a concept on this podcast before called summer slide, where over the course of the summer, there's a significant amount of previously learned knowledge that is lost, especially in the realm of reading and math. 


And that you have to spend then a significant portion of the first few weeks of the next year sort of relearning what you learned before. And there are some things that parents can do over the course of the summer to help reduce the impact of summer slide. In fact, we talked about that in Episode 433 and I'll put a link to that in the show notes for this episode, 460, so folks can find it easily.

But how will these events compare with the typical summer slide that students already are impacted by?

Dr. Camille Wilson: I think this is a question that's really come up quite a bit among teachers and among parents. When I think about the summer slide, I think about that as the loss of skills that happens when there's no formal instructions, like during a summer vacation. And that's pretty typical to happen for many students between the end of the school year and then the beginning of the Fall year. 


But I think there's an important difference here. I think with the online instructions, teachers are still working very hard to provide instruction to their students. They are working to reinforce already learned concepts and to teach new materials. So, there's no lack of instructions on their end. They're really working to stay engaged with the students and keep them moving forward in the curriculum.

Now, it might look different from school to school or state to state but I do think that the ultimate goal is to help these kids maintain their skills as much as possible. And like you'd just mentioned, it's going to look different from maybe child to child where they end up at the end of the year. 

And I think about our parents who might be feeling pressured to help their child get to this end-of-the-year benchmarks. That they're feeling stressed, like I need to help my kid meet those skill all the way up to the end of the year and they might feel that pressure.

And the one thing that I would want to remind parents, and just to reassure them, just to do the best that you can. I think teachers are feeling that same stress, parents are feeling that stress.


And I do think that schools understand that. This is an extraordinary time, a very unusual circumstance. They are going to take that into account when kids come back into the full-time school setting. And I do think it will make it all that much more important to make sure that we have good measures of student learning, so that we can assess where kids are when they do return to that fulltime setting and carefully think about how we can best support them going forward.

Dr. Mike Patrick: So unlike summer slide, COVID slide, have you heard that term used yet? 

Dr. Camille Wilson: Yeah, I have heard it.

Dr. Mike Patrick: I was hoping that I coined the term. 


Dr. Mike Patrick: I felt so out of it though when I came up with COVID slide, although that did sound like a dance, but anyway. But schools really do have this in mind and it's affecting everyone. So even if there is sort of decline in the quality and quantity of education right now, it does affect some families and some school districts more than others. But at least there are a lot of kids and a lot of families all struggling sort of adapting, some struggling, some not. 

But we're all going through this together, not only as individual families but as entire school districts, too. So, I think there is some reassurance for parents that you and your family are definitely not alone in this. 

Dr. Camille Wilson: Absolutely.


Dr. Mike Patrick: Dr. Koterba, how can parents best juggle all the things that they're being asked to do right now? We are home, but there's work, there's the normal parenting stuff. And now, you really do feel that there's a need to partner with your schools in a way that's not typical and can be pretty daunting. So how do you juggle all of this and stay healthy?

Dr. Christine Koterba: First and foremost, just like we've been talking about so far, we are in an extraordinary time right now and we're dealing with things that are incredibly disruptive to our daily lives. Now, because this is an emergency situation that we're dealing with and something very unique, like you said, many of us parents are kind of feeling multiple roles, and a lot of these are new things that we aren't used to doing.


So, we might have to be stay-at-home parents managing a child's behavior all day and coming up with activities to fill 12 hours in a day which can be very challenging. Plus, we might also have to be full or part-time employees adjusting to working from home. Or maybe we're essential workers and we have to be still going into the workplace. 

And then, on top of that, in many cases, for those parents with older children, we have to try to teach the things that we might now even really remember how to do. Or it could be that we were taught in a way that is no longer appropriate. I hear a lot about math being taught in these new ways that parents are like, "I can't even figure out what my child is doing."


So, like you said, we are juggling a lot right now, and it's really, really hard. And I think the first thing is to try the best that we can to take off some of the pressure that you might be feeling, to be 110% of all of these different roles. You're not going to be able to do that and that has to be okay. 

So, I have some kind of general recommendations to share. And I think that this can be modified whether you are a stay-at-home parent, whether you are working from home, or whether you have had to arrange other childcare options and you're still going in to work. So, I think a great place to start is to come up with a daily schedule. And I think this is harder than it sounds, it's something that I personally have struggled with, with my kids. 

But I think it's an aspirational goal, is to have a daily schedule. And a good way to start with this is to find the priorities in your day, kind of the things that are non-negotiable and have to happen at a certain time. This could be things like Zoom meeting with the teacher or a class lesson that kind of has to happen.


And then, you might want to find the next things where you want them to be scheduled at a consistent time each day, so mealtime and times to wake up and go to sleep. Ideally, this could happen at the same time each day and at the same times that they would typically happen when your child would be going to a traditional school setting. 

And then, you want to kind of fill in those blank areas in the schedule with activities, maybe with some of your things that you have to do for work and some of the other things that you can squeeze in here and there during the day. 

If you have a partner at home or someone else who can help with childcare, try to come up with an alternate schedule with them. So one of you is able to work and the other person is able to take care of watching the kids and managing their educational activities, and then switch. It can also be helpful to have your workspace away from where the kids are. 


Again, these are aspirational goals, this is not possible for a lot of us. I know this is oftentimes is not possible for me with my kids and I'm usually doing work kind of right next to them. But trying to separate your home life and work life can be helpful with some of those kind of self-care things as well.

Also, I think being honest and open and transparent with your co-workers if you are working from home and even if you are still going into work, let them know, "Hey, I got kids in the background, I'm sorry if they're interrupting me," or "I'm dealing with a lot right now with juggling all these different responsibilities." 

And what I have found is that it gives me something to commiserate with. And I can find support with my co-workers in that way and we can kind of share ideas when we're both sharing what we're going through. 

And then, like Camille has been saying, if you feel like you're needing to teach your child all these extra academic material, ask the teachers for tips on what to do and what the expectations should be, what you should be teaching, what you should be reinforcing, and how to do that. 


You can look at the Internet for some helpful YouTube videos or how-to videos for how to teach different concepts, if you're not sure. There are also some great resources. I really like the website called Wide Open School. There's some great content there, including learning videos. They have videos of children's books authors, reading their stories. They have gym and music classes. And it's really designed for families who are trying to do the school thing  at home. 

And so, that can be helpful. We'll also have some additional resources included in the show notes as well. And then, if you feel like you're really struggling to do it all, I know doing academic work with your children can create conflicts sometimes and it can be challenging to be both parent and teacher, look to extended family members and maybe family friends. 

You can set up a call or video chat with grandparents or aunts and uncles. And you could talk to them beforehand and see if they're willing to do academic work with your child.


This could be a great option for being able to see and interact with extended family members during this time when you might not otherwise be able to see them. And they can also take some of the pressure off of parents to be expected to be kind of the main academic instructor. 

Dr. Mike Patrick: Those are really great tips. And I love the idea of even getting even grandma and grandpa involved. And especially folks who may be alone and there may be loneliness. And maybe they're retired or they've lost their job, a family member really can give them sort of a sense of purpose, too. And as we all come together in this. So, I love that.

And then, the other thing is, of course, that scheduling in breaks and self-care. You would think, "Okay, so I don't have to commute now, I have more hours to get things done." But I also kind of get in a zone and maybe work longer than I would have at the office where co-workers maybe stopping in to saying hi. And I have to get up and get something off the printer, and I get distracted and I'm moving around. 


You can almost get sort of lost in your work and sit longer I think at home, unless you intentionally work those breaks and self-care into your daily schedule. So, I think that's really important.

What about families with kids who have learning differences, whether they'd be learning disabilities or physical chronic illnesses that interfere with learning? You talked about some of those at the beginning as you spoke of your role as a neuropsychologist. How will staying at home impact learning for these families? 

Dr. Christine Koterba: Yeah, this is really tough and this is something that we as neuropsychologists think a lot about because, like you said, these are a lot of the kids that we work with and we see clinically. So, schools all seem to be doing kind of different things depending on the school itself and maybe the students that they're working with. 


And so again, I think that parents are going to be more involved in this. And parents are always the strongest advocate for their child when it comes to school or really anything. So kind of taking on the advocate role is one more thing that I think that can be more important. 

So, for people who are not super aware of what different educational plans might look like, what we think of is in terms of formal support is either what's called an IEP or individualized plan or a Section 504 plan. And typically, parents are going to be aware that their child would have one of these two plans in school. They would have been involved in the decision-making for that. And they would have been involved in meetings to discuss putting those plans into place. 

So, the first thing to do is take a look of the plan that your child has. If you have a copy of it at home, you can look to see what the recommendations are. If you don't have a copy of it, you can talk to your child's teacher and you might be able to get a copy of it and kind of see what they were getting in the traditional school setting. 


Now, some children who have special education support might be getting modified assignments at home. Or they might have opportunities to work with somebody like an intervention specialist remotely, if these were things that they were getting in the traditional school setting. 

And I've heard of some schools doing that and some schools doing a really nice job of kind of modifying things for a student with disabilities. But others might not be getting this much support in the homeschool environment. And this could be for a number of reasons that could very well be out of the school's control.

Overall communication with the school and your child's teacher is key. If you're getting work for your child that you feel like they just can't do, they're not capable of doing it. It seems really hard for them. Maybe you're getting really frustrated, they're getting really frustrated, or it could be taking them a very long time to do it. And if you were thinking to yourself, "It shouldn't be taking this long. This doesn't feel like the amount of work a second grader should be doing," the first thing to do is talk to the teacher. 

I've heard from some parents that they've gotten a lot of assignments at home for their child. They start doing this work, they realize their child just really can't do it. They go back and talk to the teacher, and the teacher said, "Yeah, that was something that we sent home for all student, but we didn't expect your child to be doing those things."


So, start by talking to a teacher first and come up with some reasonable expectations for what your child should be expected to complete and how long it should be taking them. It's taken you a lot longer to do those things, maybe ask if they can have extended time or if you could shorten some of the assignments for them. 

So again, thinking about how you could modify support in school for the homeschool environment and getting some ideas from the teachers for that. 

Now, there are also children that are going to have pretty significant learning challenges or developmental delays. And they're not going to be able to get as much support at home as they would at school. So again, communicate with the school and with the teacher to find out what you can do. And it might be that you're just looking for opportunities to maximize your child's learning and development. 


And it might be that you're spending more time in a kind of day-to-day living skills and teaching them how to do things around the house and making those into learning opportunities rather than actual core academic work. So again, just talking with the school, communication is key and figuring out how to modify things in a homeschool environment is really important. 

Dr. Mike Patrick: Yeah, great advice. And even if your child does not have an IEP and you feel those same pressures, like there's too much work, it's taking them too long, it still is important to reach out to the teachers because they really need that feedback. And if they're getting that same feedback from multiple families, then they really have to say is this reasonable? 

On the other hand, if it's just one family that's involved, the teacher may even have some tips on how you could do it quicker, be more efficient or this is the priority. So just that regardless of your child's educational background, having those channels of communication with the school and the teacher is really important, right?


Dr. Christine Koterba: Definitely, definitely. 

Dr. Mike Patrick: Dr. Wilson, what are some things that parents can do? We talked about this, that we're all in this together and the school don't feel that pressure as a parent that you have to take charge of your child's education. But there are some parents that do want to help minimize any negative impact that COVID-19 is having on their child's learning. What are some practical things that parents can do to minimize the negative academic impact of this pandemic? 

Dr. Camille Wilson: That's a great question. I think from the beginning, one of the biggest things that we've been talking about so far in the show is just really keeping that line of communication open with your child's teacher and just keeping that teacher up to date with what you're seeing. Maybe we need to pace things differently, maybe we need to change how we're presenting the material. Maybe we could use a more visual approach rather than a verbal approach.


The teacher might be able to provide some online resources that could help reinforce the materials so that the student can rewatch that video or kind of learn that concept again. I think that's probably one of the biggest pieces of advice that I would give, but there's some practical strategies that we could think about too for parents as they are helping their student with their learning. 

I mean I think the first thing is just take a deep breath and just keep in mind that you don't have to recreate the whole school learning environment. You are not your child's school in this time. It's okay to set small goals and start small. Maybe today, we're going talk all math. Maybe in the afternoon, we'll work on spelling, right? And just really try to prioritize that and keep it small and manageable just for both you and your child. 

And I think also leaning back to a little bit of what Christy talked about, making learning a part of the daily routine. Have a general schedule and your child knows what to expect. Sometimes, routines can be just such a helpful way for someone to navigate through a lot of uncertainty knowing "Okay, I know this is first, and then this is next. And then I'll wake up, I'll do some schoolwork, then I get to have some fun time. I get to play outside and run around. And maybe I'll just have some down time or play time scattered through the day." Just knowing what to expect and when. 


I think another thing that parents can do is really work to try and provide a positive learning environment. This could include like having a physical space that's as distraction free as possible. Maybe working in the part of the house where the TV's turned off, it's little more quiet. Maybe there's a desk or a table that's cleared off so that the child can put their stuff down to do their work.

Sometimes, that can be hard to do if you live in a small apartment or have multiple family members who need to use their computer for different tasks. So, you know I think it's really working as best you can to create these settings where kids can do their work and do as much as they can. 

I think the other piece for parents to remember is to try to keep an honest and positive attitude. Kids are so observant, and they pick up on the stress and worry from their parents. 


So, if you're feeling stressed about your work, or you're feeling stressed that your child's not understanding that English assignment or that history test that's coming up, it's okay to admit that you're feeling stressed or you're feeling nervous. A lot of the social media report looking at how parents and people are feeling during this time of COVID-19, stress is probably one of the biggest words that keeps coming up for people.

So I think it's okay to acknowledge that. And then maybe to work to come up with some strategy that you can do with your children to help with self-care. It might be deciding, "You know what, it's a beautiful day. Let's go take a walk in the morning." And take a little break in the morning or maybe doing some stretching or yoga-like exercises and building those routines into your day just to give your mind and body a little bit of a break. 

And just like you were talking before, it's so important to be able to take breaks during the day. And I think for each family and each child, it's going to be a process of learning what works. One child might be able to work for an hour without needing a break. Others might need something shorter. Maybe like work for 15 minutes and then take a two to three-minute break. So, figuring out what works for you and your child. 


You can also use things like visual timers. And these can really be helpful for kids who have trouble staying focused. So, you can use like an egg timer in the kitchen or a timer on your phone or the computer or download a visual timer app. And what these can do is just give your child like some visual feedback about how much longer they need to work or how long until they can take that next break. 

Dr. Mike Patrick: As we really try to get organized and come up with a routine and schedules, there's actually a learning process in that for our kids, too. And teaching organizational skills may help them with later success and may actually help them as they think about college and what lies ahead once we're through this pandemic. Sort of the organizational skills that we're all learning right now may really help in the future.  


And then, also older kids, right? Maybe they have had to be more organized and they can actually help younger siblings sort of catch up with this. What do you think of that?

Dr. Camille Wilson: Definitely. Yeah and I think it can be a group effort of just encouraging one another. Like Christy suggested earlier, that you can have grandparents or extended family kind of be able in like story reading time or maybe teaching some concepts. 

You can have older siblings teaching younger siblings or having younger siblings reading out loud to some of their older siblings. That's a real confidence builder when they can do something special for their older siblings and help take care of other family members. Maybe reading to the grandparents who's alone right now and doesn't have a lot of social contact.

One thing to keep in mind, too. We've talked a little bit about this like perspective taking. It might be really tempting to assume that your friend or your neighbor is doing a fabulous job teaching their kids, that they're following that rainbow-colored schedule perfectly.


And I think the truth is that we're all working really hard to get through each day, getting through the week. But what you're going through is not unique to you. They're probably multiple people on your side of the street that are having the same frustrations that you are feeling. 

And I think one additional thing I would leave with your listeners is that education can be so much more than flashcards and worksheets. I think learning can take place in there every day and it's really helping teach our kids about the fun about discovering the world around you. When we can cultivate that curiosity, that's such a powerful gift that we can give to our children. 

And so, that can happen as we encourage our kids to ask questions about their world and this just opens lots of possibilities for learning. So, when you take a walk around the neighborhood, you see the change in seasons, maybe talk about the weather. Or maybe with your older kids when you watch television and hear the news and you're processing what different people are talking about, learning happens at all different times of the day. Or maybe even when you're teaching your child about compassion, about checking in on that elderly neighbor or maybe that family member who's having a hard time.


Dr. Mike Patrick: Excellent points. One of the things that I had asked from you guys as we went into this podcast was really to provide some practical resources that parents can use for kids of all ages, where if they are interested in supplemental learning. And not just now but even into the summer and maybe some things that they can rely on moving forward in life, as we all really try to support learning in our kids and then in ourselves.

And the older kids, the schools for the most part are taking the lead on this. But especially for kids who may be aren't in daycares and preschool right now, there is some learning that would have been happening there. So why don't we start with the youngest of kids. And Dr. Koterba, if you could just kind of walk us through what sort of resources that parents could rely on as they think about supporting learning in their young kids.


Dr. Christine Koterba: So, I think one of the easiest things that parents can do to supplement learning is reading books. So, read with your children. For young children, read out loud with them. And then, for older children, encourage them to read on their own. Or better yet, read a book with them. 

So, for young children something that I'd like to recommend is as you're reading the book, you kind of stop and ask them some questions about what's happening. And also, for very young children, if you feel that they kind of have a book memorized because they've read it so many times, have them kind of finished the sentences as you're going page by page. 

I think the Goodnight Moon is being a good example for this because it's a book that's easy even for pretty young children to memorize over time. And so, kind of going back and forth and having them kind of finished the phrases and the sentences. And this gets them in the habit of developing those early learning and readings skills.


For older children, I think what can be kind of a fun thing for parents to do is pick out a chapter book or a novel together and then read it together. So maybe go paragraph by paragraph or go chapter by chapter. And again, talk about what's happening and talk about what maybe is going in the book and with the characters.

Also, what is really really great with younger children is talking to them and interacting with them throughout the day. There are a lot of times when as parent and especially with everything that is going on right now, we might be sitting on our phones looking at things or we might be watching TV with our children together but not really talking to them. And narrating what you're doing, talking with them is really important. It doesn't have to be anything really complex, it's just narrating what you're doing during the day. 

I also think about some electronic resources. So, I know that we talk a lot about the importance of limiting screen time. But I think that is very challenging right now for obvious reasons. But also because kids are doing their schoolwork online and we might be doing work on the computer. 


So, using some of the technology that we have to supplement learning. So, there are some great early academic apps that can work on kind of early reading skills. ABC Mouse is one that is advertised a lot for younger kids. There are some other good learning apps. 

And some of these learning programs, what they'll do is they will start with kind of a test to see where a child's skills are and they'll start with the kind of learning games at that point and then build on it as they're going along. There are some good ones for reading and for math that we can include in the show notes that can be helpful with kind of making a game out of learning new skills. So that can be good for younger kids as well. 

And something else that I think can be fun for young kids and probably more kind of elementary school-aged kids is coming up with a theme for the day. And building the daily schedule around that theme. So, you could pick like a specific animal and it might be that you are doing learning activities about the animal. 


Maybe you go online and find some different articles or stories about the animal and read them together. And then, maybe having some crafts that you do related to that specific animal.

And then, there are some zoos, like the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and the Cincinnati Zoo, have YouTube channels. And some are even doing virtual safaris. So, you can learn about the animals that way too, which is kind of fun, and having your child involved in that.

Like we've saying this whole time, the most important thing is not to put too much pressure on yourself and not be trying to have your child master these new academic skills, but really doing what you can to maintain their learning. And I think most importantly, trying to have fun while you're doing that. 

These are very unusual times and I think for a lot of us, we have more time to spend with our children than we normally would. So, if you can find activities that are fun and could possibly promote learning, I think that's just a win-win. 


Dr. Mike Patrick: Yeah, absolutely. And as we have mentioned, we're going to have a lot of resources in the show notes for parents. Some of these are new to me not being an educator of young kids. And I find them fascinating as I research and try to collect some resources for parents. 

One was a program called Day-by-Day Ohio. It's really for preschool kids and just some ideas of things to do every day of the year. So, each day, you can go and there'd be a song you can sing, something that you could watch, activities to try, idea on what book to read. 

And, of course, you can these things organically, but some parents do better when there's a recipe of things, to give you some ideas that are different from day to day. And so, I find that pretty helpful. 


And then, of course, PBS Learn and Grow and PBS Kids. Scholastic has a lot of resources, National Geographic Young Explorers, the Math Learning Center, Kahn Academy, Exploding Dots, Remote Learning Resource Guide from the Ohio Department of Education. So just lots of ideas and resources, we're going to include all of those in the show notes over at, Episode 460.

These are great resources, again, not just now but even continuing into the summer and moving forward. They'll just give you some great ideas. You mentioned reading and language.

And Dr. Wilson, these are important things, especially for young kids. And here in Ohio, we have something called the Third Grade Reading Guarantee. What exactly is that?

Dr. Camille Wilson: The Third Grade Reading Guarantee is sort of a standardized benchmark that the Ohio Department of Education is expecting each child to achieve by the time that they're in third grade, to demonstrate that they have their reading skills to help them move on with their academic development.


Oftentimes, what we see is in the kindergarten, first grade level, these are kids who are learning how to read. And then, by the time they get up to the third grade, it's shifting and they're needing to read in order to learn. That they might have to read a text, or they might have to read that word problem to be able to solve that math problem. And so, a lot of that really relies on language skills as well as reading skills. 

Dr. Mike Patrick: And the Ohio Department of Education has a really nice site with resources for school and teachers, yes, but also for families and parents to help your kids meet that Third Grade Reading Guarantee. And you don't have to live in Ohio to access the website. And looks like it got some pretty helpful information. But, of course, your local school district may also be able to provide you with resources as you encourage reading with your kids. 


So, Dr. Wilson, how can parents best do that, encourage support and language and reading skills for their children?

Dr. Camille Wilson: So we've been talking about along the way, some of the research in the education literature has shown that kids who are exposed to more language and exposure to more words are kids who go on to develop larger vocabulary and become better readers. 

I think what's really exciting about that for our parents out there is that you don't need to be a trained educator to do this with your children. It's like what we've talked about before, it's reading out loud. It's letting them hear that language, the phrasing. It's talking out loud with your kid when you're going through your day to day and kind of narrating what am I doing now, what am I thinking about. 

But I think what's powerful about reading stories or talking with your kids is these kids are learning how to handle different social situations, how to talk about their emotions, how to problem solve. If you don't have easy access to books at home, libraries provide apps that you can check out electronic books.


You can borrow audiobooks if you are not a strong reader and don't have the time maybe because of your job to read as much. And so, there's even some national and international organizations that provide books to children for every month until they turn five. The Dolly Parton Imagination Library is another resource where you can sign up and get those resources. 

From the audiobook site, actually has a new section of free audiobooks that they can access during this time. 

Dr. Mike Patrick: And again, we're going to have all of these resources for folks in the show notes. One also, Project Guttenberg, which has over 60,000 free books that folks can download and engage with digitally. And Reading Rockets, lot of reading and language resources out there. And again, we'll include those. 

I want to circle back, Dr. Koterba, you had mentioned making everyday activities in the family learning opportunities. And I just want to highlight that, because we can use this resources and schedule, but just the learning that happens as we live everyday life is still really important, right?


Dr. Christine Koterba: Yes, absolutely. And I really love this idea of making everyday activities into learning opportunities because there's a lot of really great ways to do this with your kids. 

So, one of the easiest ways and one of my favorite things to do with my son is cook. We pick out recipes together, getting the ingredients together, and then having your child help to follow along with the recipe. 

So, for young children, you might kind of be working side by side. You might be doing most of the work, but you might be teaching them to follow instructions and follow directions. And you're having them add things maybe as you're measuring them out. 

And then, for older children this is a great way to start teaching fractions, and kind of how do you add fractions up and what do you end up with? And this is a great kind of visual way to teach fractions. If you have three quarters cup of sugar that you're adding, you could split that up into three one-quarter measuring cups. And maybe then add it into one larger cup and they can see kind of what the total amount looks like. 


So those visual clues can be very helpful in learning complex skills that we need to know for these different math concepts. So that can be one great way.

And then, there's a lot of other kind of smaller activities, too. Things like playing with Play-Doh or clay or even finding little things that kids are going to pick up around the house and or on the floor as they're cleaning up. That can help with developing fine motor skills. 

Another fun game that I really like to play with my son is I Spy. So, if we're driving around or we're at home, we describe things by color or shape, and he has to guess what I'm describing. So that can be a really great thing to do, even things as  simple as counting. So, let's say that you're going up and down the stairs with your child. Counting the stairs as you're going up and coming down could be helpful with learning how to count. 


And then, for older children, this isn't really kind of an everyday day-to-day activity but there's a lot of really fun and easy card games that again can help with math concepts. So, playing a game of War where each person gets one card and the higher card wins. So that can be a simple way of teaching kind of numbers sense and quantities and what different numbers amount to.

And you can either do a variation on this where each person playing gets two cards or three cards and they have to add those up, and then the person with the highest total wins. And whoever ends up with the most card at the end wins the game. 

So finding little things like that where you are teaching some of these concepts but in kind of a sneaky way where it's a little bit more fun can be really helpful and a great way to have fun and pass the day with your child. 


Dr. Mike Patrick: Absolutely, great ideas. Dr. Wilson, what are some barriers for effective learning at home that we should be aware of? And then, how can we overcome those barriers? 

Dr. Camille Wilson: Sure, I think when we think about families as they're trying to help their kids with  their learning, one barrier that is often present for many households may be just access to resources. Not all families have easier consistent access to online resources, to Wi-Fi. They may not even have a printer at home to print out those school packets that teachers are sending. 

Families may be feeling overwhelmed. There's so much out there. There are so many resources when they Google "how do I help teach this". They may not know where to start. There may also just be the challenge of juggling the needs of multiple kids who have different needs or different family members who may have lots of different requirements on time, or other demands that they may have. 


And then, just like we talked about, parents have a lot on their plates right now. And a lot of us are trying to do that juggle of managing work, parenting, and teaching all at the same time. And so, when I think about how to help families maybe overcome some of these barriers, again, we kind of come back to it's so important to keep up communication with your child's teacher and the school staff. Let them know if you're having trouble accessing the material online. They might be able to get you that material in a different way. 

If it's more connectivity that's presenting a challenge, maybe checking out what other community resources are available. Some places around the country are getting creative and setting up school buses as Wi-Fi hotspots. Libraries, like here in Ohio, the Columbus Public Library is also offering free Wi-Fi in their parking lots for certain times of the day. 

And so, maybe more for older kids, if your high schooler has that AP assignment or they have an English essay that they have to write but they need to have Wi-Fi to upload it, you might be able to stop over by the library and access that hotspot for what they need to upload or download so that they can do their work. 


There are also resources like Staples, the office company store that's offering free printing for any education related needs. So families can go, use their computers, and then download the resources they might need. 

And just coming back to some of maybe more family related stresses that people may be having, I think it's okay to give yourself permission to have one kid go outside for a play break while you focus on the needs of the other child who might need that extra attention in that area of teaching. And again, just coming back to the teachers and asking what do we need to prioritize if your kid's feeling overwhelmed with the learning and things like that? 

So just give your permission to take things a little bit at a time but that's okay. If you don't get through the whole task, you could have an off day, you can have an off morning or off week even. And that's okay, I think kids are resilient, families can be resilient. 

And it's really making sure that you're staying connected with the resources that help keep you centered and help keep your child feeling secure in this very uncertain time. 


Dr. Mike Patrick: Yeah, absolutely. Dr. Koterba, we keep saying, hey, we're all in this together. There are some families even in our own community that really do have more of a barrier with these kinds of resources than others. How can we as families sort of identify and help families who might need some help overcoming these things?

Dr. Christine Koterba: I think like you said, I was thinking the same thing as I was preparing for this. We keep seeing this over and over again, you know, the phrase "We're all in this together." And initially, I have seen that and had been thinking of we're all responsible for flattening the curve, right? We're all working together in this.

But in thinking about how to help families, help other families, I thought of the same phrase. There are other ways that we're helping each other, too, and this is a big one. If you have ideas or you're really successful with managing something with your child or teaching them something new, or maybe you've created a schedule that worked out really well and was really great, share that with your friends that maybe have kids that are of the same age. 


You check in on one another, too. If you again have a friend or a family member and you can tell that they're struggling or you just want to see how they're doing, take that time to check in on them and see how things are going. And brainstorm ideas together, come together to come up with some different ideas for things that might work with getting through the day. 

I think another really helpful resource that I've seen is just going to social media. I think that there are some really great groups that have come together. There is a group that I've seen on Facebook that is something like coping with coronavirus where parents and children or something like that. 


What I've noticed which is really cool is people will post questions to this group and the support they get back is just really incredible. There's not a lot of judgement, people are sharing ideas. People are getting encouragement and support. And that's been really neat to see. 

So, seeking out groups like that, too. If you don't know many people that have kids the age of your children, seek that out in the social media because there can be a lot of groups that can be out there for that, too.

Dr. Mike Patrick: Absolutely, as we wrap up, I want to talk about the Neuropsychology Program at Nationwide Children's one more time. Are you guys doing telehealth visits at this point with families? 

Dr. Christine Koterba: Yeah, we are. We actually were really forcing it. We started doing telehealth visits, I think three or four days after the kind of work-from-home order. So, we were able to get up and running very quickly and we have been very successful with telehealth visits at Nationwide Children's within Behavioral Health and across several other units in the hospital and service lines as well.


So, our Neuropsychology Program is part of the larger kind of Behavioral Health Team at Nationwide Children's Hospital. And we are within the Department of Pediatric Psychology and Neuropsychology. And we're located on main campus. 

We see kids with a range of medical conditions that impact their brain or how their brain functions just like I was talking about earlier in the show. And we get referrals from all over the hospital as well as from local pediatricians and other hospitals in Ohio and surrounding states. 

Now, for our team, we only see children with underlying medical condition that is believed to be impacting their cognitive functioning or how their brain is working. So, examples could include things like epilepsy, brain injury, stroke, brain tumor, and developmental conditions, genetic conditions and then other types of medical conditions like kidney disease and lupus as well. 


We do have psychologists on our team who do what's called psychoeducational evaluation. And these are for children who have learning concerns but do not have an underlying or primary medical diagnosis. 

So, like you would ask about, we are doing telehealth right now. We are exploring options to do telehealth assessments which is something new for us.  We also are looking into options to provide more kind of intervention and resources to families of children who might be struggling. 

So, we are really being innovative and changing our practice and adapting to this new kind of landscape, as are a lot of neuropsychologist clinicians. I think everybody out there is doing the same thing. 

The best things if you have questions about your child's learning or you're kind of wondering where to go from here, starting with your child's teacher is a great place to start like we've been talking about. And if you're struggling with that, you're not really getting anywhere, their pediatrician is a really great next person to go to who can help you figure out kind of the best thing to do from there. 


Dr. Mike Patrick: Yeah, great ideas. And always a good idea to talk to your child's teacher and your child's doctor. They're going to know what resources are available in your individual community. For those who are interested in more information about the Pediatric Neuropsychology Program at Nationwide Children's, we'll put a link to your program in the show notes. And that something then that you could talk to your child's teacher and your pediatrician and see is this something, is this a sort of service something that my child could benefit from? And then they can make referrals and get the ball rolling from there. 

And, of course, one more time, tons of resources this week in the show notes for this episode, 460, over at 

So, Dr. Christine Koterba and Dr. Camille Wilson, both neuropsychologists here at Nationwide Children's, thanks again so much for being with us today. 


Dr. Camille Wilson: Yeah, thank you.

Dr. Christine Koterba: Thanks for having us, it's wonderful.


Dr. Mike Patrick: We are back with just enough time to say thanks once again to all of you for taking time out  of your day and making PediaCast a part of it. 

Also, thanks to Dr. Christine Koterba and Dr. Camille Wilson, both with Neuropsychology at Nationwide Children's Hospital. 

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Thanks again for stopping by. And until next time, this is Dr. Mike saying stay safe, stay healthy, and stay involved with your kids. So long, everybody.


Announcer 1: This program is a production of Nationwide Children's. Thanks for listening. We'll see you next time on PediaCast.

2 thoughts on “Academic Fitness During a Pandemic – PediaCast 460

  1. Thanks PediaCast…I’m a pediatrician and faithfully listen to PediaCast CME. I have been doing an increasing number of Telemedicine visits. Fitness – Body, Mind and Spirit – is my mantra. Your recent Pediacasts regarding Mental, Physical and Academic Fitness should be for my colleagues too; it’s info our patients need to hear from us. I advocate your podcast with my patients, especially now. I will definitely be sharing this resource list too.

    Thanks for your informative and easy to listen to podcasts.

    • Thanks for the kind words… and for listening to the podcast.
      Also thanks for all you are doing to take care of kids and families in these difficult times! 🙂

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