In the New York Times Parenting column last week, a mother was lamenting that her second grader was getting behind. He did not know how to label an insect’s thorax, name Greek gods, or the role of Dolley Madison in the War of 1812 which were considered important to know, according to the book called “What Your Second Grader Should Know.”

Many moms are like that mom: worried that their kids are getting behind. Very worried. There are moms worried about third grade, fourth grade, fifth grade and in fact, every grade. They are reading those books, looking online and getting more upset. I bet that mom doesn’t know those facts either. I don’t know them and it doesn’t seem to have negatively impacted my life or the lives of anyone I know.

I just wonder how much of “getting behind” information is really essential for kids to know? The only time it seems to matter is for the SAT or the ACT tests in high school and that can be remedied by going online at Khan Academy.  That worried second grade mother said, “I suddenly wished we’d done more.” More what? More memorizing of information that kids don’t find relevant or interesting? That is what people mean when they worry their kids are behind. They are behind in their memorizing of facts that don’t relate to their lives. That is what 70% of school is: facts about the world that are actually not meaningful in everyday life.

Perhaps we should take a deep breath and stop worrying. Just look at the statistics. Most online teaching is not effective.  

My recommendation is to allow kids to do interest-driven exploration using the web to supplement their online school. They can follow online school but if they don’t seem to be learning, don’t worry. Supplement instead. The skills they need for the 21st century are not being taught in most schools anyway. Kids are not learning self management or creativity skills and they should. Covid is a perfect time to help them develop those skills. Even in elementary school, kids can learn to think independently and creatively.

The most important skills students need to develop are the 4 Cs: creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration. This document explains it in detail. We parents can facilitate the learning of most of these skills by encouraging and modeling collaboration and communication at home and encouraging online collaborative learning.

A recent survey of the top skills employers are looking for in 2020 echoes this sentiment:

  1. Time management: means self management, not being managed.  Kids need to learn how to manage their time
  2. Collaboration: kids learn these skills not by watching, listening or reading about them. They learn to collaborate by doing it.
  3. Emotional intelligence: means being self aware, self confident, being able to self regulate, and self manage.
  4. Creativity: means not being afraid to try something new and fail
  5. Adaptability: means the old “We’ve always done it this way!” attitude is nothing but dead weight

Learning these skills can be done at home, but homes that are full of anxiety and stress are much worse for kids than being behind in random fact memorization. Anxiety contributes to kids feeling behind according to many education experts. Just think about it; when you are stressed you cannot think well, or learn effectively. When kids feel bad about themselves or think that can’t learn, they won’t. They need to feel secure to learn. This pandemic will eventually end and they will have learned coping skills and adaptability skills.

So for all the stressed parents, try to think about how important it is for you to model being calm and sensible in the face of trying circumstances. Help your kids find activities that they enjoy and allow them to spend time online with their friends. Set up a schedule and stick to it. Consistency gives kids a sense of calm; they know what to expect. And stop reading all the books and websites that tell you what your child should know in each grade. It only causes you unnecessary anxiety and stress which you inadvertently pass on to your kids. Remember giving kids love is more important than anything else.

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  • Esther Wojcicki

    Educator, Journalist, and Mother.

    ESTHER WOJCICKI is a leading American educator, journalist, and mother. A leader in blended learning and the integration of technology into education, she is the founder of the Media Arts programs at Palo Alto High School. Wojcicki serves as vice chair of Creative Commons and was instrumental in the launch of the Google Teacher Academy. She lives in California. Her most recent book is HOW TO RAISE SUCCESSFUL PEOPLE. She is also co-founder of, the first For Kids, By Kids online learning platform, launched September 2020.