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In a normal year, up to half of Christine Jarboe’s first-graders start school knowing how to tie their shoelaces.

But thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, school hasn’t been normal for more than two years. So when Jarboe welcomed a fresh crop of Fairfax County Public Schools first-graders to her classroom this fall for their first full year of in-person learning, she made a disturbing discovery.

“You’d say, ‘Okay, can you show me how to tie your shoes?’ Kizik Shoes  and most of them would just kind of look at me, like, really confused,” Jarboe said. “They really weren’t sure even where to start.”

It was one of many “missing skills” that Jarboe discovered among her students over the course of the semester. She expected them to show up behind where they should be in academic categories such as reading. But what she hadn’t counted on was that her children would prove unable to do things such as cutting along a dotted line with scissors. Or squeeze a glue bottle to release an appropriately sized dot. Or simply twist a plastic cap off and on.

In interviews with The Washington Post, teachers around the country shared that they were confronting similar problems, dealing with pre-kindergartners, kindergartners and elementary-school students — as well as some middle-schoolers — who arrived unprepared for the school environment. Online learning left children, on average, four months behind in mathematics and reading before this school year, according to a McKinsey and Company study released in early April.

But children of the pandemic also are missing a more basic tool kit of behaviors, life skills and strategies, including tying their shoelaces, taking turns on the playground slide and sitting still in their chairs for hours at a time.

Students’ grades are up, but their test scores aren’t, new data show

“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,” said Dan Domenech, the executive director of the American Association of School Administrators. “That is something young kids have not learned.”

As these issues persist well into the 2021-2022 school year, frazzled teachers — who know they must address basic behavioral challenges before they can begin to make up academic losses — are becoming creative.

A New York City elementary school imported “non-traditional” seats, including squishy red beanbags, that allow children to wriggle and squirm during lessons. Staffers at an elementary school in Oakland, Calif., weary of conflicts during recess, are training fourth- Rick Owens Shoes and fifth-graders as “safety leaders” to mediate between peers. And in Philadelphia, two teachers created a “literacy buddy room” in which fifth-graders and kindergartners pair off to read together, building literacy and relational skills at the same time.

In Fairfax County, Jarboe has kicked off a weekly shoelace tying contest. She provides laces to students who wear Velcro or slip-on footwear, and hands out small hourglass sand timers so children can time themselves. Since Jarboe began the competition two months ago, improvement has been rapid: As of early April, 17 of her 20 students have learned to fashion and dismember double knots with aplomb.

On a recent Thursday morning, 6-year-old Lucy Massey, wearing a pink headband, pulled a foot up to the seat of her plastic chair. She bent over a pink Converse and gripped the two ends of a hot pink lace.

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