PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - Six-year-old Lucy Gibney of Phoenix has spent the entire school year learning online at home, which isn't easy when you're in kindergarten.
"They're so easily thrown off-topic," said Kari Gibney, Lucy's mother. "They could be talking about one thing and then someone in the background wants to talk about a new stuffed animal, and now all the 5-year-olds are talking about is a new stuffed animal, and they want to show you their new toy."
The COVID-19 crisis presented an assortment of challenges for Arizona students. Still, it's been especially tough on younger children, specifically kindergarteners who don't have the attention span to stare at a computer all day.
A number of Arizona parents decided it wasn't worth it - and opted their kindergartners out of the school year altogether. Georgina Monsalvo is the Arizona organizing director for the nonprofit, Stand For Children.
"A lot of families are focused on survival, have multiple jobs, and having to deal with online school. It's like a burden because the parent can't be home," said Monsalvo. "They are with another family member and just dealing with these issues."
State educators now worry that all the Arizona kindergartners who didn't attend - even virtual classes this year - have now fallen far behind in their reading and literacy, which could significantly impact their academic growth in the years ahead.
Emily Anne Gullickson, with the nonprofit group "A for Education," is encouraging parents to get their kids back in the classroom as soon as they feel comfortable.
She said several school districts are setting up unique summer school programs to help kindergarteners be better prepared when they enter first grade.
"They're definitely being really thoughtful about evening experiences or tutoring courses, or looking at one to two hours a day instead of weeks at a time," said Gullickson. "For kids to be building, designing and engaging in the summer months, in a really meaningful way that we haven't seen before."
Kindergarten is not mandatory in Arizona, but studies show students develop more social and economic skills by attending kindergarten.