My heart goes out to folks impacted by COVID-19. As we all work to stay healthy, and support efforts to flatten the curve, you’re probably struggling with juggling the challenges of working from home while providing your kids with opportunities to continue learning.
We have been educating our kids at home for over 8 years now. Over the years, we have learned that kids engage the most when they are pursuing learning things they are interested in. So, my biggest tip to parents right now is to worry less about what traditional schools teach your kids, and focus more on engaging your kids with what is most relevant and interesting to them. Kids learn on their own — a parent’s best approach is to focus on motivating them, and then getting out of their way.
Remember — we’re all in this together. So, I assure you no one will be upset if your kid’s voice is in the background of your work conference call. No one will think less of you for taking a few hours out of your day to attend to their needs (or your own sanity)!
walk into the club like pic.twitter.com/Dp4rcdI0pj
— Valerie Loftus (@valerieloftus) March 10, 2017
Below, I put together a list of resources you might find useful to get your kids excited about learning on their own. Most of these are either online, video or software based, so these resources should engage your kids deeply–we all know how kids are with screens. As parents, don’t be afraid to use their digital-oriented nature to your advantage during this challenging time.
Our kids enjoy Typing Club almost as much as they enjoy their mobile device games. TypingClub is web based and a highly effective tool to help your kids develop their typing skills. You’ll want to get them on a regular keyboard for it (as opposed to a phone or tablet) and check their posture to ensure ergonomic health. TypingClub is (and will always be) free for both individuals and schools. The gaming approach to it is highly engaging for the young generation growing on devices.
Science Video Resources:
Multiple YouTube channels are stepping up for busy parents and offering daily or weekly live streams. Three that we like and appreciate are Mark Rober, Backyard Scientist, and Brave Wilderness with Coyote Peterson. Mark is focused on physics and science, as is the Backyard Scientist. I should note that both Mark Rober and Backyard Scientist enjoy blowing things up (watermelons mostly). I find they do it safely and always include precautions and warnings for kids to not try it at home. It is exciting material for kids these days, but decide for yourself as you know your kids best. Mark Rober is an excellent communicator and makes his videos are very engaging for kids as well. Coyote Peterson focused on natural science and animals, and is also incredibly entertaining for kids.
Writing and Grammar:
Braver Writer provides user-friendly materials and online classes to help the parent grow as a writing coach, and help you build your kid’s confidence in their writing skills. We find that the more freedom we give our kids about what to write about, the more motivated they are about doing the work. Also, stay focused on the goal of each exercise — for example, if the purpose is creative writing, don’t worry too much about spelling.
BraverWriter has made some of their resources free until April 30, 2020. They’ve also created a 20% off discount code for those who want to purchase their products, but are going through an economically challenging moment (like all of us, really).
Explode The Code is a favorite in our home and provides resources to help build the essential literacy skills needed for reading success: phonological awareness, decoding, vocabulary, comprehension, fluency, and spelling. Their research-based and teacher-tested program meets and exceeds “No Child Left Behind” requirements and National Reading Panel Standards.
We love “Math-U-See” as a formal curriculum, as it is tactile and very engaging for kids of all learning styles. If education at home is a long term goal and you have younger kids, I highly recommend investing in their tools. Of course, for short term, this might not be the right approach as it does require buying their kits. https://www.mathusee.com/
For short term needs, check out the Khan Academy. This is a well-known website that has been around for a while. They provide resources that helps students practice at their own pace, first filling in gaps in their understanding and then accelerating their learning. They also have a great YouTube channel your kids might want to check out for a less structured approach.
Learning a New Language:
As many companies and brands are doing, Rosetta Stone is encouraging social distancing by providing their resources free for 3 months. This could be a great time to encourage your young kids or teen to explore a new language according to their travel aspirations. With free access to Rosetta Stone for Students, your kids can learn through immersion, making their new language accessible whether they are in kindergarten or prepping for college. The online tool provides instant feedback on their pronunciation (parent doesn’t have to know the language) and you’ll be able to see how they’re coming along with progress data and printable reports.
Learning to program (STEM):
My oldest loves all things robotics and software development. I am not in a STEM field, so I have found it can be challenging to keep up with him and provide him with challenging resources he enjoys.
Amazon.com offers may robotics kits that usually include the app or coding tool to guide your kids in learning how to code. The combination of tactile toy (robot) with the coding tools is very engaging and can motivate your kids in this field. My son’s favorite is MakeBlock. Their coding tool is mobile based, so your kids will be able to program their robots or sets using a tablet. You find a variety of sets they sell here: https://amzn.to/39n7Jjc
If you’d rather not buy something, you can also introduce them to GDevelop, an open-source and FREE game making software tool. My son created his first game within a day of using the tool. GDevelop runs on Windows, macOS and most recent Linux distributions, so you will need a computer for them to work on (no mobile app available at this time unfortunately). You can also try it online using Chrome, Firefox or another recent web browser, though saving their work is more complicated. Should your kid get stuck or have a question, do what I do — Google the question. I have found YouTube videos and blog posts answering questions my son has come across.
All Around Home Education Resource:
Easy Peasy All-In-One Homeschool is a site dedicated to enabling families to homeschool who might not otherwise because of a lack of finances, a lack of time, or a lack of know-how. Their claim to fame is that their resources are easy and fun and they strive for high quality of education. A sentiment I highly agree with, EP seeks to free families from the burden of pursuing the “perfect” and encourages them to let it be “enough.” Each family and each child is different, so they seek to provide the resources that enables your family to be who you were created to be. Note: EP material is created from a Christian worldview, so keep this in mind according to your own personal views.
For the Younger Kids (pre-k – 3rd):
Starfall.com is a free public service to teach children to read. It includes language arts and mathematics for preschool, kindergarten, first grade, second grade, and third grade in a game format that is deeply engaging. From their website:
Starfall’s emphasis on phonemic awareness, systematic sequential phonics, and common sight words in conjunction with audiovisual interactivity has proven effective in teaching emergent readers. Starfall activities are research-based and align with Individual and Common Core State Standards in English language arts and mathematics.
The program emphasizes exploration, play, and positive reinforcement—encouraging children to become confident and intrinsically motivated. Starfall is an educational alternative to other entertainment choices for children and is especially effective for special education, homeschooling, and English language development (ELD, ELL, ESL). It is widely used in schools that serve children with special needs and learning difficulties.
“Zoocademy with Ron Magill”!
While Zoo Miami is closed, they have started sending fun and educational content and activities that you and your family can do from home. The video below outlines some of their changes to protect staff while caring for animals.
You can see their schedule of lessons, download a lesson PDF, and sign up to get email updates on their website at https://www.zoomiami.org/zoocademy
Art & Drawing:
Muffalo Potato is doing live drawing lessons at 3PM every day Monday through Friday! I had never heard of this YouTube channel, but it comes recommended by a co-worker involved in her local school board. While some parents might question the academic value of drawing lessons, remember that this will help improve basic motors skills for younger kids, help kids all ages improve focus and attention spans, and ultimately inspire interest in the humanities as the kids get older. Don’t underestimate the value of simple, engaging activities like these. https://www.youtube.com/user/muffalopotato/
US Civics and History:
The American Battlefield Trust has produced some incredibly engaging visual animated maps that would go great with social study or history lessons. Produced by Wide Awake Films, their animated maps show the entire Civil War unfold, from Fort Sumter to Appomattox and beyond.
Stay healthy and be encouraged — you can do this!