Need help sorting through the avalanche of online resources for kids who are now learning at home? 11 sites for parents to look at
Tim Newcomb | March 20, 2020
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With schools shuttered and kids at home — some even asked to stay indoors — parents must now balance their work responsibilities with the educational needs of their children. But finding a place to start can prove downright daunting. Sifting through the online options may prove more overwhelming than useful, so we turned to experts to offer a simplified list.
“I actually think the questions start on what are your aims and what are your goals as a parent,” says Thomas Arnett, senior research fellow in education for the Clayton Christensen Institute. “When you dive into resources, first it is easy to get caught in the trap of thinking of resources as a babysitter. That may be the reality some parents face just trying to get by, but it is important at the front end to know what you want to accomplish with online learning or learning activities.”
Arnett suggests thinking in terms of what you want your child to create or accomplish. Finding something your child is passionate about certainly helps. Maybe it is an art project, a short story or an engineering project. Maybe it involves online research but isn’t necessarily an online activity.
The key to success, he says, is for parents not to just plug their kids into a program and let them go, as they will tend to get bored quickly. Instead, he suggests parents spend as much time as they have available — he understands that may not be a lot for parents balancing work responsibilities at the same time — to help get their kids started and celebrate their progress. “Online learning software,” he says, “can be much more meaningful and more educationally relevant” with that support.
Cindi Williams, co-founder of the Learning Heroes nonprofit and former senior official at the U.S. Department of Education, the White House and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, says sorting the wheat from the chaff can be difficult. She suggests finding trusted resources that come free and can be sorted by grade level and topic.
Here’s a list of suggestions, meant to encourage and not overwhelm:
Start with Kahn and what it has created. Arnett says Kahn Academy has developed a wide variety of videos on topics it covers and includes practice activities and student pathways so kids can show real progress. While people know Kahn primarily for teaching math, the site also has plenty on other subjects. Arnett points out the Pixar in a Box option, that teaches students the math, art and storytelling that goes into making Pixar movies.
Williams says Kahn Daily is a specific resource that creates a “block” schedule, if that structure is needed. Students can navigate the site independently, click on links within a subject and learn through videos and practice questions, unable to move on to the next skill until they’ve advanced through the current one.
Williams says these K-12 reading lessons, videos and activities cover a wide range of topics, including plant life and animals, while the nonfiction topics divided into five-day courses for grades three through six really bring the magazine-style articles to life.
In his own home, Arnett says, Prodigy has proven a popular way for his kids to practice math in a fantasy-world setting. “They like it for the game aspect of it, and it does have math concepts in there,” he says. “It is great for having kids practice and become familiar with match concepts.”
Both Arnett and Williams suggest parents explore Zearn, an engaging math site with classroom lessons gamified and adaptive to the user. Tutorial webinars are provided on how to navigate the site.
This curriculum, normally reserved for teachers and behind a paywall, are now free for parents, giving access to videos, interactive maps and activities that encourage students to explore everything from ecology to geography.
Williams says this K-8 site provides students with informational videos that explain everything from science and social studies to art, music and health in great detail, all while introducing subject-specific vocabulary.
Providing an interactive guide for parents on what grade-level math and reading skills look like, along with other subjects, such as social and emotional learning, Williams says her Learning Hero group’s Roadmap gives parents activities and tools designed to help a parent uncover a child’s strengths, interests and needs for support.
The i-Ready curriculum from Curriculum Associates has created printable at-home activity packs that Arnett recommends, helping students focus on math learning.
Offers a wide range of practice tests in math, English and writing. The site “not only helps prepare for college entrance exams, but also to practice college-level work,” Williams says.
Users from K-12 can choose a grade level and then gain access to activities and projects, games and tools, tips and how-to’s, printouts and more to focus on reading and writing.
Williams says this site puts a focus on young learners, pre-K to third grade, and offers sheets with instructions for engaging with two books — one fiction and one nonfiction — and follow-up activities.