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Lauren Harsh

Tips and Online Resources for Learning at Home

Getting started as an at-home educator is daunting, but doable.

Recent events have put students, teachers, and parents in new territory. Schools are closed. Children are home for days on end. Getting started as an at-home, ad hoc educator is certainly daunting, but never fear! Experts in learning at home are mobilized all over the web to provide resources for parents in this troubling time. Many educational sites that normally charge for membership are waiving their fees for the duration of school closures. The world of online education has tons to offer, and odds are that if you found this article, you’re looking for expert advice.

Create an at-home school schedule

No matter what your child’s classes look like now, establishing a routine is important for learning at home. Start with making a daily schedule for children of all ages who are home all day, that keeps them actively engaged in their education. Though there is no one-size-fits-all plan, here are some guidelines:

Write up a basic plan for how your day will look

Start and end the day at the same time, and work on material in the same subjects at the same time of the day, each day. Schedule meals and other breaks at the same times. This gives the day predictability and holds you and your at-home student accountable. But it is also important to be flexible so a lesson or activity taking more time that you planned doesn’t throw everyone’s entire day into chaos.

Plan time for subjects

Much in the same way that subjects are divided throughout the day while your kids are in the classroom, create a plan that includes all the subjects your student is learning. Decide how much time to allot per subject based on what time you and your kids are most alert, and (of course) devote more time for subjects that need a boost.

Include “recess”

Even if your kids can’t play outside with other kids, they still need some time to exercise, take a breather, and relax. Breaks are a great idea. While you’re all working on schoolwork, alternate between active time and seated time, especially with children under five, or kids of any age who have trouble sitting still.

Remember: you need a breather, too! This cannot be stressed enough: take plenty of breaks. Balance is important any time, but especially during a change in routine.

Get a tutor’s help

Getting a tutor when your child is struggling academically, or just needs some outside support, is a good idea even in “normal” academic times. When school is on hold, it can make an even bigger difference. Private tutoring benefits your child by giving them one-on-one instruction from an expert, structure in their week, and accountability for their learning. It also takes the burden off your shoulders (and your child’s exasperated teacher’s) so you can manage your own routine. Consider some best practices to be sure your sessions are as useful as possible.

When you’re ready to chat with a potential online tutor, Wyzant lets you search tutors by subject, age group, subject expertise, location, cost, and more.

Take a virtual field trip

Field trips are kid favorites. They’re indispensable experiences that get students out into the world, exploring new things and discovering new interests. Trips to museums, zoos, parks, historical sites, and other perennial favorites illustrate to students that learning isn’t just for the classroom, and is happening everywhere, all the time. The things students discover on field trips put classroom content into context, inspire questions, and fuel a desire for learning.

Just because everything is closed doesn’t mean you can’t go on a field trip. You can visit many locations of cultural, historic, and natural importance by virtual tour! The number of places offering these tours has increased due to the recent closings of public places, as artists, musicians, cultural icons, and scientists rush to make content that helps kids who are learning at home. Virtual field trips unlock the ability for parents-turned-teachers to take their students to incredible places, and help them learn amazing things, without the need to leave the house.

Yellowstone National Park’s Old Faithful Webcam The Nature Conservancy has a collection of virtual field trip videos. You can even take a virtual tour of a dairy farm.

Museums around the world offer virtual tours, including:

The webcams at many zoos let you and your kids see zoo animals from home:

Educational apps and websites

Sites that make learning fun are more important than ever now. Many programs that normally charge money for memberships are waiving fees and extending their free trial periods. All of the sites listed below are recommended by K-12 public school teachers.

Math

If getting your kids to do math is like pulling teeth, math games are the way to go. Cool Math Games offers great games for all K-12 grade levels. Figure This! Focuses on 6-8th graders and offers challenges in Spanish as well as English. Mangahigh, a popular K-12 math game-based math site, normally costs money to join, but is free for the duration of COVID-19 school closings.

For students who need help with math that you can’t provide, there are plenty of great reference sites. Hot Math is a great resource for help with high school and college-level math. XtraMath helps K-8th graders master math facts. Math Help is a resource for 5-12th graders with interactive lessons, guided practice, and quizzes.

If you’re looking for more personalized help working with a difficult math problem, try Ask An Expert.

Science

Creosity Space, an inquiry-based science curriculum for K-5th grade students is offering their “Contagion Crushers,” “Water Watchers,” and “Conscientious Chemists” units free of charge for the duration of the school closings.

You can find free virtual science lessons courtesy of The Michigan Science Center and Mystery Science.

Pitsco’s STEM at Home is full of ideas for hands-on science activities.

English/language arts

Phonics and comprehension-focused early literacy program Lalilo is now offering premium content free of charge.

Self-described “literary and artistic creation ecosystem designed to motivate students to write,” Boreal Tales is extending their free trial period to 90 days.

Elementari makes writing fun by allowing kids to add illustrations, animations, sound effects, and more to their stories. Access to their premium membership is free for the duration of school closings.

Reading IQ is a virtual library for kids ages 2-12 that is currently offering free access to its expansive collection.

Scholastic’s Learn at Home Program provides twenty days of immersive learning material across multiple subjects for free.

Foreign languages

You probably know about Duolingo, but it’s not the only fun online resource for language learning. Memrise is based around flashcards. Tandem can set you up with a language partner to chat with. Babbel is a great way to practice real-life situations. Story-based Spanish-learning program Fabulingua is specifically designed for children.

It’s also a good idea to check out any relevant cultural centers’ websites for additional, location-specific resources.

Social studies

iCivics is a free program founded by Sandra Day O’Connor to make civics education accessible and engaging.

Art and music

Carnegie Hall’s Music Explorers is a great resource for music appreciation, with lessons about diverse music genres and cultures.

Davis Art offers virtual art curriculum that can be used for teacher-guided or self-guided at-home learning.

General education resources

You can’t go wrong with Quizlet, a popular site for making and sharing flashcard decks. Funbrain has educational games in multiple subjects for 1st through 8th graders.

Popular early education program ABC Mouse and their companion early childhood English as a second language program cover a wide variety of subjects.

Adventure Academy, a site that allows elementary and middle school-aged students to play educational games with their peers online, is free for schools that are closed due to the outbreak.

Printable worksheet service edHelper provides free daily worksheets for K-6th grade students.

Non-electronic activities for kids

If your household has rules about screen time, it might be hard to stick to them when many things that used to be in-person are now online. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t make a point of encouraging your kids entertain themselves without electronics.

To keep kids busy indoors when their usual games and toys aren’t cutting it, go for something that is engaging and feels special. Making homemade play-dough, slime, or play mud is not only fun, but provides sensory stimulation and an opportunity to work on their recipe-following skills. You could get them involved with cooking in fun, age-appropriate ways. This could also be a great time for your kids (and maybe for you as well) to learn a new hobby like sewing, knitting, yoga, origami, or playing an instrument.

If you can, it’s important to get outdoors every so often. Even if your state is under shelter in place, going for walks and riding bikes are still permitted. Just remember to follow the CDC’s directive to avoid congregating and stay six feet away from other people. If you have a yard or access to a nearby park, take full advantage of it with outdoor games, nature crafts, and learning about plants and wildlife. This guide is a great place to look for ideas if you’re stuck.