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How to Keep Kids From Regressing During School Breaks – 52 Resources

All over the United States, millions of kids are facing extended school closures in the hopes of curbing the rapid spread of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Government officials have promised closures anywhere from weeks to months, with some states ordering closures for the remainder of the academic year. That means kids are going to go without formal schooling for as long as six months.

While every parent has heard of the “summer slide” — the learning loss that happens during kids’ annual summer break — the ongoing nature of the pandemic has meant extensive unplanned breaks for school systems across the country. The unplanned nature of the situation has resulted in schools scrambling to gather take-home materials or set up emergency online learning platforms. And many have yet to offer parents any at-home learning options or even guidance, according to USA Today.

Further complicating the situation, the federal and state governments have not given school districts much guidance. Will students need to make up the lost school days during the summer? Will the state still require students to participate in state testing? Will they hold everyone back a year? These are questions on the minds of both teachers and parents alike.

And it’s left many parents wondering if they now need to figure out how to home school their children — a job most parents are untrained and unprepared for. Even if their children’s schools provided them with learning materials or online classes, many students don’t have a computer or Internet access. Still more face the prospect of spending their days ensuring their kids do their schoolwork while simultaneously attempting to work from home — if they even have that option.

Fortunately, there’s a wealth of resources parents can draw on to make learning at home a little easier — from online educational platforms that teach a variety of subjects to MMO (massively multiplayer online) games that let them practice math while having fun with their friends. They can watch livestreams from the zoo, tour the Great Wall of China, or visit a NASA space center. And best of all, they can do it all for little or no cost.

How to Educate Your Children at Home

The COVID-19 pandemic has plunged parents all over the world into an unprecedented situation. And it’s left all of us reeling. I’ve spent the last two decades teaching every grade level — from kindergarten to college — and I’m not even sure how to juggle it all. But first know that even though you must provide some guidance and supervision, no one expects you to take the place of your child’s teacher. It’s not something you have training in. So cut yourself some slack and know that there are a few things you can replicate at home that can help set everyone, including yourself, up for success.

Decide on a Schedule

A 2014 study published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics found that kids thrive best with a routine. Melanie Auerbach, the director of student support at the Sheridan School in Washington, D.C., echoes that finding in an interview with The Washington Post. She argues that contrary to popular belief, summer slide isn’t the result of actual learning loss but the lack of a schedule. Kids don’t forget how to read, she says — they forget how to do school.

So while it’s essential you keep up with any work or classes your kids’ school has assigned, it’s even more vital you stick to a defined schedule. Have them get up and go to bed at the same times every Monday through Friday and set a schedule for when they must read, do classes (if their school doesn’t expect them to attend live video sessions), and have unstructured free time, which is necessary for kids.

It also helps you out. Auerbach explains that the more kids understand expectations, the more ready and available they can be for your learning sessions.

But you don’t have to mimic their school day exactly. You can build a schedule around your own family’s needs, especially if you’re also working from home. The important thing is to have a routine, not that it be identical.

And planning is crucial. No later than the night before, take a few minutes to make a rough itinerary that meets everyone’s needs for the next day. For some extra guidance in designing a home-schooling schedule, visit Homeschooling-ideas.

Build in Breaks & Unstructured Free Time

Make sure the schedule you design is realistic and that you build in breaks. A 2011 study from the University of Illinois found that adults are better able to focus on tasks when given brief mental breaks. And a 2012 study from the University of Southern California found that rest is essential for our ability to use and retain information. Mental downtime is when our brains process all the influx. Counterintuitively, the lack of breaks is a top productivity killer. And if this is true for adults, it’s only more so for kids whose brains aren’t yet fully developed.

So, for how long and how often do kids need to take breaks? That partly depends on your child. We all have varying attention spans. But productivity experts generally recommend taking a break every 50 to 90 minutes. The Atlantic, citing research from productivity app DeskTime, notes you can reach “perfect productivity” by working for 52 minutes and taking a break for 17. And this echoes the average American high school, which typically switches class periods every 45 or 50 minutes, with 10- to 15-minute breaks in between.

Younger kids can’t always focus as long, so think about building in movement breaks every 20 to 30 minutes.

Kids also need long stretches of unstructured playtime each day — especially those elementary-aged and younger. There’s a reason schools have recess. Play is essential to the emotional and social well-being of kids — which is reason enough. But it also contributes to their cognitive development.

A 2018 report on play by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says, “The importance of playful learning for children cannot be overemphasized.” The report outlines some of the benefits of play, which include:

  • Helping kids adjust to school and develop their learning readiness and problem-solving skills
  • Developing children’s creativity and imagination
  • Improving kids’ decision-making
  • Teaching children to work in groups and solve conflicts
  • Encouraging kids to interact with the world around them
  • Helping children develop confidence and conquer their fears
  • Reducing stress and disruptive behavior

Plus, playtime can give you a break from supervising schoolwork while keeping kids occupied and entertained so you can get some of your own work done.

And remember that even though kids are at school all day, they aren’t necessarily in class that whole time. Depending on their age, kids get plenty of art and music, physical education, study halls, and lunch breaks. So if you only manage to get in a few hours of learning time per day, you’re doing well.

Create a Learning Space

Just as you can’t replicate their school day exactly, don’t worry about setting up a classroom at home. You don’t have the resources to make that work, David Kern, vice president of the Circe Institute in North Carolina, tells The Washington Post. Kern advises you instead focus on creating a peaceful environment so learning can take place. For example, play classical music while they work on math problems.

Other home-schooling experts recommend designating specific areas as “learning spaces.” In all likelihood, you’ll use your entire home and even backyard for home schooling. But designating, for example, the kitchen table as the place where you kids do worksheets can be useful. Just as adults can transition into “work mode” when they step into their home office, kids also need a space that puts them into the right frame of mind.

Design the Curriculum

First, check to see if your child’s school has set up anything for remote learning. For example, have they set up live video classes through Google Classroom or Zoom? Are there printed materials like worksheets and reading lists? But even when these things are available, your child can still have extra hours you need to fill.

And if your child’s teachers haven’t set up online classes or sent home worksheets and reading material, you have to come up with some educational activities on your own. It can feel like the most daunting task for parents. Fortunately, home schooling doesn’t have to mean the parent needs to be a teacher. With the wealth of free or low-cost learning resources companies are providing during COVID-19-related school closures, you can do a great job engaging your kids in learning activities, even without a degree in education.

Before deciding what and how to educate your kids, find out what schools expect them to learn by the end of the school year. You can find this information by checking with your child’s school or by visiting NBC Learn’s Parent Toolkit. Then select online resources and learning platforms that can help you meet those goals.

Supplement educational materials with activities your kids don’t usually get to do during their normal school day. For example, they can learn a ton of science playing around in the kitchen and cooking and baking with common household ingredients. Jeni Britton Bauer, the founder of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, has an entire section dedicated to the science of ice cream in her cookbook “Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home.” Or practice coding with your video game-loving kid. There’s no limit to the ways you can use their interests as learning activities.

Don’t Worry About Screen Time

If you end up relying on online resources for the majority of their schooling, don’t worry your kids are spending too much time in front of screens. Current research suggests that quality matters more than quantity.

A 2017 study by the Oxford Internet Institute and Cardiff University found no correlation between the amount of screen time and children’s well-being. The study concluded that family context mattered more — how kids are using screens and if they’re using them alone or together with their parents.

A 2017 study from the University of Michigan likewise found that for kids ages 4 to 11, how children use devices is a better indicator of children’s social and emotional well-being than how much time they spend on them.

And a 2019 Oxford study of 350,000 teens — the most rigorous study on the topic to date — found that screen usage may not actually be harming our kids at all.

The best educations are well-rounded ones, though, so even if screens aren’t harming our kids, supplementing screen time with plenty of reading time, outside time, and things like arts and crafts projects adds immeasurable value to their day.


Comprehensive Resources

There are many free and low-cost learning resources available for parents to use as a one-stop shop for all or multiple subjects, including reading, math, science, and social studies.

Pbs Kids App Phone Logo

1. PreKinders

Designed for use by preschool teachers to develop their classroom curriculum, PreKinders is also a suitable resource for parents looking to home school their preschool-age children. It isn’t an online learning platform, but rather a free resource center for hands-on learning activities — perfect for little kids who can’t sit in front of a screen for long. PreKinders delivers free lessons, printable worksheets, and activity ideas to your email inbox every week.

Grade Level: Preschool

2. PBS Kids Daily Newsletter

There’s always child-friendly educational content for your little ones to watch on PBS Kids, including “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood,” “Dinosaur Train,” “Super Why,” and “Wild Kratts.” And the shows even come with companion apps so kids can listen to stories, play games, and engage in other activities, like drawing on their computers or tablets. Additionally, PBS is offering a free daily newsletter during COVID-19-related school closures to give parents ideas for learning activities to do at home. A new one arrives by email every weekday.

Grade Level: Preschool through second grade

3. ABCmouse.com Early Learning Academy

This comprehensive program covers five subjects (literacy, math, science, social studies, and arts and music) across 10 learning levels. Even better, its library of over 850 lessons are self-guided, meaning you can even hand a preschooler a tablet and leave them alone to follow a series of progressive lessons. I can speak to this myself, as I use ABCmouse.com with my 4-year-old. Families can get ABCmouse.com for free for 30 days and pay a low monthly subscription rate of $9.95 or an annual subscription of $49.95 after that. If you want to investigate getting it completely free during the pandemic, ABCmouse.com’s parent company, Age of Learning, is offering services to teachers and schools for free for the duration of your school’s closure. To get it, a school official must contact Age of Learning.

Grade Level: Preschool through second grade

4. Lakeshore Learning

This store is a go-to for teachers and parents searching for educational games, toys, and classroom supplies — including furniture. Lakeshore Learning also provides a wealth of free resources appropriate for home-schooling parents. These include lesson plans, printable worksheets, craft activity ideas, and design-your-own handwriting practice templates.

Grade Level: Preschool through fifth grade

5. Outschool

Outschool is a marketplace for online classes for kids. They can choose from a wide variety of topics, and with a library of over 10,000 courses, kids are sure to find something to suit their needs and interests. Even more extraordinary, these aren’t prerecorded lessons, but live video chats taught by qualified teachers. It’s free to sign up for Outschool, but you pay for each class. Classes start at $5. However, during the pandemic, Outschool is offering some classes free to kids affected by closures. They’re also providing a free daily newsletter with tips for educating your kids at home.

Grade Level: Preschool through 12th grade

6. edHelper

This service provides printable worksheets to teachers and home-schooling parents. During COVID-19-related school closures, edHelper is offering daily free workbook pages. Note that although the webpage says, “for teachers,” anyone can click on a link and print the worksheets for free.

Grade Level: Kindergarten through sixth grade

7. Breakout EDU

This system for game-based learning brings the fun of escape rooms to the elementary school curriculum. It features games designed to teach lessons in all subject areas, including reading, writing, math, science, and social studies. During COVID-19-related school closures, Breakout EDU is offering a list of free online games.

Grade Level: Kindergarten through 12th grade

8. Adventure Academy

This MMO game is ABCmouse.com maker Age of Learning’s offering for older elementary-age kids. Adventure Academy teaches students through a variety of subjects — including reading, math, social studies, and science — with game-based learning. Plus, they can play online with their friends, which makes it doubly useful during a time when kids must isolate themselves from each other. As with ABCmouse.com, families can get the first month free and pay a monthly subscription after that. Or they can speak with their school about contacting Age of Learning to get free access at home during this pandemic-related closure.

Grade Level: Third through sixth grade

9. Legends of Learning

Another game-based learning system Legends of Learning features over 2,000 games and simulations correlated to state learning standards. Students can work through self-driven games and lessons, or parents can structure kids’ learning experiences by signing up for a free teacher account and creating a custom “playlist.” While access to the basic platform is always free, Legends of Learning is offering free access to its complete platform during COVID-19-related closures.

Grade Level: Third through eighth grade

10. BrainPop

An online learning platform, BrainPOP offers in-depth lessons in subjects across the curriculum. Each topic includes videos, quizzes, readings, and even coding activities. The main platform is best for older kids, but they also have a BrainPop Jr. for younger ones. During pandemic-related school closures, BrainPOP is offering families free access to their platform.

Grade Level: Kindergarten through eighth grade


English, Language, & Literacy Resources

If schools are asking kids to do one thing during these school closures, it’s read. And while unstructured reading is always a useful tool to keep kids from backsliding academically during extended breaks, there are also several free resources parents can use to structure lessons in reading and writing.

Scholastic Website Childrens Book Learning Reading Writing

11. Vooks

This tool includes an entire library of storybooks brought to life with kid-safe, ad-free animated read-alouds. Read-alouds — reading a book to a child — are crucial for kids’ language and vocabulary development. They’re so important the AAP recommends reading aloud to your kids starting from birth. That makes Vooks an excellent tool for kids who aren’t yet able to read for themselves, and it could even encourage kids’ lifelong love of reading. To help with closures related to the new coronavirus, Vooks has created lesson plans parents can use to provide kids with the recommended 20 minutes per day of read-aloud time. Parents can get Vooks free for one month and for a monthly subscription fee of $5 or an annual fee of $50 after that.

Grade Level: Preschool through second grade

12. FabuLingua

Fabulingua teaches Spanish through interactive stories. Its library includes a collection of beautiful tales from Spain and Latin American and pairs them with companion games and a sticker book that lets them create their own pictures. Their innovative method introduces the language by developing the child’s natural “ear,” comprehension, and reading skills. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, FabuLingua is suspending its paid subscription and providing its entire platform for free.

Grade Level: Preschool through third grade

13. Author Livestreams

Kids can also listen in as authors read their books live. Have them tune into Penguin Kids’ Instagram feed weekdays at 11am Eastern to see the publisher’s authors read their books live. Or tune into Harper Kids’ Instagram feed every weekday at noon Eastern for live readings from their authors.

Additionally, many children’s book authors are reading their books through their websites and social media accounts. Use the #OperationStoryime tag on Facebook to discover a growing collection of children’s book authors and illustrators reading their works. And check back regularly because #OperationStorytime is adding new titles constantly.

And for older kids in need of writing prompts, award-winning children’s book author Kate DiCamillo is offering weekly writing tips and prompts on YouTube.

For even more read-aloud offerings, check out Storyline Online. It hosts a video archive of hundreds of children’s books read by some of the best-known actors of our time, including Viola Davis, Chris Pine, Lily Tomlin, Rami Malek, Annette Bening, James Earl Jones, Betty White, and Oprah Winfrey.

Grade Level: Preschool through sixth grade

14. Scholastic

Scholastic’s new offering, Scholastic Learn at Home, offers a variety of mini-lessons that include a story, video, and activity. Pairing stories with activities is especially helpful for younger kids who develop literacy skills, in part, through associations. Scholastic’s at-home learning platform is free.

Grade Level: Preschool through sixth grade

15. Libby

Along with schools, most public libraries are also closed. But online library resources are still available. Try an app like Libby to borrow e-books with your library card. Libby allows you to borrow directly from your public library. You can opt to read them using Wi-Fi or mobile data, or you can download them to your device to read anytime or anywhere.

Grade Level: Preschool through 12th grade

16. Your Own DIY Book Club

Kids don’t necessarily need structured lesson plans to practice reading and get all the benefits that come with it. In fact, if you’re the parent of a reluctant reader, it’s sometimes easier to motivate them to get in their 20 minutes of daily reading if you let them choose the books they want to read. Even better, while many city and state governments are asking families to shelter in place for the foreseeable future, why not start a family book club? If you need book suggestions, peruse the book lists at Read Brightly.

Grade Level: Preschool through 12th grade

17. Audible Stories

Listening to stories — not only reading them — is useful for all ages. Kids can generally understand spoken words at a higher comprehension level than they can read them. So listening helps improve kids’ vocabulary. Especially if you have a reluctant reader, try throwing some audiobooks into your kids’ reading regimen now and then. In response to the school closures for COVID-19, Audible has created a website with audiobooks for children of all ages called Audible Stories. Everything on the site is free — no login or membership required.

Grade Level: Preschool through 12th grade

18. Elementari

This online platform allows students to bring their writing to life with illustrations, animations, and sound effects. Students can read, write, code, share, and remix their stories — a sure way to get kids interested in writing. Elementari even allows them to write a choose-your-own-adventure story. Families affected by pandemic-related school closures can get free access to the platform by contacting Elementari.

Grade Level: Kindergarten through 12th grade

19. “Book Club for Kids”

The biweekly podcast “Book Club for Kids” features middle-grade readers sharing their book recommendations. Every other week, they discuss a middle-grade book, and each episode features a celebrity guest reading a passage from the book.

Grade Level: Fifth through eighth grade


Math Resources

Monopoly Board Game Money Dice

Math skills are easy to lose if you don’t regularly use them. So ensure your kids don’t fall too far behind by using one of the available free math resources.

20. Math Games

The Math Games website provides a ton of always-free math games organized by grade level or the skill your child needs to work on — like algebra or geometry. It also has free worksheets you can print if you’d rather your child didn’t do all their work on the computer.

Grade Level: Preschool through eighth grade

21. Boddle

This math platform uses game-based learning to make math fun and engaging for elementary-age students. It also provides automatic differentiation, personalizing your child’s experience by detecting learning gaps and then adapting to offer the right question at the right level. Boddle is currently offering its platform for free to students affected by pandemic-related school closures.

Grade Level: First through sixth grade

22. Prodigy

Another game-based platform, Prodigy is one of the more well-known math resources. It aims to make math fun with its engaging range of games. Basic access is always free, and parents can upgrade to premium features — which include more game areas and in-game rewards — for a nominal monthly fee.

Grade Level: First through eighth grade

23. Board Games

For a way to practice math skills while having fun and bonding, break out some board games. Many of them are excellent for reinforcing math concepts. Any game that involves counting or number recognition, such as Candy Land or Uno, is ideal for preschool and kindergarten.

Elementary schoolers can practice addition and subtraction with games that involve counting money, like Monopoly and Life. And teens can benefit from games that require more complex mathematical calculations. Some to try include Prime Climb, Absolute Zero, and Yahtzee. Note that some of these games are more budget-friendly than others. To keep the cost down, try searching for used versions on Amazon or eBay. Or make use of browser extensions for rebate offers.

Grade Level: Preschool through 12th grade


Science & Technology Resources

Exploratorium San Fransisco California Interactive Science Museum

There are so many free and low-cost ways to make science fun and engaging for kids while still ensuring they learn something. From online classes to resources for at-home science experiments to virtual field trips, it’s not hard to find something to fulfill your child’s science needs.

24. Beanstalk

This online learning platform offers a variety of interactive classes for the littlest learners. Some recently taught classes include “How Rain Clouds Work” and “All About Our Teeth.” Beanstalk is offering free memberships throughout the COVID-19 school closures.

Grade Level: Preschool through second grade

25. Mystery Science

This resource for teacher lesson planning is also a go-to for parents dealing with school closures. Their library of science lessons features tons of hands-on learning aligned with Next Generation Science Standards and Common Core. In response to the pandemic-related school closures, Mystery Science combed through its lesson library and pulled the ones that are easiest to reproduce at home. These include mini-lessons like “How Do Germs Get Inside Your Body” and “Are Unicorns Real?” And they also have ideas for at-home science experiments like “Could You Build a House Out of Paper?” and “How Could You Send a Secret Message to Someone Far Away?” Though designed with classroom teachers in mind, the curated lessons are free for anyone to use — including parents — no membership or login required.

Grade Level: Kindergarten through fifth grade

26. “Tumble”

This podcast aims to develop a love for science by interviewing actual scientists and talking about their discoveries. Even better, the hosts of “Tumble” don’t assume listeners have a science background, so the discussions won’t go over kids’ heads.

Grade Level: First through sixth grade

27. “Brains On”

Another science podcast for kids, “Brains On” takes kid-submitted questions and answers them with the help of experts. It has a different child host every week, and though oriented for kids, it features more complex questions and answers that skew toward the upper elementary and middle school range.

Grade Level: Fourth through eighth grade

28. Scratch

This always-free app and programming community for kids features a coding language designed at the MIT Media Lab. Scratch gives kids the ability to play with coding and eventually program their own interactive stories and games. Kids can download the app on their computers or devices to create Scratch projects offline. And kids as young as kindergarten can get started learning to code with Scratch Jr.

Grade Level: Kindergarten through 12th grade

29. Exploratorium

The Exploratorium is a public learning laboratory located in San Francisco. Its mission is to explore the world through science, art, and human perception. Though its physical location is currently closed to help curb the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, it’s providing free resources for home education on its website. These include lessons, activities, and science experiments you can do at home with common household materials. And some kids will find their timely collection of science lessons and activities related to the current pandemic particularly interesting.

Grade Level: Kindergarten through 12th grade

30. Tour a Science Museum

All over the world, museums have closed their doors in response to the pandemic. But thanks to modern technology, students can still get access to some of the world’s top sites without buying a plane ticket or fighting crowds. The National Museum of Natural History, a branch of the Smithsonian, offers a virtual self-guided tour that takes you room by room through select exhibits, including the butterfly pavilion and the David H. Koch Hall of Fossils. Visitors can also access select research stations and past exhibits no longer on display, such as those featuring American dinosaurs and DNA.

Another science museum students can visit virtually is COSI (Center for Science and Industry), located in Columbus, Ohio. Students can take a self-guided tour of COSI’s dinosaur exhibit. Additionally, COSI is providing several online science resources for home education while they’re closed, including ideas for science experiments you can do with household materials — like an investigation into how chocolate crystallizes.

Grade Level: Kindergarten through 12th grade

31. Watch a Livestream From a Zoo or Aquarium

Another idea for a virtual science field trip is to watch a livestream offered by one of the nation’s zoos. The most visited zoo in the country, the San Diego Zoo, is beloved for its natural, open-air habitats. It’s set up livestreams of select enclosures so anyone can watch koalas, polar bears, tigers, and elephants from anywhere in the world.

Or visit with a zookeeper at the Cincinnati Zoo. Tune in daily at 2pm Eastern for a Facebook Live stream featuring an animal guest and an activity kids can complete at home.

And students more into ocean exploration than land animals can explore marine biology with a visit to the National Aquarium in Baltimore, which features livestreams of their blacktip reef and Pacific coral reef exhibits. Their website also has free resources for at-home activities.

For even more in-depth exploration of marine animals, visit the Georgia Aquarium’s YouTube channel for daily livestreams of all their ocean habitats at 12:30pm Eastern. One recent livestream featured a glimpse into the colorful jellyfish tanks. Plus, there are live piranha feedings at 2pm Eastern every Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday.

Grade Level: Kindergarten through 12th grade

32. Visit a National Park

Through a partnership with Google Earth, students can explore geology, Earth science, or biology with a virtual field trip to one of America’s national parks. Google Earth offers tours of 31 parks in total.

Grade Level: Kindergarten through 12th grade

33. Go on a Virtual Expedition

Ideas for virtual field trips are nearly inexhaustible. If you can think of it, a virtual trip probably exists for it, including all kinds of science expeditions your child can incorporate into their at-home science learning. For example, they can take an excursion to the Galapagos Islands with National Geographic, tour the Amazon Rainforest with the educational platform Virtual Field Trips, observe polar bears on the Canadian tundra with Discovery Education, or dive into a coral reef in the Bahamas with the Bahamas Reef Environment Educational Foundation.

Grade Level: Kindergarten through 12th grade

34. Visit a Space Center — Or Outer Space

Take a virtual tour of the NASA Glenn Research Center, where your child can explore the ballistics impact lab or the supersonic wind tunnel. Visit the Space Telescope Operations Control Center, which houses the Hubble telescope. You can also go behind the scenes of the Johnson Space Center Space Launch System program. Or watch a livestream from the Kennedy Space Center. They’re doing daily sessions for elementary-age kids at 9:30am Eastern and for teens at 1pm Eastern via Facebook Live during coronavirus school closures.

Additionally, your child can reach for the stars by turning their computer into a planetarium with Star Atlas. Or they can walk alongside a Mars rover using a joint NASA-Google Web VR experience or even take a virtual-reality NASA mission to Jupiter with the Google Expeditions app.

Grade Level: Kindergarten through 12th grade


Social Studies & History Resources

As with science, at-home learning resources for social studies and history include educational podcasts, video lessons, and virtual field trips to museums and national landmarks.

Smithsonian Museum Elephant Washington Dc

35. “KidNuz”

Kids’ innate curiosity often drives them toward an interest in current events, but talking to them about the news can be challenging. “KidNuz” is a podcast created by broadcast journalist moms. Every weekday, it offers kids a brief five minutes of kid-friendly news followed by a short quiz.

Grade Level: Kindergarten through sixth grade

36. “The Past & the Curious”

This podcast features little-known stories from history told with fun and humor. Though “The Past & The Curious” isn’t a music podcast, each episode also features a silly song. Plus, there’s a quiz segment, which helps kids test and retain knowledge.

Grade Level: Kindergarten through sixth grade

37. iCivics

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor created this learning platform featuring innovative educational videos, games, and activities that teach students to be informed, curious, and engaged. iCivics is the nation’s largest provider of civics education curricula, and it’s always free to use. Additionally, iCivics has partnered with Study Edge to offer advanced placement (AP) U.S. government and politics high school students with free study resources to help them pass their AP exam.

Grade Level: Third through 12th grade

38. View a National Landmark

An interactive tour of Ellis Island created by Scholastic comes with tons of free educational resources for exploring immigration in America. Or dive deeper into the study of the U.S. government with a virtual tour of the White House via Google Arts and Culture. And the website for the Architect of the Capitol, the overseers of building and grounds maintenance for our most important federal buildings, features multiple videos and virtual tours of the Capitol.

Grade Level: Third through 12th grade

39. Tour the World

For students with an interest in world cultures and geography, there are significant cultural sites — including several Wonders of the World — you can tour virtually. The Great Wall of China, China’s most famous attraction, offers virtual tours of some of the most visited sections of the wall. Additionally, students can walk through the Egyptian pyramids and learn about their excavation, take a trip to Jerusalem and visit the Dome of the Rock and the Damascus Gate while learning about the history of the city, visit the monuments of Acropolis of Athens, or take a hike through the ruins of Machu Picchu.

Grade Level: Third through 12th grade

40. Visit the Smithsonian

Although all 19 of the Smithsonian’s museums are currently closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, students can access a wealth of online exhibits and resources. In addition to taking a virtual tour of the National Museum of Natural History, many of the various museum’s exhibits are optimized for digital exploration, including some from the National Museum of the American Indian, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and the National Museum of American History.

Grade Level: Sixth through 12th grade


Arts & Music Resources

Kids need the opportunity to exercise their creativity with art and music just as much as they need to memorize math problems, learn how to code, and become informed about civics. It all enhances learning, thinking, and figuring out how to be themselves. Art and music can also provide those all-important brain breaks necessary for processing the other information they’ve learned during the day.

Go Noodle App Kids Learning Arts Music

41. GoNoodle

GoNoodle is a free website and app that combines music and dance movements with educational concepts. Created by child development experts, it provides movement breaks for little kids who have trouble sitting still and doing focused work for long periods. My son’s preschool uses it multiple times throughout the day to help their students “get the wiggles out.”

Grade Level: Preschool through second grade

42. Drawing Pad

This app lets children select materials, mediums, and supplies — including photo-realistic crayons, markers, paintbrushes, colored pencils, roller pens, stickers, and different paper types — to create virtual art. Drawing Pad does have a nominal cost ($5.99 for the download, plus the ability to make in-app purchases) but is well worth it if you need art activities to keep your child occupied while you work. Plus, it doesn’t cause the kind of mess that requires more focused supervision.

Grade Level: Preschool through sixth grade

43. Learn to Draw From a Professional Children’s Book Illustrator

During pandemic-related school closures, many professional artists, including children’s book authors and illustrators, have taken to social media platforms to offer their time to kids and parents in this time of need.

One of them is Jarrett J. Krosoczka, author and illustrator of the “Lunch Lady” graphic novels and “Hey, Kiddo,” a National Book Award finalist. He’s hosting daily drawing webcasts on YouTube at 2pm Eastern.

Another is Mo Willems, author and illustrator of “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus” and the “Elephant and Piggie” books. He’s hosting “Lunchtime Doodles” at 1pm Eastern on the Kennedy Center’s website.

And Jarrett Lerner, author of “EngiNerds” is creating new comic page worksheets every few days for kids to fill in with their own stories and drawings.

Grade Level: Kindergarten through 12th grade

44. Puppet Pals

Kids can create characters, develop storylines, set scenes, and act out and record puppet shows with the Puppet Pals app. It has a versatile use for learning, as it can be incorporated into lessons about history, current events, science, storytelling, and literary genres. Plus, if you have multiple kids at home, they can all collaborate on creating one storyline and filling it with sound effects and voice acting for each character. Visit the website for a guide with lesson ideas. The app is free but requires in-app purchases.

Grade Level: Third through sixth grade

45. Google Arts & Culture

Art museums are another excellent choice for virtual field trips, especially for older students. And thanks to Google’s Arts & Culture platform, which has partnered with over 1,200 museums around the globe, kids can get up close and personal with some of the world’s most exquisite masterpieces. A few of the museums students can visit include the Guggenheim, the Van Gogh Museum, the J. Paul Getty Museum, and the Louvre.

Grade Level: Ninth through 12th grade

46. The New York Metropolitan Opera

Like many places, the Met in New York is closed for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it’s hosting nightly encore presentations of some of its most iconic shows. The free livestreams are broadcast on its website every night at 7:30pm Eastern. If your child can’t make that time, don’t worry. The livestreams will be available for another 20 hours afterward. The schedule includes such iconic performances as Puccini’s “La Boheme” and Verdi’s “Il Trovatore” — sure to delight music students.

Grade Level: Ninth through 12th grade


SAT & ACT Prep

Although some states may decide to waive state testing, high school juniors and seniors bound for college can’t pause on SAT and ACT testing. To help them prep for their tests, a few companies are offering their resources for free during the pandemic-related closures.

Sat Test Prep Post It Keyboard

47. Everydae SAT Prep

This online program helps students prepare for the math portion of the SAT. Everydae uses 10-minute mini-lessons students can easily incorporate into busy schedules. During the COVID-19-related school closures, Everydae is offering their program completely free.

Grade Level: Ninth through 12th grade

48. Vocabbett

Vocabbett is a learning platform for mastering the vocabulary portions of the SAT and ACT. It uses stories to help students study and prep for the tests. The website always features a freebies section with a variety of games and stories for boosting vocabulary. Additionally, during the pandemic’s school closures, the site is offering even more resources, including help sessions and discount pricing on some products. See their website for details.

Grade Level: Ninth through 12th grade

49. Fiveable

Fiveable is a free resource that provides learning and test prep for high schoolers’ AP testing, including live reviews, live trivia battles, and study guides. Students can unlock premium features, including 10 livestreamed lessons for a cost of $35 per test and a discount rate for multiple AP test study sessions — two for $50 or three for $60.

Grade Level: Ninth through 12th grade


Resources for Special Education Students

When schools are closed, parents of students with special needs have it all that much harder. Special education teachers are highly trained for the task — the government requires them to have extra training and certifications on top of their education degrees. Fortunately, there are a few companies with educational resources that can help.

Khan Academy Free Learning App For Disabled

50. Khan Academy

Khan Academy is a nonprofit organization that provides free educational resources on all topics and school subjects. For instruction, it uses short videos supplemented with online practice materials. And while Khan Academy is an excellent resource for students of all abilities, its library of state standards-aligned lessons can suit any learning need — including special education. In fact, classroom teachers use Khan Academy to help differentiate lessons.

Students can go at their own pace, filling in gaps in skills and knowledge, and accelerate as they’re ready. All its tools and resources are always available for free. To help parents during this time, they’ve also put together a few additional resources, including daily schedules to keep students on track.

Grade Level: Preschool through 12th grade

51. Freckle

This online learning platform for younger students features lessons in math, English, social studies, and science that can easily adapt for students of different abilities. Freckle is always free.

Grade Level: Kindergarten through 12th grade

52. MobyMax

One of the more popular differentiated learning sites, MobyMax provides instruction in math, English, social studies, and science to elementary and middle school students with a variety of interactive lessons and games. Specifically, it helps identify gaps in learning and works to close them. Parents can get started using MobyMax at home for free.

Grade Level: Kindergarten through eighth grade


Additional Tips

With all the academic resources available for parents to use at little to no cost during the pandemic-caused school closures, there’s little need to worry your kids will lose ground — even if their school hasn’t provided much in the way of guidance. To keep kids engaged in their academics, these are a few professional tips for structuring their learning experience to help them succeed.

How to Make Homeschooling Fun & Engaging

Even though there’s no need to worry about your kids spending an excessive amount of time in front of screens, learning through video games can get old, and kids often crave other ways to learn and connect. One of the benefits of at-home learning is the ability to focus on more hands-on activities.

For example, Auerbach recommends letting your kids teach you a skill they learned or work on math by creating a store in your kitchen. You can also turn your kitchen into a laboratory and explore the science behind making gummy bears or rock candy. Or your child can make their own version of a painting from an art period they’re studying using material found around the house — like junk mail, magazines, or even candy wrappers. Put a personal spin on a history lesson by interviewing Grandma or Grandpa over the phone. They’ll both be glad for the connection during this time of social isolation.

Keep in mind that school at home doesn’t have to be all work and no play. Whether learning happens in the kitchen during meal prep or outdoors on a nature hike, you can call it school as long as you explain the how and why of the activity.

How to Teach Young Kids

Young kids are a particular challenge when it comes to home schooling. They have very short attention spans and aren’t likely to tolerate sitting with an app for very long. Plus, except for a few high-quality apps and websites designed for very young children, like ABCmouse.com, online learning requires parents to guide younger children in how to use the software and to type for them.

That means the younger your kids are, the less you can lean on online educational resources. Instead, you need a lot of play-based learning involving art projects, music and movement, and activity worksheets. To help with ideas for all those activities, try theme weeks. For example, one week, you can do an ocean theme, and another week, you can do a spring gardening theme. You can have your child make ocean creatures from egg carton cups or paint a bubble pattern with Bubble Wrap to make an ocean painting. During garden week, you can get outside and dig in the dirt and plant some flowers.

How to Teach Multiple Kids

Theme weeks also work well if you have multiple kids at home. It lets you teach them at the same time, even if they’re at different grade levels. You can plan essentially the same activities and just differentiate them with varying degrees of complexity appropriate to their ages. For example, if you’re doing a garden week, your preschooler can draw a picture of a worm, your second-grader can write a paragraph about worms, and your fourth-grader can study the science of composting.


Final Word

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed at the prospect of becoming your child’s teacher. Instead, consider this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and use it to create a stronger bond with your child, making some memories they’ll never forget. We’re in uncharted territory for everyone — none of us has experienced a pandemic like this in our lifetimes. So you can be very flexible with how you approach your child’s academics.

Instead of looking at home schooling as a checklist of lessons to cover, dive into the learning with your kids. Ask questions, research subjects together, collaborate on writing and drawing a graphic novel, try some hands-on activities, and don’t forget to play.

School can look like many things, not just worksheets and math quizzes, but baking, painting, playing games, exploring in the yard, or building with Legos. It all counts, so go ahead and have fun with it.

Are you dreading home schooling your kids or looking forward to it? If you’re a veteran home-schooler, do you have any tips?

Sarah Graves
Sarah Graves, Ph.D. is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance, parenting, education, and creative entrepreneurship. She's also a college instructor of English and humanities. When not busy writing or teaching her students the proper use of a semicolon, you can find her hanging out with her awesome husband and adorable son watching way too many superhero movies.

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