As parents, we often get stuck scrambling to book summer activities for our kids. Let’s face it. Not everyone can afford to book day-camps and vacations back-to-back for two whole months. If you are like millions of working parents, you might find yourself trying to figure out enriching things for your kids to do while you slog it through the summer months. You certainly don’t want them watching endless hours of television or playing video games all day…or do you? You might if the content they watched was engaging and educational.
Here at Core Learning we have compiled a list of free online learning activities, resources and games for kids to try on their own. These vary by subject, grade level and ease of use, however, the common denominator is their high educational value and accessibility.
Here are some tips before you set off exploring these great sites and products:
- Never leave young kids unattended. If you are going to leave them alone, make sure you check with the local laws regarding the minimum age for leaving a child unattended. Also, make sure your child is ready and willing.
- Children unsupervised with computers can lead to mischief, so make sure to review your own expectations around being online, staying safe, and being a good digital citizen. For help with this, check out Common Sense Media’s Digital Passport, or their new offering, Digital Compass.
- Take advantage of the some “Free trials” offered by some of the paid apps and sites. These might not take you through the whole summer, but they will make do for a week or two.
- Don’t just tell them to go “learn online”. Create a playlist for them. Be their teacher and create a checklist of activities, and review their completion. There is a variety of ways to do this, from a simple check-off list to a Google Doc with clickable links. Ask them to submit a screenshot, or a log of their progress. Better yet, use some of the sites that actually monitor progress.
- Balance your content with creative options as well. A lot of educational tech companies out there offer products that only require kids to click through modules, but don’t offer them a chance to create anything on their own. It’s important to see the value of both.
- Pick products that they might not have tried in school already. Summer should be a break from the routines of the regular year.
Ok, here is the list of options categorized by subject:
- Storybird: With Storybird kids can read and write their own stories with beautiful, curated illustrations. It is an online community for kids who love to read and write. For elementary to middle school kids.
- NoRedInk: Developed by a teacher, NoRedInk lets kids practice their grammar skills with content tailored to their own interests and likes. Parents can create classes for their kids and assign lessons, monitor progress and more. All for free. Best for upper elementary to high school.
- Newsela: Kids can read the news at their own reading level. You can assign them passages to read and respond to.
- Storyline: Can’t be there to read to your kids? Have ‘famous people’ parent for you instead! With Storyline, your kids can read along with the Closed Captions as popular childrens’ titles get read to them in the comfort of an embedded YouTube video. Best for elementary ages.
- Quill: an exciting new product for learning writing, proofreading and grammar. Kids can write interactive stories, practice their writing and take benchmark assessments.
- WriteAbout: With WriteAbout, students unleash their creative writing prowess to the world. It’s digital writing for an authentic audience, coupled with the option for teachers to create and manage writing assignments. Best for middle school and higher.
Math: (No, WE didn’t include Cool Math Games, because, well, they are neither cool nor math games.)
- Sumdog: Students will be hyper-engaged, especially if they play against their friends or siblings. Compete in fast-paced math (and English) games built around the Common Core.
- Mangahigh: Engaging games and Common Core aligned math activities. For elementary and middle school.
- Prodigy: Battle in a Pokemon-like world by casting math ‘spells’ against cute creature opponents. Highly engaging for elementary kids. It claims to be the world’s “Most engaging Math Game”.
- Lure of the Labyrinth: Move through mazes solving math puzzles to complete a quest. Or just play the games without the story. Either way, it does a fantastic job of making middle school math relevant and exciting.
- ScootPad: Offers a 30-day free trial for their ELA and Math content. Perfect for a summer fling of online, adaptable learning. Available for most grades.
- IXL: A popular product for English Language Arts and Math. Track your child’s progress in a variety of subjects and levels. They offer a 30-day free trial for teachers, and who is the best teacher, but the parent.
- PBS Learning Media: KQED has pulled together an amazing amount of content from videos to articles and lets teachers and students mix them. All grades.
- BrainPOP: BrainPop offers animated lessons on topics from engineering to language arts. Although their service is paid, the games listed are all free, and actually fun. Elementary and school, although there is also a BrainPop Jr. for the K-2 demographic.
- GlassLab Games : GlassLab built a platform to measure and track standards-based progress as kids play popular video games. Play SimCity, Slice Fractions, and more. They have a 60-day free trial perfect for a summer of educational gaming.
- GooruLearning: Community curated collections of learning content. Assign playlists, remix them or create your own. And best of all, it is completely free.
Coding and Game-making: Summer is the perfect time for learning to code
- Scratch: Arguably the best place to start learning to code. It is a free community where kids can make video games, animations, art, and more.
- CSFirst: For a more structured approach, try Google’s CSFirst course. The lessons are built around Scratch and they walk the students through fun and creative projects.
- Code Monkey: Play and learn coding through a visual, block-based environment. Free for home use.
- Unity3D: More advanced students can learn to make their own 3D computer games on one of the world’s premier platforms for games, Unity. Unity offers many tutorials and the community of developers is huge.
- MinecraftEDU: If you don’t know what Minecraft is, you probably should spend more time with your kids. What you might not know is that Minecraft also comes in an EDU edition built for classrooms —at a reduced price. There are lessons that teach computational thinking, design, and more. Of all the sites here, this is the only one you might actually end up paying for.
- YouTubeEDU: YouTube EDU filters out the comments and non-educational material that YouTube is famous for. What is left is pretty amazing in terms of breadth and content. There are great series as well. Parents can also create playlists for their kids to watch.
- PBS Video: PBS streams many of their shows for free online. There are links to teacher (or parent) resources as well. Nova, Frontline, Nature are just some of the more popular titles.
Alas, we have omitted many, many useful and engaging sites, not to mention the overwhelming constellation of iPad apps. But this list should be enough to get you started. Again, in no way are we advocating that you make this the cornerstone of your summer activities for your kiddos. In the end, nothing beats the library. But if that starts to wear thin, or if you find your children are begging you for more screen time, at least offer them options that are sure to add value to their lives.