Sweet Hippie Daughter is allergic to worksheets. If I put one in front of her, even before the paper has touched the desktop, she is freaking out. It’s too hard or too easy. The paper is too thin or too pulpy. It is stupid. It is pointless. It’s baby work. She hates dinosaurs. She doesn’t like word searches. Her pencil keeps breaking. Her pen is out of ink.
You get the idea.
I went into homeschooling with visions of learning handwriting by using worksheets. And learning math by doing worksheets. And, obviously, you learn to spell by doing worksheets, right?
It didn’t take long to figure out that I was going to need to find a “Plan B.”
The kid LOVES to be “plugged in.” Anything electronic is interesting to her.
So, over the course of the past year and half, we have spent A LOT of time searching for good online resources for learning.
Originally, I was going to call this “Great Online Resources For Homeschoolers,” but several of these could be helpful for kids as a supplement to their classroom instruction.
Khan Academy – This one is a biggie! They cover EVERYTHING.
Do you want to learn about the paintings of Jackson Pollock? The Affordable Care Act? Basic addition? Differential equations? Organic chemistry? Influenza and other communicable diseases? The history of western civilization from 1700-1900?
Khan has an online class for you.
We use their math curriculum and it has been super helpful. Sweet Hippie Daughter earns “badges” for the work she does and there is a dashboard that keeps track of her skills and if they are “new,” “practiced,” “need work” or “mastered.” I have a “coach” page that let’s me track her progress and assign lessons.
It’s not as fun as many of the games, listed below, but it is a more focused approach. It is very much like doing worksheets on the computer. She has to get five problems in a row correct before she can move forward to the next lesson. A few times, when she has struggled to FINALLY get four and then gets the fifth wrong and has to start over she has fallen into full-scale meltdown but, in my opinion, that in itself has been a great lesson in persistence and accuracy and attitude.
Nanowrimo – Young Writer’s Program – an opportunity for children under age 17 to write a book.
Nanowrimo stands for National Novel Writer’s Month. Each November thousands of people try to hash out a book in 30 days. Sweet Hippie Daughter and I did it last year. It was brutal and insanely satisfying.
The Young Writer’s Program offers kids a chance to set their own goals as to how long their book will be and there are a host of resources for the child and for educators to help work through that process. Rewards for meeting your goal range from the opportunity to get a few copies of your book published in hard cover edition to discounts on writing and publishing tools. Mostly you get the satisfaction of knowing you wrote a book which, for SHD, was HUGE.
The only downside is that Nanowrimo only happens once a year. There is a “Camp Nanowrimo” that is available all year long. I believe it is very much the same thing, sponsored by the same people, but I have not had any experience with that site.
Ron Paul Curriculum – A homeschool curriculum for grades k-12
Cost: FREE – $250+
This online academy is free for elementary aged children and costs, if I understand correctly, $250 per student for Jr. and Sr. High students. The cost includes all of the instructional material as well as membership to a forum and access to expert assistance. Though the elementary information is available for free, if you wish to join the forums and access the extra help you must buy an annual membership.
We have only used the free elementary school parts of the site, so I can’t speak to the paid portions. If you’re looking for a full, interactive educational experience for your elementary aged student, like you would get from k12online or other virtual schools this is NOT the place to go. On the other hand, there are some fantastic resources for teaching government and civics, history, music, literature (including free downloadable books, assigned by grade level), and more. Also, the developers of this new site (this is their 1st year in operation) are not afraid to say, “we don’t have a great curriculum, yet, for this subject but here are 3 other sites that do.”
Woodlands Downloadable Library – an electronic library
It is exactly what it sounds like – a library. You can get books or audio books delivered straight to your computer, tablet or e-reader. They will stay there for about 3 weeks and then you can renew once. After that they get sucked back into the ether. This is GREAT for us because we are horrible, irresponsible library book borrowers. We have to pay a fine every stinking time we borrow books. We’d probably save money just buying them all. With Woodlands… no fines.
There is some sort of a copyright issue that only allows them to “loan” the e-books to so many people at one time. This means that any very popular books you are looking for (Twilight, Harry Potter, etc) are pretty much always going to have a waiting list. Sometimes it’s a day or two. Sometimes it’s a few weeks. They almost always came a little sooner than predicted, though.
Math Blaster – Math games for elementary aged children
Cost: FREE – $150
I’ve sung the praises of Math Blaster before and I’ll do it again. I was, literally, in tears over our math woes last year. Sweet Hippie Daughter just was NOT getting it and didn’t have the will to try any harder. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out a way to get through to her. Then I remembered playing Math Blaster as a kid and having fun with it so I looked to see if it was still around and, not only was it still around but it was now this amazing online gaming experience with interactive capabilities!
The games are gorgeous and fun and exciting. The student has to fight off invading aliens and such by solving math problems. They can also design their own avatar, raise a virtual pet and interact with other users. If your student is like mine, you may have to keep an eye on them to make sure that they are actually doing some math parts of the game and not just the “other” stuff but it’s not too hard to keep them motivated because improving their math skills helps them level-up.
I worry a lot about allowing SHD to do anything online that lets her talk to strangers. Math Blaster’s interactions are very limited. They are forbidden to use their real names, ask questions like, “where do you live?” or use any number of words that could violate privacy or be construed as inappropriate. If they try to do so a little “whoops! That’s not allowed” warning pops up.
We used the free version for a long time and it was very nice. SHD begged for the paid version so that she could have fancy upgrades for her character. Eventually, she did some extra work and earned herself the $9.99/month subscription. For $150 you get a lifetime membership but I have commitment issues. I married my husband for life. Everything else I’ll settle for month-to-month.
Edu Kid’s Room App – a tablet app for preschoolers
This app is great! It teaches little ones the basic motions of using the touch screen and encourages sorting by color and shape, counting and more. Toddler-saurus Rex (age 2 1/2) would play it all day every day and I credit this app with his firm grasp of more colors and shapes than I knew when I was going in to kindergarten, let alone at the age of 2.
The downside is that Toddler-saurus Rex (age 2 1/2) would play this game all day every day. The repetition of the sing-songy music and high-pitched little elfin voices is the stuff of mommy nightmares and taking the tablet away is akin to ripping out a piece of his soul (or so he believes).
That said, if we are at an unbearably long doctor’s appointment or on a car trip (where he sits WAY in the back of the van) or something, this app is amazing.
Pandora – internet radio
We use Pandora every day. We can stream music from our TV (we have a ROKU box on our TV but I believe you can also run Pandora through a Wii or xBox), our computers, our tablets and our phones. It has very few commercials and, best of all, we can choose a single genre, composer or artist to listen to.
We have studied several famous composers and musicians using Pandora. I will have SHD read something about the person and their work and then, for a week or so, while we are going about our business, I can tell Pandora to play that artist’s work or that genre of music.
It’s also great if you’re just looking for some background music during study time. You can choose classical or jazz or whatever your child finds soothing and just let it stream without long stretches of talking breaking into their concentration. Or, conversely, if you need to get everyone up and moving, you can turn on the dance and party station and pump up the volume. (Yes. I’m a child of the 80s.)
***These next three are all companies that I’ve worked with to do sponsored reviews. THIS is not a sponsored post. I’m only sharing them because we’ve continued to use these products and we have been really happy with them.***
Reading Eggs – Online reading curriculum for children ages 3-13
Cost: Up to $69 per year.
There are always free trials and deals on the website or being offered by various bloggers if you google for them. There is also a 6 month subscription offer, as well as IPad Apps, CD roms, books, flashcards and other items that you can purchase at various cost.
Our 9-year-old LOVES Reading Eggs. She will beg to play it in her spare time. “Can I do extra schoolwork?” Who’s going to say no to that?! The child gets an avatar that they can dress up. The avatar has an apartment and travels to various places to shop for clothes, go to the gym, etc. At each of these places there are items that cost “eggs.” (ie. furniture for the apartment, new clothes, a pet, etc) In order to earn eggs the student can complete various tasks including reading, doing reports, spelling challenges and more.
If you’re interested in more details, here is my review.
GenZ Read Together – Online reading curriculum for grades k-12
*As of the time of publication grades 6-8 were not yet available, though the older and younger grades were.
Cost: $4.95 for 20 stories or $19.95 for 100
Their website says you get, “Exciting real-life stories written by award-winning children’s authors — emailed directly to your smart phone, tablet or computer.”
Each day Sweet Hippie Daughter reads a non-fiction story. It could be biographical, or historical or scientific. There is a short video at the end that shows relevant information and then a little quiz that helps me make sure she processed what she had read and seen.
The combination of reading, video and discussion seems to really sink these stories into her brain. She retains the information and talks about it later. They are well written and not too long so she has never once complained about the stories being “boring.”
You can read my full review here.
Dolphy Games – Educational games for children ages 2-10 that are personalized by name
Dolphy Games includes a variety of games, including letter, color and number recognition for very young children, spelling and math for elementary ages and fun thinking games like puzzles and checkers. Each game is programmed to speak to your child using their name.
Toddler-saurus Rex thinks this game is the single greatest thing anyone ever invented. He loves to play the counting game and has gotten quite good at it in a short time and he enjoys the color-identifying section as well.
I have a more detailed review of Dolphy scheduled for next week but, for this post, I’ll just leave it with this: I think this game would be a great asset to any child in preschool or the younger elementary range.
Do you use any online educational tools? Tell us about them in the comments so we can all learn and grow together!
Are you, too, seeking to save the earth, promote world peace and raise productive citizens without expending too much effort?
If we work on our goals together, they may be a little easier to achieve!