By Martha-Helene Stapleton
Virginia schools have closed through the end of the school year, and work will not be graded. If you find the kids are uninspired by the remote schoolwork, help them instead explore a new topic with some free online options.
Access Free Books Online
Online school K12 has offered free access to more than 17,000 eBook collection called Big Universe through June. The Fairfax County library also has many e-books, magazines, and movies available online. If you don’t have a card already, the physical branches are closed but staff will respond to requests online.
Be a Junior Disease Detective
Learn about the CDC and how epidemiologists track disease outbreaks with a free graphic novel and activities aimed at middle schoolers and older. Younger children can color some pages from the printable coloring book about the seasonal flu, which includes information about how germs spread.
Sneak in Civic Education
This free site for has games for middle schoolers and high schoolers. Parents can also register and access free lesson plans and activity sheets on all sorts of topics related to being a good citizen including: the Constitution, State and Local Governments, and news literacy. It might even inspire tomorrow’s Supreme Court Justice.
Plan a Mission to Mars
Tackle a new topic for the week with a Mensa for Kids unit study for the whole family. A little planning will help, so skim over the lessons, assemble any space toys or books you might already have, bookmark some videos to watch after the hand-on lesson, and then get going. Before the corona virus shut down, my family happened to start the Mars Colonization study. With a few books on Mars from the library, we talked about what it takes to be a pioneer for a successful mission, what skills will be needed to sustain life, and made board games about how to survive on Mars based on facts they had learned. Did you know this? A Fairfax County student won the NASA essay contest in March, which named the Mars2020 Rover “Perseverance.” My first grader up-cycled toilet roll tubes and yogurt cups to make a model of the colony, complete with greenhouse and solar charging station. Many school districts use these lessons for gifted kids. I’ve taught multiple ages with the multi-disciplinary lessons on the Moon, the Cell, Exploring Shapes, Classifying Animals, and Writing a Screenplay.
Keep Up with Math
Khan Academy is an excellent tool for all ages to work on math or other subjects online and track their progress. I found though that sometimes the kids click through lessons and forget what they learned the day before, so I prefer printing out workbooks from Mathematics Enhancement Programme. This free math curriculum for K-9 grades was developed in the UK and is similar to Singapore Math in that it introduces algebra and probability early on. The website is old and you may need to spend 20 minutes figuring out the different files, but I have used it with several of my children. A child can spend 30-60 minutes a day, 5 days a week and easily cover two years of math in one. Spanish versions are also available.
Learn to Speak Spanish
This site is a game-based environment with read-aloud stories, games, and puzzles. Preschoolers may need help getting started but it is great for anyone wanting to learn Spanish. Don’t be surprised if your kids pick up a Spanish lisp.
Learn to Play the Piano
Try free lessons online for beginner and intermediate players on how to play the piano and read music with Piano Nanny. You’ll need an electric keyboard or access to a piano.
Learn to Code with Scratch and Game Changineer
Once your child can read, Scratch can help them learn to code small projects like a chat bot or game. Kids make an account and can access through the web site. They’ll need to spend about 45 minutes or longer per session to make a dent. Be sure they’re not just playing other user’s games. Your child could create a studio (like a private group) and invite friends to chat, build, and post projects.
While this site looks garish, Game Changineer was developed by a professor at Virginia Tech to help children quickly convert simple stories into classic computer games like PacMan. To save a game, your child will need a google account, but he can also get started by clicking “Try it Out.” A motivated 4th grader could use it, but it’ll be easiest for middle school and up. At a 4-H tech training program, my girls and some friends tried it out and spent hours tinkering and playing each other’s games.
Explore the Wild with National Geographic Kids
Whether its games or articles about animals and explorers, this is an educational site with a gorgeous interface, good for all ages.
TV can be educational and spark a new hobby or skill, but be mindful of the time spent creatively using technology instead of simply consuming it. Some programs have supplementary material on their websites. My favorites are NASA, TED, PBS, NHK. You can have a discussion afterward of what facts the kids found most interesting or what recipe they want to try now. Your home is your school now, and you are their guide.
Do you have free resources you’d like to share? Please let us know!
Martha-Helene Stapleton homeschools her six girls in Herndon, Virginia. She has previously taught science and composition for the Dulles Chapter of Catholic Schoolhouse.