After months of enforced captivity with our children, the summer holidays can’t come soon enough. But if we were expecting a reprieve from parental lockdown, the summer camps, which we have long relied on for physical and academic enrichment, will likely be off the menu due to the continued constraints posed by the coronavirus.
As a result, the annual phenomenon known as “summer setback” or “summer slide” — when students return to school in September with lower academic levels than they had in June — is looking more like a runaway freight train, hurtling inexorably toward the new school year, our children trapped on board.
But fear not. Help is at hand. What all this tele-schooling in splendid isolation has shown is the potential of the digital world to enrich and enhance the education of our children, who are now experts at navigating the remote-learning toolkit. With engaging math apps, video conferencing, and interactive science simulations — we’ve got this.
FOR THE FUN CROWD
A game-based learning platform geared for individual students as well as classrooms, it offers a host of educational games known as “kahoots” that motivate students through quizzes and multiple choice questions. (Sample question: “What is the difference between Ontology and Epistemology?”)
From livestreaming of a bald eagle nest located in Iowa to looking in on animals at a watering hole in Kenya, this enchanting live nature cam network and documentary film channel also includes free lesson plans for students.
This site presents a vast collection of fascinating, child-friendly videos on such topics as how a Steinway piano is built, and how to make beeswax wrap as an alternative to single-use plastic wraps.
FOR THE SERIOUS-MINDED
Scholastic “Learn at Home”
In March, the educational company relaxed restrictions for use of its books, allowing teachers and authors to read them aloud online. Scholastic also launched a website, Learn at Home, with daily courses for students from pre-K to grades 6 and higher. It includes writing and research projects, virtual field trips, and geography challenges, all divided by grade level.
This excellent research website has built-in tools and features designed to make knowledge accessible and enjoyable, integrating reference articles and primary source databases with access to new publications from all over the world. World Book Student is for elementary through middle school students, and World Book Advanced for high schoolers.
FOR MEMBERS OF THE ARTS CLUB
Mondays with Mo
Younger children love the weekly lunch-hour sketch fest and doodle art of artist Mo Willems, held on Mondays at 1:00 pm. Videos of the “Lunch Doodle” sessions are also available.
MoMA Learning website
The Museum of Modern Art’s learning website offers access and education to modern and contemporary artworks, and encourages a thematic exploration of art, with downloadable slideshows, worksheets, and hands-on activities. MoMA also provides free educational online courses through the online learning platform Coursera. Courses on offer include “What Is Contemporary Art?,” an in-depth look at more than 70 works of art from MoMA’s collection, and “Fashion as Design,” focusing on a selection of 70 garments and accessories from around the world.
FOR YOUNG LINGUISTS
Duolingo’s language learning app has 300 million users worldwide and offers more than 20 languages. Using “gamification,” it teaches children with games and quizzes and offers rewards, new levels, and new skills that are unlocked through a learning tree that adapts to a user’s ability. Duolingo also offers the very useful Tinycards — an app for creating flashcards for learning about any subject, the old-fashioned way.
FOR COOL NERDS
For older teenagers who love chemistry and science, the app allows students to create virtual 3D structures of chemical compounds, with augmented-reality tools that are enabled through the camera on your teen’s device.
The go-to math-learning tool for parents and students, IXL provides online math practice with tutorial help. Students can skip between grade levels and math topics, and parents can receive daily or weekly email reports on their student’s progress.
The Khan Academy is the gold standard for virtual lessons in the STEM subjects for all ages, and is officially recognized by the College Board SAT study site. Started by Salman Khan, a young hedge-fund analyst with a master’s in computer science from MIT, the YouTube channel has exceptional educators who use electronic tools to illustrate concepts as they teach in an informal and friendly manner. The Khan Academy has partnered with Pixar for its tutorials on computer graphics.
Skype a Scientist
Since the coronavirus threat appeared, this well-known platform that connects classrooms with scientists has opened up to allow individual students to reach specialists. Sessions take the form of half-hour Q&A sessions, through Zoom, Google Hangouts, Skype, or another video conferencing tool. Participants have included anthropologist Julie Lesnik, who studies edible bugs, and NASA engineer Bobak Ferdowsi, who was instrumental in the Curiosity mission to Mars.
Another excellent STEM YouTube channel, Vsauce is hosted by educator and comedian Michael Stevens, and aimed at a teenage audience. Complicated math and science concepts are explained in quirky, absorbing ways, with videos such as “How to Count Past Infinity.” Some of the content is esoteric, and parent co-viewing is recommended for children under 3.
FOR THE NEXT BILL GATES
For the tech-savvy, Kano’s build-it-yourself computer is a perfect toy for home learning. The company — launched by Alex Klein, son of Getty Images cofounder Jonathan Klein — sells PC kits and coding tools that allow children to learn about tech and how computers work. Its software includes a coding school to let children build and play games using simplified coding language. It also sells a Harry Potter wand filled with electronics that connects to Kano’s app. Together, they allow it to be tracked in 3D space so children can cast “spells” using different lines of code. The code links actions with wand movements.
FOR FUTURE WORLD LEADERS
A BBC app that covers human art throughout history, this was designed to accompany the BBC Civilisations television documentary. (Yes, the Brits spell “Civilization” with an s in the middle; all complaints about the Queen’s English may be addressed to Buckingham Palace.) Easy and fun to use, it includes more than 40 different artifacts, including sculptures, masks, and paintings. When the viewer makes a choice, the artwork appears in 3D on the screen, and can be rotated and increased or decreased in size.
This website is stuffed with resources for children on a diverse range of topics, from history and science to culture and literature, with games, experiments, and a searchable resource library. Activities such as Prehistoric Climate Change enable kids to learn how to use fossils as a thermometer to read temperatures 55 million years ago.
The Learning Network
For children 3 and older, The Learning Network is a New York Times daily blog run by five Times editors, all of whom have worked as teachers. Each day, at least one Lesson of the Day, one Student Opinion prompt, and one Picture Prompt is posted. News literacy and critical thinking is embedded in the writing prompts, and students are encouraged to join in the national conversation through the moderated comments site.
FRAZZLED? THE CAVALRY IS HERE
Digital tutoring services have the advantage of being a one-stop shop for homework help, test prep, and tutoring, and are available at all times of the day and evening.
The Princeton Review recently acquired the popular Tutor.com, and offers all services, from test prep to traditional tutoring. Pricing plans vary according to the service, which ranges from on-demand questions to three hours of lessons and a guarantee of better grades.
Pearson’s Smarthinking claims that 90 percent of its tutors have advanced degrees in their subject areas. There are tutors for every subject, but writing is the emphasis. Services range from essay reviews to online tutoring.