More than 861 million children are learning from home now, as schools globally shutter to try and slow the spread of Covid-19.
Parents are all teachers now. A Quartz team made up of education reporters, former teachers, and parents have compiled useful resources to help parents navigate this transition. They are neither comprehensive nor meant to replace the learning your kids’ schools are trying to put in place. They are things to use to augment school assignments and help fill the other hours in ways that that you, and hopefully your kids, can feel good about.
We all know there are special challenges to every age, but high schools kids can direct their own learning, and younger kids need socialization and less focus on academics. Much of this guide is focused on elementary (primary) school children, ages five to 12. But there’s a special chapter for 0-3 and some links for older kids too.
Here are the basics: make a schedule—we need to create order when there is none—forgive yourself when you realize you are a terrible teacher (and then send a note to your teacher expressing appreciation), recognize that kids will be on screens way more than anyone wants, and keep an eye on their well-being and yours.
In many cases, the goal is not to make sure they stay exactly on target (or to scramble to catch up if they are behind), but to give them routines, make sure there is variety in the day—outdoors! cook! read! play games! socialize in safe social distancing ways! and provide comforting continuity. There will be days when they binge-watch The Magic School Bus (words you never thought you would see together) or The Great British Bake-Off (again). Older kids will waste time, obsess over friendships and connecting, and discover that they can do a whole day’s work in three hours. Give yourself, and your children, a break.
Kids need structure. Schedules achieve this. Your little learners may resist at first, but they will thrive with order, and so will you. For older kids (five and up), co-create the schedule. Think: orange post-its are required learning (maths, reading, science) and yellow posts-it are fun (TV, iPad). Parent picks two, kid picks two. Exercise, some mindfulness, art, drama, and music can all get time slots too. Where possible, make following a schedule fun—ideally, switching tasks shouldn’t feel like a drill but like an opportunity.
Khan Academy schedule for school closures K-12 schedules to follow, with links to resources. By age. This is cool.
CDC tips for building structure with children The building blocks of creating a structured, scheduled day, with examples for multiple kids of different ages.
Epic Digital library for students 12 and under with books, learning, videos, and quizzes.
Spelling City Build vocabulary for grades 1-6 (reception to Y5). Ad-free, but not free.
OxfordOwl Free e-book library for ages 3-11.
BBC BiteSize British kids use the BBC a lot for learning. There is a National Curriculum, which this follows, but the “bite size” nuggets are easy enough to follow by topic. For example, Key Stage 1 (pre-K to around first grade) has sections on significant people (monarchs and leaders, engineers, nurses) and time periods (Roman Empire), and themes (distinguishing between fact and opinion; place value).
Best Middle School Books, As Chosen by Teachers Exactly what it sounds like: teacher-selected, enriching books (mostly novels).
US common core middle school books Approximately 40 books for middle-school readers, in genres including novels, memoirs, poetry, and historical nonfiction.
The New York Times Learning Network has free writing prompts (log-in required) for students 13 and up and guidance for creating meaningful student projects in response to crisis.
A teacher-created list of 100 books high school students should read before graduating mixes some lighter reads in with the classics.
More reading lists:
121 Books: A Very Subjective Guide to the Best Kids Books of All Time Amazing list curated by Jenny Rosenstrach (author of Dinner, a Love Story, among others) and Andy Ward, book agent extraordinaire.
Hit the Button Interactive math games for ages 6-11 with quick-fire questions on everything from number bonds to multiplying and dividing. Kids love the race!
Cool Math 4 Kids Kindergarten to sixth grade (Y1-Y7) math games by topic (addition, fractions, etc.) or by grade.
Marble Math Solve math problems by collecting numbers while moving a marble through a series of mazes. In the Apple store. Very addictive.
Mysterydoug.com Five-minute inquiries used to start the day, take a break, or spark curiosity, with prompts like “Can turtles live outside their shells?” and “Why are rubies red?” Doug is a former elementary school teacher who guides questions, uses visuals, and asks questions. “There are mysteries all around us. Have fun and stay curious.” Bless you, Doug.
Kids.nationalgeographic.com There’s “discovery” about animals, science, history, and geography, then games with fun quizzes by topic (like dinosaurs, comets and meteors). But a real gem is “Primary Resources” which are learning materials by topic (history, science, geography, math, art and design, and PSHE, or personal social, health and economic education, which is a subject in the UK). Registration is free and you can access topics within each (science: humans, plants, evolution; geography, places, water cycle, history, Aztecs).
Frontiers for Young Minds Innovation at its best. Distinguished scientists write about their cutting-edge discoveries in accessible language for young readers, and then kids—with the help of “science mentors”—provide feedback and help the authors improve the articles before publication. Topics include new cutting-edge research (new discovery) or core concepts, key ideas that are fundamental for understanding a scientific field. Includes astronomy and space science, biodiversity, health, neuroscience.
Skype a Scientist This usually matches scientists with classrooms, but there’s a sign-up for families too. One of our colleagues says her 7-year-old son just learned about fossils from participating in this program.
YouTube channels for science and computing:
- GEOgraphy Focus Maps, country descriptions, flags, and more.
- Crash Course Kids Fifth grade science made cool.
- Free School Short videos about art, classical music, children’s literature, and natural science..
- SciShow Kids For younger kids (3-7) on everything from coral reefs, why is fire hot to how to say goodbye.
- TheBrainScoop Emily Grassley, chief curiosity correspondent for the Field Museum in Chicago, shares the work and research of natural history museums with the world.
- SciShow The secrets to what makes the universe tick.
- Science Max Science experiments at home.
- Geek Gurl Diaries Carrie Anne is a self-described geek, and has a collection of video logs about using and making technology, along side interviews with inspirational women in the fields of computing, science, technology, and engineering. Learn about “adventures in Raspberry Pi” or how to program Python.
- Mike Likes Science Math and science raps (“you have two points on a line; you need an equation but it slipped your mind; slope-intercept is what you need; y=mx+b”). Need we say more?
Duolingo’s motto is “Learn a language forever. Free.”
Babbel is free for students for three months this spring.
Busuu provides free online language classes for kids affected by school closure, taught by expert teachers. Teachers have started offering classes online, such as these instructional YouTube videos in English and Spanish.
One couple is hosting art lessons on YouTube at 2 pm ET for two weeks (starting Mar. 16). Lessons will be archived.
Lunch doodles with Mo Willems The beloved, award-winning children’s book illustrator (Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, Knuffle Bunny, etc.) invites kids to draw along with him daily at 1 pm ET on YouTube.
DIY.org This marketing line got me: Imagine if Netflix were educational and YouTube were safe. Yeah, imagine. Until then, this site is packed with creative projects, videos on photography, drawing, animation, and music.
Outschool Connects teachers to kids for small video conference classes. From Shakespearian insults, fashion design through the ages, Harry Potter-themed chemistry, fractions, and the sociology of Disney villains, there’s something for everyone.
List of documentaries for children and families from Common Sense. You know it feels better to watch a documentary than another episode of iCarly. You’ve heard of March of the Penguins, but what about Babies? Or Imba means Sing, two on offer?
Typing Club Fun? Maybe, maybe not. But certainly a useful life skill. Special offer now for Covid-19.
238 activities for kids from the RealPlay Coalition From narrating the world to War (the card game), this is a useful list of the obvious (rock-paper-scissors) and the not-so-obvious (shoe shambles).
Gordon Ramsay’s Ultimate Home Cooking Show/Gordon Ramsay’s Ultimate Cookery Course – learn to cook.
Stuck at Home Pineapple Street Studios is inviting kids to make a podcast about their experiences being, as the title says, stuck at home.
Just Dance 2020 Dance while working up a sweat. Tweens love this (hold a dance-off if the sibling rivalry won’t ignite WWIII). Game console needed.
Charity Miles Kids may be understandably feeling sorry for themselves. Help them help themselves by helping others with greater needs. Charity Miles is a free US mileage tracker app that donates money to charities based on the number of miles you walk, run, or bike.
Axios on jokes for kids You know you will be telling them, and retelling them, forEver.
Soul Pancake Kid President Inspirational videos from a kid who is clearly the kind of president we all need now. Will make everyone feel good.
Minecraft Create a family server and get everyone on it for some co-creation.
The Week Junior magazine and podcast: This staple in many UK homes digests and packages the news news for tweens and just landed in the US. One Quartz’s employee’s 11 year-old reads the magazine cover to cover and loves the games at the end. (At her age she was was reading cereal boxes over breakfast: this is progress.)
But Why: The podcast for curious kids This podcast treats young listeners, and their many, many questions with a deep sense of respect without taking itself too seriously. Produced by Vermont Public Radio and hosted by radio veteran Jane Lindholm, it interviews scientists, historians, and experts of all stripes about some of the most pressing issues of our times. Do animals get married? How are noodles made? Why do we poop and fart? Adults are guaranteed to learn something in each episode, and to actually enjoy listening.
Advice from a teacher on how to stay calm and focus
The meditation app Calm included in its free resources for pandemic anxiety three meditations aimed at kids age seven and up.
Cosmic Kids Yoga Banish any assumptions about woo-woo soul searching for the kindergarten set. Hosted by a yogi with an aggressively cheerful Australian accent and a big imagination, this is an indoor workout that’s fun, requires zero equipment (other than wifi and access to YouTube), and will get their wiggles out.
Quizlet Quizlet is an app for making flashcards and diagrams. Kids can design their own or find study sets that already have been created, whether by their own teacher or somebody else’s. It’s free (you can, however, purchase study guides created for specialized exams like AP tests, the MCATs, and the CFA), and kids can seamlessly switch between mobile and desktop versions.
Kahoot Game-based learning platform where your own create quizzes or take theirs (US presidents, the ultimate 2019 challenge). By subject, by grade. One Italian teacher who uses them says the best part of remote learning was muting the Kahoots she was doing online. When she does them in class it’s pandemonium.
Code.org Online coding classes.
Teachers Pay Teachers lesson plans A lesson plan is a structure for teaching something specific—what needs to be learned, how it’s being taught, and how learning will be measured. Most are designed for a single typical classroom period, but some are extended. These are lessons created and shared by teachers, for teachers. Many, but not all, are free.
For older kids and parents:
- A list compiled by UCL of all free educational resources
- School Closures – Relief for families impacted by school closures
- PBS Kids for Parents
- KQED At-Home Learning Resources
- New America Tips and Resources for Online Learning
- Common Sense: Resources for Educators During the Coronavirus Pandemic
Zero to Three Screen time, aside from video chatting, isn’t advised for children under two by experts who worry it will interfere with critical development. If you’ve exhausted your repertoire of nursery rhymes and your baby has had enough of blowing bubbles, this organization offers a list of play activities for children aimed to stimulate the senses, build language and thinking skills, and encourage activity and quiet time.
Sesame Street Games, videos, coloring pages, and a reassuring Elmo await on Sesame Street’s website.
Vooks A library of ad-free streaming storybooks for kids, grouped under categories like “be kind,” “friendship,” and “biographies.” The service’s premise is that being read to aloud, paired with animation, can help focus children’s attention and encourage them to retain stories. Vooks encourages parents to watch along and discuss the books with children, adding the caveat that “there is no substitute for quality parent-child conversation.”
Tinkergarten Provides outdoor, play-based learning lessons from trained leaders who deliver a curriculum of activities to build social and emotional skills, thinking skills and body skills. Differentiated by age, ranging from 0 to eight.
29 books to read to your kids if you want them to be kind and brave A list of character-building books tried and tested by this reporter.
—Holly Ojalvo, Jackie Bischof, and Annaliese Griffin contributed to this guide.