Common Sense gathered a who’s who of tech and media to help kids learn at home

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On the long list of things that are hard about home schooling, finding trusted online resources is up there.

Common Sense Media, a US-based nonprofit that rates media and technology for children and families, has launched a new, free platform to help.

Wide Open School is a who’s who of trusted media sites for children—Khan Academy, National Geographic, Noggin, PBS, Scholastic, Sesame Workshop, Time for Kids, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Head Start—as well as a few less trusted ones, like YouTube. Its distribution partners are equally big names: Apple, Comcast, Google, Salesforce, and Zoom.

The site is well-designed and packed with resources. You sign up as an educator or as a family, then look for resources by grade and topic, including art, music, DIY, emotional well-being, English-language learners, math, reading and writing. There are also sections for field trips and live events.

For example, under DIY for grade five is a link to computer science activities, including tutorials to code a dance party or to learn how AI and machine learning can address world problems, and a selection of three- to five-minute educational videos, including one with Bill Gates on how computers work. Under field trips for grades 6-12, there are national parks, live zoo cams, the Guggenheim museum, and jellyfish swimming at the Monterey Bay Aquarium; in the reading and writing section, Vanity Fair hosts a Hollywood screenwriter attempting to write a scene in seven minutes.

More than 1.4 billion kids are out of school globally due to the coronavirus pandemic. Many don’t have the devices or bandwidth for e-learning. Even those fortunate enough to be connected do not have teachers who are ready to teach online. That’s left parents scrambling to learn to be teachers, tech trouble shooters while also trying to work from home and deal with unprecedented social change.

“We wanted to use our nearly 20 years of experience as an expert reviewer and curator to create the go-to source of quality content that will provide educators with the support they need to shift to remote teaching and a one-stop, trusted place for families to engage kids who are now learning from home,” said Jim Steyer, CEO and founder of Common Sense, in a statement.

Wide Open School is accessible via mobile, desktop, and television, with the aim of reaching as many households as possible. It will provide information to help those without broadband services to gain access, and provide aggregated resources to help low-income families access urgent services addressing health, hunger, shelter, and psychological needs.

Common Sense has been an outspoken critic of tech companies’ use of children’s data. Wide Open Schools promises it will not collect any user data and adheres to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). On YouTube, Wide Open Schools will use a no-cookie embedded URL, so it doesn’t send users to the overall site but rather opens the single video in a window.

However, participating partners all have their own privacy and data policies which parents should review.

The goal, the company says, is holistic: “to keep kids learning, entertained, physically and creatively engaged, and emotionally strong during these challenging times.”