Ongoing education: 12 tools I really dig

Of course, just like the grownups, the bulk of the kids’ education this year comes from experience. Historical sites and monuments, yes, but everyday life among different markets, navigating through countless airports and train stations with our luggage, and the subtleties of language and culture are our great teachers.

But we still pursue learning in order to keep up with skills and subjects (in the purest meanings of those words), and as a parent, I am so grateful for the many tools available to us—all of us. I know not everyone agrees with me, but I believe the vast majority of learning happens within your family, regardless where your kids “do” school. Homeschool, private school, public school, clown college, whatever… while kids are young, they absorb their stickiest education through their home experience.

I’m sharing with you my current favorite tools that are helping me guide my kids’ through their education, but please don’t see this as a list of resources for the formal homeschooler—because every family with kids could benefit from these. Heck, many adults might find them useful in their own personal growth. I know I do.

These are my current favorite learning tools, especially useful in travel.

1. Story of the World

I’ve talked about these books many times, but that’s because they’re that wonderful. Four volumes that cover all of history in storytelling form, from ancient Egypt to the Bay of Pigs crisis in Cuba in 1961.

story of the world

We have the audiobook version, so several times a week, we all huddle up to listen together. And all of us learn new things—even the grownups.

2. Digital library loan system

Each independent reader in our family has his or her own Kindle for our travels, and they’re all synced to our local library’s digital system (ours uses the Overdrive system). This has been a godsend.

digital library

I can’t tell you how strange it feels to check out a Magic Tree House book from our Bend, Oregon library for our 7-year-old while we traipse through the savannas of Kenya, but I’m grateful. (And yep, I miss my old friends, paper books—as useful a tool they are for travel and storage, we’ll probably hide our Kindles our first full year back.)

3. Spotify

As a long-time user, we have tons of playlists on Spotify, which makes it easy-peasy to have our entire music collection wherever we travel—but right now, I’m especially grateful for all the audiobooks on tap.

spotify

There are hundreds of classic books read by Jim Weiss, not to mention tons of short stories read by the likes of Ralph Fiennes and Meryl Streep. Good stuff.

4. Other book apps

Spotify remains my favorite listening app, but there are still more audiobook offerings on Librivox and free, public domain e-books on Free Books. A plethora of classics, free to download.

free books

5. Duolingo

I first heard about Duolingo from this TED talk, and I’ve been a fan ever since. Basically, it’s like Rosetta Stone but free. The two downsides are that as of now, there are only six languages you can learn, and it only works online—a bit of a challenge when traveling. But it’s still amazing, and it’s free.

duolingo

We’re all learning French right now, while we’re here in France, but our 10-year-old’s been using it for Spanish for well over a year. Thumbs up.

6. Spelling City

It took me awhile to figure out the best way to use Spelling City, but I think I’ve finally gotten the hang of it. I add spelling lists from my laptop on the main site, which syncs to the app on our iPad.

spellingcity

I then have the kids play on the app several times a week, choosing their current list—they can play any games available. It’s an easy way to reinforce spelling.

7. Articulation Station

Our 7-year-old sees a speech therapist when we’re home, and I have a feeling our 4.5-year-old might join him when we return. In the meantime, she recommended the Articulation Station app for reinforcement, and it’s been really helpful.

articulationstation

Designed by speech professionals, you can buy individual sounds and focus only on your kids’ needs (we’ve only purchased seven sounds; /p/ comes free).

8. Wet Dry Try

Our four-year-old is in the pre-literate stage, slowly learning his letters at his own pace. We used Wet Dry Try with his older brother as a precursor to writing, since he also has a fine-motor delay. This app has been great for our youngest, too, teaching him correct letter formation with his finger.

wetdrytry

Not sure if we’d use the app if we weren't traveling, but it mimics the finger-on-chalk approach well.

9. Khan Academy

Khan Academy offers math, science, history, art, economics, and more, but right now we mostly use it for math reinforcement. Tons of content for free, with a newly-updated iPad app.

khanacademy

Good for all ages, preschool through adult.

10. Flash to Pass

A nice, simple app for practicing basic math operations with a timer. When I get the sense some of the kids need a little practice, or sometimes even to start off our daily math, they’ll do these “flash cards” for about 5 to 10 minutes as a warmup.

flashtopass

11. Stack the Countries

A simple game to reinforce geography and bits of history, the kids play this several times a week “as a treat” (they don’t even think of it as learning—and it is actually fun).

stack the countries

12. Journals and sketchbooks

And finally, each of our kids has sketchbooks at hand almost all the time so that they can draw and sketch whatever strikes their fancy—something from a museum, a scenic overlook, an animal they saw earlier that day, whatever. And the writers have notebooks so they can make lists, write paragraphs, work, on a story, whatever. Just by having these accessible, the kids can organically integrate their daily life in to natural learning. It’s a habit I hope we keep back home as well.

There are some more obvious resources—YouTube, free museums and local events, Google Earth, and the like, but I’d love to learn about some hidden gems. What are some simple, free or low-cost favorite resources you use for continuing education—either for you or your kids? Enlighten me, por favor.

Useful tools for ongoing education - for kids, adults, and everyone in between.

Reading Time:

5 minutes

 

 

 

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49 Comments

  1. Cindy Lee

    Fantastic compilation of tools. So glad I follow you.

    • Tsh

      Thanks, Cindy! I appreciate it.

  2. Janelle@The Peaceful Haven

    Tsh…What a great list!! I have been homeschooling for 18 years and you taught me a few things today! I will be checking out the 3 we don’t currently use! Thank you!

    • Tsh

      Thanks, Janelle!

  3. Dana

    Try Starfall.com for your little guy. Part of this site can be accessed for free including an interactive section on learning letter names and sounds. It is simple but I used it when I taught kindergarten. It is easy for kiddos to use independently and they enjoy it. They can repeat the same letter over and over if they want and they can interact with them in any order. There are also simple phonics games and books in the free section when he is ready for that.

    Thanks for the mention of Duolingo. I want try that for myself!

    • Tsh

      Yes, I had forgotten about Starfall! We actually used that with our oldest when she was about that age, but I hadn’t thought of it since then. Cool to hear it’s still around! Thanks, Dana.

      • Michaela

        And all the Starfall content is available as apps now too. We use this with our younger child. So great.
        Also, Splash Math, although they seem to have changed the way it works a bit and I liked the old format better.

        • Tsh

          You know, we tried Splash Math for awhile. It’s good for reinforcement (as in, they already learned the info elsewhere), but it just doesn’t seem worth the money with resources like Khan Academy for free. That’s just my opinion, though…

  4. Ashlee

    A great list! Thanks for compiling and sharing! We use all the age appropriate ones but I am definitely noting the rest for the future and I’ll be following your spotify lists! I didn’t realize spotify had audiobooks!

    • Ashlee

      Oh and I meant to mention our absolute fav: Sparkle Stories (they have a weekly podcast on iTunes and a few free stories for every holiday on their website) and their subscription is very reasonable (you get a new story every Friday, and pay monthly).

      • Tsh

        We have a few Sparkle Stories and they’re great! Thanks, Ashlee.

  5. Lindsay

    Tsh, this list rocks! I didn’t know Spotify had audiobooks! We are in our third year of homeschooling and we love story of the world as well. My kids love to play stack the states since we are doing US history and geography this year. Thanks for this impressive list, saving this post for future reference.

    • Tsh

      Yeah, it took me awhile to discover the audiobooks there—awesome, no?

      • Angel

        How do you find the audiobooks? I don’t use Spotify too often. Do you have to search by title or author or?? Thanks. 🙂

        • Tsh

          Answered right here for you, Angel. 🙂

  6. Buffy

    Thank you much for these resources, I will feel good about sharing them with my kiddos and hubby.

    • Tsh

      I’m glad, Buffy! Thanks for reading.

  7. Lori

    This is such a great list. Thank you for putting it all together.

    • Tsh

      Happy to, Lori! This is such a part of our daily life anyway, it was pretty easy to compile.

  8. Alissa

    Thanks for this! We are traditional schoolers… with great belief in that we, as parents, are still ultimately responsible for our kids’ education (got that one from Tsh and Simple Homeschool). It’s been absolutely freeing for me to recognize that if something is missing from their school learning, I can supplement on my own.

    I’ve been waiting for my boys to be old enough for listening to Story of the World on our summer road trips. This is the year!

    I’m going to go load these apps on our devices tonight. I love that so many of them are valuable for both kids and adults. The math nerd in me is kind of excited about checking out Khan Academy for adults. =)

    • Tsh

      Excellent, Alissa! And yes, Khan Academy is pretty great for filling in gaps in our own education (which is definitely math for me).

  9. Nina Nelson

    Spotify has audiobooks! What the what! I’m so stoked about that. Our kids have some favorite learning sites online: ABCMouse for our pre-K/K minions and Reading Eggs (Ella’s learned how to read with that and Isaiah is close behind – yay!). Isaac looooooves audiobooks and downloads them from the library a lot. I know there’s another one, but I can’t remember.

    Miss you, friend!

  10. Heather den Hollander

    Just an update… there are currently EIGHT Duolingo languages for English speakers. Irish, German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Danish, and Dutch. 🙂

    • Tsh

      Awesome! Thanks for the update, Heather.

  11. Mandi

    What a wonderful list! We homeschool and are preparing for an around-the-world trip, so we will add the ones we aren’t already using to our repertoire. We also use books from The Baldwin Project (mainly for history, but also just for fun), Starfall (like another commenter noted), Grammar Land (which isn’t free but isn’t expensive and is a fantastic and fun way to teach basic English Grammar in the form of a story), Abby Pal for practice writing letters (there is a print version and a cursive version). My husband and I are so thrilled to have the opportunity to learn along with our kids as we homeschool, and we agree with you that the “vast majority of learning happens within your family, regardless of where your kids ‘do’ school.”

    • Tsh

      Sounds like a great plan already, Mandi! Hope the planning is going well—in some ways that part is almost harder than the actual going! 😉

  12. Jane

    Thanks so much – this is an awesome list! I have just downloaded all the apps you mentioned – a few questions:
    1. What age is the story of the world suitable for?
    2. Can you use overdrive if you are not linked into a specific real life library? (We live in Europe)
    3. How do you search for audiobooks in spotify? This is an awesome discovery!
    If you haven’t time to respond I totally understand – I know the woes of travel and finding wifi (which where we live is pronounced “weefee”

    • Tsh

      1. Story of the World can be used with all ages, but it’s definitely a case-by-case basis as to whether the stories hold interest. They progress in four volumes, and they get more complicated the farther you go in the volumes, so if you start younger and go in order with a few per week, it’ll take several years, with the more recent stories (in history) with slightly older kids. That said – we all listen together and are about to start volume 3, and both our 10 and 7-year-olds are hooked (as are the adults). The 4-year-old hangs out and plays with LEGO. 😉

      2. Overdrive serves as a conduit between a brick-and-mortar library and a digital service, like Amazon or B&N (Nook), so yes, you need an account at an actual library. Do you have an address that would allow you to get a library card somewhere? If so, and if that library has digital products (ebooks, audiobooks, etc.), then whatever they use to serve those digital products (like Overdrive, in our case) should connect with a variety of digital services (we have Kindles, so = Amazon for us). Hope that makes sense.

      3. You can search just by name, if there’s an audiobook in particular you’re curious about. But to just see the library, go to Browse -> scroll to Word -> there you go. You can also go to Browse -> Kids. 🙂

      • Jane

        Thank you so much for your reply – that was really helpful!

  13. Sarah M

    I only knew about half of these apps, so I’m adding a few more for my kids right now (hello Stack the Countries!). We use Duloingo for our everyday French practice, and it’s the number one resource that I’ve seen improvement with. Also–Jim Weiss on Spotify…I never would have thought! <3
    Sarah M

  14. Zonya

    Wonderful list. Another math resource for you that I just discovered is xtramath. Recommended to me by a friend, and planning to have my daughter start with it soon. https://xtramath.org/

  15. Michaela

    I commented above about Starfall as an app and Splashmath, but we also use the Letterschool app for practicing letter writing – similar to the wet-dry-try that you have, I think. And our kids also love the Barefoot Books World Atlas app (it’s quite big though!)

  16. Candace

    Thanks, Tsh! Great list. Our 3.5 year old gets busy with Signing Time (digital subscription) and Montessorium’s Alpha Writer for phonograms. Our 7 year old has been using Reflex Math to practice math facts, and really enjoys it – they offer a free 30 day trial, and we decided that it was worth the subscription ($35) for the math is fun factor for us. Also fans of Sparkle Stories!

  17. Melanie

    I had no idea that Spotify had audio books! Thanks for that!

  18. Naomi

    Thanks for sharing these – I had not heard of Duolingo. I just checked it out and am excited about my family using it.

    • Tsh

      Very true, Caroline! 😉

  19. se7en

    This is like the best post ever… I love it!!! If you search around the world of podcasts for BBC/Learning you will find heaps of resources for kids as well… we have listened to classics (like Dickens voice-acted out by the BBC is something special) and they also have great music.drama lessons for kids to join in as they listen. Have a little search next time you can’t think of something to do (like never!!!), I am sure you will find something you guys will enjoy!!!

  20. Lindsay

    Hi Tsh! Thank you for sharing all of this! I especially am interested in the audio books, as I’ve yet to try that out at home with my kiddos.
    I have a couple other recommendations that I use as a public school educator and as a parent of an emerging reader.
    Raz-kids!!!! This is an awesome app/website that has leveled reading books. It reads the story out loud, then the child can record themselves read it (and play it back to hear their reading) and then it has a comprehension quiz at the end. Totally love this app.
    Lexia, is a cool app for phonics and phonemic awareness.
    For math, definitely check out Reflex Math. This and Raz-kids, I believe you can test it out with a free trial.

  21. Kiasa

    We love several of these learning tools (and we don’t homeschool)! Articulation Station was so great when my 5 year old was delayed in his speech a couple years ago. Starfall is such a great app (as was mentioned in the comments). We loved Stack the States when we were road tripping around the USA for a few months and I’m excited to try Stack the Countries. All my kids also really enjoy the “Teach Me…”(toddler, kindergarten, 3rd grade, etc) apps. My husband recently told me about the audiobooks/stories on spotify. We’ve been using storynory.com (free audio fairytales) recently, but we are running out of good ones. I did a quick search on spotify and the first kids story that came up had kind of a creepy voice, so I’ll have to spend more time searching and find us some Meryl Streep! Thanks for all these great resources!

  22. Maria Peters

    Thank you so much for sharing this awesome list! I am in the early stages of planning our first official homeschool year next year with Kindergarten for my oldest and have been soaking in as much info as I can get! Although, I know that much of it wont be as useful until we get to older grades, it’s nice to feel confident that there are so many wonderful resources available to support our journey!

  23. Wynne

    Wow–huge thank you! I’d heard great things about Story of the World elsewhere but didn’t think to consider audiobook, which is perfect for us. I’m excited to try the other recommendations, too.

  24. Kristen Mc

    I’m curious which Kindles you have for your kiddos? I have an old Kindle myself (no touchscreen or any of the fancy new stuff!) but would love to have something for my kid to use with OverDrive as we begin homeschooling.

  25. Glenn

    Thanks for sharing TSH, one resource that I find is great is : http://www.uncw.edu/EDGames

    “Make memorizing and test review fun again, Any topic Any age.” The site has tons of free Powerpoint Games, excel and word templates that anyone can use to fit the vocabulary or questions that they are reviewing. There are even free bingo card generators. These are great to make test review or everyday vocabulary fun. They have pre-made games that work with any topic and lots of templates you can customize to fit any age or topic.

  26. Adrianne

    We’ve been using ReadingEggs with our 5 yr old and he loves it.

  27. Amanda

    Thanks for your list. We need to check out a number of those!

    The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has the Merlin Bird ID App (free) that’s pretty great and intuitive for identifying birds. It may only have North American birds at the moment; I’m not sure. Their All About Birds website is really useful, and we even participated in their world-wide bird count where anyone can submit a checklist of observed birds as “citizen science.” We’ve learned the names of most of the feathered visitors to our yard this way.

  28. Mary

    Thank you — such a wonderful, SIMPLE list. I love it!

  29. Mauritius

    My little audience like audio-books. I still remember, how much kids were excited listening to Grimm’s fairy tale ‘The Worn-Out Dancing Shoes’. The post-listening task was to draw the picture, so now like a collector I have personal gallery at home:) To my own experience, songs are perfect warm-up when you work with kids. My favourite channel is Super Simple Songs ( you can find them on YouTube). But if to talk about middle and upper school, the other list of tools teachers should have used. As a tutor of literature (and journalist at the same time), I noticed that students have fear of writing. To overcome these latent barriers of subconsciousness, I encourage them to use Hemingway Editor, Mind-mapping (the great way to brainstorm) and plagiarism checker Unplag https://unplag.com/ to avoid even a hint of similarity.
    And Tsh, thanks, honestly I have never heard about Spotify…I guess, I’ll try 🙂

  30. Brianna

    Tsh, I know this post is over a year old, but I’m wondering: have Jim Weiss’ recordings been removed from Spotify? I can’t find them anymore. 🙁

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