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.
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.
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.)
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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