Trying to balance two jobs, church activities, cooking meals from scratch, and managing a household means that this mama doesn’t always have hands-on time with my child for homeschooling. Before I started working, we had a lot more time to sit and work on all kinds of subjects together to get Nathan’s schooling done. But since my schedule has gotten a lot fuller, we’ve had to get creative with how we homeschool. It has never been an option NOT to homeschool, mind you. It’s just that we have to try some new things and go some different directions than we did before. And I am here to tell you that it CAN BE DONE!! Not only that, but it CAN BE AWESOME!!
One of the things that has saved us is the fact that there is SO MUCH quality stuff on the Internet for homeschoolers. I have found a lot of really great online programs, curricula, and even educational apps that in some cases are better than what I was doing before, and much of it is FREE, which is so helpful for our tight budget. I wanted to share just a few of the different online programs and apps that we are using in our homeschool this year that we have found to be absolutely fantastic.
1. Mystery Science
Mystery Science is an amazing science resource for elementary aged kids, 2nd through 5th grade. I got in on a free one-year trial at the beginning of this past school year, and Nathan has absolutely LOVED the science lessons. The format is fantastic, and great from both a student and a teacher standpoint. They use a video storytelling method to teach the content, and each subject solves some sort of scientific “mystery.” For example, one of the lessons talks about the “mystery” of how roller coasters go and keep going without motors (and what kid doesn’t want to know how roller coasters work??) There are activities for each lesson which thrills my hands-on learner, and options for further study, if you or your child are interested in pursuing more about a particular topic. The lessons can be done either independently by the student, with a parent/teacher, or with a group or class of kids, so there is some versatility there if you homeschool more than one child or work within a co-op. Nathan has done many of the lessons multiple times, simply because he enjoys them so much, and I will often catch him at the computer on a weekend, doing Mystery Science of his own accord–it’s THAT engaging and interesting for him. He has learned a ton, and continues to go back and play with some of the things he’s made, and work on the activities he’s done, which just helps to solidify the concepts that those things helped to teach in the first place. He is a science buff–science is his favorite subject–so this curriculum is right up his alley. This is not one of the free programs I was talking about (after the free trial is up), but it is such a high quality program, and my child enjoys it so much, that we went ahead and paid for the next school year when they were running a sale. The regular cost for a year is $99.00, which isn’t a ridiculous amount for such a great curriculum, and I believe it’s definitely a worthwhile investment. You can check out more about Mystery Science at their website: www.mysteryscience.com
2. Kids Discover
I happened upon Kids Discover when I saw a Facebook ad, and it intrigued me, so I decided to check it out. I am so glad I did! It is basically an online library of science, social studies, and history lessons, geared toward kids in elementary and middle school grades. There is a ton of great information with really nice photos and graphics, and occasionally some gifs and video thrown in. Basically, they have compiled topics from lots of different engaging and interesting subjects and put them all together into units that are fun to explore and encourage kids to learn. Their main page reminds me of Pinterest, in that it is a hodgepodge of bright and beautiful photographs with titles that draw you in and make you want to discover what that topic is all about. As you browse down the page, more and more topics appear, to entice and encourage learning. It is a huge appeal to the visual kids (and adults too, apparently!) The Discover page has floating spheres that hold a variety of different subjects, and when you click on those, they take you to various unit studies related to those subjects, and then on to the individual topics in those units. There are several ways to search for topics: you can just scroll down the Pinterest-style main page and pick a topic from there; you can go to the Discover page and select a subject, unit and topic from there, or you can go to one of the various drop down menus and select your subject, and then it will show you the units in the same way they show on the main page. There are 3 different levels of membership, starting with a free option which gives you access to 200 different topics in about 30 different units. We are still exploring the free topics as there are so many, and each week Kid Discover “unlocks” some of their other topics that kids can access for free during that particular week. The At Home membership is only $4 a month, which gives you access to all 1000 topics on the site, in 100 units, and includes the ability to choose to have the topics geared toward your child’s reading level. Kid Discover has 3 Lexile ® Reading levels that take into account grammar, vocabulary and sentence length, so that all the lessons can be better adapted for different age groups and different kids’ needs. There is also an Educator option for classrooms, which is $12 per month and gives some different advantages for those who need a system for multiple users. Kids Discover also has an online store where you can purchase magazines and other printed material, and special apps. I have been super happy with Kids Discover, and really like their online format, the variety of topics, and the convenience of it! We were doing some unit and topical studies before, and I was spending a lot of time looking through material, finding online content that was appropriate, and researching library books that fit our studies. I still do some of that, but Kids Discover has done so much of that kind of work for me, and Nathan is learning so much from what he is studying. I am very pleased! We are planning to get an At Home membership for the next school year, and $4 a month is a steal for that! But seriously, there are so many free topics (with extras thrown in each week) that you can go for months and months without ever having to purchase more content. Kids Discover could be used as a curriculum in and of itself, a school year or summer supplement, or just for fun! I would encourage you to check out their website: http://www.kidsdiscover.com/
Nathan is using Duolingo to learn Spanish. We were using a workbook before, and he HATED it and Spanish lessons were a struggle EVERY DAY. But with Duolingo, Nathan actually enjoys Spanish, for the first time ever, so this is a huge win!! Duolingo is an online language learning curriculum that is pretty much geared toward anyone, young or old, who wants to learn a language. There are a vast number of different languages offered on their site, but the format for learning is basically the same for all of them. Duolingo has put together short lessons that are like little games that encourage participation, speed, and competition. It really does make learning a language fun. There are ways to measure progress, including tests and fluency scores, and little rewards you can earn along the way. This curriculum is 100% FREE, which makes it extra awesome. I know some public schools that are using Duolingo in their classrooms, and it’s available on a computer, or as an app for your phone or tablet, making it completely portable and easy to travel with! There are many days that Nathan has completed his Duolingo lessons in the car on our way to somewhere, or sitting in the cart while I do my WalMart shopping. We love Duolingo, and who knows? Maybe Nathan will decide he wants to learn more than just Spanish before it’s all said and done 🙂 Check out their website here: https://www.duolingo.com/
4. DragonBox Alegebra 12+
Several months ago, Rex and I both got some free app credits in the Amazon App Store, and we were trying to figure out what in the world to use them for. I did a little research on good educational apps, and one that consistently made it into the top few of everyone’s lists was DragonBox. It’s an app, which is basically a game that teaches kids algebra concepts. They make one that is for ages 5+ and also ages 12+. After reading a bunch of reviews, I decided to get the one for 12+, even though Nathan is 9, because people were saying that it was not any too difficult for their 7, 8, and 9-year-old kids. This app has not been a part of our math curriculum this year, but rather just something Nathan has chosen to do for fun. I had really planned to save it until later, but he discovered it one day and was instantly hooked. He has already completed all the levels and finished the game, and he totally loved it. Is he ready to tackle algebra? Probably not yet, but he has a lot of the basic concepts down which I think will make it easier for him to understand when our regular math curriculum takes us into algebra. It does cost, but $7.99 isn’t horrible (and we got it for free with our app credits, so it didn’t cost us anything–yay!) DragonBox has another app that we are considering for this next year that teaches Geometry concepts. It’s called DragonBox Elements. Nathan loves Geometry, so he is very excited about it. You should be able to find DragonBox in your device’s app store. We bought ours from the Amazon App Store.
5. Math Ninja
So, here’s another math app/game that has been a supplement to our regular math curriculum. This one is free, which makes it especially awesome! Basically, this app just helps your child to nail down his or her math facts–specifically Nathan has been using it to practice his times tables. I love that he actually enjoys this game and that it’s so good for him–it’s so much more fun and engaging than just using flash cards, and I think it’s a great deal more effective. Nathan can play this on my phone, on the go, if he’s bored or needs something to fill up some time. And the whole time he’s playing, it’s reinforcing his math skills and helping him to get faster at things. After the first few games, I noticed his speed had increased exponentially! So Math Ninja is a win-win around here 🙂 You can get Math Ninja through your device’s app store.
I know there are many other fantastic programs and apps out there that people are using in their homeschooling–in fact, there are a few others that we use here and there that I didn’t include in this list. These are just five of the ones we use most often, and that I like the best! I am not being compensated in any way to say anything good or otherwise about these programs–in fact, none of them even know I’m reviewing them and recommending them! I just like them and wanted to share what is working for us! I would definitely encourage you to look into these, if you haven’t already. I think you will be pleasantly surprised at the quality and educational value that each of these demonstrates! ‘Appy homeschooling!! (OK, I know that was SUPER corny–I just couldn’t resist, haha!)