I love using all kinds of media to support our homeschool. I’ve been using YouTube and online games and programs since I was teaching elementary school. I’m excited to share my favorite resources to support learning in your home or classroom!
Top Ten Favorite Apps and Websites
www.starfall.com and on your app store
free version or upgrade for $35/year
If you haven’t seen Starfall or if it’s been a while, take a look. Starfall used to be a strictly Kindergarten program, but it has expanded greatly in the last few years to cover 1st and 2nd grade Reading and Math skills.
Reading skills range from learning letter names and sounds to read-along stories and 1st grade phonics. For math, kids start with songs and counting and can move on to counting money, addition, subtraction all the way to beginning multiplication.
Starfall is available for free with limited access or for $35/year for a family membership. We sprung for the family membership, and I’m so glad we did. Starfall is hands-down the most used app on the Fires. All three of my kids, from 1-1/2 to 6 use it. If you do get the full program, you’ll also have access to the Teacher’s Lounge where you can find Pre-K and Kindergarten curricula and customizable printables.
www.khanacademy.org and video viewer on your app store
We use the full version of Khan for math on our laptop (Kindle app is just the video viewer), and my son loves it. Your child will begin with a placement test and work his/her way through the material with practice sessions and mastery tests. He found this easy to navigate after a few simple instructions from me.
Each practice question has a video explaining the concept. The tone of the videos is conversational – math is explained the way a parent or teacher might explain it when sitting side-by-side with a child. My son says they are funny enough to make him “laugh out loud.” They’re certainly memorable. After watching a new concept a few times, my son processes the material and can answer the practice questions.
We use Khan as just one component of our largely eclectic math instruction, however, it claims to be a stand-alone program. After seeing how the program works, I believe it. Sal Khan has very interesting ideas about the direction of education which are worth a listen. View his Ted Talk about using video to reinvent education.
Teach Your Monster to Read
www.teachyourmonstertoread.com and on your app store
free on the computer or $4.99 for the app
We downloaded the app and play Teach Your Monster to Read on the laptop. This very engaging game allows kids to practice listening to and identifying phonemes and practicing phonics skills. Your child will also fix a space ship, collect letters, and practice their mouse skills as they follow the paths through the game.
As a teacher or parent, you will be able to check on your child’s progress, set up paths for multiple children, and access printables, games, songs, and ideas through the Teacher’s Area. The app and website are incredibly user friendly for a five or six year old. My son just loves this site, and is just zooming through the game. If you’re looking for a game with a purposeful path for practicing phonics that children will enjoy and can do completely independently, this one is for you!
PBS Kids App and Games
www.pbskids.org and on your app store
We cut the cable cord over two years ago and haven’t looked back. As an all streaming family with one TV, we frequently get stuck watching the same two seasons of the same show over and over because it’s the ONLY show everyone agrees on.
With the PBS Kids app my children have free access to new episodes and a zillion clips of educational programming with no commercials, and I have peace of mind that the kids can watch TV on their Fires without having to worry about them tapping something inappropriate. It’s a win/win.
This app is completely free, updated regularly, and appropriate for all ages. All of your favorite PBS shows are there from Daniel Tiger and Sesame Street to Wild Kratts and Odd Squad. We have this one on every device in the house. My oldest has also explored the games on the website, which are also available free.
Stack the States
Available on your app store
We purchased this app ($2.99) at the beginning of the year when we were learning a little about our state and maps. We read and answered the questions side-by-side until he was reading independently. The questions are about state locations, landmarks, and cities across the US. Your child earns states by answering questions correctly and stacking states in increasingly taller stacks. New games unlock as you gain states – a state identification/map game, puzzle, capitals, and more.
While this game is largely about guessing and memorizing facts (which may or may not be interesting for you) about states there are other components that make this app educationally rich. Stack the States has enriched my son’s vocabulary beyond what we would normally use studying basic map skills, gave him practice with directions and locations on a map, and familiarized him with national monuments and famous landmarks as well.
Our go-to channel when we need some movement in our day. It’s too hot. Too cold. We don’t have time to get to the playground. Cosmic Kids to the rescue. All three of my kiddos get in on the yoga fun. But it’s not just yoga. Jaime, the friendly and engaging host and yogi, encourages your children through the movements with all kinds of funny stories perfectly suited for young kids. Some episodes also retell familiar stories and movies such as Alice in Wonderland, Harry Potter, and Star Wars.
Sci Show Kids
We just love watching episodes of Sci Show Kids. Hosts Jessie and Squeaks make science approachable and interesting to a young audience. It seems that Sci Show has answered questions on every topic from catching a cold to scary spiders. Many of the episodes address lower elementary science topics – simple machines and plants, for example, are topics that we will be covering from Kinder to 2nd grade. What a great resource.
Crash Course Kids
Crash Course Kids is like the next step after exploring Sci Show Kids. This channel delves more deeply into all sorts of science topics – mostly over several episodes. This is not just your average skim-the-surface science. CC Kids explains topics in a lot more depth than your average text book. Just take a peek at the Intro to Gravity. These videos have already taught me a great deal. Oh yeah, great for my science-y six year old, too! We will be referring to this channel throughout the elementary grades.
I love using the FreeSchool videos to support our curricula. These videos are perfect for elementary aged kids. The videos are a little longer, a little slower. They present information in a way that is easy for kids to follow and understand. FreeSchool covers a wide range of topics from science to geography, artists and musicians, poetry, stories, animals, and history. It’s a great support for our units, and I’m not afraid to let the channel play.
Those silly Story Bots are a top favorite around our house for adults and kids. Full episodes are streaming on Netflix, but you can explore many more topics on YouTube. Memorable songs and videos explore a variety of subjects appropriate for preschool and elementary aged kids. Just a warning: the songs are super catchy. Don’t be surprised if you’re singing “Walk Like a Camel” right along with your kindergartner for the next week.
My little ones’ have young, sensitive eyes, and I don’t want them accidentally seeing anything upsetting. I keep a pretty tight reign on apps. They don’t have YouTube on their Kindles. Instead, I stream it to my Roku or Fire Stick. This way we get all of the great content without running into any questionable material. If you’re interested in allowing a little more freedom, check out YouTube Kids.
Free books from Amazon Prime
Each of my kids have a Kids Fire with the insanely safe foam bumper – but that’s not the only reason it’s safe. The parental controls on the Fire are top notch. Each of my kids has their own profile with their own apps. I control what is available to them through the Amazon Appstore which has a TON of “actually free” apps and books for kids.
My favorites are the children’s books that come with Prime. I keep discovering new books that I can put on the kids’ Fires completely free. My son loves to look through The Everything Kids series and Aseop’s Fables. Leaving a book on his tablet without explanation is sure to catch his attention. (Affiliate)
I was excited to try ABC Mouse! Their advertisements and reviews online look fantastic. Unfortunately for us it was a complete bust.
Negatives: The main program is the Learning Path. These are a series of maybe six activities that your child will complete to move on to the next level. The paths are extremely repetitive and boring. I tried to get both my 5 year old and 3 year old to work on their paths, but there’s just no incentive. Scratch that – there IS an incentive. The incentive is that they earn tickets to buy new clothes or items for their hamster. Guess where my kids spent all their ABC Mouse time? Yep. Trying on different clothes and playing with the hamster. Not the educational experience I was hoping for. After a few months it was left completely untouched. My (then) five year old said it’s “boring.” I agree.
IXL for Math
IXL is an app and website for practice in a variety of school subjects. We used the Math section of the program. It was pretty disappointing. This program was not very user friendly for a five year old. It feels funny saying that, but most apps for kids you just put on and they figure it out and GO!
Negatives: The practice is entirely quiz based (from what we could figure out) on the app and the website – so the learning is based on guess work and learning from your mistakes. It was frustrating. Unlike Khan, there were no videos or personality behind the lessons. Simply quizzes. He asked me to take it off to make room for other apps within a month.
Positives: If you’re looking for a program to reinforce skills that you’ve already learned or your kid is really into quizzes, IXL may be for you. I can see how it could be useful as an assessment tool, but it will take a good amount of adult guidance for lower elementary grades. Parents/teachers would have to choose the specific skill(s) assessed from a very long list, and (in my experience) sit side-by-side with your child to make sure they stay on task through the dry quizzes. However, if you’re going through all that you may as well use a pencil and paper.