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5 free apps to make back-to-school from home easier

We know you can use all the help you can get

ST. LOUIS — With one kid homeschooled and another now going virtual, Manchester mom Karen Pinkard knows that to make sure everything gets done, you can't do it all alone.

"Part of homeschooling is using technology and using the resources that are available to give your kids the broadest access to the world that you can," she said.

Pinkard has learned teaching at home often means being a student, too.

"I get asked a question I don't actually know the answer to," she said. "Let's go see if we can find it! It's been a lot of fun."

In order to make the best use of resources available, we asked viewers to help us come up with a list of free apps to help make things a little less stressful this school year, and we put them to the test. Here are our 5 favorites.

  1. Quizlet. This app lets you make flashcards to study concepts and definitions. You can make your own, or browse thousands of decks already uploaded. Let the kiddos quiz themselves.
  2. Duolingo. It's hard enough to speak gen-z...but helping your kid learn another language? That might be no bueno. Duo-lingo gamifies language learning and teaches proper pronunciation.
  3. Photomath. A picture is worth a thousand...or is it two thousand? Sometimes, the math is just too hard to check. Not only will this app take the guesswork out of finding the right answer to your kid's complicated math homework, but it will also show you both step by step how to get there.
  4. Socratic. This app uses the power of your camera phone or tablet *and* Google search to find the answers to your questions. Answers will include scholarly articles and helpful diagrams to explain the concept. 
  5. Khan Academy. We heard a lot of cheers for this app and website. It's a collection of short online courses covering lessons from kindergarten through 12th grade. Parents who need refreshers on topics have their own section.

Pinkard recommends screening any learning site yourself before setting your kids loose. Avoid pages with chat-rooms or other ways for people you don't know to contact your kid directly. Look for ties to museums or universities as a good sign.

And most of all, she says, have fun with home learning.

"We are absolutely in this together. It doesn't matter if you are a firm believer in in-person schooling. If you want to do virtual schooling, if you want to do homeschooling, we are all parents who want the best for our children," said Pinkard. "The resources are out there for everyone."

The following selection of recommendations is from a compilation of links and apps for keeping kids engaged in from home, courtesy of Karen Pinkard and the St. Louis Area Secular Homeschoolers group on Facebook:

  • Arcademic - https://www.arcademics.com
    Arcade-like games that teach a variety of subjects for grades 1-6.
  • BrainPOP - https://www.brainpop.com
    K-8 and ELL online resource for learning almost every subject. Courses include videos, games, quizzes, vocab, and related reading.
  • IXL - https://www.ixl.com
    Skills-based, adaptive, personalized learning for PreK-12 in math, language arts, science, social studies, and Spanish.
  • Teachers Pay Teachers - https://www.teacherspayteachers.com
    Over 3 million free and paid resources, created by educators, on the full spectrum of subjects and grade levels. Search for curriculum or activities to do at home.
  • The Great Courses - https://www.thegreatcourses.com
    Online repository of courses in almost every topic for all ages.
  • Art with Everyone - https://www.patreon.com/AWEStudio
    Drawing and painting tutorials for all ages and skill levels.
  • Smithsonian Art & Design - https://www.si.edu/explore/art
  • National Gallery of Art NGA.gov/education – free online art curriculum
  • iCivics - https://www.icivics.org/
    Founded by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, students learn how government works by experiencing it. They step into the role of a judge, a member of Congress, a community activist, even the President of the United States - and do the job they do. Students gain civic knowledge and skills through this fun and challenging online platform.
  • Code.org - https://code.org/
    Online learning platform to teach K-12 students coding and computer science. Used by schools and districts worldwide, with a focus on increasing participation by women and underrepresented youth. Makers of the Hour of Code: https://hourofcode.com/us
  • Scratch - https://scratch.mit.edu/
    Online coding platform developed by MIT Media Lab for children using intuitive drag and drop visual interface that teaches coding basics. Kids can program their own interactive stories, games, and animations — and share their creations with others in the online community.
  • The Stock Market Game - https://www.stockmarketgame.org/
    An online simulation of the global capital markets that engages students grades 4-12 in the world of economics, investing and personal finance. (Typically better with a team of a few students.)
  • Quill - Quill.org
    Free writing and grammar activities for elementary, middle, and high school students.
  • Global Math Project - http://www.jamestanton.com/
    Join students from around the world on a global math project (Exploding Dots) that is mathematical story that starts at the very beginning of mathematics, assuming nothing, and swiftly takes you on a “wondrous journey” through grade school arithmetic, high-school polynomials algebra, infinite sums, and advanced mathematics and unsolved research problems baffling mathematicians still to this day. Ages 10+.
  • Prodigy Math - https://www.prodigygame.com/
    Engaging, curriculum-aligned math platform for grades 1-8. Game-based, adaptive, and personalized.
  • Smithsonian Science & Nature - https://www.si.edu/explore/science
  • Astronomy - http://www.cosmos4kids.com/
    Universe, galaxy, stars, systems, solar system, and exploration.
  • Biology - http://www.biology4kids.com/
    Cell structure and function, microorganisms, plants, animals and animal systems.
  • Chemistry 4 Kids - http://www.chem4kids.com/
    Matter, atoms, periodic table, elements, reactions, biochemistry.
  • Minecraft Chemistry - https://education.minecraft.net/chemistry/
    Discover the building blocks of matter, combine elements into useful compounds and Minecraft items, and conduct amazing experiments with new lessons and a downloadable world.
  • Teach Engineering - https://www.teachengineering.org/
    Digital library comprised of standards-aligned engineering curricula for K-12 educators to make applied science and math come alive through engineering design.
  • Geography - http://www.geography4kids.com/
    Earth energy and structure, atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere, climates, and more.
  • Physics 4 Kids - http://www.physics4kids.com/
    Motion, heat & thermodynamics, electricity & magnetism, light, modern physics.
  • Smithsonian History & Culture Collection -https://www.si.edu/explore/history
  • Big History Project - https://school.bighistoryproject.com/bhplive
    A free, online social studies course that encourages students to have a big-picture view of the world and emphasizes skill development as students draw “mind-blowing connections” between past, present and future.
  • Burning Cargo http://www.burningcargo.com/ 
    Typing program for all ages. 

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