• Peter Scott & Monica Kong

REVIEW: 13 EDUCATIONAL WEBSITES for homeschooling kids

Updated: Oct 14



When we first decided to travel, we researched all different ways on educating our children. From unschooling to homeschooling, we considered many approaches. In the end, we decided to register with selfdesign.org, an online distributed learning program funded by the B.C. Ministry of Education. One of the advantages of this school is that we have access to many online resources for free, including subscription websites that we would otherwise have to pay on our own. We took advantage of this opportunity to explore which sites were worthwhile and which were not. Below is a list of 13 websites we tried in the past year, with a review on each, what we liked, and what we didn't.


TOP 3 FAVORITES


1) EPIC BOOKS

The selection of this digital library is excellent, with full colour pictures and over 40,000 titles to choose from. Ideal for kids under 12. They are always adding new books, including their very own original series. Also, we love the option of saving books for "offline" reading, which comes in handy when wifi is not available, like when we were camping across Canada. You can also disable the videos, to encourage more reading. The only minor dislike is that books are not categorized based on age appropriateness or reading level, so it's hard to know which books fit a kid's current reading ability. It also includes licensed, popular titles and graphic novels.

PRICE: $7.99 USD/month


A wonderful selection of books can be found on epic.


2) IXL

While this is not LOVED by our kids, us parents find it helpful. IXL is available in multiple languages and has a Canadian Edition, in which you can specifically follow your provincial curriculum for Math and English. You get a sticker reward after each accomplishment but no games, avatars or points to accumulate. Simple and straight to the point. I like that they have a "recommendations" section where they select lessons based on the student's personal progress, some of which may be above or below their grade level. When you get a question wrong, it clearly explains the correction. The analytics are also helpful to monitor usage and areas requiring improvement. The downside is that there is a timer and a score counter on the side, with the goal to reach 100 to finish each lesson. If you get a question wrong, the score drops by almost 10 points. All of this can create unnecessary pressure and frustration that the kids can really do without.

PRICE: $12.95 Cdn/month or $99/year per child.


Grade 3 math curriculum on IXL below


Recommendations tailored for each learner below:

Sample of grade 2 math question:


3) RAZ KIDS

This is especially good for early readers. The levels are very gradual, so it helps build confidence for beginners. Each reading level has a wide selection of fiction and non-fiction books. You have a choice of listening, reading and then doing a multiple choice quiz afterwards which helps with reading comprehension. The kids can earn points to buy things for their avatar or their spaceship. The downside is that the stories, though informative and enjoyable, are written for the sole purpose of learning how to read. In other words, they aren't the most exciting books. It also excludes licensed, popular titles and graphic novels.

PRICE: $115 USD/year


Selection of books for Q-level readers on RAZ KIDS, below:


RAZ KIDS learner Avatar



OTHERS


4) BRAIN POP

This website is easily a 4th favorite for both kids and parents. We don't use it as often as we should, but we love the wide range of subjects: Health & Safety, Math, Science, even emotions and empathy to name a few. Their videos are very simple, but with clear and concise explanations. Overall visuals are bright and eye-catching. Their games are also very unique and educational: from running your own constitutional law firm to learning how to make decisions after a natural disaster hits, there is a lot of critical thinking and creative problem solving involved. They have a BrainPOP Jr. series for Kindergarten to Grade 3, BrainPOP for older kids, and BrainPOP ELL, for English Language Learners. Keep in mind, it is U.S. based, which means it covers more American history and events.

PRICE: $119-$159 USD for 1 year.


A sample of topics under Health and Feelings, in BrainPOP Jr., below:

BrainPOP Jr. Math topics:

A look at Geography topics offered by BrainPOP...


A complex game called "Guts and Bolts" where you connect the body systems together and attempt to deliver oxygen to all the vital organs while clearing out the carbon dioxide.


5) SPELLING CITY

This is a simple but interactive program that allows the learner to build vocabulary and spelling skills by listening, seeing, typing and playing fun games. You can also do a practice test in the end. There are many lists of words for each grade level. Our kids enjoy this program.

PRICE: $34.95 USD a year for a family membership up to 5 kids.


Sample of spelling games:

Sample of spelling list for grade 3


6) CODE MONKEY

Coding is all the rage these days. The recommended age for this one is 8 and up. Our 6 year old really got into it, but it did require a lot of parental guidance. The levels get increasingly difficult, some of which, not gonna lie, even we adults struggled with! There is a lot of logical thinking, problem solving and math, such as measuring and variables. At more advanced levels, you can even program your own game. The downside is that their "HINTS" are not always helpful enough, so it involves a lot of trial and error. With support, and for the right age group, CODE MONKEY can definitely add value to your child's learning.

PRICE: $39 USD a year per child.


Beginner coding lesson: Try to get the monkey to the banana


7) READING EGGS / MATHSEEDS / READING EGGSPRESS

This is great for younger ages, but our 6 year old is outgrowing this one already. Reading Eggs, as the name suggests, focuses on phonics and reading skills. The graphics are fun and the tunes are catchy, but we found the lessons get tediously slow and repetitive, with less focus on education and more on entertainment. You collect eggs/seeds after each lesson is complete and buy furniture, clothes and games with it. Needless to say, the kids loved it. However, how much learning is actually taking place is questionable. The lessons were often not challenging enough, and it was tricky to adjust the difficulty level, even after the placement test. The only one that we still use occasionally is READING EGGSPRESS, a literacy program for ages 7 and up. On the plus side, you can DISABLE the games, which in my opinion, is kind of necessary if you want the focus to be on learning.

PRICE: $78/ 12 months




8) MATHLETICS

This one is somewhere between IXL and Mathseeds. A good alternative for early learners who need a little bit more incentive than the cut and dry IXL, but isn't too slow and game focused like Mathseeds. It isn't nearly as comprehensive as IXL and it doesn't adjust difficulty level based on how well the student is progressing. There are a few games, including "LIVE Mathletics" where you can interact and compete with other students from around the world. There are also worksheets you can print out. Kids enjoyed the points you accumulate to buy clothes and accessories for your avatar.

PRICE: $99 USD/ 1 year




9) PRODIGY

Our kids' favorite Math game, but one we use the least. It is quite an elaborate fantasy game with lots cute creatures to make it that much more appealing for kids. Sure there is SOME learning involved, maybe only about 30% of the time...or less. The math questions seem quite random and jump all over the place. What is most irritating is how often they remind you to upgrade your subscription to a full membership ($$$), so you can unlock more features. The over-marketing feels like a constant cash-grab, and kids at some point might be begging you to pay up. If you are looking for a game to entertain the kids, with a little bit of math on the side, then PRODIGY will do just that. Not recommended if you are expecting anything more.

PRICE: $59.95 USD for Premium membership.



Sample math question from Prodigy:


10) MUZZYBBC.COM

If you are looking for a kids' online language program, we DON'T recommend this one. It was a huge disappointment. We requested this subscription to help our kids learn Korean. However, the lessons are disorganized and difficult to follow. The cartoons are fairly low quality and without subtitles, it is hard to understand the story. The worst part is, it doesn't even teach you the korean alphabet, so you are expected to sound out the words in english and know how to spell it. Don't waste your money. Duolingo and Luv Lingua apps are better for beginner level language learning. (NOTE: Muzzybbc and EPIC Books were not offered by SELF DESIGN for free, but we used our yearly school funds to purchase these subscriptions.)




11) EXPLORELEARNING.COM

This website offers a huge library of science and math simulations called "GIZMOS", for grades 3 to 12. While it lacks depth on its own, these learning tools can be excellent adjuncts for further conceptual understanding of a subject or lesson. We are big fans, and the kids enjoy the interactive, colourful graphics. We usually combine a science Brainpop lesson with a gizmo, if there is one. You can, for instance, build electrical circuits, experiment with magnets, learn about the forest ecosystem, or study the digestive system in great detail. Each lesson comes with a PDF/Google Doc "Student Exploration Sheet" (useful questions and directions to follow), and some assessment questions in the end. The downside is that the price (below) is pretty steep for what it is.

PRICE: $149 USD for 1 year "Home User Subscription", allowing 1 educator account, and up to 3 student accounts.


A list of "Gizmos" under Physical Science: Motion and Force


Sample of a gizmo on "Phases of Water". You can adjust the temperature of the water and look at the water particles in action under a magnifying glass.

Sample gizmo on the Digestive System. Involves putting the large and small organs in order and feeding it different foods. When you press "PLAY", the food travels down the digestive system, and in the end, it analyzes how much water and food was absorbed.


Sample Gizmo on "Measuring Trees" and how precipitation affects the height, diameter and circumference of a tree over the years.


12) STORYBOARDTHAT.COM

We just started exploring this fun site. It allows your kid to create a digital story by providing all the graphic tools, including access to a huge database of illustrations. You can even upload your own photos and images, and have the option of printing, downloading and sharing the finished story. It doesn't take long to learn, and so far, it has been a hit with both my kids. We usually let them write a short "draft" before they get logged in, as I find otherwise, a lot of time is used simply creating random scenes without an actual story. Storyboard is a new, unique way to allow for creative writing, as well as reinforce spelling, grammar and typing skills.

PRICE: FREE for limited usage with basic features ( 2 short storyboards per week) OR $9.99 USD/monthly subscription, $7.99 USD/month x 1 year.


Sample of different background scenes and characters you can choose from. You can even edit each image and change the colours, lighting, weather, poses, facial expressions, etc.


Sample of an unfinished story created with storyboardthat.com.


13) FIELDTRIPZOOM.COM

This site offers live streaming, educational presentations with a wide range of subjects. They are partnered with many well-known history and art museums, science and space centers, aquariums, zoos, etc, across North America. There are at least 6-12 different sessions a month to choose from, 45 mins long each, and always at 10:10am (pacific time). When we were in Asia, the time difference unfortunately did not allow us to try these fieldtrips, as the kids were always asleep by then. We have participated in several now, since our return, including one to The Royal Tyrrell Museum, and one on the digestive system with a live frog dissection. Students can ask or answer questions via chat, but there is no video/audio interaction involved between the students and the presenter. Some are more engaging than others, but it all depends on what your kids are interested in learning. Overall, the kids are keen to keep this one going on a regular basis.

PRICE: $49.94 USD for a Homeschooler Annual Membership.


Sample of providers below:



FINAL THOUGHTS

While we try to incorporate much of our travel and life experiences into our kids' education, we have also learned to embrace the digital world. Not all websites are as educational or as amazing as they claim to be. Also, what works for some, may not work for others, but that is essentially why we have a newfound appreciation for homeschooling. You have the opportunity to explore different ways of learning based on the child's specific interests, strengths and challenges. While we as parents are still learning how best to navigate our children's education, quality, online websites have definitely helped us along the way.



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