Let’s be honest — working from home while also homeschooling young kids is basically impossible. Luckily for my family, some of my daughter’s amazing Little Rock School District teachers have been hosting daily activities and lessons on Facebook Live. My daughter has enjoyed a music lesson, storytime, math games, art class and even a “virtual field trip” to the farm on which one of her teachers lives. But even with the daily videos, AMI packets to complete, and helpful texts from her teacher, my husband and I still find ourselves scrambling for ways to keep our kids engaged and entertained with at-least-somewhat educational activities so that we can work from home during the day.
I recently talked about this problem with my long-time friend Sarah Carnahan, who is the middle and upper school librarian at Pulaski Academy (and mom to two young kids). Together we compiled the following list of free online resources for kids that will hopefully make social distancing a little bit easier and more enjoyable for everyone. While we focused exclusively on options that are free, we realized that these resources are only available to those who have both internet access and a computer, tablet, phone or other device that their child can use during the day.
Music & Dance:
Dancer’s Corner: This Little Rock dance studio is offering dance classes on Facebook Live most weekdays at 10 a.m. and other interactive events like stretching sessions in the evening.
At Home with Emily Arrow has created a fun and engaging combination of children’s books and original songs on her YouTube channel.
Books, Stories & Art:
Jarrett J. Krosoczka. Each weekday he offers “Draw Every Day with JJK” 1 p.m. on his YouTube channel. He talks about books, shows different drawing exercises each day, then ends with a family activity, such as “The Scribble Game” where one person’s scribble is another person’s creation. Watch live or check it out later.
Lunch Doodles with Mo Willems: Each weekday at noon*, the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts posts a new art lesson on its Facebook page from the children’s book author and illustrator. The videos are also available daily on the Kennedy Center’s YouTube channel, and while you are there you should definitely encourage your child to check out the channel’s treasure trove of videos of concerts and performances.
Audible Books has created Audible Stories. Audiobooks from picture books to teen books are free while schools are closed.
Patricia Polacco is giving a near-daily reading of her books on Facebook.
Peg + Cat is doing frequent Facebook Live storytimes and posting a lot of fun content for fans of the series.
The Handiwork Studio is hosting daily videos on Facebook Live at 10 a.m. to guide your kids through creating fun projects with household items.
Art for Kids Hub on YouTube shows step-by-step instructional drawings with a father and his children.
Google Arts and Culture provides online collections of museums and virtual tours.
Josh Gad (the voice of Olaf!) has been reading children’s stories on Twitter.
Many authors are also reading their books online. I’ve linked to one list, but there are new ones every day, so a simple Google search will show you the latest storytimes.
The “Molly of Denali” podcast has been a huge hit with our young kids. I have found that my kids love listening to podcasts while drawing, playing with Legos, doing a puzzle or playing with clay. Here’s more information about why “Molly of Denali,” which is also an animated show on PBS Kids, is such a fantastic series.
School Days (resources to take you beyond AMI packets):
Need an organized P.E. class so your family gets some physical activity at home? Each weekday Joe Wicks is offering 30 minutes of P.E. for all kids on his YouTube channel.
Math: While I’d advise asking your child’s teacher for help first (and my experience has been that my daughter’s LRSD teacher has been incredibly responsive and helpful), sometimes it can be hard for old-school parents to grasp new ways of doing math. GoPeer.org pairs vetted university and college students from top-tier schools for one-on-one tutoring for K-12 students.
Time for Kids — an educational spinoff of Time Magazine that is used in classrooms around the country — has opened up its digital library for free during the pandemic.
Girls Who Code has made its computer-science educational activities free to download at home.
Here is a list of more than 60 easy science experiments that can be done at home using household items.
Khan Academy offers hundreds of videos on multiple subjects at every grade level. It’s not a substitute for a great teacher, but if there is something your child is very interested in, this can be a great tool for student-led exploration of a subject.
Teach Your Monster to Read is a fun game (my kids LOVE it) that covers everything from letters and sounds to full sentences. The computer version is free to play online, and there is an app for phones and devices that usually costs $4.99 but is free right now.
The California Science Center is streaming new “Stuck at Home Science” videos every weekday.
For kids in older elementary grades, the Smithsonian Science Center’s Weather Lab app lets them learn about how the weather is shaped in North America.
Learn about chemical changes by baking a cake (it’ll the most delicious chemistry class your child has ever had)!
Virtual Field Trips: Zoos, Aquariums, National Parks & Outer Space
Little Rock Zoo: Log-in for daily 2 p.m. Facebook Live chats around the zoo or animal lessons, including during Spring Break.
Museum of Discovery: Offers mini-lessons and “At Home Discoveries” on its Facebook page. (Tip: science and nature activities like this can also serve as great writing prompts as well).
Cincinnati Zoo: Offering Home Safari Facebook Lives, 2 p.m on their Facebook page.
Center for Puppetry Arts is livestreaming performances as well as workshops on their webpage, puppet.org.
Explore nature with The Nature Conservancy’s virtual field-trip videos.
New England Aquarium: View updates on animals and some behind-the-scenes with staff on Facebook and Twitter.
The Atlantic Shark Conservancy is posting daily Facebook Live videos at 10 a.m. each morning.
The Georgia Aquarium has several very cool webcams so your kids can check in on the beluga whales, sea lions, jellyfish, penguins and even piranhas any time of day.
When you visit many National Parks websites, they offer virtual tours. Kids can also print and complete the Junior Ranger booklets for several parks and mail them in to earn Junior Ranger badges.
Your child can explore the surface of Mars by accessing the amazing 360-degree camera on NASA’s Curiosity rover.
The Smithsonian Science Education Center has a “Virtual Glider” app that lets kids soar over (and learn about) several real-world terrains in the United States, including mountains, plains, lakes, oceans, and mesas.
Take your kids on a virtual field trip to a planetarium using Star Atlas, which lets them explore over 60,000 stars and will orient the night sky to match your location.
Your kids can check out all the volcanoes in the United States and see real-time updates of all volcanic activity on the American Geosciences Institute website.
If completing your 2020 census form is still on your to-do list, have your child watch this virtual field trip to the U.S. Census Bureau to learn all about the census before helping you fill it out for your family.
The National Constitution Center offers both a virtual tour and an “Interactive Constitution” tool.
A virtual field trip to Ellis Island can be a great starting point for important discussions about American history and the concept of immigration.
National Geographic’s interactive map lets kids explore the world’s largest cave, located in Vietnam. (Turn the sound on for this one!)
Older students will find much to explore on the National Museum of African-American History and Culture’s website, especially the “Collection Stories” page which features specific parts of the museum’s vast collection that staff members have chosen to highlight.
Talking to Your Kids About the Pandemic:
Astronauts give tips on how to handle the isolation of having to stay home all the time.
There are a million and one guides on the internet now for “How to Talk to Your Kids About COVID-19,” but for very young kids I like this one from PBS Kids because it includes links to clips from shows like Curious George and Daniel Tiger to illustrate certain points and help with things like hand washing.
Need help convincing your child to thoroughly wash his or her hands multiple times a day? This video uses glowing powder and a black light to illustrate to kids how germs are spread and how washing hands can help.
I hope you all are safe and healthy and that these free online resources make our time at home a little bit easier on the whole family. Special thanks to Sarah Carnahan for helping me compile this list. She has been sharing online resources on the Pulaski Academy’s Library Twitter account.
*A previous version of this post mistakenly listed the time for the Mo Willems’ drawing sessions as 11 a.m.