101 free resources for home-schooling during COVID crisis

You're a home-schooler now? Check out these free resources for activities kids will love.
Home School LEAD
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/ Source: TODAY
By Lisa Tolin

This list has been updated for fall 2020.

With schools going remote or part-time this fall to stop the spread of coronavirus, you may find yourself with a side-gig: teacher.

Whether you're transitioning to full-time home-school, using your school's remote learning, considering a micro-school or "pandemic pod," or just facing a few days a week at home, you may need extra support as you home-school during the COVID-19 pandemic.

If you're new to home-schooling, you're probably wondering about finding a curriculum for home-school and how to help your kids learn. Is it possible to work from home, teach your kids, avoid a screen time free-for-all and keep your sanity?

"Remember that this is new for everyone," says Erin Girard, a home-schooling expert for Outschool. "Teachers won't always get it right, nor will we as parents. Be willing to be flexible and adapt."

Here are resources to help you discover how to home-school or just add enrichment to your days.

1. Find out what kids need to know

A few weeks or months was one thing, but if you're facing an entire year of home-schooling or remote learning, it's worth finding out what the curriculum for your child's grade includes.

Each state has requirements for home-schooling. Find out your state's home-school laws, says Jamie Gaddy, Editor in Chief of Homeschool.com.

For an idea of what your child should learn, consult TODAY's Parenting Guides, which were developed by NBC News Learn with the help of subject-matter experts and align with the Common Core State Standards.

2. Use free educational websites

Many education websites and online home-school programs are offering free or reduced-price subscriptions during the coronavirus crisis. If your family is in need of guidance, EPIC, Every Person Influences Children, has a family support hotline.

  • Families with Alexa-enabled devices can take advantage of free educational programs from Bamboo learning, including math, history, music and stories. Just say, "Alexa, open Bamboo Books."
  • Beanstalk is offering online classes in art, science and more for preschoolers up to age 6.
  • The education company Hand2Mind launched a new Learn at Home platform with streaming lessons for grades K-5 and downloadable STEM activities.
  • For grades 7 and up, the math tutoring program AskMo is free.
  • The nonprofit Love in a Big World is offering a free social-emotional curriculum for children K-8.
  • Prodigy Math, which is used by many school districts, has free video game style math learning.
  • The language program Duolingo offers free online learning tools.
  • The website CK-12 has age-appropriate lessons in all subjects for different grades.
  • For young children, Bright Horizons created a library of free resources for infants up to school-age kids.
  • For high schoolers, Fiveable is a free resource for Advanced Placement class learning and test prep. Their new Fiveable Courses provide a virtual learning group for a fee.
  • Encantos Learning Hub has tools for bilingual education and geography.
  • Ed Helper provides free daily workbooks for Pre-K through high school.

3. Find a learning style that suits your family

To discover the right home-schooling method for your family, think about your approach as a teacher and what best motivates your child as a student, Gaddy says.

If you're looking for something laid back, consider options like unschooling. If you are more structured and like a schedule, you might appreciate something more traditional. Homeschool.com has a tool to help parents find the best curriculum.

"Once you have a handful of options, take them for a test drive," Gaddy says. Make sure your child likes the program and is motivated to learn.

"Talk with your child and ask them open-ended questions about what they liked about school and what they like to learn," Girard says. "Does your child dislike math but loves to help in the kitchen? Dislike reading but likes to tell stories? You can tailor their education to fit their natural strengths."

4. Create a home-school routine

Looking for a home-school daily schedule? You may want to try to follow your child's regular school schedule, or decide on a plan with a family meeting. These printable schedules let you plan out your day.

Keep in mind younger children may only be able to focus on a task for 10 or 15 minutes. Take lots of movement breaks, sing songs and get outside when you can.

Think, too, about the physical space that might suit your child. "Does your child like to stand? Sit? Create a fort to work in?" Girard asks. "Again, you have the flexibility to create your own learning environment and schedule."

5. Check out free Ebooks

Many libraries are closing, but online resources remain available.

  • Check Libby, Kanopy, SimplyE and Hoopla to get free resources with your library card.
  • The Epic! reading app is providing free access for students at home during remote learning, using a class code from their teacher.
  • Google's reading app Rivet is free and designed to help children from kindergarten to third grade learn to read.
  • VOOKS, an online streaming library, is offering a month for free during school shutdowns in addition to resources and lesson plans.
  • The educational resource publisher Twinkl is offering its library of more than 630,000 educational resources for free to residents of the U.S. Just enter the code USATWINKLHELPS to gain access.
  • Time for Kids is also offering its digital library for free during the crisis.
  • The new kids magazine The Week Junior is offering its first issues for free.

6. Play free read-alouds

Here's one classroom staple you can find easily online, through publishers, authors and educators who have posted public videos.

  • Dolly Parton's "Goodnight with Dolly" videos feature bedtime stories with her Imagination Library.
  • Some of your children's favorite authors are offering read-alouds during the crisis. This list of read-alouds from We Are Teachers is full of resources, and Kidlit TV has a library of read-alouds and activities.
  • Mac Barnett ("Sam and Dave Dig a Hole," "Mac B: Kid Spy") has an archive of read-alouds on his Instagram page.
  • Kate Messner, author of the new middle grade novel "Chirp" and picture book "The Next President" with Adam Rex, shares an array lessons from other authors on her website.
  • Romper put together "Operation Storytime" with read-alouds from enough authors to fill a virtual library.
  • Authors who are planning new read-alouds and lessons are sharing their schedules in a Google doc created by literacy advocate Olivia Van Ledtje, and more are sharing resources with the Twitter hashtag #kidlitquarantine.

7. Watch free webinars

  • The History Channel has History at Home lessons on history.com.
  • Jarret J. Krosoczka, author of the "Lunch Lady" graphic novel series and the National Book Award finalist "Hey, Kiddo," hosts drawing webcasts on YouTube for all ages.
  • Author and illustrator Grace Lin ("Big Mooncake for Little Star") is posting tutorials and readings on her YouTube channel.
  • Universal Pictures is posting tutorials from its animators, including How to Draw a Minion or Poppy from "Trolls." (Universal Pictures and TODAY share the same parent company.)
  • For preschoolers and school-age kids, Kiddie Academy offers ideas for turning play time, meal time and outdoor time into creative lessons and activities.
  • Mystery Science is offering free science lessons during school shutdowns.
  • The storytelling nonprofit The Moth is offering free stories and lessons twice a week.
  • TED-Ed has video lessons and series by top educators, made into animated videos for kids.
  • NPR's Ari Shapiro has a YouTube channel discussing current events.
  • And "Sesame Street" is offering special resources during the crisis, including a virtual hug from Elmo and animations about washing hands and caring for each other.
  • 4-H has an array of free activities on 4-H at Home, including science projects and arts and crafts.
  • Snoopy and his friends at Peanuts.com have a new slate of free, in-home lesson plans and activities developed by education experts.

8. Listen to free audiobooks and podcasts

  • Audible announced a free Audible Stories website with audiobooks for children of all ages. Everything on the site is free, with no login or membership required.
  • The streaming audio service Pinna is offering teachers six free months on its teacher portal, along with free lesson plans and tips for integrating audio into the classroom. Teachers can share account information with students learning remotely, or families can sign up on their own for 30 days free.
  • Learning Ally is offering free access to its audiobook database, specifically aimed to help children with learning disabilities.
  • There are plenty of educational and entertaining podcasts for kids, including NPR's WOW in the World, Story Pirates and Brains On! Story Pirates also introduced a creators club with free digital resources.
  • The Story Seeds podcast shows the creative process in real time, with kids and authors collaborating on story ideas.
  • Grim, Grimmer, Grimmest with author Adam Gidwitz ("A Tale Dark and Grimm") offers safely thrilling spooky tales.

9. Print free activity sheets

  • The educational toy company Learning Resources has 2,500 free worksheets, printables and DIY activities for children ages 2-8.
  • Many children's book authors offer free activity sheets on their websites. Jarrett Lerner, author of "Enginerds," is creating new worksheets every few days that let kids finish a comic or complete a drawing with their own silly ideas.
  • The publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is providing free activity sheets for reading, math and social emotional learning.
  • Download thousands of free math worksheets from Dad's Worksheets.
  • The Tinkeractive workbook company is offering a free, downloadable workbook page on its website each day. And the Dr. Seuss website Seussville has free printable activities and recipes.
  • Dictionary.com has created a new Learning at Home center for all ages, and is posting a kids word of the day on social media.

10. Get physical

With kids kept indoors more than usual, don't forget to provide plenty of wiggle time. Take your work outside and let the kids dig, or just observe nature. They can track what they see in a science notebook.

11. Get creative

It's a great time to learn an instrument, improve art skills, play games or get cooking. These resources can help.

  • For a little music education, a number of children's musicians are hosting regular singalongs. Find a full list of playtime playlists. There's also a limited schedule of concerts from the group Stay Home, Sing Together.
  • Carnegie Hall has taken its Musical Explorers program online.
  • Disney Theatrical Productions is sharing its Lion King Experience, which provides a crash course on playwriting, directing and more for ages 8 and up.
  • Keri Smith, author of the "Wreck This Journal" books, is creating daily exploration prompts at her website. The Rebel Girls team is launching Rebel Girls at Home, including a digital download of their "I Am a Rebel Girl" journal, podcasts and activities from their books.

12. Find educational screen time

If your kids watch TV, you can chill (or get some work done). And there are plenty of quality films to get you through quarantine.