5 Educational Websites for Summer Learning

Are you out of school yet? It feels funny to ask that, seeing that my daughter’s kindergarten year ended on May 18. But I know most schools get out later than that. I didn’t graduate until June 16 in Virginia, where we had the no-starting-until-after-Labor-Day rule.

I’m sure, like me, you don’t want your child’s reading level to go down during the summer, not do you want him or her to stop learning. But how do you make it fun? There are a million great ways (I highly recommend I Can Teach My Child if you have a toddler/preschooler/kindergartner). And one tool we use at home is our basic desktop computer.

While I certainly don’t want to fry my kid’s brain with screens all the time, she is allowed to use the computer a couple times a week for a half-hour or so. We are pretty insistent that she stay on educational sites, despite her new interest in finding URLs on brochures and wanting to visit the “Lego GIRLS” site. (Bleccch.)

Here are some of our favorite sites and some others I’ve seen highly recommended.

abcmouse_classroom

ABCMouse.com (paid) – ABCMouse is an “interactive classroom” for kids ages 2 through 7. Our kids started using it about age 4, when they could control the mouse. It teaches basic reading and math skills as well as offering simple lessons on animals, space, and more. The learning path has 6 levels, going from pre-reader to kindergarten levels. My daughter is 6 1/2 and can read well, but she still enjoys the lessons, earning tickets, and playing around with the different features. It’s about $8/month, but you can try it out on a 30-day trial.

reading-eggs-screenshots

ReadingEggs.com (paid) – Reading Eggs is a service we were gifted through my daughter’s school. Its curriculum is a little wider than ABC Mouse, spanning ages 3 to 14. Through Reading Eggs, kids can work on letter sounds, sight words, spelling, and a bunch more! Like ABC Mouse, there are levels that you move through and receive “golden eggs” as prizes, making it feel like a game. The cost is about $50 for 6 months or $59 for a year, with a 2-week free trial.

pbskids

PBSKids.org (free) – Since we don’t have cable, my kids are pretty familiar with the beloved PBS characters: Curious George, Cat in the Hat, Daniel Tiger, Sid the Science Kid, the Wild Kratts … need I go on? On the PBS Kids website, little ones can play games related to the series, as well as watch short videos or print out pictures to color or activities to do. My kids especially love the “pipe game” from Odd Squad, which helps with spacial reasoning.

DiscoveryKidsPuterbugs2

Discovery Kids (free) – Is your child obsessed with dinosaurs? Space? Sharks? Discovery Kids might be a good site to visit, then. There are games that vary from building a roller coaster to exploring volcanoes to virtual jigsaw puzzles. The “Puterbugs” system jumped out at me – a game focusing on teaching typing alongside reading, writing, and math.

superbook2

Superbook (free) – Looking for something to enhance spiritual learning? Based on the CBN series Superbook, this site has games, videos, a virtual Bible with daily “challenge” and character discovery, trivia, and more. Kids can even submit their prayer requests. For fun, I tried out the Bible Brain Busters game. Definitely suited for older kids (because you need to read and answer fast), some of the questions were funny and some tricky, but they will definitely learn something. Mom and Dad might enjoy quizzing each other, too.

Do you have any favorite websites for kids’ learning?

Start Crafting Now! Journey Off the Map VBS Preparation

Is your church participating in LifeWay’s Vacation Bible School for 2015, Journey Off the Map? If so, now is a great time to start crafting (with or without your kiddos’ help). These projects will be great for take-home items, decorating classrooms, and getting your own children enthusiastic about their upcoming Journey!

K-Cup Flowers from Moms Saving Money

Paper Bag Palm Trees from Lists I Live By are made with pool noodles!

This incredible sign from Mirrored Creations is made out of Styrofoam, not wood!

Beautiful Cupcake Flower Lights from Oh Happy Day

 Are you participating in Journey Off the Map this summer?

What a Teacher Wants to Tell You, the Parent by Ashley Terpstra

What a Teacher Wants to Tell You as a Parent
source: Duke University Archives via Flickr Creative Commons

  1. The reason we give homework is not to make your life harder as a parent. In order to transfer their knowledge, it is important that they practice independently what we are learning that week. We have a limited amount of time to practice during a given lesson. Ideally, homework is something we, the teachers, think that they can do on their own without help.
  2. School isn’t like it was when we were young anymore. Current educational research trends support children taking more charge in their learning. We don’t do math by teaching them algorithms (one certain method) anymore either. We KNOW that it is difficult to watch your children struggle with their learning, but it is helping them learn how to think rather than just digest and spit out information without really learning anything.
  3. The teacher is on your side! And your child’s side! You are your child’s first and most important teacher. You are the expert on your child, and we are the experts on teaching. It is so important to be on the same team. Adversarial parent-teacher relationships are only detrimental to your child, and no one wants that. Keep your child’s teacher informed. If your child had a bad morning, communicate that with the teacher! If we know what’s coming, we will be more ready to help your child jump that hurdle and move on with the day.
  4. When your child is in our class for the year, they become “our kids.” Being a teacher is like having 20 children that are the same age. It can be difficult sometimes to be a teacher. My whole life is encompassed by these children. If they have a bad day, I have a bad day. I may have high expectations of their behavior and their effort, but if someone messes with MY kids, I will take up for them every time. Here is my pinky swear–I honestly want your child to reach his highest potential, to grow to be a whole person, to learn empathy and compassion, and do her best.
  5. Teachers are real people. They are dealing with person struggles, heartaches, illnesses, and the plethora of everyday life events. They put this aside to teach and empower your children. Give them the benefit of a doubt. They are doing their absolute best for your child.

 

Ashley Terpstra is a first-grade teacher in Chattanooga, Tennessee. 

 

The Desperate Diva Diaries: Christian Fiction for the Preteen Crowd

divadiaries2divadiaries

 

There were the Dork Diaries. The Diary of a Wimpy Kid. And now Angie Spady offers a Christian alternative with a female protagonist: Catie Conrad, star of The Desperate Diva Diaries series.

When Catie asks her journalist father for a sketchbook, she should have known he’d come back with the wrong item. Instead he gives her a diary. Well, maybe she’ll use it.

Thus starts Faith, Friendship, and Fashion Disasters, the first book in the Desperate Diva series, which targets preteen girls ages 8-12. Catie is a typical sixth-grader: her life is full of drama, she loves fashion … and her dad wants to take her to an Indian reservation during her Spring break.

With all 4- and 5-star reviews on Amazon, Faith, Friendship, and Fashion Disasters is a book your daughters will devour. As one reviewer said, “Sometimes I’ll hear parents say, ‘I don’t care what they’re reading, I’m just glad they’re reading something!’ But not all reading material for tweens and middle schoolers is created equal.” Angie Spady gives us a clean, fun book, full of illustrations by Channing Everidge.

The second book in the series, How to Become the Most (un)Popular Girl in Middle School, will be released in May 2015.

I Love Valentine’s Day! by William Summey

Valentine2.jpg

One of my favorite parts of Valentine’s Day is helping the boys pick out their Valentine cards for school. They are not that much different than the cards I picked out as a young boy, except for the characters on the front of the cards (although I think Scooby-Doo® has remained popular across all these years). And this year? My sons both picked out NASCAR® cards to give to their friends!

Although Valentine’s Day is about more than giving chocolate and flowers, these tokens of love still remind us of the source of unconditional love — God. Perhaps our greatest task in parenting is to show our children unconditional love on a regular basis. If you are like me, when I am tired, frustrated, or angry, I realize that I can only love my children unconditionally with God’s help. So as you open your cards and eat candy hearts, remember to give thanks to God for sending Jesus — His greatest gift of love!

What do you plan to do this year with your kids on Valentine’s Day? What are your Valentine’s Day traditions?

Originally published February 12, 2009. 

More Ways to Feel Guilty: Not Crying about Kindergarten

Libbie kindergarten

My oldest child, our only daughter, Libbie, started kindergarten on Tuesday. Leading up to the day, I felt pretty emotional. I wrote about letting my baby bird fly from our nest and I wondered what it would be like having her away from home so much of the time. I knew on Tuesday I would be at the school most of the day, as I had to go to a parent orientation. Because of phasing-in procedures, she didn’t go back until Thursday. So that, I considered, was when I would probably let the tears pour.

At the parent orientation one of the counselors read a book obviously meant to turn on our tears, about letting your raindrop fall from the cloud, even if said raindrop was scared, etc. It was in rhyme, and as she read at least half of the parents crowding the school library were wiping tears from their eyes. And I sat there. Stoic. I don’t like it when books try to manipulate your emotions (see: why I have never read Nicholas Sparks).

Thursday I dropped Libbie off, letting her jump from the van and walk inside herself, ringlets bouncing as she left me in the dust. And still, it didn’t come. No fear, no tears. I took my sons to the grocery store and the doctor.

Should I feel guilty about this lack of emotion? Does it make me a bad mom?

I think if I were not completely sure Libbie was ready for kindergarten, it would be different. But she is a confident, extroverted nearly-6-year-old. She can read, and she loves to learn. She also loves to have every minute planned for her, which I cannot do at home. So we believe firmly that she is going to thrive in school.

But still, I wonder. Will it hit me someday soon that my little one has left my nest?

How about you? Did you cry when your child started school?

Back-to-School Bonanza

backtoschool

Heading back to school soon? (Schools in Nashville and Chattanooga have already started! Eek!) Here is a round-up of our back-to-school posts here on ParentLife to help you out.

I hope you’ll click through and see some great advice from our varied writers. What’s your best back-to-school tip?

Preparing Your Child for Kindergarten

Can we have a show of hands for those with children starting kindergarten this year?

Ah yes, there you are, the mom or dad with the shaking hands and nervous twitch. I am there beside you, feeling lost and afraid and just a tiny bit ecstatic.

Whether you have just a few weeks or a few years left to prepare, there are ways to help your child (and yourself!) be ready for that first day of the Big K.

  • Read, read, read! Reading to your child is one of the best ways to prepare for school according to kindergarten teachers (source). As you get closer to actually starting school, books dealing with the topic of school might he helpful. Some your child might enjoy: Peppa Pig and the Busy Day at School, I Am Too Absolutely Small for School, Kindergarten Here I Come!, and Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten
  • Don’t Ignore It. Talk about going to school, what the schedule will be like, tour the school, go to orientations. Ignoring the fact that your child is getting older won’t make it go away!
  • Consider Delay. If your child’s birthday is close to the cut-off, consider waiting a year. Teachers say that parents may regret sending a child who isn’t ready to school.
  • Communicate. Talk to other parents, teachers, administration. Familiarize yourself with the kindergarten process if it’s your first year as an elementary-school parent. Calming your own nerves will make it easier for your child.

Any tips from parents more experienced than I?

Summer Spiritual Learning by Brian Dembowczyk

A Simple Way to Build Faith

“Daddy, can we do the questions?” That request is music to my ears. Shortly after our son, Joshua, turned 5, my wife and I began teaching him a catechism, which is a series of questions and answers designed to explain basic biblical doctrine.

Bedtime stories

What We’ve Learned

We began asking Joshua a new question every second or third day as part of the prayer and snuggle time we have with him and his 2-year-old sister. Several things amazed us right away.

  • Joshua was able to answer many of the new questions correctly with little or no help. It is encouraging to see that what we talk about at home and what he hears at church are anchoring firmly in his mind and heart.
  • He was able to quickly and easily learn new questions. Children have an amazing capacity to absorb information. We want to pour the gospel into our children as much as possible to take advantage of this developmental stage.
  • He was eager to “do the questions.” Showing a little encouragement and excitement when he answers questions correctly goes a long way and is helping him have fun as he learns about God.
  • The catechism questions began fueling wonderful spiritual conversations about God, life, heaven, and his unchurched friends. Initiating spiritual conversations has become easier and more natural.
  • Our biggest surprise was that our daughter, Hannah, was learning almost as much as Joshua! Our hearts quickly began to melt when we heard our 2-year-old’s sweet voice articulating biblical truth. It reinforces the principle that you can’t start this process too early.

A Great Opportunity

As a parent, you know that summer is a mixed blessing of free time for your child. Why not invest some of that time into teaching your child a catechism or challenging your child to learn a Bible verse each week until school starts? Or do both and learn a verse with each question. Sweeten the challenge by offering a quality reward at the end of the summer if he succeeds. (God mentions rewards quite often in the Bible; there is nothing wrong with motivating a child similarly!) Let this summer be a life-changing summer for your child. Perhaps you will experience the same change as well!

Sample Questions

Q. Who made you?

A. God.

Q. What else did God make?

A. Everything.

Q. Why did God make you?

A. For His own glory.

Q. How can you glorify God?

A. By loving Him and doing what He says.

Q. Why should you glorify God?

A. Because He loves me and takes care of me.

Ways to Impact Your Child Spiritually

  • Find a church with Saturday evening services and attend a few during the summer. Attending a different church’s worship service may further energize your family’s walk with Christ.
  • Find different ministry opportunities in which to participate as a family (soup kitchens, clothes closets, etc).
  • Make it a goal to invite a friend to church each Sunday during the summer.
  • Encourage your child to keep a prayer journal during the summer.

 

Brian Dembowczyk is Associate Pastor of Discipleship and Assimilation at FBC Tampa, Florida. He is married to Tara and is father of Joshua (5) and Hannah (3). You can follow Brian on Twitter at @BrianDembo or check out his blog at missionaldiscipleship.blogspot.com.

Photo used with permission of Flickr Creative Commons. Click on photo for source.

Snack Food Substitutes to the Rescue! by Beth Aldrich

Feeling uninspired this winter when it comes to servings your kids healthful snacks? Here’s an article from Beth Aldrich we originally ran in August 2011 to give you some pointers! Share your favorite snack to serve in the comments!

_______________________

You might be needing an old-fashioned after-school snack to satisfy your kids until dinnertime. Here are some healthy snacks that you’ll feel good about putting on the table.

 

Blueberry-Lemon Ricotta Muffins

 

Old-Fashioned Rice Krispies Treats redux: Prepare this old time favorite recipe, but substitute high-fiber cereal or MultiGrain Cheerios and add some dried fruit to the mix, such as dried cranberries or raisins.

Anything on a stick. Kids love to eat finger food — and if they get to “create” it, even better. Set out bamboo skewers and several bowls of fruit, diced lean turkey breast, cheese, veggies, etc. and let the kids “make” their own snacks. You can control what foods they’ll use for their creations, and they love the decision-making and activity part of the project!

Anything in a Tortilla! Kids will eat almost anything wrapped in a tortilla, so get creative. Smear some low-fat cream cheese and sliced strawberries or pears and cheddar cheese or even just peanut butter and bananas. The kids can also take over and make their own creation.

Make Your Own “Mix”: When you take your child to the grocery store bulk bins, they love the idea of scooping and weighing the items. Let them select a few of their favorites for a homemade energy trail mix with seeds, nuts, popcorn, dried fruit and coconut, and yes, maybe even a small portion of chocolate nibs or drops! Have your child portion the completed mix into snack-sized plastic bags or mini containers and take them on the go for a quick pick-you-up snack!

Bagels, Baby! Nothing says satisfaction more than a bagel. Make it a nourishing snack by purchasing whole grain bagels and top them with organic jam and low fat cream cheese. To make them even more kid friendly, but them in thin slices and arrange like spokes of a wheel around the plate. What looks different and interesting yet familiar usually attracts kids to the plate!

What are your favorite after-school snacks to serve (or eat!)?

Beth Aldrich is a Certified Health Counselor and author of the book, Real Moms Love to Eat: How to Conduct a Love Affair with Food and Still Look Fabulous (New American Library, January, 2012).Twitter: @RealMomsLuv2Eat