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.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.


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.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.


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.


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?

Cure the Summertime Blues at the Library by Darla Brantley

Going along with our reading theme from yesterday, here are some tips from Darla Brantley on beating boredom at the library. – Jessie

Summertime blues? Head to your local library. Here are some interesting ways to cure boredom and maybe sneak in some educational opportunities.

Courtright Memorial Library  

Pick a theme. Have everyone check out books about animals. Read mysteries together. For giggles, check out only humorous books such as joke books, cartoon books, or books with silly rhymes or stories.
Read your favorite author. Re-read an old favorite or look for new releases.
Pick a letter of the alphabet and check out book titles that start with the chosen letter.
Try a non-fiction day. Check out biographies of favorite celebrities or historical figures. Check out magazines with informative articles about everything from cooking to rock climbing.
Have an information hunt using reference materials such as encyclopedias, the Internet, or old newspapers. Look up information about each family member’s birth year. Find out how you favorite snack was created. Discover how hurricanes are formed.
Check out videos. Look for favorite movie releases or documentaries about historical topics.
Read a friend’s favorite. Find out what authors are treasured by your friends. You may discover a new favorite writer.
Ask the librarian for recommendations. She will know which topics and titles are currently popular.
Read the classics. These books are timeless for a reason. If your children are younger, consider reading to them from any available abridged titles.
Check out a book of plays. Pick a production, assign roles to each family member, and “act” out the entire script at home. If you don’t have enough family members, favorite dolls, toys, or action figures can fill in!
Do not forget your church library. Be sure to look for books about your favorite biblical figures or topics that teach your family more about Jesus.

Darla Brantley lives in Winfield, Alabama where she works as a special education aide and has the summers off. She visits her city and church libraries often with her husband, son, and daughter.

Have you discovered any amazing reads lately for your kids? My daughter (3 in October) is currently obsessed with Miss Fannie’s Hat and How to Be a Baby. She loves coming home with a big stack of books from the library! – Jessie

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


Just Too Busy to Read? by Joanne Kraft

kids' reading nook


“She hates to read!” I complained to my girlfriend.

At first, things were fine. Meghan could color, cut, and paste like the best of them. But, when it came time to teach our daughter how to read, struggles became apparent. It was hard to believe — especially when she came from a long line of bookaholics.

Fifteen years later, this same child is getting ready to graduate a year early from college. Her major? English. This same child who cried over silent g’s eventually became our most voracious reader. Her nose constantly stuck in between the bindings of a book; her junior-high girlfriends teased her when we put her on restriction from books for a week.

So, what did we do that helped encourage her hunger for the written word? We took a radical sabbatical, a year-long break from soccer, from dancing lessons, which gave us more time to read together as a family — especially after we kicked our TV to the curb. It’s been almost three years without a television. It’s been one of the best decisions we’ve made. When the TV isn’t constantly on, the kids will actually reach for a book.

Does your family enjoy reading? Do your children spend more time with video games than with books? I’ve included a few tips to making readers out of all of your children:

  • Read in the car. When we drive our kids around, they know to bring along a book. One of our children gets carsick, so he’s off the hook — he listens to books on tape instead.
  • Family date with a book. Borders and Barnes & Noble have cafés, which meant Paul and I would grab a mocha and pull up a chair in the children’s’ section. While their dad and I read books, often they climbed into our laps with a request, “Can you read me this?”
  • Turn off the TV. Give a child the choice and they’ll choose passive entertainment every time. Turn off the TV and hand them a book. We did. As a matter of fact, we’ve been TV-free for almost three years and our kids have survived.
  • Be an example. The greatest way to instill a love of reading in your children is to let them see our love of reading first. So, when was the last time your son or daughter saw you read a book?

When our family was just too busy, we didn’t have time to read. During our twelve-month time-out, it was miraculous how much time became available for us. Reading became one of favorite family pastimes!

How do you encourage your kids to love reading?

JoanneKraft_sidebarPhoto.jpgJoanne Kraft is the author of the nonfiction book Just Too Busy: Taking Your Family on a Radical Sabbatical. A sought-after speaker, Joanne has been published in Today’s Christian Woman, In Touch, ParentLife, Kyria, and P31 Woman Magazine. She lives with her husband Paul in the California Sierra Nevada Foothills, where they are raising their four children.




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

10 Ways to Nurture Reading

In our May 2010 issue of ParentLife, Dr. Rebecca Isbell gave you tips for nurturing a love for learning ("Raising a Reader, pp. 14-15).  Do you have a reluctant reader? If so, try these 10 tips for nurturing a love of reading … a vital part of learning.

  1. May_10_reading.jpgRead to and with your child every day.
  2. Find books that match your child’s interests.
  3. Visit a library regularly and let your child choose the books.
  4. Support your child’s beginning reading efforts.
  5. Let your child see you reading.
  6. Listen to children’s books on tape.
  7. Expose your child to a variety of reading materials — magazines, newspapers, joke books, informational/reference books, postcards, and letters.
  8. Find time to read together as a family.
  9. Value books and learn to take care of them.
  10. Read favorite books and stories again and again.

Does your child love to read? What are some of your family’s favorite books?

Get a Head Start on Reading by Joy Fisher

Reading to and with your child prepares him for a lifetime of curiosity and learning. For preschoolers, choose books with bright, colorful illustrations and minimal text. Beginning readers like repetitive language and humorous rhymes. Don’t forget to read to your older child too! Select books on topics of his interest, and use them as a starting place for great conversations. And remember, enjoying books is free when you visit the library!

New Books


Always by Ann Stott: “No matter what you do,” says Mom, “I’ll always love you.” For babies and preschoolers.


ImYourBus.jpg I’m Your Bus by Marilyn Singer: Back-to-schoolers will enjoy this rhyming story told from the perspective of a yellow school bus. For ages 4-8.


OliversGame.jpg Oliver’s Game by Matt Tavares: Treat your baseball fan to a story abouthow World War II interrupted one young man’s dream. For ages 6-10.


 Oldies But Goodies


The Napping House by Don and Audrey Wood: A snoring granny and a dreaming child share a bed with an assortment of household creatures. For ages birth to 3.


If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Joffe Numeroff: Give a mouse a cookie, and a whole adventure unravels and comes full circle again. For ages 4 to 8.


FrogandToad.jpgFrog and Toad are Friends by Arnold Lobel: Lessons in friendship abound in the first of a timeless series. For ages 4 to 8.



ThreeLittlePigs.jpgThe True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka: Get the wolf’s side of the story! For ages 4 to 8.




Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin, Jr.: Each page leads to the next with rhythm and cadence kids adore. Illustrated by Eric Carle. For ages 4 to 8.



Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan: In 1910, Sarah comes to be a new mother for Anna and Caleb. For ages 9 to 12.



The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner: A story from another era describes how four orphans survive on their own. For ages 9 to 12.


Joy Fisher is editor of LifeWay’s Bible Teaching for Kids Special Buddies, a Bible study curriculum for school-age children who have special needs. She is a former editor and frequent contributor to ParentLife.

Do you know all the benefits of reading to your child? Be sure to check out the article "A Head Start" in the August 2009 issue of ParentLife.

Parents as Teachers

No matter what your schooling choice, back to school is an exciting time. It is also a great time to reflect on how parents should be the primary teachers of their children, even if you choose to share some of your child’s education with your church or local school.

I always find that books are a great way to enter discussions with your children. I wanted to share a couple books that I have read recently — both old and new — that make great discussion starters with kids. In fact, these books were so engaging, that I could not put them down until I turned every page!

jesus from a to z.jpg

Jesus From A to Z by Kevin Graham and Illustrated by Jennifer Yoswa (Windom) — Graham captures 26 key stories and truths from the life of Jesus in this A-to-Z style book, complete with engaging illustrations that will draw kids into each two-page spread. A great starter for family devotion times might be to pick a letter of the alphabet, look at the illustration and synopsis, then read the biblical passage with the story. Begin now at the pace of 2 stories a week, and it will lead you right into Advent season.

hundred dresses.jpg

The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes and Illustrated by Louis Slobodkin (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) — I was engaged from the first page and could not put down this book for children. This story is a powerful teaching tool to talk about bullying, friendship, racism, cliques, and sensitivity to others who are different. This book may have been written specifically for girls in mind, but I think it is engaging for all kids. Use it to talk about the new school year and new friends at school and church.


Holes by Louis Sachar (Random House) — Quirky, mysterious, and exciting — and probably written primarily for preteen boys — it gives subtle insights into some of these same themes mentioned above for The Hundred Dresses, except about boys. Ditto about using to talk about the new people God brings into our lives and how we treat them.

No matter your reading choice, research shows the more you read with your kids, the better they do in school! What are some of your favorite books to read with your kids?

Summer Reading Fun

This summer our boys had summer reading to do for school. To help them stay motivated, we enrolled them in the summer reading program at our county library. Christy and I decided it was only fair that we join the adult summer reading program too! And what a great time we have had reading!


Jonathan really enjoyed reading one of my personal childhood favorites The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, one of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series.


We have read a bit of everything under the sun to Christopher but now that the start of kindergarten is only about a month away, our reading will turn to some books to get him ready. I can’t wait to hear Christopher’s reaction at the end of First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg.


Christy has enjoyed reading Karen Kingsbury’s Redemption series.


I finally finished some books that I have had on the shelf a long time, including The Shack and 90 Minutes in Heaven.

What are some of your favorite books that you have read this summer?

Happy Read Across America Day!

19_ReadAcrossAmerica.jpgThe National Education Association annually sponsors the Read Across America program. Now in its 12th year, the program focuses on motivating children to read, in addition to helping them master basic skills. The nationwide reading celebration takes place each year on or near March 2, the birthday of Dr. Seuss. Across the country, thousands of schools, libraries, community centers, and more participate by bringing together kids and books, and you can too!

Be sure to check out the NEA’s Read Across America Web site for information about Read Across America activities happening in your area; free digital read-along versions of Dr. Seuss books; and lots of downloadable resources like posters, bookmarks, and book lists!

And don’t miss the articles about reading in the March 2009 issue of ParentLife:

  • Raising Bookworms” — Crystal McDowell helps you develop your child’s love of reading.
  • “Talk, Read, and Listen” — Donna R. Hoomes gives the keys to increasing your preschooler’s vocabulary.
  • “Practice, Practice!” — Mary Ann Bradberry helps you build on your 6- to 8-year-old’s reading skills.

Are your children participating in Read Across America Day activities? Tell us about them! What tips do you have for helping your children love to read?