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Thursday, June 11, 2020

7 Reasons Why This Chaotic, Unstructured Time Can Benefit Your Child

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Parenting is primarily made up of daily tasks like making sure that homework is done, chores are completed, and everyone gets to bed on time. However, parenting usually has a lot of external structure: The parents leave home to work or go to appointments, and children go to school and activities. These daily doings give our lives external structure and create a built-in rhythm to our days. The standard advice after an emergency, like a hurricane or earthquake, is to get into a new routine as quickly as possible. The structure of routine helps children feel reassured and gives them a sense of consistency.

The COVID-19 pandemic, however, is a crisis that's unprecedented. Some states don't know when school will reopen as normal. Parents and children accustomed to leaving home for portions of the day now have long stretches of days when no family member leaves home. The good news, though, is that while your children may not be going to school, being idle at home can be good for them, too.

1. Unstructured playtime can help children become more adaptable, creative, and self-driven.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has found that unstructured play allows children to develop their physical dexterity, imagination, and emotional strength all at once. The sort of world-building children engage in when deep in imaginative play gives them a safe space to work out their fears and practice taking on new roles. Playing in this manner lets children develop new competencies.

2. Unstructured playtime can help children develop problem-solving skills.

Unstructured, lightly supervised playtime requires children to solve their own problems instead of being able to rely on adults or established rules. Children playing together will also learn how to approach issues together and come to an equitable solution.

3. When children have more choices for how to occupy their time, they build confidence.

The lives of modern children are often highly regulated. Day care, school, organized activities, and family time mean that children follow specific schedules and may have little input about what they do with their time. Now, with more open time, children can decide what they want to do. Learning how to choose how to occupy themselves is a valuable life skill that will help them build confidence.

4. When children are bored, they are driven to discover what entertains them, possibly leading to finding passions and interests.

Remember being a kid on an endless summer afternoon and creating a new activity to entertain yourself? Maybe you developed a love of reading, fixing electronics, creating websites, or writing stories. Your children will similarly benefit. The gift of unstructured time is the gift to follow your passions to learn what you love and practice your new skills.

5. Children will learn to follow a self-directed instead of externally driven schedule.

Children's lives are typically dictated by the demands of their schedule and that of their parents or caregivers. Now, children have the freedom and leniency to set their own schedule and approach their work in their own idiosyncratic way. This sort of liberty usually doesn't come until college! Children will learn how to prioritize, how to hold themselves accountable, and how to decide how long a chore or an assignment should take. These skills are highly necessary for future success as adults.

6. Unstructured time teaches children independence.

The new parenting norm is that children are never left alone. Kids are always under direct, active adult supervision. But unstructured time with less direct control gives children a sense of independence. They learn to entertain themselves, rely on themselves, and problem-solve without adult intervention.

7. Living through unprecedented times and learning to adapt will teach resilience.

Resilience is an important lesson for children to learn. Experts agree that the more resilient a person is, the better they will cope with stress and pressure throughout their life. Learning how to navigate the current crisis and how to handle the unstructured free time it brings will help to instill resilience in our children.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, June 1, 2020

National Lyme Disease Awareness Month: How to Protect Yourself, Loved Ones, and Pets

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May is National Lyme Disease Awareness Month. Spread by infected ticks via biting, the CDC estimates that about 300,000 infections are reported annually. Do you spend time in grassy or wooded areas? If so, you are at risk of being bitten by a tick carrying the disease. People who live or visit the Mid-Atlantic states, New England, and the upper Midwest are the most significant risk. However, ticks carrying the disease are also found in neighboring states, and some areas of California, Washington, and Oregon. No matter your location, you can take preventions to ensure that a fun afternoon spent on playground equipment doesn't result in a bite by an infected tick.

1. Avoid where ticks live, such as woodpiles, leaf litter, long grass, beach grass, bushy areas, and perimeters where the lawn meets the woods.

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Blacklegged ticks are the species that carry Lyme disease. They thrive in moist or humid locations and are found around wooded or grassy spots. Taking simple precautions like walking down the center of a trail and avoiding walking through bushes or high vegetation will reduce your risk of being bitten. Remember, ticks also thrive around your home, especially in areas with woodpiles or un-raked leaves.

2. Wear high socks that are light-colored so you can see them.

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High socks provide fantastic protection against ticks. Give yourself even more protection by choosing light-colored socks and other clothing. They are easier to spot against lighter shades, so you'll be able to see the ticks and remove them from your clothing.

3. Wear light-colored clothing. Tuck your pants into your socks. Tuck your shirt into your pants.

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You can prevent tick bites by limiting a tick's access to your skin. Wear well-fitting clothes that are tucked in. This can prevent ticks from flying up a pant leg, or down a neckline.

4. Avoid walking in grass or hiking with open-toe shoes.

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Bare or exposed feet (like those in sandals or flip flops) provide easy access for ticks to bite. Feet tend to be warm and humid, and the areas between toes are excellent hiding places. Avoid this risk by wearing closed-toe shoes or hiking boots when in grassy areas.

5. Remove clothing when you arrive home and put them in the dryer for 10-15 minutes on high heat.

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Your dryer is a great way to kill ticks. Ticks need moisture to survive and they can't survive long in a hot, dry environment. If you have clothes that may have attracted ticks, put them in the dryer for 10-15 minutes. Don't put them in the washing machine first since ticks love moisture. A dry run in the heat will destroy ticks in clothing and other fabrics.

6. Examine yourself and your pets frequently when outdoors and when you come in.

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When you or family members (including pets) come inside from being outdoors, always check for ticks. Many people find using a mirror makes the process easier. Pay special attention to the area under the arms, around the ears, in the belly button, on the back of knees, around all hairlines, and the waist. Follow the same routine with your pets. Also, remember to keep your outdoor area free of debris. Ticks can hide in old rotting wood structures like old play sets. If you have one of these in your yard, it might be time for a replacement. Contact local outdoor play equipment companies and stores.

7. Consider tick prevention medications for pets. There are oral and topical solutions. Check with your vet to make sure the medications are safe for your pet.

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The Federal Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency have approved many tick prevention medications for cats and dogs. Topical treatments come in the form of treated dusts, sprays, shampoos, and collars, and there are oral options as well. Pet owners should choose the method they think will be most effective, but it's essential the instructions regarding species, age, and size of the pet are followed precisely to protect the health of the animal.

8. Learn how to remove a tick properly.

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The best way to remove a tick is with fine-tipped tweezers. Ticks removed within 24 hours of attaching to a host lower the chances the person bitten will contract Lyme disease. After removing the tick, watch for symptoms of Lyme disease (like a fever or rash) for a few weeks. Contact your primary care doctor with any concerns.?

Monday, May 25, 2020

Pandemic Parenting: 7 Tips for Maintaining the Calm During These Overwhelming Times

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Life has a lot of fear and uncertainty at the moment. Most of us have seen our lives radically change over the last months. Perhaps more than anyone else, children have been impacted. School went digital and ended months ahead of schedule, play dates vanished, and some children aren't even able to visit extended family members. Parenting through the pandemic is incredibly challenging. Some parents struggle with the fact that no one in the household ever leaves home; others are dealing with trying to homeschool and provide childcare while still working. No matter what your life looks like at this moment in time, there are things you can do to maintain calm in your home for your children during this time.

1. Try to stay active with workout videos, socially distanced walks, bike rides, etc. Exercise can help the whole family stay calm and grounded.

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Physical activity reduces stress, tension, anger, anxiety, and depression. These are things most of us are trying to cope with right now. It also can improve sleep, and quality of sleep is essential in times of stress. So make time as a family for socially distanced exercise. It's the perfect time to make your yard into the playground of your dreams. Contact outdoor play equipment companies and stores for ideas.

2. Try to establish a routine, but be kind and forgiving to yourself if things don't go according to plan.

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Many of us are struggling with a lack of external structure. Children don't need to be at school at a specific time, appointments are canceled, and activities curtailed. Does this mean bedtime and other routines can be set aside? During times of uncertainty, everyone, but especially children, need a sense of order. A predictable routine is key to a calm day. Come up with your own schedule. Everyone up at by this time, schoolwork for however long, chore time, reading time, outdoor play, free play, et cetera should all be considered. If one day goes sideways and the routine is forgotten, forgive yourself and move on.

3. Practice deep breathing. Before reacting to a stressor, ask yourself, "Does the problem pose an immediate danger? How will I feel about this tomorrow?"

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Everyone is on edge. Young children probably don't have the insight or vocabulary to describe what they are feeling about their world changing and the stress they are picking up on from other people in their lives. Their stress might manifest as anxiety or inappropriate behavior. Older kids and teenagers are dealing with feelings of loss over anticipated events and milestones, and might be more irritable than usual. Some days, grouchy children are enough to send any overwhelmed parent over the edge. Instead of reacting, take a moment to take a breath and dispassionately evaluate the situation before you say or do anything.

4. Answer children's questions about the pandemic and the impact on their lives calmly and honestly.

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The most important thing parents can do is to cultivate an environment where kids feel they can ask questions in a stress-free environment. We all want to shield our children, but the pandemic is impacting their lives, and knowledge can help assuage their fears. Empowering children with age-appropriate information also gives them the insight they need about hygiene, and teaches them coping skills for their future.

5. Incorporate daily praise.

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One of the best ways to ensure a calm, peaceful household is to dole out lots of praise. Praise is highly effective at changing bad behaviors and reinforcing positive behaviors. When praising your children, be specific. That lets them know precisely what you are happy with about their actions. Tell them what a great job they did staying quiet while you were on a video-conference call, or tell them how nicely they cleaned up their art supplies.

6. Set aside time for each child.

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Since everyone is spending so much time together, it's easy to forget the importance of making sure everyone is getting adequate one-on-one time. Carve out specific time for each child, and let them take the lead on how they would like to spend it with you. Your outdoorsy kid might want to play on the playground equipment, while your bookish kid might want dedicated story time.

7. Incorporate appropriate socialization.

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School ended early, organized activities are on pause, and even play dates are rare. Just because kids aren't able to see their friends, doesn't mean they aren't missing their friends. And the same is true for adults! So set up some pandemic proof socialization! Schedule video chats, phone calls, or even every stays six feet apart outdoor walking dates so everyone can get in some time with their friends.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, May 18, 2020

9 Ways That Play Can Keep Spirits Alive During Times of Stress

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Are you a little stressed lately? Modern life is typically hectic and stressful, and play can quickly fall off the list of things for which we make time. Right now, many of us have plenty of time and are experiencing a ton of unprecedented stress. Engaging in play, whether it's with your significant other, pets, children, or others who live in your household is a way to keep spirits up during these trying times. And there's no need to make play a complicated endeavor that feels like one more task to be completed. Throw a Frisbee in the backyard, hang out on your backyard playground equipment, indulge in dress up, or play fetch with your dog. Any of these activities are fun and will help you and your family reap the benefits of playing.

1. Play triggers the body's natural feel-good hormones and chemicals.

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Play can lift the spirits because even 30 minutes unlocks your body's feel-good hormones. These include endorphins, oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine. What do these chemicals have in common? They reduce stress, increase your sense of happiness, and make people feel alive.

2. Laughter releases endorphins to promote positive feelings.

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Need a quick burst of endorphins to brighten your mood? Try laughing. Studies have proven that laughing leads to a significant increase in endorphins and other opioid peptides. These chemicals are released in the parts of the brain controlling emotional regulation.

3. Play and laughter with loved ones can foster empathy, trust, kindness, and connection.

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Sometimes too much togetherness can strain familial relationships. One way to rebuild fraying bonds is to indulge in shared play. Having fun together and sharing light-hearted moments fosters good feelings, and restores connections between loved ones. Designing areas that foster family play will encourage spontaneous outbreaks of group play! Contact local outdoor play equipment companies and stores to design an area for your yard.

4. "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing."

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Famed playwright George Bernard Shaw is the source of the quote and it still rings true today. No one is ever too old to engage in play. Play has a multitude of physical and mental health benefits that keep our bodies and our spirit young!

5. Play engages the mind and encourages creativity.

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Research has proven that play is the best way for young children to learn. Guess what? That same principle applies to adults. Adults, just like children, learn new tasks best when they are relaxed, and learning the skill is fun. Play also serves to activate the imagination, and an active imagination helps improve adaptation and problem-solving skills.

6. Need to boost productivity? Try playing.

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Play can seem like a distraction from our to-do lists and projects. Actually, it's just the opposite. The creative part of the brain engages during play and that little voice in your head, which regularly critiques your efforts? Play helps shut that down. A play break often will refresh your mind and leave you in the right frame of mind to approach an existing problem in a new way.

7. Play helps children and adults learn cooperation.

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Need a dose of positive socialization? Try play! Play encourages children and adults to get along, work together in a group, and follow agreed-upon rules.

8. Play is an excellent way to manage stress in a healthy manner.

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Feeling stressed? Combat it with play. Fun is a natural stress reliever! The endorphins released while playing also increases your sense of well-being.

9. Play can help heal trauma.

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Unfortunately many people have experienced a trauma at some point in their lives that affects their health in many ways. Play is an excellent way to restore emotional balance and work through emotional trauma. Engaging in playful behaviors leads to positive psychological health benefits for children and adults. Someone struggling with emotional problems benefits from playing with an emotionally secure partner, and often that shared play will help reshape behaviors.

As adults, when you play together, you are engaging in precisely the same patterns of behavior that positively shape the brains of children. These same playful behaviors that predict emotional health in children can also lead to positive changes in adults. If an emotionally-insecure individual plays with a secure partner, for example, it can help replace negative beliefs and behaviors with positive assumptions and actions.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

20 Ways to Stay Connect and Play Online With Friends and Loved Ones

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We all miss the days when getting together with friends or family was as easy as meeting up on the playground equipment at the local park. Today, it takes a bit more work and thought to stay connected with the people we love whom we don't share a house with. Luckily, there is a wealth of online tools to help keep us connected.

1. Watch Movies Together

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I've loved going to the movies with my favorite people since I was just a small child. Luckily, there are now a couple of different ways to watch movies with your friends and chat about the experience as you watch (something that's not allowed at your local multiplex). A Netflix Chrome extension allows Netflix subscribers to watch together, while WatchTogether also offers synchronized watching and private chat rooms.

2. Have a Dress-Up Video Chat Date

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The kindergartners in my acquaintance now have busy video conferencing schedules! One way to make weekly chats fun is to come up with themes! Try dressing up in your finest clothes, or even try something like "'70s Roller Disco" for laughs.

3. Sing Karaoke Online

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Apps like Smule allow you to have all the fun of singing with your friends from the safety of your living room. Never tried karaoke before? What better time to try?

4. Enjoy a Scavenger Hunt

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Do a scavenger hunt together but apart. Make it a race. Choose things like "something small and blue" and "something soft and fuzzy" and take photos. An app like ActionBound might help. Also, check out neighborhood social media sites. Some areas are doing things like putting teddy bears in windows or hanging crystals off of mailboxes.

5. Play Words With Friends Together

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Ten years ago, everyone I knew loved Words with Friends. Reload the app and reach out to your friends, it's still one of the best apps for having online fun with your real-life crew.

6. Create a Minecraft Server

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Minecraft has educational aspects but also is a great way to build community. Build your own virtual world to escape to.

7. Play Cards Against Humanity

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Cards Against Humanity is one of my go-to's for entertaining. The online version lets you hear your friends' inappropriate thoughts even when you are away from each other.

8. Join an Online Book Club

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If you already are a part of a book club, move it to video chat. Otherwise, reach out to your local indie bookstore! You'll make new friends and support a local business all at once.

9. Solve a Mystery Together Playing Clue

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Love board game nights? Try getting together a group to figure out just what Miss Scarlett was doing in the library.

10. Use Houseparty to Host an Online Dinner Party

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Miss dinner parties? Set your table, and start a video conference. You'll get dinner time conversation, and maybe even pick up some ideas for new dinner recipes.

11. Don't Miss Out on Your Weekly Card Game

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Many card games are available online, including UNO. These games allow you to play card games online with your real-life friends.

12. Enjoy Trivia Night

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Trivia Night needn't be skipped just because you aren't going out. Each week, let one person on the video conference be the trivia master and everyone else be the participants.

13. Use Screen Share to Take a Group Trip

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Many museums and historic sites are offering free tours online. Find one that will interest your group, and set up a screen share so that your crew can enjoy the experience together.

14. Mail Craft Kits to Your Kids Friends

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Make up age-appropriate craft kits and mail them your kids' best friends. Then schedule a video call where the kids can work on the craft kits together!

15. Set Up Group Text Chains

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Texting makes it easy to stay in touch, but some days it feels like my phone never stops buzzing! Streamline texts by setting up group chats with friends and family groups. That way, everyone sees important news but you don't have to text everyone individually.

16. Virtual Outdoor Playdates

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Video conferencing doesn't have to stay indoors! Setup the tablet and let your kids play with their friends from afar. Noticing your yard isn't the playland you'd like it to be? Contact local outdoor play equipment companies and stores.

17. Schedule Regular Check-ins

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It's easy to get overwhelmed and withdraw from the people you enjoy most. Schedule regular check-ins via text, phone, or video chat so you also have something you look forward to on your schedule.

18. Engage in Group Projects, Separately

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One of my favorite days in quarantine? My college best friend and I set up a video conference and chatted while we worked on some DIY projects (I painted my kitchen while she refinished a dresser). It gave each of us the impetus to knock something off our to-do list while we had fun chatting.

19. Plan a Fun Outing For Later

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One day we will leave our homes again, right? So plan a fun outing for later. It might be as simple as a group dinner at the local Mexican restaurant or as involved as a multi-family international trip. The trip will give everyone something to chat about and look forward to!

20. Do the Same Activity and then Compare Notes

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Have you been meaning to watch some binge-worthy show you missed, or learn how to bake sourdough bread or take up a new craft? Reach out to your loved ones and see if anyone else is interested. Work on the project separately, and then share your progress and thoughts during video chats.

Find more about the author:Kim Hart

Saturday, April 25, 2020

A Round-Up of Online Resources for Fun, Playful Learning

Photo by Виктория Бородинова (pixabay)

A Roundup of Online Resources for Fun, Playful Learning

A lot of us are spending a lot more time indoors these days, but the good news is that there's still plenty for our kids to do. There have never been more engaging Web resources available to help children learn, and a lot of these research-based, kid-friendly resources follow pedological and developmental best practices, so you don't have to feel too guilty about relaxing your usual limits on screen time. Kids will be entertained and learning while they use these resources, and you can get a little of that most valuable of resources: quiet time! While websites and apps aren't a total replacement for a robust curriculum or time spent playing on outside playground equipment, they can help reinforce and strengthen important skills in a way that's fun for kids.

PBS Kids

PBS Kids features educational games starring kid-favorite characters like Curious George. The games are divided into sections like "Teamwork" and "Feelings" along with educational categories like "Social Studies." These categories allow parents to guide their children toward games that can help them master areas where they need extra support.

Sesame Street

Preschoolers love this engaging website, featuring kid favorites like Big Bird and Elmo. The website offers videos, games, printables, and free ebooks to engage young learners while reinforcing basic literacy, math, and emotional skills.

National Geographic Kids

National Geographic designed its Web portal to supplement its magazine. The site is full of educational games and information presented in a kid-friendly way. Parents and other adults should be aware that some videos feature animals attacking each other, so supervision and caution are needed with young or sensitive children.


Funbrain first premiered back in 1998 and has been a part of generations of children's learning online. The quizzes and games cover a wide variety of subjects, including grammar, math, science, and social studies. The resources here are aimed at elementary-aged children; if you need something for younger kids, try Funbrain Jr.


Exploratorium encourages learning through inquiry-based experiences. The guided inquiries allow children to develop their critical-thinking skills and practice the scientific method.


ABCya offers Common Core-aligned digital learning experiences for children from preschool through middle school. Parents and educators designed the more than 400 games available on the site, which are organized by grade level and topic. Children can work on skills like multiplication, parts of speech, pattern recognition, and critical thinking while having fun!

Nick Jr.

Is there anything the average preschooler loves more than Paw Patrol? The Nick Jr. website leverages that love with a variety of videos and games designed to gently teach young viewers while also entertaining them.

Khan Academy

Khan Academy offers a variety of resources for children and students of all ages. The website offers schedules for kids that incorporate learning with needed breaks, and it includes outside activities as well as inside ones. Khan Academy offers an especially strong curriculum in math. They suggest starting your student a grade or two back from their current grade level, which will allow children to review material and fill in any knowledge gaps.
Khan Academy Kids features online learning for preschoolers, kindergarteners, and first-graders. The learning activities focus on basics like letters and numbers while also helping children master social-emotional lessons.

Math Games

Are your kids resistant to math drills or structured math activities? If so, trick them into learning with these math games, designed for kids to have fun while they sharpen needed math skills like number sequencing and fractions.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart