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The best online STEM resources, according to a veteran teacher

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After the schools shut down last week, my social media feeds and inbox lit up with color-coded homeschooling charts and agonizingly long lists of everything I should use to educate my kids. Fear, panic and an overwhelming sense of grief settled over me as I considered not only how I was going to explain what was happening to my curious kindergartener and second grader but also how we were going to manage working, schooling, living and staying sane and healthy in our tiny condo for the foreseeable future.

As veteran teachers, my husband and I vowed to maintain normal as best we could. We'd stay virtually connected to family and friends and let the kids play and be bored and eat cookies and watch movies and attempt whatever work their school sent home. To calm myself, I composed my own non-exhaustive list of resources, called "Things I might actually use if the internet doesn't die" and sent bits of it to a few friends, who exhaled relief and gratitude.

"Thanks," they said. "I might actually use these!"

Here it is, reconstituted. I hope it lets you exhale too.

For general educational guidance

I've used Common Sense Media forever and have never been disappointed. It's vetted, it's expert, it's research-based. It just released its "Resource Guide for Families During the Pandemic," which is clear, accessible and calm. Its page with free educational apps, games and websites is super helpful -- highly recommended.

Math

Beast Academy

I have two math-y kids who beg for it at dinner. Here's what we like.

  1. DreamBox offers some of the best, most engaging math games for pre-K through eighth graders that I've seen. It divides its thousands of games into grade-based learning environments. Kindergarten through second-grade students navigate a preloaded, leveled adventure park with pirate, pixie, dinosaur and pet themes while third- through fifth-grade students develop their own avatars and have greater choice in selecting levels and games. Students in grades six through eight have even more choice. While some schools may already have group accounts, DreamBox is offering a free 90-day trial right now for those who don't. I signed up both kids, and they love it. My kindergartner is currently whizzing her way through a first-grade adventure park with her pet turtle while my second grader is tackling place-value problems that he selected.

  2. Prodigy Math is also fun and cute, gets solid reviews from Common Sense Media and offers a free edition. Wizard kids fight for justice by practicing math facts. My children selected avatars and pets and got wizard names. A narrator guides my warriors, BlueTalon and BlueStone, as they ward off evil wizards and minions by answering grade-level math questions aligned with Common Core standards.

  3. Beast Academy is a homeschool curriculum that's worth checking out, especially if your kids love challenging math and monsters. The graphic novel-style course books feature math-loving beasts explaining high-level concepts for elementary students. There are fantastic options for high school too. We took Beast Academy's free placement tests and ordered some books for our excited second grader. Right now through March 31, its FlattenTheCurve special gives you $15 off monthly or yearly online subscriptions.

  4. I'm keeping Coolmath Games in my back pocket for now. The site offers a full quiver of fun games in math, logic, problem solving and strategy for elementary through high school students. I've been using the Sudokus to relax.

Science

National Geographic Kids

Lots of museums, aquariums, nature centers and planetariums are offering free access to programs and resources. Google your local ones to see what suits your kids' needs and interests. In addition to your local options, here are a few with a broader reach.

  1. If you've never listened to NPR's Wow in the World podcast, now is the time. The other day, my kids visited a black hole while I made dinner. The podcast takes kids everywhere in the science world with fun stories and facts and offers follow-up activities if you want them. The left column of its homepage suggests other kid-friendly science-y podcasts too.

  2. The National Geographic Kids site is another fun one with games, videos, brain busters and stories that focus on animals, plants, space and the natural world. There's a section on the coronavirus too, which has helpful tools to explain some of this mess to your kids.

  3. NASA's image galleries don't disappoint space lovers of any age. We're currently in a Jupiter phase. "When I get my own rocket," my daughter threatens her brother, "I'm sending you to the eye." NASA also features fun podcasts, apps and STEM lessons by grade. For us right now, the pictures are enough: They inspire intergalactic sibling rivalry and get us excited for our next trip to the planetarium.

Other good stuff

Scholastic Learn at Home

This week, I've seen lots of generosity from big corporations, small businesses, independent artists and writers alike -- free read alouds and video chats abound. In addition to a few options specific to my kids, I'm glad to know these exist.

  1. Scholastic's free Learn At Home resource is awesome for pre-K through ninth-grade students. Scholastic suggests a calendar, but I let my kids pick and choose what they want. We read and watch the stories and videos together, and they play the games themselves. The site is easy to use and has sparked lots of fun conversations. After learning about baby animals, my kindergartner told me everything she learned... and then announced she wanted a puppy.

  2. Great Minds, the D.C.-based comprehensive-curricula creator, is offering free daily video lessons in math, language arts and science for students in kindergarten through 12th grade, along with access to written materials. Check out Eureka Math for kindergarten through 12th-grade math instruction, Wit & Wisdom for kindergarten through eighth-grade language arts and PhD Science for third- through fifth-grade science materials. We haven't tried this yet, but it's nice to know it's there if we need it.

  3. PBS Kids is always reliable and top-notch with videos, games and a new, free newsletter for parents of kids ages two through eight with daily tips and activities. "Ready Jet Go" is a perennial favorite, and my second grader especially likes the "Hard Games" section.

  4. The Metropolitan Museum of Art's MetKids is fabulous. My kids love the "Explore the Map" feature. Go look for yourself.

  5. The Story Pirates podcast rocks! We love listening to all the stories written by kids!

  6. Mo Willems' Lunch Doodles is so much fun I can't not mention it. Even if you just tune in and watch, it's worth it. My kids like drawing their version of me as Pigeon.

OK, friends, that's it. No guilt. No crazy lists. Nothing color-coded. Do your best, even if that means playing Fortnite and eating potato chips. Stay healthy, be kind and take care of one another. Remember: It's OK to let your kids be.