There are a lot of recommendations about what kids should spend their time doing. More importantly, there are a lot of recommendations about how long children should spend looking at a screen. The American Pediatrics Association recommends children over the age of two should only have 1 to 2 hours of screen time a day. That’s a narrow time allowance for using online educational programs for kids. Online educational programs can be great to help children learn and grow, or they can be a great waste of time. There are many out there to choose from and many more added daily. We’ve used online educational programs to supplement the education of our children from preschool through the fifth grade and here are my recommendations for some of the best (though not always free) programs available.
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If you are looking for a program for elementary students that focuses on number sense and reasoning then I would recommend Dreambox Learning. The program lets children “figure out” how to do different math skills. Helps and tutorials are available within the program as well. My children have all enjoyed their time on Dreambox. The program is student-paced, allows the children to decide which skill they want to work on, and ensures mastery of a skill before allowing the student to move forward. Dreambox is subscription based at about $13/month for 1 child or $20/month for 4 children. There’s also an option to buy it for 6 months at a time with 1 child being $60/6 months and 4 children being $100/ 6 months.
If you need a program to review/teach math facts, I have found two great programs. One is called XtraMath – and is a computerized version of a timed math facts test. Children use the program for only 5 minutes each day – (it’s nice to have the built in time limit) and practice their addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division facts. The program takes the children through addition then subtraction, followed by multiplication and division facts – and only moves the children onto the next skill once the first skill is mastered. XtraMath is free and fairly children friendly. It is not a game, and doesn’t look like a game.
If your children want a game to play that helps with math facts then Big Brainz has what you’re looking for. Times Attack is a roll playing game where children maneuver a troll like avatar through levels. This program teaches the math facts as well as helps the children memorize them. There is a free version and a deluxe version. The deluxe version costs from $20/1 month to $100 for a permanent license. My children have enjoyed the free version enough that we haven’t even thought to buy the deluxe version. The program plays like a game and is entertaining, but does a great job in teaching and reinforcing math facts from addition to division.
If you have a student who has a talent for math, then I recommend the free Alcumus portion of the Art of Problem Solving. This program is designed to teach logic and math concepts, while preparing students for math competitions. After using this program for two years, my fifth grade daughter is now almost finished with the pre-Algebra curriculum. This program is rigorous and deep. It offers explanation videos as well. There is a hard copy curriculum that can be purchased, but Alcumus, and support for the Alcumus program, is offered completely free.
I haven’t found any free reading programs that I feel are effective at teaching reading. However, I have found one program that is amazing at teaching preschoolers to read. I’ve used it with my first grader and preschooler with great success. I’ve also used it with my second grader (when he was a first grader) to help him catch up some of the skills he missed. The program is Reading Eggs. (I must say that my sister-in-law introduced us to this program – thank you sis!) Reading Eggs is amazing and is fairly inexpensive. The year subscription is about $60 per child and the 6 month subscription is about $40 per child. Reading Eggs offers many other products, which I haven’t used. But, I love their online program.
I’ve only found one general preschool program that was accurate, engaging, and user friendly for both the parents and children. My fifth grader begged us for this program when she was five – which is a little old. But because we had other younger children who also wanted enrichment, we purchased a subscription to ABC Mouse. Four children can use one family’s subscription and the subscription only costs about $8 a month. This program is a general preschool curriculum program, and does a very good job being kid friendly and safe.
My children have enjoyed each of these programs and their knowledge and computer skills have greatly benefited from using them as well. With trying to only use a screen for 2 hours a day, we’ve become very selective of what programs our children use – and these are the programs that made the cut.