The world is in lock-down and kids everywhere are spending way more time with their family than they ever wanted, or believed possible. With a bit of luck, this enforced learning from home might help them see school in a much more positive light. It’s tough learning from home! The good thing is that many, many businesses are being exceptionally generous, providing free online activities for older kids to get stuck into.
Take the directive of your student’s school first and foremost. Most will have online learning via Zoom, Education Perfect (free for all schools until 1 May) or Google classroom, etc. They may well fill the whole school day in this way, so don’t fret too much beyond that for your kids. Leave them with plenty of chill time.
If you want some additional educational resources to help engage the kids in learning, here’s what’s around.
Free online activities for older kids
Art and music
Don’t underestimate how important art and creativity are during times of stress and confinement. Making art has been shown to improve mental health, boost your brain power, help manage pain and even improve your immunity. So make sure the kids take advantage of these free online activities for older kids to give their creative brain a workout.
This gem is a Disney-sponsored collaboration between Pixar Animation Studios and Khan Academy that takes kids on a behind-the-scenes look at how Pixar artists do their jobs. It’s a full course in movie making with modules like the art of storytelling, the art of lighting, colour science, rigging, effects, sets and stages and more.
You can do a 48-hour free trial of these online art classes for kids, run by Australian artist Kirsty Shadiac. You don’t need to provide any payment details, so there’s absolutely no pressure to sign up after the trial. Worth a try!
Melbourne Symphony Orchestra are live-streaming upcoming scheduled performances. Each performance is then available to listen to online. Great for background music while the children do their lessons.
Virtual art gallery tours
Your student can marvel at some of the world’s best art collections without leaving home.
- The Vatican
- Musée d’Orsay, Paris
- Guggenheim, Bilbao
- Van Gough Museum, Amsterdam
- The Met, New York
- Picasso Museum, Barcelona
- Dalí Theatre-Museum, Figueres
- Louvre, Paris
- Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
Google partnered with more than 1200 cultural institutions from around the world to archive and document priceless pieces of art and to provide virtual tours of museums using Google Street View technology. Kids can do virtually anything – like view street art in New York, renaissance art at the Doge’s Palace in Venice, take a trip to the Taj Mahal, or cross Tower Bridge in London.
Concerts and gigs all over the world have been brought online after being cancelled in person. This online music festival and events calendar will have your student exploring all kinds of music from classical to punk to indy to hip hop. Have a listen.
Andy Crowley will teach you the basics of guitar in 10 minutes over 10 days. It’s for absolute beginners, so if you have a guitar hanging around gathering dust, now is the time for the kids to brush it off.
These tips will help you get set up at home for online learning.
The great thing about Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths subjects is that they can be super fun. Experiments that (kind of) explode. Towers that (hopefully) won’t fall. 1000 year old bones. It’s all here.
Virtual museum visits
Take a tour of some of Australia and the world’s greatest museum collections.
Sarah Dees has been running FFFBG for a decade. I remember when it was just ‘Frugal Fun for Boys’ as Sarah had four boys close together, followed later by a little girl. Her kids are now 16, 14, 11, 10 and 6 – so her site is very much for older kids as well as young. The activities on her blog have always been fun and interesting for all kinds of kids, so tell the kids to get stuck in.
At Australian National Maritime Museum you can take a free, curriculum-led virtual tour of the HMB Endeavour from anywhere. Students will be guided through the historical context of James Cook’s scientific voyage.
Explore space from a confined space via NASA’s Langley Research Centre Virtual Tour. You can click around a map of the facility and learn what each area of the centre is developing and discovering. You can also download an app that provides an immersive learning experience and ignite curiosity in the next generation of explorers.
To help kids learn about the southern night sky, Sydney Observatory provides an audio guide/podcast, transcript of that audio, and a sky map or chart each month. It features a monthly podcast, sky chart and online guide written by Sydney Observatory astronomers.
This British site is aimed at K-5 students is currently offering free membership. It covers the full primary school science curriculum (UK, but very similar to Australia’s national curriculum modules).
The bees’ knees of coding sites for kids of all ages. Kids can code a dance party, code Minecraft voyages, or use coding to address world problems like ocean health. You’ll find plenty more resources for at-home coding that will peak kids’ interests on the site.
Reading, writing and languages
Literacy has never been more important than in this age of online interaction. You need to be able to write in a way that clearly gets your message across, and comprehend what others are writing back to you. So, try to incorporate socialising into reading and writing projects and you’ll be half-way to engaging the kids already.
Audible have opened their entire kids’ library for free while schools are closed (in the US). Kids up to 13 years are catered for in the kids’ section, so it’s quite wide-ranging. Wimpy, Wonder, Baby Sitters, Dork Diaries, Goosebumps – it’s all here and all free for the time being.
We created this list of 30 cool writing prompts that will get the kids brains buzzing with creativity. A writing prompt helps them get the words out.
This online Facebook group has loads of reviews and suggestions for books for kids. Recommendations from members are summarised at Children’s Books Daily. If your kid loves reading X, this group will help you find Y. Right now they are giving away a book a day for 30 days, too. If you do decide to buy new books for the kids, please buy from Australia site Booktopia – if you use this link, Mumlyfe will receive a small commission (it doesn’t cost you any extra, but helps us out a lot!)
Older kids should join the Goodreads community – they can connect with friends to share book recommendations and reviews. You can also check out thousands of reviews from the Goodreads community. Writing short reviews for the books your student is reading is excellent practise for English assignments. This is one of those online activities for older kids that they’ll stay with for life.
Kids learning languages can practise their skills using Duolingo. It’s a terrific program that offers virtual incentives and rewards as you learn.
Students can access Rosetta Stone for free for the next three months. This languages website has been a leader in the field for years – providing an immersive language course with feedback on pronunciation and progress data reports.
This online version of Scrabble (best played via the app) is fantastic for improving spelling and vocabulary. It will also help kids stay social right now.
While maths is technically covered in STEM above, it really deserves it’s own category. You can’t ever practise maths enough. Hopefully one of the programs here will be the key to unlock your child’s passion for maths. I’d start with Eddie Woo…
We really like this online maths tutoring program, it really helped my kids with their maths (my review is here). It runs to Australian school curriculum and it really clearly aligns with what the kids are learning in school. While it’s not technically free, you can do a free trial to get started. There’s no obligation to buy beyond that.
Again, not free, but you can do a free 48-hour trial to see what you think. Mathletics is used in plenty of schools, so see if your child already has access via their class. It’s aligned to the curriculum in each state.
Khan Academy’s free online learning covers most school subjects, but they are particularly strong in Maths. Sign up, select up to 10 courses and hit go.
During COVID-19 crisis, Matific is free for 60 days. This K-6 program is one used in many Australian public schools, so it’s worth checking out. It’s got loads of interactive maths games and practise exams, as well as a detailed curriculum to follow.
Another one for primary school students, Maths Snacks is all about fun games that helps students practise maths concepts. One of the many online activities for older kids that incorporate maths games, so do a quick Google search for loads more!
Aussie teaching legend Eddie Woo guides high school students through trickier maths concepts with ease. Eddie is a maths teacher at Cherrybrook High School and his videos are from actual maths lessons in his classroom. His enthusiasm and passion really do make maths more fun. We have Eddie’s latest book and it’s a good one.
History can teach us so much more than simply what happened in the past. Understanding the past opens kids’ futures.
An American focus, but Bunk History is fantastically engaging on every topic from modern history. It uses video, articles, podcasts and more to unravel history and talk about why it matters.
Big History Project is a free, online social studies course that emphasises skill development as students draw connections between past, present and future. More than 1,600 teachers and 80,000 students teach or take the course each year.
This Google Arts and Culture project looks at the impact of climate change on world heritage buildings, monuments and sites.
These sites offer overall programs in every school subject. Some are just really very interesting information about the world at large. There will be something here for every student.
Check with your student as they might have access to this online learning portal by the Education Services Australia.
An online program of learning for kids of all ages, including years 6 – 9. Each week they post another five days of curriculum, so it’s really straightforward and easy for kids to access and use alone.
At FutureLearn, universities from all over the world offer free courses with 14 days access. You can upgrade to spend longer on a topic.
You can learn pretty much everything about anything at this free online learning academy. We covered the maths topic above, but there’s also excellent modules for arts and humanities, science and engineering, computing, and economics and finance.
TED Talks are our jam, so I was thrilled to find TED Ed – educational talks to help kids discover and create. You can pick from a list of subjects, or just check out the talk of the day. Each talk is under 10 minutes, to these are bite-size lessons to break up the day.
Check these out too: 16 inspiring TED Talks for kids
Newsela is offering free access during US school closures. This website was started by a group of educators and parents who weren’t satisfied with the quality of content students are exposed to in US schools. The site is full of information that goes deeper on subjects that enrich student education and enhance teacher resources.
One of the world’s largest documentary archives is currently streaming 200 titles to watch for free. Choose a subject and start streaming.
Videos for curious minds selected from all over the web. Covers all school subjects with some decent life lessons in there too. How to keep calm under pressure, anyone?
Aimed at a UK curriculum, but still relevant for Australian students, the BBC delivers small programs to support learning in all areas. We particularly like the ‘functional skills’ section that details how to do everyday things like balance a budget, read a payslip, listening without interrupting, making a complaint and so much more.
A super-fun YouTube channel that aims to educate kids (and their parents) on everything from anatomy to world history.The philosophy course is particularly good right now. This is one of online activities for older kids that the whole family can get stuck into.
The ‘world’s largest education resource’ is surely needed right now. The categories are Science, Tech, Maths; Humanities; Languages; and Resources. A quick squiz of the homepage right now:
- 10 examples of flying buttresses
- How to be a successful online student [read this, kids!]
- The definition and purpose of a compiler
It’s pretty clear you can find everything you could ever wish to know right here.
We used to watch Behind the News in class when I was in primary school. How’s that for longevity? The ABC’s kids’ news channel still delivers current events and news in kid-size format. This is where kids can find out more about coronavirus, social distancing and what it all means to other students.
Can you recommend other free online activities for older kids for us?
Feature image by Annie Spratt; Tower Bridge by Charles Postiaux; LEGO by James Pond; night sky by Arnold Dogelis; Maths by Annie Spratt; pencils by Sharon McCutcheon; magnifying glass by João Silas; flamingos by Sergi Ferrete / all Unsplash