Ask the grumpies: Computer educational programs that DC2 (grade 4) loves (and others zie’s ok with)

Parent to two virtual learners asks:

“Have you or your readers been using any computer programs to supplement virtual learning at home? I need to work full-time and my kids (elementary schoolers) seem to get done with their work in 2-3 hours each day. They don’t want to spend all their time reading books and I don’t want them to spend all their time playing video games or fighting with each other. Do you have any educational games and similar things to recommend? Anything non-electronic that doesn’t create too much of a mess?”

DC2 loves Prodigy to pieces. It’s basically an RPG-ish game where your choices don’t matter much, but in order to fight monsters you have to get a math problem correct. The math problems are very similar to going through Khan Academy– they get harder and you master a specific skill and then they give you a new skill. I think it’s free and they make their money with in-game purchases that DC2 would really like to have but we have not been doing.

DC2 loves Epic! though sadly we have to pay for it now because this year’s teacher didn’t sign up for it like last year’s did. (Technically zie can sign in as guest with hir class from last year, but that seems wrong somehow.) Epic has a lot of fun books, including a TON of comicbooks to read. All the Big Nates, even some that are so old or new that DC1 doesn’t own them. (There are Bill Clinton jokes(!))

DC2 likes DuoLingo just fine. Zie is doing Spanish with it, mostly on weekends. There isn’t much playing with it if it’s not required like there is with Prodigy.

We’ve recommended DragonBox before– DC2 did a spin through again before school started this past summer.

Similarly to DuoLingo, DC2 is fine with Khan Academy. Zie is mostly going through the math part.

DC2 is supposed to go through a math thing called xtramath, but finished last year, so after zooming through addition and subtraction, hir teacher asked hir to play Kakooma instead. DC2 is not a fan of the timed aspect of it, but did enjoy it at first.

Instead of Epic!, DC2’s teacher is doing Reading A-Z, which has more educational stuff than does Epic and has step readers in both English and Spanish. One not so great thing is that it tested DC2 in English and is now only allowing hir to read within a few levels of hir tested level in Spanish. Hir Spanish level is not as high as hir English level! There’s no Phoebe and Unicorn here, but there’s lots of non-fiction.

With all the additional laptop stuff, DC2’s computer class has a lot of typing. They use Typing Agent through Clever. This is not as much fun as typing of the dead, but it’s more focused for if you don’t know how to touch type (as opposed to just needing practice to get your speed up).

In terms of exercise, we have two games for the Switch right now that DC2 has been using. Ring Fit Adventure is a good exercise game, much like Prodigy except you do exercises to complete an attack. Zie has also been doing Just Dance 2020 and now I have Baby Shark stuck in my head for all eternity even though I’m fairly sure I’ve only heard it twice.

DC2 is also getting into Minecraft Coding Academy, though that occasionally requires assists from DH. Similarly DC1 (in high school) is working on USACO coding projects (zie isn’t actually signed up, just going through the problems)

I’m probably forgetting something, but these are the things that have been popular enough (or required enough by class) to come to mind.

In terms of non-electronic stuff:

DC2’s art teacher requires them to draw daily in a composition book. We’ve gotten some calligraphy pens and so on to make that a little more interesting. They’re both also into origami, but that makes a mess.

DC2 does a page of Singapore Math each day.

We’ve downloaded a bazillion children’s classics from Gutenberg to DC2’s kindle (Oz is very popular with both kids, also E. Nesbitt).

We’ve increased the chores they have to do– doing laundry has been added to their list which previously only had laundry folding and removing things from the dishwasher. Now there’s 15 min of cleaning their rooms each day, though sometimes we add an additional 15 min to DC2 because zie is so talented at making messes. DC1 cooks a meal a week (usually on Sundays) and DC2 helps. They also pick out one meal each week for menu planning (DC1 makes hirs).

DC2 also has regular minecraft playdates with friends which isn’t exactly educational but is social at least. DC2 and hir frenemy are actually much more mature playing on minecraft together than playing on the playground. Now that it’s cooler outside they’re getting kicked out for exercise again. Oh, and they’ve started teaching themselves contact juggling (using a weighted rubber ball, not one of DH’s actual clear contact juggling balls because there’s a lot of dropping). I’ve been trying to get DC1 to pick up pencil twirling because zie fidgets by worrying things until they break off and zie needs to stop doing that, but so far no luck (zie is also uninterested in fidget spinners). DC2 has been working on juggling one club, but that somehow morphs into all the juggling clubs being all over the floor of the living room.

Grumpy Nation: What educational stuff do you recommend for when you have to work but your kids are out of schoolwork?

18 Responses to “Ask the grumpies: Computer educational programs that DC2 (grade 4) loves (and others zie’s ok with)”

  1. Jenny F. Scientist Says:

    We’ve been making Child 2 write part of a short story every day – it features a snake named Fred, who has a lot of reptilian houseguests- and do Singapore Math. Child 1 was practicing his typing online all summer with some free program (typingclub, I think), which was remarkably effective though we had to make a keyboard-hiding box.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Fred sounds delightful!

      Yesterday, apparently DC2 used hir free time to make a keyboard out of cardboard, but zie cut out keys and put them in alphabetical order instead of QWERTY. I think the artist was making a statement about hir frustration with touch typing through this piece. The other three members of the household didn’t need to learn touch typing quite so soon and we all took classes specific to it in middle-school (DH and I both at local community colleges. DC1 as a required keyboarding class.).

  2. xykademiqz Says:

    Smurf plays Roblox, that’s his main passtime. He likes to read scary and funny books; Goosebumps and Big Nate are favorites. At school, he really likes Dreambox (math software) and does many times over what he’s been assigned each time, and he tolerates most others (grudgingly Lexia and typing.com). They did use Prodigy (math) last year and he thought it was OK, also played it with a friend over the summer, but I think the game aspect of it is not interesting enough for him as he does play actual videogames. (As an aside, our middle-schooler likes Khan Academy a lot for his algebra class.)

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      DC1 had Roblox, and they still have some videos on the old ipad from like 5 years ago (it’s so funny hearing their so very young voices), but they just never really got into it. I’m not sure why. Maybe we should dig it out and try again.

      Great recommendations!

  3. gwinne Says:

    Tiny Boy (third grade) also likes Prodigy and Epic. Went on a DuoLingo stint over the summer and stopped. Not so much Xtra math or Khan academy.

  4. revanche @ a gai shan life Says:

    I don’t think we’re in the age range but some stuff that JB does is shareable across ages. We haven’t been super good with the Singapore math books yet because I just don’t have the time to sit and work through any of it with them yet but they do a lot of painting, drawing tutorials and writing letters. If they do a good job writing correspondence and addressing the envelopes, they get to pick the special stamps to put on. I also picked up a few stamps and stamp pads to add to the correspondence fun and they have a pen pal to write to in addition to family members. That makes writing a lot more fun and less like practice.

    This bit isn’t educational but it is good occupation for them – They have had Zoom playdates with much older kids (10-14) where they read to each other, play tic tac toe, do drawing challenges (can you draw X / Y / Z for me?), and make Play-doh creations to show one another.

  5. Leah Says:

    Dragonbox is a huge hit here! Our 6 year old is into both dragonbox numbers and dragonbox big numbers. I suspect dragonbox algebra is in our future (she loves math).

    For non-screen time, depends on the age of your kids. Simple games, like Spot it!, can be popular. I also bought our 6 year old a journal and some “fancy” pens (not super fancy — sharpie fine point pens), and that’s gone over well for doodling, writing words, and playing around.

    Our kids also do sensory bins, and some are less messy than others, but I don’t know how that would translate up into older ages. Could you make a less messy maker space area? Thinking things like cardboard, painter’s tape, toilet paper rolls, etc for building creations. You could also see if your kids might be into doing something like a beginning embroidery kit. There’s lots of Klutz books for learning new skills that are awesome — watercolor, friendship bracelets, etc.

  6. omdg Says:

    We used Dragonbox per your suggestion two years ago, and it was great. Will have to check out Singapore math. Dyl has been doing DuoLingo and Khan Academy with decent success. Do you know of any age appropriate but yet not dumbed down programs on science? Will have to look into Epic Again.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      There’s SciShow on YouTube… the kids watched that for a while and then tapered off. We went through some science kits—the magic school bus one was especially good but your daughter may have outgrown it. DC2 liked chibi-lights enough that I think we’ll get hir an electronics kit at Christmas (a more grown up version of snap circuits from the same company). Do you think she’s old enough to build a theramin?

  7. Debbie M Says:

    We are looking into buying Ring Fit Adventure today after discovering its existence on your blog!! It really sounds like a fun way to get exercise, inside in the air conditioning, in the house within my plague bubble. Unfortunately the Nintendo Switch is pretty sold out everywhere.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      DH recommends checking the nintendo switch reddit for information on when they’re in stock again.

      • Debbie M Says:

        Thanks! We found one on Amazon being sold by someone in the UK. (Nintendo’s website only links to retail sellers, and Target doesn’t have it, and my boyfriend really likes Amazon’s return policy, so that’s why Amazon. I did get him to look for alternatives, though.)

  8. First Gen American Says:

    Our biggest change is weekly D+D sessions and older brother included younger one just because they needed another warm body but it’s been good and fairly consistent through summer and into the school year despite that one kid started college (but is sadly still home). It’s very creative so it fills that void as my kids aren’t very artsy and never do things like draw for fun.

    I haven’t been forcing them to work in between classes even though they have a 1/2 hour break both because I don’t have the ability to all the time, plus I think it also keeps them more on task when they have to join classes online.

    The Kids have lots of chores and they constantly remind me that they do more than most, so we haven’t piled on more.

    After reading this I feel like they still do too much of watching YouTube and tic tock. I did catch the younger one goofing off during class one day, but he claimed the teacher was working on the same thing forever and he has a 100% average in every class so not sure how much of a hard ass I should be especially since we’ve all been guiltily of multitasking on conf calls.


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