I daydream about year-round schools.
I imagine the children and I traveling to far-flung destinations during off seasons instead of with everyone else tied to a summer vacation calendar. I imagine lots of little breaks during which no one tires of another family member.
And, beyond those selfish goals, I assume that my children would learn more if their education weren’t interrupted by three months away from a structured classroom.
We tend to fill much of the break with different kinds of learning, gained from trips to museums and libraries, from discussions while we’re driving, from adventures around town and out of town, from occasional day camps, from workbooks focused on reading and writing.
This summer we’re also taking advantage of online and televised resources. Here are some of our favorites.
TED (www.ted.com) stands for technology, entertainment and design. The nonprofit website offers almost 1,000 lectures — all 18 minutes or shorter — from big idea people.
The free website is easy to search — by theme, speaker, most emailed, most discussed.
Our favorite lecture so far is by Paul Nicklen, who shares stories and photos from the Arctic and Antarctic. Cooper studied narwhals in third grade, and the three of us have been fascinated by them ever since; Nicklen has gorgeous photos of narwhals — plus bears and penguins and whales and other majestic creatures. We’ve gained a new appreciation for the leopard seal; watch Nicklen’s lecture and you will, too.
BrainPOP (www.brainpop.com) offers a new three-minute animated movie every day. So far we’ve learned about Martin Luther King Jr., Alzheimer’s disease, idioms and clichés, cnidarians, mourning traditions around the world and more. At the end of each video, a 10-question quiz is offered.
We don’t subscribe to the service, so our free options are limited to the daily movie plus a few from the archives. For $99 per year, a family can access all of the videos at any time.
The site also includes games and lesson ideas.
Khan Academy (www.khanacademy.org) offers more than 2,000 instructional videos on algebra, geometry, chemistry, economics, history and more. Founder and teacher Sal Khan is gifted at explaining complex concepts.
Don’t understand credit default swaps? There are two videos to help. Want to know how the Hawaiian islands formed? Set aside eight minutes to learn.
Cooper has dabbled in chemistry so far. I’m counting on the site’s longevity to help me as homework gets more difficult.
‘What the Ancients Knew’
The Science Channel (www.science.discovery.com) has been replaying its documentary series What the Ancients Knew. Each hourlong episode examines an ancient culture (Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Indian, Chinese and Japanese) and its influences on modern life.
Check the network’s website for the next showing.
Katie is loving these half-hour episodes (PBS, www.pbskids.org/wildkratts), which mix footage of Chris and Martin Kratt and animals with animated scenes that give more information about monkeys, koalas, elephants, falcons and many more creatures.
We’re all learning about habitats, adaptations and predators.
The free website handwritingworksheets.com allows the user to choose a handwriting style (print, D’Nealian or cursive) then create dotted text to be printed. The child can then trace the text to reinforce handwriting skills.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.