It’s an understatement to say that many parents are extremely stressed-out right now. The pandemic has forced those who have school-aged kids to become teachers, even as some still work full-time. Suzannah Zachos, my cousin, has three children all under the age of 14. She says Sunday nights have taken on a new meaning.
“The Sunday night beast creeps up somewhere around 5 p.m. and begins to grow through bedtime,” she wrote in a text message. “It is the fear of the unknown week ahead, the concern that I cannot balance my own (pandemic-dictated) WFH job alongside three students’ full course load, multiple Zoom calls a day per kid (where we have to tiptoe around so we don’t disrupt), three full meals for five people… on top of being terrified of getting sick.”
Zachos is one more example of the many frustrated parents who have to juggle their own lives at home, along with their kids’ school schedules and classwork. She also faces a contradiction that many parents can probably relate to:
“Right now, I have been given the gift of time with my kids, and really, they have been given a computer filled with classes and assignments filled with anxiety.”
While there’s no magic wand to erase the anxiety Zachos’ children and others feel around the country due to distance learning, there are resources that can help ease the burden on parents who have been forced to play teacher — and make things a little more fun for the kids, too. We’ve rounded up a list of free online science resources, from science journalism publications to NASA.
Science News for Students publishes science journalism aimed at kids ages 9 through 14. Though its resources have always been free, the online publication wants to spread the word about its offerings during a time when kids are stuck at home, said Sarah Zielinski, Science News for Students’ managing editor.
Some Science News for Students’ sections, and what they do:
These resources for high school students weren’t always open source, but, “in light of what was going on in the world and the fact that we have such high-quality journalism and educational resources, we opened up everything to everyone,” said Anna Rhymes, Science News in High Schools’ program manager. You just have to enter your email address to access the content.
Once in, students can choose from activities — like jumping into the shoes of World Health Organization officers to prevent the spread of a virus — and answer questions about things like, say, bat viruses, to help them understand science topics better. Don’t be surprised that most of the resources come off as lesson plans; most were designed for educators in mind.
Each of the exercises on the website also has a downloadable student worksheet so high schoolers can tackle them on their own.
The Smithsonian Science Education center offers online science content for kids in grades K-8. Its distance learning website is meant for students, teachers, parents, and caregivers, Dr. Carol O’Donnell, the center’s director, told Mashable in an email.
Some of its resources require continual access to the Internet, like this game where kids can learn about animal habitats, and others can be printed out, such as this document with hands-on activities to help kids can learn about COVID-19. This choice was intentional, wrote O’Donnell, as it supports students’ different home learning environments. The site also has a few activities in Spanish.
Just two days after the WHO declared coronavirus a pandemic, Scholastic launched an online hub for students from pre-K through grade nine to learn at home. High school students can feel free to explore the content marked grades six through nine, as the material is appropriate for all high school students, said Pam Allyn, senior vice president of innovation and development for Scholastic Education. Science offerings include articles, online books, and videos.
Though the California Science Center is currently closed, it’s deployed daily “stuck-at-home science” activities that consist of videos (some in Spanish) and an accompanying guide with a related experiment (with directions also available in Spanish). The experiments call for materials that can be found at home or can be easily substituted, said Gretchen Bazela, California Science Center’s deputy director of education.
While the center has a particular expertise with K-5 aged students and wants to draw that demographic to remote learning resources, it’s focused less on grade level and more on helping students acquire science and engineering skills, said Bazela. Students can do many of the activities solo, but they can also include their families if they want to bond over science.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) sends robots out into space to explore places humans haven’t been, such as planets in and outside of our solar system. On March 20, NASA made research from these explorations accessible to kids K-12 stuck at home due to the pandemic. Students can make rockets, Mars rovers, and moon landers all with materials found around their homes.
“If they’ve got the internet, they can access cutting-edge science and try their hand at activities that emulate that science,” said Ota Lutz, the lead of JPL’s STEM K-12 education group.
Common Sense, a nonprofit that provides media resources for families and schools, created an online hub called Wide Open School to offer education resources for pre-K through high school students. Every day, there are new articles, videos, and experiments from reputable sources such as PBS Kids, National Geographic, the New York Times, and Common Sense itself. The site also points low-income families to resources that will help them access high-speed internet and computers.
Christine Elgersma, senior editor of parent education at Common Sense, says parents find it to be a helpful resource as it puts educational aides in one place.
“There’s a lot of resources everywhere, and [parents are] hearing about those resources, but it’s hard to organize all of that information while you’re trying to maintain your own job and work with your kid,” says Elgersma.
Girls Scouts at Home is Girl Scouts’ new national platform to help students K-12 learn at home, and you don’t have to be a girl, or a Scout, to use the resources. Kids can help NASA collect data on clouds as citizen scientists, or play online games to contribute to Cornell University’s Alzheimers’ research, or learn about the Moon’s surface through painting.
“It’s almost like a sampler pack. We’re choosing one activity from our different badges to put up online,” said Suzanne Harper, senior director of national STEM strategy at Girl Scouts. Harper says they’ll be adding more activities every week.
This all complements what students are learning in school and turn schoolwork into a hands-on activity, said Harper.
So, go ahead. Try one of these options — or all of them — to help spark curiosity about science and bring together parents and kids during this stressful time.