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Invitation to share the best tools we have discovered to support our young kids' learning at home

(10 Posts)
Jthan Tue 03-Jan-17 11:01:41

Having tried many tools/apps/programmes/methods to help my kids academically (they are currently 3 and 6 year old boys), I figured it would be fun to share my best discoveries here and invite others to do the same. Here are mine:

Reading: Alphablocks cartoons which can be found on YouTube. These are really, really clever. Pause the videos and cover the characters from time to time so that just the letters/words are showing and ask your child to try to read it before unpausing.

Also The Alphablocks Reading Programme, which can be ordered from the Alphablocks website for £30. It's a fun set of magazines and toys which both my kids have loved and wanted to do just for the fun of it. It covers all the EYFS requirements and more.

Numbers: An app for phones and tablets called Dragonbox Numbers. It's an incredibly fun game where they get to play around with living numbers, combine and divide them to solve puzzles, and get a hands-on intuitive feel for what numbers mean as well as adding and subtracting.

I also make sure to use an abacus or other real life example to explain how what my kids have done in the game translates into real life.

Fractions: For my 6 year old, an app called "Slice Fractions" is another ingenious game where the kid hardly feels like they're being taught. Covers a lot of areas of fractions, but if like my son your child hasn't learned about fractions before, you do need to explain it to them as they go. Otherwise they might just complete the puzzles through trial and error instead of using the proper logic.

General maths: Math Seeds is an online game for a wide range of ages with many different games and a clear progression path. It's also only £30 per year which is quite reasonable. Dreambox is another game for kids from about 5 years old. A little pricier and covers less areas of maths. But it's more thoughtfully made ane the way it teaches is more intuitive and tailored to individuals.

Science: Besides helping them learn through general discussion, experiments and books, there's also an awesome cartoon series from the 90s called "The Magic School Bus". Some can be found on YouTube and all of them are on Netflix. A class of school kids have all kinds magical adventures which are fun to watch and cover a great many scientific topics.

So those are probably the things I would recommend most highly. I'd love to hear what's worked best for other members here smile

catkind Tue 03-Jan-17 13:30:59

I don't know if you can access everywhere, but the best bit of alphablocks for us is the games/videos on the BBC website.

Second the Dragonbox numbers recommendation. It's animated cuisenaire rods for those of us who had those at school. Really helped DD's number intuition (it wasn't around when DS was at that stage).

DC loved Dragonbox Big Numbers too, but I felt a lot less learning was happening. It's trying to do place value and column addition/subtraction, but found that DC tended to skip over the thinking and just amass treasure as fast as they could. It didn't have the playfulness that I loved about Numbers.

Another one for reading: DC really got on with Teach Your Monster to Read. There are 3 different games now, covering phonics up to and including alternative vowel spellings. They seemed to find it very engaging and carried on playing well after they'd learned what it had to teach.

BigWeald Tue 03-Jan-17 14:02:55

thanks for sharing! Threads asking for suggestions pop up regularly, it is rarer for people to start threads with what worked for them, and explaining why. There are so many apps and 'educational' games and toys out there, it can be hard to find the right one.

My kids are six and not quite three, and we appear to have used a similar set of apps and stuff, so I'll comment on some you mentioned.

Numbers: An app for phones and tablets called Dragonbox Numbers. It's an incredibly fun game where they get to play around with living numbers, combine and divide them to solve puzzles, and get a hands-on intuitive feel for what numbers mean as well as adding and subtracting.

We tried Numbers but my 6yo never got into it - too basic at the start (don't know if it changes much as you progress?) - and my 2yo doesn't like being shown, so I need to leave her to figure things out for herself, which means with Numbers that she doesn't get anywhere. Maybe when she's a bit older. I like the principle of it, but actually it's not 'hands-on' (as it's on a screen); and from what I've seen of it, the intuitive grasping of numbers and how they fit together is similar to what you achieve from playing with Lego bricks. Which IS hands-on. So, overall we're not huge fans of Numbers.

We recently got the new 'Big Numbers' (also from Dragonbox) and my 6yo loves it and has learned column addition (and practised all the simple additions like 9+5 that you do as parts of column addition) from it, without realising he was learning. A bit early though - teachers have advised us NOT to teach column addition at this stage, but it was a bit late when I realised!

My 6yo also enjoys the original Dragonbox game (algebra) but again, it's not really curriculum appropriate at this age.

General maths: Math Seeds is an online game for a wide range of ages with many different games and a clear progression path. It's also only £30 per year which is quite reasonable.

My 6yo did this, age 3-4.5 (ish) - by when he was working on Y2 material. What sets it apart from many other programmes is that it actually teaches, concepts and methods. I found that it doesn't include enough practice though (but there are plenty of sites out there to provide that!) When DS started school we stopped using it much as I found it was taking him too far ahead of the curriculum, but without him having properly mastered all the concepts.
We transferred some of the things we encountered on Maths Seeds into hands-on stuff, e.g. we made ten-frames out of egg boxes, and played a game called 'Ten Frame Towers'.

I'll look into Slice Fractions, sounds interesting, thanks.

We got the board game 'Plyt' for Christmas and DS loves it, great for practising times tables/mental arithmetic. The best part is that it's something you can do together as a family, with everybody being challenged, and yet everyone has a chance to win.

OSMO combines iPad with hands-on real stuff, and OSMO Numbers has been a success with DS. Great for practising/getting a feel of how numbers fit together, how big numbers can be made up in various ways out of smaller numbers. It is IMO very overpriced though.

In an effort to 'extend sideways' we introduced DS to chess and to coding. Dinosaur Chess is an app that teaches the basics and provides some great practice too. Often beginners are made to play against a 'weak' computer who makes silly moves/mistakes, so that they have a chance to win. But that just teaches them 'bad' chess. Instead, in Dinosaur Chess you get to play e.g. with King and 8 Pawns against King and 4 Pawns.

We have used Tynker for coding, but that's been DH's part, can't tell you much about it. Also OSMO Coding, good fun, teaches you to 'think' like a coder, plan ahead etc. and is hands-on with physical items rather than just on the screen. But at the end of the day, quite limited in the extent of what can be done/learned, and again IMO overpriced.

I'll just mention ReadTheory here, often recommended on here by irvineoneohone. Definitely has more of a 'work' aspect to it than just games, but used it for a while with DS, as a teaching aid rather than just a 'test' (i.e. me sitting with him, explaining questions and answers), and it has done wonders for his comprehension.

Science and other stuff
Both kids enjoy GoJetters on TV and have been picking up lots of geography from that. We also have a 'cuddly' globe and an inflatable one, totally non-delicate and cheap, so they're always to hand when a place needs to be located, or something such as time zones/day and night/seasons/eclipses etc needs to be explained. A jigsaw puzzle world map comes out every now and then and is quietly helping DS remember which country is where.
With regards to history, I've found that DS enjoys a good (age appropriate) historical fiction book and so I find him ones that match the topics being covered at school. It seems to bring it to life for him.

We tend to follow the kids' interests so e.g. when DS was into dinosaurs, we read books on dinosaurs, watched videos, went to museum, started a dino figurine collection, ... and lots of chats. Resulting in him gaining lots of somewhat trivial knowledge, which was soon forgotten as his interests moved on. But also in concepts and stuff that is transferable and stayed with him (carnivore, herbivore, omnivore, ichtyophague/diurnal, nocturnal/geological ages/processes involved in fossilisation/how scientists work).

Jthan Wed 04-Jan-17 12:57:00

Thanks for some great replies!

Good point about the Alphablocks game on the BBC website, that's also a great help and completely free.

I also felt the same about Dragonbox Big Numbers. Really fun but not as great a learning tool as the original DB Numbers. My son didn't seem to be grasping the principles behind the addition and subtraction until I started insisting he do an actual sum on paper each time he played the game. However I did email the developers and they told me that they're working on improving the learning side of it.

With regards to the cuisenaire rods, I only wish there were some available that were coloured the same way as the nooms in Dragonbox, and ideally decorated like them too.

With Math Seeds I agree that although it covers all the relevant areas, it moves too fast and isn't enough on its own. That's why I've found it useful to use the other games and tools I've mentioned to help get the extra practice in. Also, every now and then it seems to throw in a game which is inappropriate for the level your child has reached, so you need to be standing by to help them and can't just leave them alone to get on with it. Although more limited in some ways, Dreambox is rather better on all these points.

Thank you for all the suggestions! I'm now looking into Plyt, Go Jetters, Teach Your Monsters To Read and OSMO. I'm also gonna bookmark this thread for to come back to if I want to support my kids with chess or coding. Speaking of coding, I've heard that Raspberry Pi can be a good way for kids to explore how computers work right down to how they're put together. Though I haven't got round to trying it yet.

Jthan Mon 09-Jan-17 13:57:48

Thanks for suggesting Go Jetters to help with geography. My kids absolutely love it!

I also looked into that Tynker programme, and discovered it's based on the open source programming language Scratch. This lead to my discovering Scratch Junior for iPad. It's proving to be a great introduction to coding for my 6 year old, and it's complete free!

Mehfruittea Thu 12-Jan-17 16:46:56

Downloaded Dragonbox for my 5 year old the basis of these recommendations- thank you! DS loves it, doesn't fully get it get but is enjoying playing the games. Maybe he will learn the maths by accident?!

Jthan Sat 14-Jan-17 11:27:28

There are several different games in the Dragonbox series (most of which are primarily aimed at older children), so hopefully it was Dragonbox Numbers you bought. If so, one of the amazing things about it is how it teaches basic arithmatic almost no matter what the child does. If they just want to mess around combining and slicing random numbers they'll still end up developing number sense through experiencing the consequences of their actions. But sooner or later they're almost certain to get curious about the higher levels.

The only issue I've discovered is that they may not necessarily translate this acquired number sense into counting or written questions by themselves. That's why I've found I needed to take time to do other maths activities like counting and adding things, or using an abacus, while showing and explaining how real numbers work exactly like Dragonbox Numbers.

catkind Sat 14-Jan-17 12:31:51

We found Numbers also combined nicely with having real cuisenaire and H/T/U blocks around. We do use those for working out real sums, and as they're all in cm3 they fit together nicely.

Dragonbox Algebra can be fun for a 5 yr old too. It's called 5+ for a reason! It starts looking more like maths in the later levels, but don't think you have to be able to add up even, it does that bit for you. DD is a bright 4 yr old and is around halfway through it I think; DS whizzed through it at 6. It's a lovely little logic game, and I don't see why it wouldn't make algebraic manipulation easier/more automatic when they come to learning it later, though like numbers it's teaching you to play with the symbols not how to apply them to the real world.

Mehfruittea Sun 15-Jan-17 15:15:03

Yes it was DB numbers and Algebra bundle. He hasn't tried algebra yet, I thinks it's too hard for him. He's enjoying numbers but you're right, it needs to be with other RL support. He isn't interested in money, so doesn't yet get that 10 pennies is equal to 10p etc. I'm starting to use number bonds with him so he is familiar with that.

Vietnammark Sun 15-Jan-17 17:34:41

I will second the Dinosaur Chess app. When my son was 5 years old he asked me to teach him chess. I told him to use this app first then I would teach him. After 45 minutes of using the app I was amazed at what he had learned, and I am not easily amazed.

As I recall, after 45 minutes he: could name the pieces, set them up, knew their values, knew how they moved and took, even had a concept of castling king and queen side. He informed me there were 7 rules of castling, which was new to me and I used to play at county level.

He was in to chess for a year or so, then smi-gave up but has recently rekindled his interest at 9 years old. I guess the current app is similar to it was a few years ago.

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