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Websites help ease kids back into school mode

USA Today
July 27, 2012
By Jinny Gudmundsen

“Summer slide” is a term used to describe how some kids forget what they learned in school over the summer vacation break. For families looking to add a little learning back into their kids lives before they head back to school, here are two free websites that can help.


Rating: 4 stars (out of 4)

This site is a fabulous portal to some of the best free educational games, activities, simulations and videos on the web for kids. Kids can access over a thousand digital materials presented to them by age and/or subject matter. Instead of having to search the web for the best free content, kids just visit PowerMyLearning. The site sorts the content by grades (K-2, 3-5, 6-8 and 9-12) and by subject matter broken into math, language arts, science, art & music, computer programming, using technology and Your Life.

All the digital materials found on PowerMyLearning have been carefully selected by CFY, a national non-profit that works with more than 100 high-poverty schools to provide free computers to the homes of all of the sixth graders in those schools. CFY has great expertise in selecting quality educational resources because of its partnerships with schools and media developers. They have been finding these quality materials for the last decade as part of their program of giving out free broadband-ready computers that are loaded with educational software. CFY has gotten a lot of feedback on their materials as they train the kids, their parents and the teachers on the benefits using computers and digital learning resources for educational purposes.

Before being able to use the site, kids must register; and if under age 13, they must provide an email for their parent or guardian. A parent can also sign up; and when they do, the site can provide usage reports so parents can see what kind of things their kids are exploring. By knowing the kinds of games their kids are playing, parents can better engage their kids in conversations about those learning games.

Kids earn play points by exploring the learning games, simulations and videos. They can also weigh in on how good something is by voting on the material that they just played. And if they like an activity, the site offers up suggestions for others that are similar.

Some of the gems I found included Starfall ABCs, an activity that helps preschoolers and kindergartners learn letter-sound relationships. Elementary kids in grades 3 and above might enjoy checking out Wacky Web Tales. This Mad-Lib-type activity has you filling out a list of words where specific parts of speech are requested (“a singular noun” or “an adjective”), and then it creates a funny story using your words. A suggested related activity is Poetry Splatter, a fun color-coordinated way to drag words into a poetry format.

For older kids, PowerMyLearning connects them to the Google Art Project, a powerful online art experience where kids can view famous art from around the world. Also captivating is the Stop Disasters!, a simulation game produced by the United Nationswhere you try to prepare a community for a natural disaster and then see how you did after the disaster hits.

By linking to other sites, PowerMyLearning doesn’t provide ad-free content. Many of the sites it links to will expose kids to ads. Also, PowerMyLearning has a “Share” button that presents three options: email, Facebook, and Twitter. The latter two are fun for teens who are using digital media; but if your children are under 13, they can’t use Facebook or Twitter, because you have to be age 13 to have accounts.

PowerMyLearning also has a separate section for teachers that allows them to use the site’s material to create “playlists” for their classrooms.


Rating: 4 stars

Offering a “Wonder of the Day®,” this site offers something new each day for kids and families to think about, view and imagine. One day, the “wonder” will be about the Milky Way, showing time-lapse photography of it in the night sky. On another day, the “wonder” will be about how to make Dream Catchers. Don’t miss #656, the “wonder” posted on July 20, 2012, called “Do You Have Perspective?” which shows some street artists turning a street into a snowy, ice-laden precipice. It is magical and awe-inspiring.

Each wonder has a video associated with it, as well as written materials. The written materials raise questions, suggest activities, provide vocabulary words related to the topic and offer links to other helpful material. You can even sign up to receive the daily “wonder” via email.

Launched in 2010 by the National Center for Family Literacy, for the purpose of helping families to learn and to “tap into their sense of curiosity,” receives major funding from the Verizon Foundation. Additional support has been provided by theAnnenberg Foundation, Better World Books and Humana.

It is easy to take a few minutes each day to be awed by something new. If you as a family right before dinner, it can be a great resource to spur a lively family discussion.

Gudmundsen is the editor of Computing With Kids magazine ( Contact her at