Librarian-Approved Tech Tools
From STEM sites to podcasts to exercise videos, check out these recommended online learning resources for kids of all ages.
In the midst of an ongoing pandemic, educating stir-crazy kids may seem like an impossible task. Fortunately, when it comes to online educational resources, librarians are here to help.
“No one expected 2020 to look like this, but we’ve been looking at a lot of these resources for years and really digging into what’s out there,” says Annamarie Carlson, youth services librarian at the Westerville Public Library. She stresses the importance of finding a variety of formats for learning, so that children can find what works for them and break up the monotony of Zoom classes.
Youth services experts from libraries all over Central Ohio pitched in to provide their favorite battle-tested sources for keeping kids’ minds sharp in any subject while they’re stuck at home. More resources like these can be found on their libraries’ websites.
Get top reads, event recommendations, guides, parenting trends and more ideas for family fun. Subscribe to Columbus Parent’s weekly newsletter, The Bulletin.
“Anything that combines science and creativity in a way that doesn’t feel like you’re being forced to learn something is always a win,” says Carlson.
For science education, she suggested NPR’s children’s podcast Wow in the World for second- through fifth-graders. The hosts explore the natural wonders of Earth in a fun audio format. Carlson says parents shouldn’t underestimate kids’ interest in podcasts, which are taking off in popularity and can give them a break from screens.
Kelly Cochran, youth services manager at the Delaware County District Library, recommends the COSI Connects page for children of all ages. The award-winning Columbus science center has provided a hub where kids can find STEM activities, virtual tours and challenges.
Older students should all be aware of Khan Academy, recommended by Kelli Bates, Young Minds program leader for the Columbus Metropolitan Library. The free online lessons are offered for all ages and subjects, but are best known for helping teens through tricky math and science courses. They can be a saving grace for parents who are just as confused as their kids by trigonometry and valence electrons.
“Technology has always been a part of our future, and the pandemic has proved that,” Carlson says. In addition to relying more on computers, many districts are beginning to include coding and tech literacy in their curriculums. She says she sees children as young as elementary school who are already writing code and programming robots at home.
Carlson suggests Code.org for any young person looking to get into coding. The site provides hourlong lessons for preschoolers through adults at any level of tech savviness. Lessons focus on block-based coding and incorporate beloved characters from “Frozen,” Star Wars, Minecraft and more.
As a companion to Code.org, Carlson also recommends Scratch. Developed by the MIT Media Lab, Scratch provides more open-ended activities using block-style coding for ages 8-16.
Dana Folkerts, youth services manager at the Pickerington Public Library, stresses the importance of getting young girls interested in technology. To help balance a male-dominated field, she endorses Nancy Drew: Codes & Clues, an app that has won awards for introducing girls to coding through a mystery storyline.
It has never been more important for students to experience diverse perspectives and cultures. For grade schoolers, Carlson suggests Molly of Denali. The PBS Kids animated show stars Molly, an Alaska Native, and teaches important lessons while educating viewers about Native culture. The show has expanded into the online sphere with games, activities and podcasts.
Bates and Cochran both recommend TED Talks to older students. The short presentations from experts touch on a wide variety of topics, including culture, history, philosophy, civic engagement and science. Talks hosted by teens can be a great conversation starter to inspire young people. TED-Ed goes a step further and provides educational videos and lesson plans, as well as resources to help teens compose TED-style talks of their own.
Carlson’s recommendation for teens is NPR’s Code Switch podcast, which discusses how race, ethnicity and culture shape the country and the world. Although it may seem too intense or charged, Carlson says race is a very real factor in many teens’ lives, and they are mature enough to face it head-on. “There’s so many pieces to this that are conversations that teens are already having that are so real, and it’s not something that teens aren’t aware of,” she says. NPR has even provided a list of episodes for parents to share with their children.
When it comes to literature, there’s no better source for advice than librarians. For kids just learning to read, Folkerts says Day by Day Ohio is a great resource. The site provides a daily calendar to encourage early literacy through songs, videos, activities and readings.
To get grade school children excited about writing, Carlson suggests Story Pirates, a podcast in which a team of actors and improv artists adapt short stories submitted by kids into audio masterpieces, complete with songs and performances by celebrity guests, including Julie Andrews, Kristen Bell, Billy Eichner and Lin-Manuel Miranda.
For tweens and teens, multiple librarians sing the praises of award-winning author Jason Reynolds’ Write. Right. Rite. This video series from the Library of Congress guides young writers through prompts and brainstorming techniques for improving their creative writing.
With kids cooped up inside more than normal, stir-craziness is bound to happen. As winter approaches, it’s more important than ever to keep children active.
Koo Koo Kanga Roo and GoNoodle are endorsed by multiple librarians as a great way to get grade schoolers up and moving. Videos by the band Koo Koo Kanga Roo provide dance-alongs, while GoNoodle features physically active games and mindfulness exercises with an educational twist, both of which can break up the monotony of the day and get students’ blood pumping.
“It’s not a passive experience staring at a screen; it’s really active and moving while also learning,” Carlson says.
That’s the kind of screen time many parents can get behind.
This story is from the Winter 2020 issue of Columbus Parent.