However, there are many general learning resources out there that don’t focus on a single subject. Instead, they can help your kid to learn and explore a wide range of topics, all within a single website or app.
The great thing about these types of resources is that your child can get familiar with the learning environment — much like they do at school. They’ll get a sense of structure and progress as they work through lessons, and in many cases make friends with their fellow online students. Also, most of these apps and sites are continuously adding content to their existing subject areas, as well as branching out into new topic areas, providing an almost unlimited fount of knowledge for your child.
With that in mind, here’s a list of seven excellent websites and apps that your child can use to learn a wide range of topics and skills. Most of these sites and apps are free, although some have a paid element. Only some are specifically aimed at kids, but all of them provide a rich learning environment that your child can tap into.
Memrise (memorise, geddit?) is a fantastic website that uses all sorts of clever brain science to help you learn and remember facts. There are hundreds of graded courses in almost any topic you can imagine, including languages, geography, music, biology, history, trivia, and even school curricula and tests.
Once you’ve chosen a course to study, you’re given a series of flashcards with the information that you need to learn, in a “question and answer” format. You can often expand the “answer” to see lots of additional information about the fact; for example, the “capital cities” course includes extra info on the country’s population, location, flag and so on.
The flashcards are interspersed with short tests where you need to choose or type in the answer to the question on the screen. Each time you get an answer right, you’re awarded some points.
Memrise uses a number of techniques to help you memorise stuff:
- Mems: Each fact comes with an optional mem, or mnemonic, that helps you remember the fact. For example, a mem for the capital of Macedonia (Skopje) is: “Alexander the Great used to love to Skip Hop and Jumpe”! Many of the mems use pictures too, and you can usually choose between several mems for each fact, or even create your own mem (which others can then use).
- Choreographed testing: Memrise regularly tests you on the stuff you’re learning as you go. It uses scientific techniques to test you at just the right time, and at the right level, to help you implant the facts in your memory in the most effective way.
- Reminders: The site knows how long it takes memories to fade, and reminds you to review your material at just the right points to make them stick in your long-term memory.
It’s all very clever stuff, but Memrise is also a lot of fun to use. The site uses all sorts of gamification tricks to keep you coming back for more, including a “levelling up” system for each course; a points system; a “Garden of Memory” that fills up with all the words you learn over time; and leaderboards so that you can compare how you’re doing with your friends. You can also follow other learners and they can follow you, adding a social aspect to the learning experience.
All the courses are created by other Memrise users, just like you, and new ones are being added all the time. You can easily create your own courses to help other people learn something new.
Bitsboard is an iPad app that uses flashcards and games to help you learn and memorise facts, in a similar vein to Memrise. It’s particularly good for younger kids, since it is simple and easy to use.
Flashcards, or “bits”, are grouped into sets (“boards”) that revolve around specific topics. There’s an online catalog with a decent collection of boards; some are premium (paid) boards, but many are free too. You’ll find boards on topics ranging from English vocabulary and spelling through to animals, maths, telling the time, geography, space, and other languages such as French, Spanish and German.
For each board, you can view each individual flashcard, which consists of the word, a high-quality photo, and an audio recording of the word. Then you can play a variety of fun mini-games to help you memorise the words. The mini-games include Photo Touch (the app speaks the word and you tap the corresponding picture); Memory (the classic memory/pairs card game); Bingo; Word Search; Word Builder (where you drag the letters to make the word); Spelling Bee (where you have to type the word), and lots more. You can customise each game extensively for each user, so you can create an easy game for one student and a more challenging version for another.
Bitsboard uses a technique called adaptive learning which automatically adjusts the games for each player depending on how well they have mastered the topic. This helps to keep the games fun, without being too boring or difficult for your kid.
Each board has a little circular progress indicator that shows how well your kid has learned the topic. You can also view a scorecard at the end of each game that shows how your kid is doing for each individual word. The Bitsboard team are also planning to add more detailed user reporting and progress tracking soon.
It’s also really easy to create your own flashcards and boards, which is great if you’re a teacher or parent and want to create lessons for your students. It’s also useful for your kid: they can create boards to help them memorise facts for their homework or school tests. Creating your own flashcards is simple: you just type in the word to use for the card, and Bitsboard does the rest. The app is even smart enough to include an automatic audio voiceover of your word, as well as a gorgeous photo from its large database to go with the word (you can override both of these if you wish). Once you’ve created your board, you can share it for others to use.
There are a few more nice features in Bitsboard. For example, you can create boards on your computer and sync them via Dropbox; you can record your own custom “success” sounds for your kid; and for younger kids you can replace the standard scorecard with sticker rewards. Bitsboard has a good Getting Started page where you can learn more.
Learnist is a website that allows anyone to create a learnboard, or virtual curated “book”, on a topic. Each board is organised into pages that in turn link off to webpages, images, videos and books on the topic, in a similar vein to Pinterest.
Since it is so easy to create a learnboard, you’ll find a huge range of boards on pretty much every topic under the sun. Your kid can learn anything from the history of the Tudors through to maths concepts, physics, biology, economics and even how to knit! The boards tend to be fairly loosely structured compared to, say, the courses offered by Memrise, but they can serve as a great jumping-off point for exploring topics.
Learnist also has a social aspect to it: you can follow friends and see what boards they’re reading.
DIY is all about learning practical skills; in many ways it’s the online, modern-day equivalent of the merit badges that you might have earned as a scout or girl guide when you were a kid. While the site is targeted mainly at kids aged 8 and over, younger kids can also use it with some help from an adult.
Once your kid has signed up, they can browse a long list of skills on the website. When they find a skill that they’re interested in developing, they can view a list of challenges for that skill. For example, the Animator skill has challenges such as “Make a Flip Book Movie”, “Do Stop-Motion with Objects” and “Animate People”.
Each challenge features photos or videos that show what other kids have managed to create for the challenge, as well as links to related videos and images on the web that can help your kid complete the challenge. Once they’ve done the challenge, your kid uploads a photo or movie of their completed project in order to earn points for that skill. Once they have enough points, they earn a virtual skill patch that shows up on their portfolio. In addition, if your kid wants to show off to their friends at school, there are even real embroidered skill patches that you can buy!
As well as learning skills and completing challenges, your kid can follow other kids on the website and see a list of their friends’ completed projects in their stream. They can also exchange knowledge by making comments on a project, as well as asking and answering questions.
DIY also provides a free iOS app that is handy for taking photos or videos of your kid’s projects for easy uploading to the site.
Overall, DIY is a fantastic way to encourage your kid to try new skills and explore new topics. The challenges, combined with seeing what other kids have managed to achieve, will really help to motivate your child.
Mocomi is a fun Indian educational website aimed at kids aged from 4 to 12. It features a wide range of videos, animations, stories and games, as well as wallpapers, printables, outdoor activity ideas and an entire online magazine, Mocomag.
On Mocomi your kid can learn about a wide range of subjects including the sciences, maths, history, geography, the environment and English. They can also learn how to draw, with lots of step-by-step drawing lessons.
The videos are engaging and fun for younger kids, with lots of bright colours and catchy tunes. I also like the way you can filter the lessons by age group. Some of the content on Mocomi is quite India-specific, but there’s a lot on there that will apply to kids from any country.
Mocomi also has a popular YouTube channel that is worth checking out.
The MindSnacks apps are a ridiculously fun way to learn. I’ve written about their language-learning apps before; in addition, they have apps available for kids’ vocab, SAT vocab and US geography, with more subjects to follow according to popular demand.
Each app uses all sorts of fun, addictive games that keep your kid motivated to learn. As you level up, you unlock more games. Each game is cleverly and professionally designed, with great graphics and fun background music, and is tailored to the subject matter. For example, the Spanish app features games to help you spell words and associate words with objects, while the Mandarin app has a game that helps you recognise the different tones used in spoken Mandarin.
The app always shows your current progress as you move up through the levels, and also shows you how well you’ve mastered each skill. These gamification aspects really help to keep you motivated.
The language apps are free and come with a basic lesson (more lessons are available via a single in-app purchase). The other apps are a couple of bucks each.
Khan Academy is a nonprofit organisation that aims to provide “a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere.” Originally it focused mainly on maths, but it has since branched out into other subjects including the sciences, economics, art, history and music.
Most of the content takes the form of educational videos, often using a “virtual whiteboard” on which the tutor writes and sketches. In addition, the maths topics — and occasionally some of the other subjects — include exercises, quizzes and activity sheets to enhance your learning. The Computing courses also include interactive lessons, where you get to write computer programs right in the browser!
Apart from the maths lessons — which cover everything from kindergarten through to grade 8 — the content is generally aimed at a high school level. That said, there is bound to be some content on here which even young kids will enjoy (my 7-year-old was fascinated by the videos showing how to make your own penny battery!).
Once you log in to Khan Academy, you can earn points and track your progress as you work through the courses. You can also add a coach to help you with your learning. Khan Academy is also great for teachers and schools, since it provides a way to add whole classes of students and track their progress and activity over time.
All of the content on Khan Academy is fantastic, especially considering that it’s offered for free. This is a great site if your child wants to explore some topics in more depth.
There is also an iOS app available, which lets you download the video content and watch it on the go.
I hope you enjoyed this list of websites and apps that are great for general learning, and that your kid finds them useful. Do you know of any other websites that can teach you almost anything? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below!