Summer school: Free online educational activities for students and adults

Online you will find a wealth of websites to help your kids, or yourself, learn materials from the least to most complex. Think there's no substitution for face-to-face learning? One woman's goddaughter passed college level chemistry, and you could too. 

Khan Academy screenshot
Khan Academy teaches users visually. Here, an instructor uses a diagram to explain the US Social Security system, part of a 13-video series on American civics that includes pensions, a fiscal cliff explainer, and Medicare sustainability.

When Jeanne Cairns Sinquefield’s goddaughter Kelley Sandhu, a student at St. Louis University, began to struggle to keep up with her advanced science classes, it was clear that, short of a magic wand, this godmother didn’t have what it takes to help.

When it comes to helping their kids with homework, many parents admit defeat while parsing through their kid's math and science assignments. However, Ms. Sinquefield found help for her goddaughter in free online tutoring resources, and she credits them for helping Ms. Sandhu make it to graduation last Sunday. She received a degree in organic chemistry.

“Kelley would come to me for help with organic chemistry. I would look at the assignments and it was just sort of a blur. Greek. Total Greek,” says Sinquefled in a phone interview with The Christian Science Monitor. “I was like, uuhhmmm don’t call me for help.”

However, Sinquefield, who holds an impressive educational pedigree and founded the Sinquefield Charitable Foundation, refused to quit and started looking for solutions online.

“I have raised four or five other children beside my own and Kelley was always with us,” she says. “When it comes to kids having difficulties in school, my theory is to never wait for a teacher who has 30 other kids in the room to get around to helping yours. Help them yourself, any way you can.”

Sinquefield went to the university and asked if Kelley could fulfill her community service hours needed to graduate by researching and testing various online tutoring sites, then sharing her findings with the Missouri Children's Education Alliance, with local charter schools, and in the local newspaper. Administrators gave her a green light. “So she got her free tutoring and she got her hours,” Sinquefield says proudly. “Believe me, it’s not the teacher’s fault that they have so many students. The teachers are all trying at every level from grade school on up. But hell’s gonna freeze over before they have time to get to your kid.”

Why is this woman in business administration and not education? “I spent 25 years in Boy Scouts with two sons and as den chief. Now I’m working with the U of Missouri on distance learning. So I suppose really, I am in teaching and have always been as a mom and in the Scouts.”

What she discovered as the mom of Eagle Scouts is, “Everybody learns differently, some are better with books, others with videos and visual learning.”

While the Khan Academy site worked best for Sandhu and Sinquefield’s, “But that’s not saying the others aren’t going to be great for you depending on how you learn,” Sinquefield explains.

I am going to pause here to say that this mom/godmom is an absolute genius in my book for turning the problem around in this manner. She turned lemons into lemon chiffon pie and brought enough to share with the whole parenting class.

Sandhu went to the following sites, tried them out, and evaluated each one:

As Sandhu researched each site, she shared her findings with her godmother. Their favorites quickly became Patrick JMT for calculus and Khan Academy for its 20 minute videos and worksheets, according to Sinquefield.

Sandhu wrote in the local newspaper, “I believe that education is the most important thing a person can have; it is the one thing that no one can ever take away from you. At the same time, I think it is unfortunate that a lot of children are unable to access tutoring due to the expense.”

My favorite new expression comes from Sinquefield explaining why she personally gravitates to the Khan Academy’s free lessons online, “I don’t want to do an hour because I’m the kind of person who doesn’t like to talk to anyone longer than they are old. I just zone out.”

Not just for students

“Let’s say you’re bad at math and so you never feel comfortable checking your child’s homework. Well these free sites help you teach yourself. They start at 1+1 and go right up the chain to advanced calculus,” Sinquefield says.

I road tested the sites Sinquefield recommended, and a few I found on my own, with my son Quin, who at 9-years-old is a math and science wiz whose homework challenges my math-unfriendly brain.

His favorite? “Bookmark the Khan one so I can be all over it after school!”

I agree, but also fell in love with HippoCampus I liked these videos best for me for it’s easy to follow math videos and with the TedEd site for it’s witty, well-illustrated lessons and lesson plans that are free and have the added advantage of being “flipped” by various educators who add their plans and ideas to the site regularly.

For some seriously fun and expansive learning across all STEAM (science technology engineering art and math) platforms, my sons and I look up the Vsauce and Minute Physics channels on YouTube which have put us on the cutting edge of those topics and generated endless non-video-game-related conversation at the dinner table.

There are enough free online tutoring and education services out there to make both parents and kids into mathmagicians, chemists, explorers, and better readers. At the very least they made me feel like I didn’t have to feel guilty over not being able to engage in homework help sessions for subjects I didn’t excel in.

You learn something new every day, especially when you want to be smarter than your third grader.

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