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Digital Parenting guide to fun and inspiring online courses for kids

Doing curriculum-based school lessons online is one thing, but how do you keep your kids happily learning and having fun the rest of the time during lockdown?

So the ‘School of Mum and Dad’ has opened its gates once again, this time at very short notice. If you’ve found yourself acting as an emergency supply teacher (a job you never signed up or trained for) in a school that’s seriously understocked (read: a kitchen table, with rapidly scrambled together office stationary), with very little time and even fewer ideas… don’t panic. We’re here to help.

Vodafone is already doing it’s bit to support homeschooling, offering free and discounted access to four leading online education platforms through its VeryMe loyalty programme, for example. And we’ve agreed to zero rate the government-backed Oak Academy online education platform until the end of the school year.

But all work and no play makes for a bored household, we feel. Luckily, there’s a plethora of inspiring and fun online courses out there, aimed entirely at children and created by experts. Since most require payment, though, it’s wise to pick one that your child will really engage with and benefit from.

Top six platforms for children’s courses

Fire Tech Club

This UK company was founded in 2013 to teach kids vital and exciting digital tech skills – from artificial intelligence to video game design. It has now pivoted to deliver courses and classes via Zoom. Kids from 8 to 17 can join small groups under the energetic direction of tutors from leading universities, and engage in anything from a full-time week-long course to a one-hour webinar.

Outschool

The Seven Wonders of the Modern World graphic

Credits: Outschool

UK enrolments in Outschool increased by 44 times during the first lockdown. The online platform has more than 50,000 live classes and courses aimed exclusively at children. Learn economics through the world of Minecraft, planetary science through references to Star Wars, or chemistry through the medium of Harry Potter magic.

Aardman Digital Workshops

Over Zoom, participants aged five and up learn to make one of Aardman’s world-famous characters via step-by-step demonstrations from an expert model maker in the Aardman Studio.

Telling Tales

Delivered by actors and educators from Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, each of these interactive, live workshops centres on a different play. Groups are kept small, and tailored to specific age groups. Children are encouraged to bring props to get into character. All together now…

DIY

DIY Drawing Bootcamp Graphic

Credits: DIY

DIY’s courses are not live, yet are so engaging and exciting that they make the grade nonetheless. Via a monthly subscription, kids can engage in thousands of subjects such as ‘strange science’, ‘invent your own machines’ or ‘become a music star’. While courses are composed of on-screen tutorial videos, these classes promote off-screen creativity, setting children regular challenges to complete at home, then rewarding them within badges and safe sharing with peers. Plus, the site is so colourful and easy to navigate, they won’t need help.

Udemy

Billed as the world’s largest selection of online courses, Udemy currently lists 137,000 courses on almost every topic you can imagine. Two thousand of these are designed explicitly for kids and range from ‘building confidence through art’ to ‘project-based beginner photography’ via ‘kids’ coding’. Something, in other words, for every child.

Five rules for choosing online courses

If our suggestions don’t float your boat and you want to find your own fun things for your kids to do online, follow our five rules to sort the genuinely compelling from the merely compulsory.

The best courses teach the subjects that schools don’t

Your child’s teachers are the true experts on the curriculum. But there’s a huge number of subjects and skill-sets that can’t be squeezed into the school day. So make the most of this strange time to let them learn something off-beat. Does she love Star Wars? Consider a course in astronomy on Outschool. Is he obsessed with Lego? What about an introduction to architecture?

Live is (usually) more lively

There are some great pre-recorded courses out there. They’re usually cheaper and you can pause, rewind and watch complex parts over again. For the most part, though, kids thrive off live interaction and concentrate for longer when it’s offered.

Interactivity is essential

No one likes to be lectured. The best courses not only educate, but encourage your child to interact creatively with the other students and the subject. Fail to tick this box, and you’ll fail to engage them for more than five minutes at a stretch.

Small groups are sanity savers

The best live courses limit participants to a dozen and are available to a narrow age group. Remember that Zoom party you were forced to attend, where 40 of your acquaintances all spoke over one another for half an hour? You got a migraine and invented an excuse to bow out early. Your child will, too.

Think global

This is the greatest advantage of online learning. On Outschool children take live classes with participants beaming in from Japan, America and Korea. In what other context would they all find themselves exchanging ideas and jokes? None. It feels miraculous.

IRL experts, online

Masterclass electrified the previously dreary world of adult online learning by offering courses led by famous industry experts. Your child may not be able to take a photography course with Annie Leibovitz (yet) but the principle stands: online courses are a great way for them to learn from real-world experts. Aardman Animations, creators of Shaun the Sheep and Wallace & Gromit, are running live, family-friendly modelling workshops throughout lockdown and beyond – guaranteed to animate children of all ages.

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