Finding a traditional preschool for your kids that meets your academic hopes and dreams but doesn’t break the bank is a precarious balance. As a stay at home mom, my search was especially difficult, because in most places preschool is synonymous with daycare, which I don’t want or need. I just need someone else to do the planning and preparation to make my kids’ first sojourn into the world of academics as enjoyable and beneficial as possible—not babysitting. I am determined that my kids hit kindergarten with confidence and—dare I say?—a head start. We all know that cutesy songs and handicrafts are not my strong suit, and unfortunately, that seems like a requirement for helping kids enjoy stuff.
So, for preschool alone—not daycare—I’ve found that you will end up paying in excess of $150 per month, for the good schools, or $75 per month for the neighbor who does “preschool” in her basement. So what about another option, the DIY option? I was surprised to find how many readymade programs there are online, and how cheap it is compared to taking the munchkin to a traditional preschool. And the best part is that you don’t need a teaching degree or enthusiasm for glitter glue to do it yourself. In fact most of these programs are meant to be an independent learning experience for your child.
So without further ado, here are a few of the most promising DIY programs I’ve come across:
ABCMouse: I know you’ve seen the ABCMouse Early Learning Academy commercials on the Disney channel, or PBS, or Nick Jr. My kids have been enjoying it for several months now, and I can attest to their claim that it’s a great program. The thing about this site is that it is super comprehensive. I’ve heard some people balk at paying for an online learning program, but the fact is, the ABCMouse program is so comprehensive there is no way a company would be able to put all of this together for free. There are about 500 lessons and activities available for each learning level (toddler-level 6), for a grand total of more than 3350 activities.
The kids read books, do puzzles, sing songs, learn math and science, and they do it all in a very interactive way, earning tickets for prizes and advancing from one ecological habitat to the next as they progress.
As a parent you can create your own lessons for your kids with the elements ABCMouse provides, or you can let the kids make their way through their lessons as prescribed by the program. You can even supplement the regular program with lessons you design to help you kid master skills they have difficulty with. You can see your kids’ progress, and manually change their learning level. There are also free printables for every lesson so your kids can do some hands on activities as well. And one subscription allows for multiple children’s user accounts.
The biggest challenge my kids had when starting this program was learning to use the mouse. The first lesson they do on ABCMouse is How to Use the Mouse, but still there were some tears shed especially the first week as they got accustomed to it. Kids are used to touchscreens. In fact, in the beginning I often let them play ABCMouse on my laptop so they could use the touchscreen instead of dealing with the mouse.
ABCMouse Early Learning Academy also has free learning apps available or iPad and iPod, plus some Android devices—or so I hear. I haven’t looked them up myself.
*I was able to get a free subscription from ABCMouse because I’m planning on writing a more comprehensive review for them later, but this is still my honest opinion of the program so far.
Cost: $7.95/ mo,
EmbarK12: K12, The Company that made this program is responsible for creating accredited curriculum for online/ home schooling programs from K-12. Their preschool program has readymade activities that teach all the stuff your child will need for Kindergarten, including online activities and (optional) hands on elements.
For a more homeschool preschool approach you can choose the comprehensive package with all the online and hands on activities for you to do with your kids, or you can just do the online package, which is meant more for your kids’ independent discovery. I haven’t seen any of their materials because I don’t want to pay for them, but it looks like a company that produces high quality stuff. They do have a 30 day money back guarantee, plus their price point is, once again, much lower than regular preschools.
Also, K12 has created several of pre-k learning apps and most of them are free.
Cost: Comprehensive package- starts at $99/ yr
Online package- $59/ yr
JumpStart: I remember the days when this was a computer program that you bought and installed on your computer with a CD-ROM. The link goes to some free lesson plans JumpStart has put together for preschool. As far as the website goes, there is a plethora of educational activities, some of which include games with the Madagascar Penguins, and How to Train Your Dragon, and other favorite characters from the DreamWorks canon. Keep in mind that the bulk of these activities require a paid subscription, but there are somelimited activities you can do for free.
Overall, this one feels like more of an online community where the kids get to create their own avatar and explore the different parts of an online landscape, where they meet other kids, play games with them, and do educational challenges. They’ll also get a pet they can nurture with other educational games. But if you aren’t willing to pay for the subscription to get all the extra content, it isn’t really worth it.
When you have a subscription you will be able to have a separate profile for each child, and the learning activities are the widest since this site covers material from pre-k to 3rd grade.
Cost: $6.99/ mo
$129.99/ life time
Upstart: For those of you living in Utah, did you know there is a free online preschool program called Upstart? This is funded by the state of Utah and it’s an award winning course from the Waterford Institute which teaches all the core skills needed upon entering kindergarten. Best news of all, it’s free! Your child may participate the year before they go into kindergarten, and you need to register on the website. If your kid won’t be eligible until next year, you can preregister for 2015 right now.
Cost: Free (for Utah residents)!
Chalk Preschool Online: This one is an online preschool that is completely free. If you are from the Chicago or L.A. areas, there are also schools you can go to in person (presumably not free). This preschool appears to be a series of videos that teach preschool concepts. There are also free printable worksheets and activities you can do so that their experience isn’t limited to watching videos. I don’t see any way for the kids to do any activities online though.
Preschool Learning Online: This isn’t an online activity center, so much as a site with tons of resources to teach preschool yourself, including lesson plans, games, activities, crafts, songs, healthy snacks…the list goes on.
Cost: Free—as far as I can tell.
If you are just looking for some sites that have a few educational games for your kids, try looking at the websites for children’s TV networks like Disney Jr., Nick Jr., Sprout, and PBS Kids. They all have free games available which happen to hold more interest for your kids because the games center around characters your children already know and love.
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