5 best free software tools for teaching kids at home

 

Even with the support of teachers online, making sure your kids get the education they need while stuck at home is painful.

If you haven't experienced it yourself, go ask your mates with kids. They'd rather get a root canal for kicks by comparison.

Fortunately, software companies across the globe are geared towards the 'work from home' market.

Even more fortunately, a lot of these tools can make lessons at home, and the frustrated kids being forced to learn them, much easier to manage.

In no particular order, I present what in my opinion are the top 5 tools for:

Keeping home-schooling from turning into hell

Mastering OneNote is the first step towards mastering workflows. From there, all things are possible.
Mastering OneNote is the first step towards mastering workflows. From there, all things are possible. Kieran Bicheno

1. OneNote 2016

OneNote 2016 is Microsoft's worshipped note-taking application with a reputation for plugging into every other software you can think of and making it better.

Simply put, you make a workbook. Inside that workbook you make folders. Inside those folders, you make pages. Those pages are incredibly good at soaking up information either by typing it in, grabbing it off the web, pretending to be a printer, or just by being able to link almost anything in them.

Soon, you'll have kids addicted to what used to be called 'scrap-booking', but with a digital bent.

Everything the school sends, from newsletters, to Youtube tutorials, to quizzes can be kept in easily-organised folders and workbooks. You can then share pages with others, send them like email, print them, or do any number of things to them. I'm barely scratching the surface.

What's even better is that the 2016 version is free, and in my opinion, still the best.

Grab it for free here.

 

They're calling Notion the app as a second brain. I would not disagree, and it could bring your life the structure you need to keep everything sane.
They're calling Notion the app as a second brain. I would not disagree, and it could bring your life the structure you need to keep everything sane. Kieran Bicheno

2. Notion

Whatever OneNote can do, Notion can do it better. It's being touted as the software for creating yourself a second brain. Like OneNote, it allows you to place pages within pages but has a much more robust system for doing so.

Each page is capable of linking far more content in more sophisticated ways. While OneNote can embed tables, Notion can embed relational databases. Those databases can then, with a single click, be reformed into a gallery, or a list, or a Kanban board and back again. The web clipper is also the best I've seen in any software tool ever.

So why is it not number one? It's a smidgen harder to use. OneNote should be easy enough that a grade 4 student should get to grips with it easily enough, Notion, however, might be more relevant to the higher grades and to parents looking after them.

It also doesn't plug in to email and other software natively like OneNote does.

Still, I began using Notion with no real need for it, and within a week it has started dominating my life. My projects, my to-do lists, my contact lists, my journals, my learning notes, even my shopping list - have all somehow ended up in Notion and all other apps have gone strangely unused.

Parents beware, you and any child of yours using this software will become information addicts, and plots to take over the world, one lesson at a time, may begin.

Grab it for free here.

 

This is my private server where I pretend to be an editor. Strangely enough, English syntax and news really are the only topics we talk about. Image blurred due to lack of release forms from friends.
This is my private server where I pretend to be an editor. Strangely enough, English syntax and news really are the only topics we talk about. Image blurred due to lack of release forms from friends. Kieran Bicheno

3. Discord

"Hey, wait, isn't that the gaming app?"

Well, not really. It's a text and voice chat app that was built for the gaming community that has since been used by everyone else since Zoom was found to have extreme security issues.

Here are some compelling reasons why both you and your kids should be on Discord during the pandemic.

  1. It's free for you to set up a voice and chat server that you control.
  2. It allows for screen sharing between computers so you and your kids can work through problems in their homework together without leaning over shoulders.
  3. You can keep track of who they're chatting with and when because you control the server (why not discuss setting one up for the whole class with their teacher?)
  4. You can install automated bots that can help them with Wikipedia and google  searches straight into chat.
  5. The whole thing is logged so you know what they've been up to
  6. Most importantly, they won't feel so isolated, keeping their frustration to a more manageable level.

Grab it for free here.

 

Yes, I used ShareX to take this screengrab of ShareX taking a screengrab of ShareX's screengrab menu.
Yes, I used ShareX to take this screengrab of ShareX taking a screengrab of ShareX's screengrab menu. Kieran Bicheno

4. ShareX

Being a simple screenshot program, this one might seem a bit out of place. However, this one is just as complex a program as any of the ones mentioned above. The sheer number of tools it comes with for free is incredible.

The ability to video record what is happening on your screen so you can send it to your teacher when something goes wrong is invaluable. Most software with that capability is quite expensive, but this is open source and has served me professionally better than any alternative I've tried.

Another amazing feature is the ability to set the area of a screenshot, then add numbered dots and labels to the screen before taking the shot, so you can create utterly simple walkthrough tutorials for your kids to follow. You can also pixelate or blur private information on the screen before sending it to others.

Its utility in creating compelling homework content for assignments cannot be underestimated. You should have this software regardless of your situation. Having kids who need simple explanations and teachers who can't check your work makes it an absolute necessity.

Grab it for free here.

Being able to connect a spreadsheet, survey form, document, email, and slide presentation with a flavour of Javascript while still in Highschool, for free, would make your child employable-plus. Also, kids who are programming aren't doing drugs.
Being able to connect a spreadsheet, survey form, document, email, and slide presentation with a flavour of Javascript while still in Highschool, for free, would make your child employable-plus. Also, kids who are programming aren't doing drugs. Kieran Bicheno

5. Google Sheets

Google sheets may still seem like the under-performing competitor to Microsoft's Excel, but its collaboration functions are better in every way possible.

You can watch the other person's cursor moving on the screen when two people who have access to the same sheet use it at the same time. Combine that with screen sharing from Discord and you have maths lessons sewn up.

That, however, is not the part of the iceberg older students should be thinking about. Both Excel and Sheets have scripting languages you can use to extend the capabilities of both, but Google's implementation is much easier, much better documented, and plugs into Google's other software so much better, that simply using it for homework will teach kids how to think, "How could I program this to serve me better?"

Not only will that line of thinking get them ahead, but the ease with which Google allows them to tinker around and answer it will go a long way to getting them employed, pandemic or not.

Grab it for free here.

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