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Ask HN: Any ideas for children education at home?
48 points by plafl 19 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 40 comments
I will give some context: I'm the father of two 6 and 9 children in Madrid, Spain. The recent school lockdown, since March and until September, has made me notice even more that children education could be vastly improved, at least in the fields I know about: math and science. I'm talking about quality more than quantity, I want to show the beauty of it and motivate them to learn more. For example, we have been doing experiments with electromagnetism lately and they love them. I don't want to just concentrate on science though so ideas for history, social sciences, etc... are welcome. If you have experience about long term plans for children education that would be great also.

Homeschooled for my entire life (I can count the number of times I've been inside a K12 building without taking off my socks) and know 100s of former HS kids. To be honest, I did not love my homeschool experience and would have preferred not to do it, but I got into a decent college and now working my dream job as a software developer so I guess it worked out fine.

A piece of advice: it sounds so obvious, but every child learns differently and has different features that will fit will with some styles and not others. Be nimble and adaptable. Don't immediately invest in an expensive set of math instruction manuals (classic rookie HS parent mistake) or commit to an opinionated learning plan without evaluating it in practice w/ your kids first.

For content, the consistent thing that has set well prepared homeschooled students (or any kind of student in my experience) apart from their less prepared peers is outstanding reading and math skills. There are lots of other things that are really important, but if you have great reading and math skills then you have the fundamental tools to learn and do well in pretty much any career. Don't worry too much about the book you use to teach math. I mostly used Saxon - it was good for some things, not others. The most important thing for a kid is spending time doing math, practicing math, getting math problems wrong and working through why they were wrong.

For reading, read. Encourage and praise any reading. Have lots of books of all kinds available. Most importantly, READ YOURSELF. Your kids need to see you read.

Thank you, very interesting point of view. I don't plan to homeschool full-time my children, they love to meet their friends at school! I actually read a lot but nowadays mostly on my phone or eink tablet which is not very visible for them.

In my experience there are two kinds of parents that homeschool: ones with exceptional circumstances and ones with exceptional political views. The children of the former group seem to like homeschool just fine, the latter not so much. Where I lived, most people were homeschooling because they thought the government was going to indoctrinate their children.

If you don’t have exceptional circumstances, my opinion is the best choice for kids is a more traditional school environment.

This can be okay as long as you're talking enough about your reading to make it clear that this isn't just you disappearing into a screen, it's Reading, the social activity that we all do, adults and children alike

For math, I recommend looking into Cuisenaire Rods. It will help the kids physically understand number reasoning.

I also recommend looking into the math ed twittersphere. A few people to start with:

Matt Enlow, high school math teacher who knows how to have fun with math. Don't know if it is too advanced for your kid's age. https://twitter.com/CmonMattTHINK

James Stanton:


Mike Lawler, former math prof who homeschools his kids: https://twitter.com/mikeandallie

It seems not all in Twitter is evil after all. I will have to create an account.

I was doing simple experiments with my 3-year-old for a while when the lockdowns started happening. She was really interested in going through the whole process of getting materials, coming up with a hypothesis, testing it out, etc.

Then she wanted to start experimenting with stuff within other activities, like taking what she learned from our experiments and trying to apply them to her toys and outdoor activities. So I realized it's fun for her to learn about science and experiments but I was running out of ideas for other ways to spend time with her and the experiments were beginning to get almost too formal.

So I made a simple app that picks out a list of activities to do with kids, which still includes some science experiments in addition to other things like games, scavenger hunts, etc. Note: the activities content could use some improvement and there's a form for people to submit their own activities.


If anyone has had any particular success entertaining kids, you can submit your activity ideas to the app here: https://activitiesforkids.netlify.app/submit

This sounds super useful, but I get `TypeError: null is not an object (evaluating 'e.parentNode')` in the console when I hit the Get Activities button. Is there a non-JS reliant version?

Good catch. If you refresh the page and click the button, it should show the activities. If not, try the Library page to see the whole list of activities. I'll fix that bug ASAP.

I would highly recommend trying Scratch programming with your kids. It is a super creative way to learn programming. The kids have a ton of fun recording sounds and drawing their own characters.

I have been teaching it to my daughter and I also taught some lessons at her school.

I put up my intro lessons, link in my profile.

I tried scratch with my 10yr old and he didn't like it. He felt it didn't look like real programming (or his idea of "real programming" from Netflix).

I then tried using Usborne basic books from the 80s, running on a BBC Micro emulator. I know, sounds like an odd next step... But boy, it DID work - he has been very interested in consuming computer knowledge for 2 months now.

The old Usborne books are amazing. 20 minutes of typing and you have a new simple game. I'd ask him to make changes (faster, easier, more lives etc) to the game and he learned a ton.

I held his hand in the beginning, also teaching him the problems with GOTO and some of the old school Basic choices, but he eventually became quite independent.

Now he wants to switch to Python after learning about its power so we'll do it next. But he has a much better understanding of basic constructs like loops, subroutines, variables etc.

Usborne books (bottom of the page): https://usborne.com/browse-books/features/computer-and-codin...

I've had a great experience making use of the Unity 3D free premium learning courses (free until June during the pandemic) with my youngest child.

Like your child, mine didn't care for Scratch. He's loving Unity though. Actually, who am I kidding, I'm enjoying immensely too. We've laughed our heads off together tweaking and adding small features to the rudimentary games that their basic course guides you through.

This is the basic course if you're interested: https://learn.unity.com/course/create-with-code-live

The Usborne books you linked to sound interesting too. I'll be sure to check those out.

Scratch programming is great fun.

If you want to move onto hardware programming you can look at the BBC Micro:bit which uses Microsoft Make Code (very similar to Scratch), or Python.

You don't even need to buy a Micro:bit to start programming, because they emulate a board on the website. https://microbit.org/


I bought this kit which has a nice breakout board and some sensors mounted on PCBs, with colour coded wires. https://shop.sb-components.co.uk/collections/micro-bit-kits/...

Obviously most of that kit can be done far cheaper from places like Aliexpress.

Makey Makey is another fun hardware interface for Scratch.

I made a money counting game with my daughter using it.

Another commentator mentioned Charlotte Mason. One of her ideas is to use 'living books'. Instead of a textbox find a book written by someone who is passionate and knowledge on a particular subject. It could be the biography of a scientist. Or how a particular part of math is used to solve real world problems.

We have homeschooled our kids for the past 7 years and have tried a lot of different things here's what works for us.

Math U See https://mathusee.com/

Comes with DVD's or Online video where a teacher teaches the lessons in front of real students. It's a great curriculum my kids are learning math much faster and easier than any other curriculum we've tried. Also, the videos take the pressure off as we don't have to learn everything our kids are learning. Although we do sometimes go and watch the videos with our kids if they get stuck.

Explode the Code https://eps.schoolspecialty.com/products/literacy/phonics-wo...

Very similar to the previous recommendation but no video lessons. It breaks down the process of learning to read in easy to follow chunks and doesn't overwhelm the kids. It makes teaching kids reading easy and fairly fast.

A few minor tips:

1. Children are human beings some days they won't be prepared to learn, take advantage of home school, and do something else. Nature walks, read a book, educational movie, etc.

2. Parents are human beings see above

3. Learning to read involves a lot of time spent reading. When our kids have the basics we incentivize them by allowing them to stay up late but only for reading. At first, they just stare at the pictures or pretend to read but after a while, they get bored enough to force themselves to learn the words.

4. Kids like other people, take them to see other people often. We are part of a co-op and the kids love it. My kids aren't even interested in going to a public school as their public school friends spend way more time at school and doing homework and get similar results.

let me know if you have any other questions

Check Out


This is a creative writing site with a free basic tier. The free tier has a curated library of short stories as well as moderated forums. Plus, there is a bookshelf to keep track of your reading in general.

For middle school and high school students, I would recommend the writer level. Subscribing offers a safe space for self expression through writing, including monitored social interaction / collaboration. This level also comes with self-paced courses with live office hours and workshops. The courses consist of video lessons, exercises and story templates integrated into one builder.

(There is an advanced level, geared more toward adults, with live writing groups, one-on-one coaching and a scaffolded author website.)

For your young inventors and scientists:

> Dyson engineers have designed these challenges specifically for children. Ideal for home or in the classroom, they encourage inquisitive young minds to get excited about engineering.



My wife and I have been discussing this recently as well. A big part of our concern is that I feel kids are going to be forced back to school prematurely (we live in Ohio) simply because it’s too complicated to resolve the economic issues otherwise. My wife stays at home and I work remote, so keeping the kids out for awhile seems like a good idea.

One piece of advice, is to help your kids research problems and find answers and check them. The world doesn’t result in something as simple as a story problem, or get summarized as easily as a history textbook. Let them use critical thinking.

I have registered a free account and the lessons look great. Thanks!

Make sure to relax on this journey. There is a convincing case that education doesn't impact life outcomes much at all (e.g. The Case Against Education by Bryan Caplan for a recent book).

Therefore I'd advise to let your kids have fun and educate them around whatever that fun thing is, like how Montessori does it.

I second this.

I was homeschooled and am homeschooling our children. The best part is the flexibility and adaptability. Embrace it.

Learn through living. Having your kids alongside you is probably a more representative sample of what living their lives will be like than age seperated peer groups forced to congregate in the same building each day.

how Montessori DID, she died in the 1952. you should contextualize her "free work" in the period of her life, certainly letting the kid free is what we can call let him do whatever he find fun.

My 8 year old has really enjoyed the Khan Academy coding classes.

What’s great about them is they’re built around a browser based JavaScript sandbox. There’s tons of games and things people have coded. It reminds me of when I had an Apple IIe and you could inspect a lot of games AppleBASIC code. I remember being baffled by what “FOR” did in that code for the longest time!

He does the lessons and builds all kinds of goofy animations with some help. But he also explores other people’s code/work trying to understand how/why things work.

This is such a moving target but right now my eldest son is having a great time making explainer videos and posting to YouTube. He’s learning to shoot better footage, edit video, and about his subject matter. My younger kids are playing with LEGO nonstop right now and have been looking for ways to repurpose LEGO kits they’ve put together over the years using hack instructions they find on the web and Snap Circuits.

At those ages, you are still laying so much foundation and cultivating curiosity. Keep it fun, keep it widely integrated: science is history is art is math is science.

We use Khan Academy(Full spectrum), DuoLingo(language), and Fender Play(guitar).

We also allow targeted education interest YouTube.

Finally, we use www.amy.app

It’s an AI math tutor(disclosure, our kids get so much out of it we invested in it).

How do you actually use this? Looks like you need to plug it into something? I signed up for the demo, but it didn't ask me what level I was or anything like that.

That amy.app looks very promising. I like it. I have some spare cash, how would I invest in it?

The Museum of Math is having some online sessions, even for very young kids. The sessions might be of interest.


There are lots of homeschooling curriculums of various quality levels, if that’s what you mean.

Saxon math seems to be good from homeschooling parents reviews.

Montessori, Charlotte Mason, great books, etc have all stood the test of time when it comes to educational approaches.

Many homeschooling parents pick and choose what they find helpful for their kids.

Pretty much everything has been tried in the field of education. It’s a matter of execution and attention not innovation.

Yes I agree, I have 4. It's been a real eye-opener to see, first hand, the poor quality of some lessons and curriculum, and in some cases even teachers.

OTOH many teachers have been exceptional despite the difficult circumstances, and have earned renewed/increased respect.

I can't offer a ideas at the moment, but I am also looking to perhaps take more control next year, as I'm sure are many others.

I'm not sure if this unwarranted self promotion, but my company, 7billionideas has been working on this problem. We've created an online cross-curriculum facilitated course called HomeHack which helps kids aged 9-15 learn an entrepreneurial skillset.


Feedback welcomed!

Certainly not unwarranted! Very cool idea, I will send the link also to my workplace chat. I will have a look but at first sight I'm missing some indication about the expected age of the students.

My wife is a primary school teacher in Scotland and she has simply been doing maths and english each day with my kids during lockdown. She thinks focus on the basics - and not worry about the other stuff

Epic! has read along books for kids https://www.getepic.com/ and is free during Covid19. Tons of content!

I would think that the people who'd be great to consult would be a. homeschooling parents, the homeschooling community, academics who study homeschooling, or b. education professionals, particularly those doing studies of effectiveness of educational techniques (as opposed to the impact of social factors that are probably fixed for a given child).

I would think that the hacker news community would not have particular expertise in this field, and indeed, be desperately afflicted by whatever one calls the specific variety of Dunning-Kruger where a person believes that their own subject-matter is complicated and worthy of intense study, but subjects outside of it may be adequately understood with surface-level effort.

Now, that said? I was homeschooled and so based on that experience:

Follow what your kids are excited about and learn to nudge that into the learning experiences they need. When I was young, we did a lot of research projects about "kitties" because that's what I cared about. The book excerpt in here models that well: https://www.wbur.org/onpoint/2019/09/23/achievement-gap-the-... and there's this as well... https://www.kqed.org/mindshift/54470/why-content-knowledge-i...

What this really means, I think, is that we tend to view the actual topics of material that an elementary/middle schooler is dealing with as, well, immaterial--that there are fungible skills they need to learn. And that's kind of true--but what's certainly true is that bouncing around pretending that you can synthesize information about baseball without learning about baseball (example in one of the links) and then tomorrow it's off to practice diagram reading with Mayan agriculture--that isn't effective. At homeschooling scale, you can afford to let your kids' passions drive, and work in the skills-based aspects as it fits.

We have been part-time home-schooling for a while, because we think the school curriculum is not fulfilling our children's (8 and 13) education needs, since it is not individualized.

You can make a schedule for our children's day, including study, exercise and free times. For the study time, you may choose some subjects in these three areas:

1. A couple of (or maybe just one if obvious) subjects, that your child is good at, or really likes. Find resources and make a program to ensure your child progresses in this subject. If there are contests, or certifications in this subject you may aim them. If your child gets a chance to experience the rewards of their work, this will motivate them. He/she will also meet with tutors/peers this way, further resulting in more progress and also joy.

2. Determine the subjects that your child is weak, or not especially interested, but has to develop because they are very basic, like math or writing.

3. Find some enrichment areas, like a subject that you or a family member knows well, or find resources easily. This may actually not need to be a certain subject/area. This may include watching a certain YouTube channel everyday.

When it comes to resources, there are tons of. But it may take some time to spot one that your child needs at that specific progress/interest level. They may get bored at times, but you may always find a new book/web site/videos/etc that work. We re-schedule, try easier/more difficult resources, make a rewarding system for a true bottle-neck. As long as you don't get bored and completely give-up, there will be progress.

We do many things to help them study more efficiently, but we always vary when it comes to changing subjects for the first two areas, of course it is sometimes the right thing to do, but not easy to determine.

I'm adding some of the resources that I can't end my comment without mentioning:

- Duolingo for learning many languages

- Khan Academy

- Scholastic books for English (not for ESL, but for fine tuning academical English)

- https://www.ixl.com/ for American curriculum practice

- Youtube channels: TED Ed, Crash Course, CGP Grey

- Anton for German (1-10th grade) https://anton.app/de/ (a recent find via https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=22596290)

- Math Olympiads for a really advanced math learner. There are lots of books, contests. You can begin with https://artofproblemsolving.com/community

Well since you asked, this idea has been banging in my head since I started be Mr. Teacher for my kids who're home from public school. I'll resist the urge to describe all the background a-ha moments, experiences, observations, etc. I'll just cut to the minimum viable product that's rolling around my head.

The system is a database of "topics". A topic is a very bite sized element of training. If you're teaching kindergartners math, it'd be something like "adding 0 to a number just gives back the same number". It's almost just a sentence's worth of definition.

Each topic has a handful of prerequisites. This is not some kind of taxonomy a la the Dewey Decimal System. The prerequisites are just a rough curriculum outline. For example you can't learn about adding zero to a number, unless you have already learned single digit counting up to 10 or 20. I am not an educator so exactly what is a prerequisite for what is not my forte. And this doesn't have to be super complicated. Just a nice smooth progression from simpler lower level concepts, up through more complicated higher level concepts.

Each topic is accompanied by videos. These videos are very short, because the topics are very short. Think 5min or less. For K and 1st grade they might even be just 1min or 2min. Each topic has many of them. They could be crowd sourced or produced like something you'd get from an education company, whatever. The point is: there is a back log of videos that teach each topic. So if you're topic is "adding 0 to a number just gives that same number" there would be at least 1 but maybe multiple videos in the system that teach that topic.

Each topic has a series of questions, each question has correct answers, and incorrect answers. As much as humanly possible we have a catalog of multiple choice questions for each topic. The questions can be written in a variety of ways, the correct and incorrect answers can be written in a variety of ways. For example one question might have a few ways it can be written such as "1+0=?" or "one plus zero is what?" or "one + zero" etc. The point is you can randomly select a series of questions, and you can randomly select one of the correct answers, and a few of the incorrect answers, or construct "all of the above" or "none of the above" and even if two people have the same questions in the same order, their experience and what they see might be totally different.

Finally, each student account has a list of the topics they have "mastered". So your account is like a tree of the topics you've mastered, which adjacent or peer topics you haven't mastered yet, and which topics you have mastered all the prerequisites for. I could randomly select a topic, and by walking the tree of prerequisites a little bit, find a topic quickly that is appropriate for you.

Okay those are all the nouns. Now for the verbs. How does this work? Basically the experience is a loop. A student comes in to the system. The tool randomly selects a topic that the student has mastered all the prerequisites for. They are presented with one of the videos for that topic randomly. Then they're presented with a short quiz randomly built from the questions for that topic. If they get a 100% correct on all the questions, they've mastered that topic. Wash rinse repeat until they've graduated from college.

If you get a quiz wrong, all the prerequisites for that topic are no longer mastered. In essence we "back up" one node in the prerequisite tree. Over time a student will repeat some topics more than once, as they push the outer boundary of the leaf nodes of the topic tree they've mastered. This is to be expected.

Since we are randomly selecting topics, randomly selecting videos on those topics, randomly building quizzes, and each topic is only a few minutes long, we should be able to keep this up for a hour without getting too bogged down in any one topic or any one quiz or any one subject. It should flow smoothly, quickly, without friction, without complication. I'd estimate my 1st grader could plow through 3 or 4 topics in an hour. My 4th grader should be able to easily handle 5 or 6 no problem.

The system has hardly any user interface at all. There might be a single button to say "I'm ready for the next topic". While the video plays there might be a single button to back up 30 seconds. Then the quiz begins and there is only 1 button for each of the 4 multiple choice answers, and then back to the beginning. The fidelity of the user interface is comically minimal.

The system does not have any obvious grades, percentage completion, progress reports, awards, kudos, etc. The loop of video, quiz, repeat, is all there is. If you wanted to do reporting on student's progress you could do so, outside of the system, but within it the experience is on rails. The student is not alerted to wrong answers, correct answers, whether or not they've "mastered" a topic, what the upcoming topics are, etc. None of that is presented to them.

Okay that's enough of a description. Each of these design elements is backed up by my experience being Mr. Teacher and has specific reasons for being there. I'm avoid giving all my back story because this was probably boring enough as it is. I thank the OP "plafl" because this thing has been in my head for weeks, and writing it all out has helped me get it out of my system.

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