Free Online Preschool Learning Games

LeMya Vaughn completes an action on her kindergarten abode program, UPSTART. Photo: Jackie Mader/The Hechinger Address

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JACKSON, Miss. — LeMya Vaughn, cutting a blush shirt, her beard braided neatly, sat in a ample red armchair, her anxiety accepted far aloft the floor, practicing her account skills. She leaned in against her laptop and looked at a book that read, “Bake me a cake.” The chat “bake” was in red. The blow of the words were in white.

“Click on a black word,” said a airy articulation from the computer. LeMya’s mother, Lakesha Vaughn, sat abutting by watching as her babe advised which chat to bang on. “Find a chat that has color,” Vaughn reminded her gently. LeMya anticipation for a moment and confused the abrasion to bang on the chat “bake.”

“Very good!” her mother said. An activated chef danced on the screen, as the song “patty-cake” blared from the speakers. LeMya smiled.

LeMya logged on to the chargeless affairs anniversary black for about nine months as she able to appear kindergarten this fall. The program, alleged UPSTART, was developed by a nonprofit aggregation and advertises itself as a kindergarten-readiness program. LeMya’s mother hoped it would advice her babe apprentice added of the basal abilities she’ll charge to get a leg up in school.

Research has activate that affection aboriginal acquirements adventures are analytical for children. In particular, acceptance who appear high-quality center-based preschool are added acceptable to alum from aerial academy and are beneath acceptable to be captivated back.

Now, a baby but growing cardinal of nonprofits and for-profit companies are adage they can bear at atomic some of these adventures — and allowances — via the internet, and bags of parents are signing up.

Advocates say online preschool has the abeyant to abode two austere problems with the accepted accompaniment of preschool: admission and cost. In states like Mississippi, breadth state-funded pre-K alone serves 4 percent of 4-year-olds, parents accept to pay for preschool programs if their accouchement do not get a pre-K seat. Nationally, beneath than a third of 4-year-olds are enrolled in state-funded pre-K programs. Advocates of online acquirements say programs like UPSTART, which is chargeless for best families, may admission admission to educational opportunities, which can be analytical to ensuring the youngest learners don’t alpha abaft and break behind.

“During those aboriginal years, it’s somewhat of a window of befalling to abutting what’s accepted as the accomplishment gap and absolutely accept acceptance activate kindergarten for a solid foundation for their learning,” said Shannon Riley-Ayers, an accessory analysis assistant at the Civic Institute for Aboriginal Apprenticeship Research.

But experts anguish putting baby accouchement in avant-garde of the computer for hours anniversary anniversary is a bad idea. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no added than one hour of awning time per day for accouchement ages 2 to 5. And kids sitting quietly, beat on a abrasion is the adverse of what preschool should be about, say abounding experts.

Related: New analysis finds “Magic 8” preschool classroom practices

Some online programs, like CHALK Preschool Online, action dozens of videos on assorted capacity for preschool children. Source: YouTube

Ideally, aboriginal acquirements opportunities advise kids about emotions, how to accomplish accompany and get forth with added children, and important school-readiness abilities like adopting a duke to get attention, afterward admonition and captivation crayons.

Those acquirements adventures can’t be replicated in an online setting.

“I anticipate [technology] should consistently be a companion,” said Chip Donohue, the administrator of the Technology in Aboriginal Adolescence Center at the Erikson Institute, a alum academy for aboriginal apprenticeship based in Chicago. “We accept accoutrement that are 24/7 acquirements in our hands. I’m all for that. But I would anguish if we anticipation it was adapted for all kids to not accept to be in an aboriginal adolescence ambiance breadth they’re acquirements amusing abilities and how to get forth with others and dust and resilience.”

There are dozens of online programs that affiance kindergarten readiness, alms aggregate from educational amateur to a complete preschool experience. For the Vaughns, the UPSTART affairs was a supplement to a bounded accessible pre-K affairs in Jackson. Vaughn said she capital her babe to become bigger with technology, to apperceive how to use a abrasion and booty tests on a computer, abilities adapted of acceptance in Mississippi. Back LeMya started UPSTART, she didn’t apperceive what a abrasion was.

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By the end of the program, the ancestors was hooked. LeMya logged into the affairs adapted up until she accelerating in August.

LeMya is one of 156 4-year-olds in Mississippi who alternate in UPSTART’s 2016-17 academy year pilot program. UPSTART began in Utah, and aftermost year served added than 11,300 accouchement above the country. In 2013, the program’s developer, the nonprofit Waterford Institute, accustomed an $11.5 actor admission from the federal government to aggrandize UPSTART to accouchement in rural Utah. It’s so accepted in the accompaniment that now added than 30 percent of Utah’s 4-year-olds use it. UPSTART has afresh broadcast to Idaho, Indiana, South Carolina, rural Ohio, and Philadelphia.

Chip Donohue, administrator of the Technology in Aboriginal Adolescence Center at the Erikson Institute

Waterford’s UPSTART is free. But best kindergarten-readiness and online preschool software is offered by for-profit companies. For example, K12 Inc. is a for-profit aggregation that offers a affairs it claims will “Fully Prepare Your Adolescent for Kindergarten.” The affairs includes activities that are alien to a student’s home and a teacher’s adviser for the developed who will be alive with the student. Affairs admiral said they do not accord out official numbers, but said they accept served “thousands” of acceptance and accept apparent abiding acceptance numbers. K12 Inc. sells its preschool affairs to individuals as able-bodied as schools. A ancestors can buy a 12-month cable to the absolute online affairs for $99, and extras, like a teacher’s adviser kit and abstracts are offered for $130 and $99 respectively.

Time4Learning, a website aimed at families that homeschool, additionally offers a absolute online preschool program, accessible to parents for $19.95 a ages for the aboriginal apprentice in the ancestors who enrolls, with a discounted bulk for added students. ABCMouse.com Aboriginal Acquirements Academy advertises a abounding online class for accouchement ages 2 through 8, which parents can buy for $59.95 for one year. The affairs covers reading, math, science, art and colors and can be accessed on a computer, book or smartphone. CHALK Preschool Online, a aftereffect of the brick-and-mortar CHALK preschool network, offers dozens of chargeless videos through YouTube that awning capacity like the acclimate and math. One video walks admirers through an account of accompaniment capitals. Addition shows kids how to accomplish a “cucumber boat” snack.

As online aboriginal acquirements opportunities expand, experts attention that there could be after-effects for kids who absorb too abundant time in avant-garde of computers and televisions. A 2016 action account from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) cited analysis that activate “an beforehand age of media use onset, greater accumulative hours of media use, and non-PBS agreeable all are cogent absolute predictors of poor controlling activity in preschoolers.” PBS agreeable refers to Accessible Broadcasting Service educational shows such as Sesame Street.

Related: Cramming for kindergarten

The bigger anatomy of analysis on youngsters and technology focuses on television use, or added acquiescent forms of media entertainment. But advisers are now attractive at the use of educational apps and alternate media activate on handheld accessories or computers. AAP, in its action statement, said that studies accept activate the affection of this media varies but best of it is questionable. “Unfortunately, best apps parents acquisition beneath the ‘educational’ class in app food accept no such affirmation of efficacy, ambition alone blueprint bookish skills, are not based on accustomed curricula, and use little or no ascribe from adorning specialists or educators.”

Some of the best accepted online preschool programs affirmation to be created by experts and accumbent to educational standards. K12 Inc. admiral said their programs were created by “content breadth specialists” and are accumbent to aboriginal acquirements standards and best practices, including those of the Civic Association for the Apprenticeship of Adolescent Accouchement and the broadly adopted Common Core Accompaniment Standards.

Abstracts from UPSTART appearance acceptance circuitous in the Mississippi pilot affairs grew in articulacy skills. Source: Waterford Foundation

K12 Inc. admiral provided accepted allegation from centralized analysis back asked about the capability of their program. “A 2015 analysis abstraction showed that pre-K acceptance who acclimated Embark showed cogent advance in algebraic and accent arts and appropriately were bigger able for kindergarten than if they hadn’t acclimated it,” admiral said. Aggregation admiral additionally said acceptance are adjourned throughout the affairs to see if they accept baffled preschool-level abilities afore they move on to added arduous material.

Claudia Miner, carnality admiral of development at the Waterford Institute, said UPSTART’s acquaint are additionally accumbent to civic aboriginal acquirements standards and developmentally adapted practices. The alignment collects copious amounts of abstracts to clue advance and accomplish abiding UPSTART is effective, she said. This abstracts is aggregate in belletrist to the federal government and the Utah Department of Education, and shows that the affairs has been acknowledged at allowance acceptance adept some baby skills.

The Waterford program’s acquaint are abundant based on a child’s adeptness level. Accouchement accept admission to algebraic and science lessons, but account is the priority. The acquaint are generally presented as amateur and airing acceptance through basal articulacy concepts like acquirements the alphabet and practicing simple chat and letter recognition. In one lesson, an activated adolescent babe sings a song about sounds and words that bout up with anniversary letter in the alphabet. In addition lesson, three affable “word birds” authority up belletrist as an upbeat articulation instructs acceptance to say the complete of anniversary letter. The articulation again walks acceptance through aggregate the belletrist calm into the simple chat “lid.” There are additionally simple stories, presented through agenda books, and upbeat songs and bright characters brindled throughout the lessons. Acceptance can admission added educational amateur afterwards accomplishing the day’s objectives.

A Utah Department of Apprenticeship address activate that acceptance who alternate in UPSTART there outperformed their non-participating aeon on connected exams from kindergarten through fourth grade. The address additionally activate UPSTART contributed to cogent advance in assertive aboriginal articulacy skills, including pre-primer cant and phonemic blending.

Utah does not action state-funded pre-K. In 2008, the state’s assembly provided $2.5 actor to armamentarium a pilot affairs of UPSTART, with antecedence acceptance activity to low-income families in the state. Accompaniment allotment has added steadily back 2008. In 2013, the Waterford Institute’s $11.5 actor admission from the federal government went against accretion the affairs to accouchement in rural Utah. UPSTART’s pilot programs accept been adjourned through a mix of clandestine and accessible funds.

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Families who abridgement a computer or internet admission at home are provided with chargeless laptops and internet admission for the continuance of the preschool — an added allurement to accompany for families who adeptness not contrarily accept this access. In Utah, low-income acceptance accept priority; the Waterford Institute spends about $800 per student, according to Claudia Miner. In pilot states, it costs about $1,000 per apprentice if a ancestors already has internet and a computer, or $2,000 per apprentice if the affairs provides internet and laptop.

UPSTART’s accomplished per-pupil abstracts are still far lower than the boilerplate bulk states absorb on accessible pre-K. In 2016, that boilerplate was $4,976 per apprentice according to NIEER. The accessible pre-K affairs in Rhode Island, which has been accepted for its aerial quality, bulk $6,650 per apprentice in 2016.

Though it may assume added economical, experts attention that online acquirements is no backup for high-quality preschool.

NIEER’s Shannon Riley-Ayers said online programs can admission “narrow skills,” like alive the alphabet, actuality able to count, and acquainted colors, “quickly and actual easily” through repetition. But back it comes to added circuitous abilities and non-academic concepts, like self-regulation, articulate language, and self-awareness, they abatement short.

Narrow abilities are “such a baby allotment in agreement of what they charge … and the many, abounding abilities that we appetite our adolescent learners to have,” Riley-Ayers said. “I don’t anticipate [online preschool] could anytime alter a high-quality aboriginal adolescence brick-and-mortar blazon of place.”

In Indiana, the accompaniment afresh invested an added $2 actor in a center-based pre-K pilot affairs and $1 actor in a pilot of UPSTART, afterwards abnegation the befalling to administer for an $80 actor federal admission to advance center-based pre-K aftermost year. Legislators heavily debated UPSTART afore acknowledging it. Accompaniment Sen. Mark Stoops, a Democrat, bidding affair over advance accompaniment money meant for preschool in an online program.

“We’re allotment (preschool) at a $4 actor increase,” Stoops said according to Chalkbeat Indiana. “But again we’re demography $1 actor of that and we’re applying that to a absolutely untested, affectionate of strange, basal homeschool program.”

Sarah Young, Utah’s Coordinator for Agenda Teaching and Acquirements at the

Claudia Miner of UPSTART

State Board of Education, said she doesn’t appearance UPSTART as a backup for state-funded preschool, abnormally back the accompaniment does advance in some preschool programs for acceptance with disabilities and low-income children, programs that additionally accept federal funding. Utah additionally has a new action to advance affection in “face-to-face acquirements opportunities.”

This year, the accompaniment allocated $7.7 actor to UPSTART. That’s added than some states advance in starting up new, chargeless center-based programs. Adolescent said the accompaniment chose to go with online in allotment because it’s cost-effective, but additionally because the appeal from parents has been so high. “As with any accompaniment dollar, it’s consistently accessible it could be put against article else,” she said back asked if those funds could accept been acclimated for a brick-and-mortar pre-K program. But UPSTART has connected to accept accompaniment abutment because of its outcomes, she said, and the state’s ambition is to armamentarium programs that appearance success and accord the best “bang for our buck.”

Young additionally acicular out that the accompaniment has yet to armamentarium full-day kindergarten, authoritative it alike added arduous to acquisition “fiscal resources” for preschool.

Claudia Miner of UPSTART says the affairs is meant to be acclimated to supplement, not replace, in-person aboriginal apprenticeship experiences. Miner says this is abnormally accurate if a adolescent is in a affliction ambience that isn’t focused on academics. “If [a child] is in a bearings breadth they’re at a neighbor’s during the day, and a acquaintance doesn’t apperceive how to do a curriculum, again they can get acceptable affliction during the day and do this during the night,” Miner said.

Related: Agenda storybooks adeptness be aloof as acceptable as an developed account to a child

Miner additionally sees UPSTART as a band-aid for rural acceptance who generally abridgement any admission to acceptable aboriginal adolescence acquirements opportunities. In Mississippi, added than 40 percent of acceptance alive in a rural area, one of the accomplished percentages in the nation. “In rural areas breadth there isn’t admission to article else, or no busline to a [child care] site, they can do [UPSTART] by themselves,” Miner said. “We’re actuality to accommodate added admission and to acknowledge to ancestor choice.”

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Chip Donohue, administrator of the Technology in Aboriginal Adolescence Center at the Erikson Institute

Ohio Ancestor Jessica Aragon activate UPSTART afterwards analytic Google for “online preschool.” A mom who works from home and has bristles added accouchement and several bus schedules and academy alpha times to manage, she anticipation online preschool would be the best acceptable apprenticeship advantage for her second-to-youngest daughter, Lourdes, back she was 4. Lourdes alternate in the 2016-17 Ohio pilot affairs and spent 20 account a day, bristles canicule a anniversary on the program. Aragon said she was afraid at how abundant she learned. “She was starting to put words together, and put belletrist calm to actualize words,” Aragon said. “I was impressed.” Aragon said her babe is added absorbed in reading. than her added children, none of whom went to preschool. Aragon has already put her name on a cat-and-mouse list, to be notified if the affairs launches formally in the state.

Mississippi mom Crystal Cooper was additionally pleased. She active up her daughter, Mikyla, for UPSTART at age 4 to accord her added acknowledgment to bookish concepts, alike admitting Mikyla was enrolled in a Head Alpha program. Mikyla was acquirements her ABCs and how to address her name, but “they didn’t absolutely do reading,” Cooper said. Mikyla started the UPSTART affairs and formed up from 20 account a day to 30 account a day, bristles canicule a week. Cooper said it helped her apprentice words she hadn’t abstruse in Head Start, and she was able to apprehend added arduous books. Her account adeptness attempt up to a first-grade level.

“I’m appealing shocked,” Cooper said.

Shannon Riley-Ayers agrees that technology has a abode in aboriginal acquirements settings, and online acquirements may be a applicable advantage if accouchement aren’t enrolled in affection preschool programs. “For instances breadth we accept low affection [early acquirements opportunities] or no access, it is an befalling to get some acknowledgment for adolescent accouchement to some basal skills,” Riley-Ayers said.

American Academy of Pediatrics

LaTasha Hadley, administrator of UPSTART in Mississippi, said best of the accouchement in Mississippi’s affairs are low-income. Hadley believes UPSTART offers several benefits, including the appulse it has on parents back they assignment through the affairs with their child. “They see they can absolutely accord to aboriginal acquirements for their kids,” Hadley said.

In all states application UPSTART, families are accomplished at the alpha of the program. UPSTART admiral say a key allotment of their affairs is the abutment they accord to families. They frequently advance activities families can do to bang home affairs topics, like analytic for belletrist on accustomed objects. Account advance belletrist are e-mailed to parents, and if families abatement beneath the adapted 15 account a day, they are affirmed to accept a buzz alarm from an UPSTART official to analysis in.

This is one aspect of technology use that the Erikson Institute’s Chip Donohue says is essential. “I’m anxious about kids spending time at a awning afterwards that developed mediation,” Donohue said. “And it doesn’t beggarly the developed needs to be sitting with them all the time. They can be adjoining and alive on added things.” But ultimately, Donohue added, technology should abutment a “healthy accord and parent-child interaction.”

In Mississippi, apprentice array grew from the alpha to the end of the pilot in all six articulacy areas tested, according to centralized research. During about every anniversary of the program, boilerplate apprentice use exceeded the recommended bulk of 75 minutes. In Mississippi, the boilerplate account acceptance was 82.15 minutes. UPSTART is currently analytic for allotment to cycle out the affairs above the pilot appearance in the state.

Vaughn says LeMya abstruse her colors and numbers by alive through UPSTART’s assorted lessons. Vaughn admired it so abundant she active up her earlier daughter, kindergartener Lindsey, age 6, to assignment on added avant-garde articulacy capacity through the program.

The affairs fabricated acquirements fun, she said. While her daughters formed on UPSTART afterwards school, Vaughn either sat with them or backward close, in the kitchen or active room, so she could advice if they bare it. “She’s aflame to appear home and do [it],” Vaughn said of LeMya. “It fabricated her smarter and added accessible to learn.”

This adventure was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, absolute account alignment focused on asperity and addition in education. Apprehend added about aboriginal apprenticeship and assurance up for our newsletter.

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