How Kids Can Help Animals on Earth Day

By: Beth Werrell
how kids can help animals on Earth Day

On Earth Day, celebrated annually on April 22nd, many kids try Earth Day activities such as volunteering in the community, finding new ways to recycle, or planting trees or other types of vegetation. But don’t forget about helping animals, which is another great way to give back to the environment.

Helping animals, whether wild or domestic, is a fun way for your child to build his or her “nature smarts,” or understanding of the natural world. Take a look at the Earth Day animal activities listed below to find some ideas.

Help Animals in the Wild

There are many hands-on opportunities for children to help wildlife in your community. Do the following activities with your child to make a difference in your own backyard.

  • Volunteer to clean up litter that could harm wildlife.
  • Avoid using fertilizers and pesticides in your yard.
  • Work with your child to create some green household cleaners that are safe for kids as well as wildlife. Safe ingredients include lemons, vinegar, water, baking soda, and salt.
  • Plant a garden that helps animals by providing food or shelter.
  • Help your child make a bird feeder to hang in the yard.
How Pets Can Help Your Child

Children can spend time helping animals on Earth Day, but animals can also help children. Here are some of the ways that children can benefit from spending time with pets or other animals.

Review: New Kindergarten Readiness App

By: Rachel Fiest
kindergarten readiness app review

Is your child ready to start kindergarten next year? If the answer is yes, then you can help him or her prepare for school this summer. To get started, this new Kindergarten Readiness app might help.

The Kindergarten Readiness app was created by our friends over at in partnership with the developers of the popular kids’ sites and Designed for the iPad and for iPhone, the app works with models 4s and later and offers interactive games and a checklist of 30 essential skills children should have as they begin kindergarten. Learn more about the app’s features below.

Kindergarten App Features

This app is colorful and easy to navigate, thanks to the clean interface and concise audio directions. Kids will enjoy the silly characters that appear on-screen as well as the music that plays in the background. The main features of the app include:

  • Five simple games, two of which exercise early literacy skills and three of which practice early math skills
  • A kindergarten skills checklist for parents that measures cognitive skills, motor skills, and more
  • Virtual “stickers” awarded after completing a game, which your child can add to a small park scene
  • Profiles for up to three children
  • A “delete player” option
  • English or Spanish language settings. The audio is only offered in English.
The Kindergarten Skills Checklist

The skills checklist is an invaluable tool for parents who want to measure their child’s early academic skills. The checklist tracks each child’s progress in the following categories:...

5 Reasons Why Parents Choose Virtual School Kindergarten

By: Carrie Zopf
Virtual school kindergarteners sitting on the floor with laptops.

Now that your child is five years old, it can mean only one thing—kindergarten! This is a huge step for children, and it can be an even a bigger step for parents.

Before watching your child enter school for the first time, you must determine which school will best meet his or her needs. Many times, traditional school is a great option for young children, but for others, options such as virtual school may be a better fit. But how do you know if virtual kindergarten is best for your young learner? Some of the main reasons parents give for choosing to send their kindergartener to a virtual school like Connections Academy include:

  1. Easy access. With a virtual school, you can eat breakfast with your child and then walk into the next room, turn on the computer, and begin the school day. This allows families to work around their schedule and spend more time together in a learning environment.

  2. Frequent parent–teacher communication. Much like in a traditional school, contacting your child’s teacher is easy. Virtual education teachers and parents communicate frequently by phone, through email, and in the online classroom. Teachers work closely with parents to make sure that each child gets the support he or she needs to learn and be successful in the virtual environment. Also, with online learning, notes and information are available at your fingertips.

  3. Active participation. Because your kindergartener will be working from the comfort of home or wherever Internet access is available, you, as a ...

No rhyme? No problem: Using Poetry During the School Day

By: Tracy Ostwald Kowald
use poetry during the school day

April is National Poetry Month—a time to celebrate language, literal and figurative, and the mental images a good poem can suggest. Some poems are in verse, with rhyme, rhythm, and meter. These rhyming poems are almost musical in nature. Poetry can sing without rhyme, too.

Haiku and Tanka Poems

Poetry without rhyme, known as free verse, can take many structures. One rhymeless structure is haiku. Haiku is a poem form that originated in Japan and usually features nature in some way. Each haiku has three lines, and each line has a set number of syllables—five, then seven, then five again. A tanka poem uses a similar structure, extending the poem to five lines, with seven syllables each.

Winter Haiku

Simply crisp and cold

The ground is covered with white

It’s winter at last.

Room with a View: Tanka

Looking through the glass

Past offices and a church

The lonely rooftops

Neighborhoods empty of folk

Gone to work or school all day.

Free verse can cross curricular lines, too. Integrating poetry into what your student is currently learning can be as motivating as using a brainteaser to get your school day started. Try this!

Acrostic Poems

In an acrostic poem, the first letter of each line spells out a word or a message. Your student might already be familiar with this form of constrained writing using acronyms or short memorable phrases, known as mnemonics—a learning technique to aid memory retrieval. For example, you can explain U.S. history with an acrostic ...

Educational Outdoor Activities to Build Nature Smarts

By: Tracy Ostwald Kowald
naturalistic intelligences, building nature smarts with outdoor activities

Rising temperatures. Melting snow. Crocuses and tulips peeking out of the soil. Spring cleaning. Yard work. Spring fever. Signs of spring can make students and Learning Coaches feel restless. When the sun comes out, take advantage of the opportunity to build nature smarts.

What Are “Nature Smarts”?

The concept of nature smarts comes from naturalistic intelligence, which is part of psychologist Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences. These intelligences, or strengths, are not fixed like a standard IQ. Each intelligence can grow and develop throughout a person’s life. He or she can build number-logic smarts, body smarts, and other competencies. One way to develop nature smarts is to explore and learn about the world outside the schoolroom windows.

Children who have innate nature smarts enjoy working with nature and studying the environment. Some topics that often interest a budding naturalist include:

  • Animals
  • Botany and gardening
  • Nutrition
  • Weather
  • Hiking and camping
  • Recycling
  • Composting
  • Repurposing and upcycling

Get creative during the spring and summer to find nature-based learning opportunities for your child. It’s easier than you think. Consider the ideas listed below.

Nature Activities for Spring and Summer

These activities will encourage children of all ages to have fun outside.

You can expand this ...

Are We There Yet? Answering Those End-of-School-Year Cries

By: Beth Werrell
End of School Year Motivation Tips

“Are we there yet? Are we there yet?” We’re all familiar with those plaintive cries from the kids in the backseat. The end of the school year is a lot like those long car trips. Your student is ready for school to be over and for the summer to begin. But, as a Learning Coach, you have to encourage your students to stay engaged and “on the road” to their destination—a successful end to the school year.

So, just how do help your student “slay the slump in the road”? At Connections Academy, our school counselors say that it helps to keep the end-of-year in a broader perspective—to focus on helping your students develop the traits that will see them through many long projects, school years, and car rides ahead.

Think of it as ending the year WISEly.

Here’s what we mean:

“W” stands for Willpower: At the end of any long project or school year, there’s a natural tendency to slack off. (For high school seniors, there’s even a name for it—“senioritis”.) At such times, it takes sheer Willpower to see things through to the end.

But your student doesn’t necessarily know that yet. To help your students understand their emotions and develop the willpower they need, you can:

  • Listen respectfully to their feelings about the end of the school year. 
  • Explain that the “slump” is a normal problem and willpower is a viable solution.
  • Celebrate past accomplishments that demonstrate your student’s willpower (e.g., persisting with a difficult ...

Spring Cleaning: Lessons Learned Celebrating Spring

By: Beth Werrell
Siblings with duster brushes learning life lessons about spring cleaning.

It may seem hard to believe, but …

One spring day, decades from now, your grown children will catch the first scent of clover and fresh-mowed grass. Suddenly, they will be struck with an irresistible urge to … wash windows, clean out the garage, or weed the garden. Reaching across time, they’ll connect with you and the lessons you taught them about spring cleaning and maybe even life.

With that day in mind, here are some thoughts about what and how parents are really teaching their kids during annual spring cleaning rituals.

Celebrating spring. Making transitions.

After a long, dark winter, aren’t we all ready to just go out and play? Like “decking the halls” in preparation for the winter holidays, you can model a celebratory attitude about spring cleaning by first focusing on the fun tasks ahead. You can let your children:

  • Set the mood by creating individual playlists of “music to clean by” and allowing them to “crank it up” during cleaning sessions.
  • Get in gear by focusing on the first tasks of organizing and maintaining seasonal toys and sports equipment—packing away the ice skates and sprucing up the bicycles.
  • Get outside, working with them in the yard or garden where they can enjoy the sun and see the immediate impact of their work. (First time gardening with your children? Check out this kid-friendly site from the University of Illinois.)
“Chunking” tasks.

As the old saying goes, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a ...

Parents Bust the Top 5 Virtual School Myths

By: Dan Reiner
myth busting virtual school parent testimonials

We have debunked myths about virtual school in the past, but this time we went further: we asked parents to share what virtual school is really like.

Many virtual school parents were eager to explain how their families have busted pervasive virtual school myths. They discussed the amount of teacher support they’ve received and the quality of the curriculum. But most of all, parents raved about how much their children socialize in virtual school.

Check out the virtual school testimonials below to learn more.

Myth #1: I won’t be involved in my child’s education if he or she attends virtual school at home.

Truth: State-certified teachers are responsible for teaching the students, while parents become Learning Coaches to help their children. Parents appreciate the support offered by teachers, as well as the flexibility of the program.

“As the Learning Coach, you are a guide. You provide the learning environment and help when you can, but if there is a question you cannot answer, their teacher is just a phone call or WebMail or LiveLesson® away.”

Lisa Fratini, Oregon Connections Academy

“You are not alone: utilize the teachers. My daughter was in the sixth grade when we started Connections Academy. At first, we did not utilize the teachers and quickly became overwhelmed. I finally called our math teacher, almost in tears. She explained that my job was Learning Coach—and she was the teacher. Now, we automatically call when we do not understand something or have a problem.”


Online and Offline Ways to Foster Creative Thinking Skills in Your Child

By: Dan Reiner
Fostering Creative Thinking Skills in Your Child

Building critical thinking and problem-solving skills is essential to learning. Fostering your student’s creativity is just as important, and it can even help develop his or her analytical skills.

To make learning fun and help your student grow as a unique individual, encourage creativity whenever possible. Below are some creativity tools your student can try, as well as some tips for helping him or her be more creative.

Online Creativity Tools for Kids

One way to boost your virtual school student’s creativity is by introducing him or her to creative online tools. Test some of the creativity tools listed below.

PicMonkey. This photo editing and graphic design tool is a good choice for older students, allowing them to create images and experiment with basic graphic design.

Piktochart. With an account, students can use Piktochart to display data in infographics or tell a story using images.

Wideo. Create, edit, and share animated videos with this unique platform.

ToonDoo. Use this tool to quickly make customized comic strips and cartoons.

Storybird. This platform shares images from illustrators and animators so children and adults can use them to create their own stories.

Tessellation Creator. A visual tool for grades 3 through 8, the tessellation creator exercises geometry skills by showing students how to create repeating patterns of polygons.

Adventure Story Starters by Scholastic. This interactive tool randomly generates a story idea when students spin the wheel.

Puzzlemaker. by Discovery Education. Students can create their own word ...

Making the Choice: Is Virtual School Right for My Child?

By: Beth Werrell
Family deciding if virtual school is right for their children.

For many students and families, a virtual school like Connections Academy provides an ideal learning environment. It combines the best of traditional schooling and homeschooling while personalizing the experience to the individual student’s needs. Working with students since 2002, Connections Academy has learned a lot about who thrives in an online school and why.

We realize that every family has its own unique circumstances. So, as you explore online education options, we’d like to share a few important success factors that should help you determine if virtual school is a good fit for your family.

Matching Students with the Right Resources

At Connections Academy, we know that online schooling can work well for students with a wide range of abilities, interests, and backgrounds, including:

Next page