Easy Listening (Part 2): Debs G’s Podcast Favourites

ABC, I hear you about listening to podcasts during recuperation from the dreaded lergy.

I often suffer from migraines which means that I need sit in a completely dark room, and podcasts are extremely comforting to me. I also enjoy listening to them when I’m doing housework – they just make time fly!

Here are four podcasts that help me to relax:
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1. A Prairie Home Companion by American Public Media

I have talked about this radio show in passing before, and it is one of the favourites in the Owls Well household. The Prairie Home Companion is a radio variety show featuring American folk music alongside comedy sketches (complete with sound effects) and musical interludes from fictional sponsors. This show never fails to put a smile on my face and I often find myself tuning into it when I need a pick-me-up.

Producer and show runner Garrison Keillor, he of the golden radio voice, has now retired and his mantle has fallen upon musician and songwriter, Chris Thile. Chris Thile may not have the same deep and smooth timbre as his predecessor, but the man does sing like a nightingale and he’s also very, very funny, so he is forgiven.

(For those of you who, like myself, miss Garrison Keillor, he is to be found and heard on The Writer’s Almanac where he reads a poem every day and tells stories about significant events in literary history.)

2. Welcome to Night Vale by Night Vale Presents 1424727845212

Written by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, this podcast features the mellifluous bass tones of Cecil Baldwin. The fictional desert town of Night Vale is a strange place where all the conspiracy theories are real and the Night Vale radio show host, Cecil, reports on the local weather including the large cloud that glows in many colours (ALL HAIL THE MIGHTY GLOW CLOUD), various cultural events, and announcements from the Sheriff’s Secret Police.

On evenings when The Barn Owl is on call, I often play an episode from Welcome to Night Vale and fall asleep. I find that afterwards I get the most interesting and psychedelic dreams.

11312636_10101329805815525_5002516714209367793_o.jpg3. Astronomy Cast by Fraser Cain and Pamela Gay

This is an educational podcast that discusses various topics in the field of astronomy through the form of a light-hearted conversation between co-hosts Frasier Cain (editor of the space and astronomy news site Universe Today) and Dr Pamela Gay (Professor of Astronomy at the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville).

I love listening and learning, and letting Dr Pamela Gay’s soothing warm alto tones wash over my ears as I’m pottering about the house.

17971953_448676435476708_6086957621977028490_o4. Story Not Story by Chyna & Craig

This is a super cute podcast that is great for unwinding at the end of the day! Story Not Story features a married couple, Chyna and Craig, relaxing together and telling each other bedtime stories. I enjoy hearing Craig and Chyna banter with each other – they are sweet and funny and just adorable.

The fun part for me is trying to guess where each story is going to go and I am usually very pleasantly surprised. You’ll definitely be a butter person for hearing them!

(And you can also see more of Craig and Chyna over at the Youtube channel, Wheezy Waiter.)

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Giselle by Teatro di San Carlo

Last evening, Little E and I were very privileged to have been invited to the opening performance of the ballet, Giselle, performed by the oldest ballet company in the world, the Teatro di San Carlo from Naples, Italy.

Giselle Teatro di San Carlo Marina Bay Sands

Little E is excited about the ballet!

It was a truly magical performance.

The dancers were such a joy to watch, with their expressive faces and gestures keeping all of us – Little E included – completely mesmerised. I was especially entranced the ghostly Wilis who were absolutely ethereal, drifting across the stage in their veils, each as light as a feather.

I wondered at first if the ballet would touch on themes that were too difficult for Little E to understand, but through the storytelling of the dancers, she was actually more than able to follow the complex storyline of love and betrayal.

Giselle Teatro di San Carlo

The Wilis (Photo credit: Francesco Squeglia)

In order to prepare 6 year old Little E for the performance, I borrowed Ballet Stories by Margaret Hargreaves from our public library and read her the tragic tale of Giselle.

Giselle, a beautiful but sickly peasant girl falls in love with Albrecht, a nobleman who disguises himself as a farmer in order to gain her affections. He promises to marry her, and she shares her excitement with a visiting noblewoman who is also celebrating her engagement. Unfortunately, it turns out that Albrecht is engaged to the noblewoman, and Giselle goes insane with grief, dancing until her heart gives out and she dies. Giselle becomes one of the Wilis, shades of women who died from unrequited love, but instead of exacting her revenge on Albrecht by dooming him to dance to his death, she pleads with the Wilis Queen and saves his life.

Little E and I had some very good conversations about the story of Giselle (especially in the light of this recent event), but it’s a very good cautionary tale about how important it is to choose potential suitors wisely and to listen to the counsel of friends and relatives who care for you.

Owls Well recommends: This ballet is 2 hours long with a short interval, so make sure you bring your little one to the bathroom before the start of the performance, and bring some sugar-free sweets to help them focus quietly!

P.S. Giselle is playing in Singapore until the 29 April 2017, so go watch it before it’s too late! Get tickets to Giselle here.

P.P.S. Find Ballet Stories by Margaret Hargreaves here.

Science in the kitchen: Eggs and Vinegar

So, J asked if he could perform an experiment at home that he read about in one of his Horrible Science books. I had a look at it and realised that we had all the ingredients in our kitchen and nothing seemed explosive or particularly messy…so why not?

Warning: Science! Also puns. Lots of EGG-ceptional puns. You’re going to crack up. Seriously. Omelettin’ this happen, yo. 

J’s Question: What happens when you soak eggs in vinegar?

What we used to answer J’s Question:

  1. One hard boiled egg
  2. One raw egg
  3. Vinegar (we used apple cider vinegar, but white vinegar probably works best)
  4. Glass jars of roughly the same shape and size.

What we did to answer J’s Question:

1. Label the jars and place the respective eggs inside.

egg-vinegar-experiment

2. Cover each egg with an equal amount of vinegar and watch the science happen.

  • J’s Observation #1: Bubbles appeared on the surface of the eggs
  • EGG-CITING SCIENCE! The acetic acid in the vinegar reacted with the calcium carbonate of the eggshell, releasing carbon dioxide gas as bubbles!

experiment-science-egg-vinegar

3. Leave the eggs in the vinegar for three days. Check on the eggs and see if there is more science happening

  • J’s Observation #2:There is a yucky white scum floating on the surface of the vinegar
  • EGG-CELLENT SCIENCE! Calcium acetate is a the other byproduct of the chemical reaction between the vinegar and the eggshell, and is a white solid at room temperature.

4. Remove the eggs from the jars and rinse away the vinegar (and any residual eggshell) under running water. Remember to EGGS-ercise caution whilst doing this.egg-vinegar-experiment-science-membrane-diffusion

5. Place the eggs on a plate and allow them to dry. Compare the two eggs.

  • J’s Observation #3: Both eggs have a smooth and waxy surface. The raw egg is much bigger than the boiled egg (Debs G: It is EGG-ceptionally large) after it has been soaked in vinegar
  • EGG-STREME SCIENCE! The eggshell completely dissolved in the vinegar. Underneath the eggshell is the egg membrane. Some of the water from the vinegar has moved across the membranes to the inside of the raw egg, but the contents of the egg did not leak out. This is because the egg membrane is semi-permeable and allowed only certain sized molecules through. The egg membrane is stretchy, so the egg swelled as the water moved inside it. Water moved inside the egg because the contents of the egg contained less water than the vinegar outside the egg. The process where a solvent (such as water) moves from a lower concentration solution (such as vinegar) to a higher concentration solution (such as egg white) is called osmosis.

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6. Drop both eggs from increasing heights and see what happens.

  • J’s Observation #4: I can see the yolk wobbling about inside the raw egg but not in the boiled egg. When I dropped them, both eggs bounced but when I dropped them from very high up, the raw egg burst like a water balloon (Debs G: It was EGGsplosive). The raw egg is liquid, but the boiled egg is solid.
  • EGG-TRAORDINARY SCIENCE! Eggs are full of protein. Proteins are made up of amino acids. When the egg is boiled, the heat messes up the amino acid bonds that hold the proteins together and give them a particular shape and form. The egg protein changes in form and appearance, becoming hard and solid. When proteins change from their original form into a new form, this is called denaturation.

So, don’t be a chicken. Get cracking and hatch a plan to make Science happen in your own kitchen!

These are the yolks, kid. These are the yolks.

 

Art & Design for Kids – Van Cleef & Arpels: The Art and Science of Gems

Last week, we were invited to attend Family Friday at the ArtScience Museum‘s latest exhibition, Van Cleef & Arpels : The Art and Science of Gems. This was our first visit to the ArtScience Museum, and I am happy to report that the we had a wonderful time there!

This unique exhibition combines over 450 gorgeous pieces of jewellery from the Van Cleef & Arpels collection alongside over 250 rare gems and minerals from the Collection of the French National Museum of Natural History. The exhibition aims to showcase the natural processes involved in the geological formation of minerals and gemstones as well as the fine craftsmanship that changes these precious materials into wearable works of art.

I was really surprised at how family-friendly this exhibition was! We spent the better part of the afternoon there, and I had to peel the children away at the end.

Van-Cleef-Arpels-ArtScience-Museum

The children were awed by the exquisite jewellery on display, oohing and ahhing at the sparkling, intricately designed pieces. The Bird Clip and Pendant pictured above was a particular favourite.  A custom order for an opera singer who wanted to commemorate the birth of her son, this single piece magically transforms so that it can be worn not only as a large brooch or hair clip, but also as a bird brooch with matching winged emerald earrings and a dangling yellow diamond pendant!

art-science-museum-van-cleef-arpels-mineralogy-design

Throughout the exhibit, one can trace the journey of a mineral from its formation to its inclusion in a piece of jewellery, as well as go behind the scenes to take a look at the various technical and conceptual processes behind jewellery innovation and design.

There were also several interactive exhibits where the kids could play with light boxes or touchscreen panels to see how abstract shapes and patterns can be used to create distinctive couture creations, or learn about the different materials making up each glittering accessory.

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The highlight of the visit for us was the Family Friday workshop, ‘A Day in the Life of a Mineralogist’, where the kids were treated to a hands-on demonstration that opened up the world of geology and mineralogy. As you can tell by J and Little E’s rapt expressions, they were thoroughly engaged and interested the whole time.

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The best part of the workshop was when the kids had a change to test the physical properties of a variety of minerals using special tools. It was a joy to see them work alongside the ArtScience Museum educators, who patiently guided them in making their own observations and discoveries.

When I spoke to the ArtScience Museum educators, I was surprised to find out that the museum workshops and activities are woefully under-subscribed and most of the attendees were adults! This is surprising to me since kids under 12 years old enter the museum for free on Family Fridays!

Furthermore, the workshops and activities held at the ArtScience Museum are all free for ticket holders and the educators are very good at engaging attendees of all ages.  I will definitely be planning my future visits around Family Fridays!

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After the workshop, J and Little E lingered around the various exhibits, filling up their activity books and fiddling with the interactive stations. I really liked the activity books, which were beautifully designed and printed and made a wonderful souvenir of our visit! Did I mention that they are also free?! Unbelievable!

The Art & Science of Gems exhibition is at the ArtScience Museum (6 Bayfront Avenue S018974) from now until 14 August 2016. Opening Hours are 10am – 7pm daily.

Family Fridays at the ArtScience Museum will continue throughout June and July 2016. Do check out the special guided tours from 3-4pm as well as the ‘Day in the Life of a Mineralogist’ workshops in June at 4:30-5:40pm and the ‘Make your own Soap Gems’ workshops in July at 4:30-5:30pm.

There’s a nominal entry fee with a reduced price for Singapore citizens and PRs, but if you go on Family Friday, it’s a really great deal because of ALL THE FREE STUFF – free entry for kids, free activity books, free workshops! So if you haven’t visited the ArtScience Museum yet, the June school holidays would be a good time to give it a whirl!

Update 2 June 2016: I just found out that Family Friday’s free entry for kids isn’t available during Singapore school holidays and public holidays. 

For more information about tickets click here

By the way, if you haven’t guessed yet, this exhibition is a great springboard for introducing your kids to earth sciences! Here are our recommendations for books that we found useful as an accompaniment to this excursion – just click on the pictures for more information:

Bathtub Science

In the summertime when the weather is hot, the humidity is high and the PSI is through the roof, there’s nothing better than some refreshing bathtime fun for reviving the tiny limp ragamuffins!

We do like to treat the kids to a soak in the bathtub every so often. All three of them are still at an age where they are completely comfortable with ofuro-style bathing, that is, a communal family bath time. We encourage this as sibling-bonding is of high importance to us…and of course it is fun to relax together.

The Barn Owl and I have found several ways to make bathtime a multisensory learning experience…and right now we like to switch things up a notch using the Power of Science!

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Picture Credit: Metanorn

1.Colours, Scents and Chemical reactions using Bath Bombs

If you aren’t familiar with Bath Bombs, here’s a little video that shows you what happens:

The Bath Bombs that we use are from LUSH. These generate a whole lot of fizz and turns the water a brilliant colour. They also smell really good and their natural, nourishing ingredients are great for the skin. The scent usually lasts for hours afterwards – so we get three, clean, lovely smelling children who are completely relaxed and ready for bed afterwards!

The kids are usually mesmerised by the effervescent bath bomb when it first goes in, and both Thumper and Little E love watching the colours swirl into the water.

Mummy Pro Tip: For a really great fizz, choose a Bath Bomb that is less oily and make sure that the water is really warm before you put it in – if you’re worried about making the bath water too hot for your sensitive kiddies, dunk the Bath Bomb into a clear container of hot water for your kids to enjoy, then add it to the main bath once it reaches the desired temperature

Each Bath Bomb gives a completely different bath time experience – some of them have sparkles, some have tiny heart-shaped confetti (which the kids like to line up in little rows on the side of the bath, competing with each other to see who can make the longest line), some even contain a secret message. I like the multicoloured ones for a live demonstration of colour blending in the bath to Thumper and Little E, but the real fun is when we start talking about the ingredients of each bath bomb. J and I now play a game where we try to identify the ingredients of each bomb based on the smell, which usually leads to a discussion on the source and origins of each ingredient – but of course, the first time the kids were introduced to the Bath Bomb, they begged me to explain to them how it worked.

Warning: Science!

Basically, the main ingredient in each Bath Bomb is Sodium bicarbonate, a weak alkali, as well as a weak acid (usually citric acid). When it is left dry, nothing happens, but when the dry sodium bicarbonate and citric acid in the Bath Bomb are activated with water, the acid-base reaction leads to a release of carbon dioxide bubbles – all the fizz that you can see – and sodium citrate!

Buyer’s note: LUSH does have a storefront in Singapore and you can buy from their online store for delivery within Singapore too. If you happening travelling to the UK, USA or Australia, LUSH is waaaaay cheaper out there, so stock up if you can!

2.Electricity and circuits using the Sud-Z-Buddy

Okay, when Mummytoon contacted me to try out the Sud-Z-Buddy, I was super excited about it because it just sounded SO COOL. I mean, this is a toy encased in a clear glycerine soap – and it lights up only when in contact with water!

The soap itself is a mild, fragrance-free soap that contains no parabens or sulphates, so it is suitable for sensitive skin. The toy is also phthalate and lead-free, and the battery voltage it contains is minimal (basically, the same as wearing a watch in the shower), so there is no risk of electrical shock.

Imagine the look on J and Little E’s faces, when I immersed the soap in water and it began to glow and pulse in a myriad of colours! It was like having a disco in the bathroom! PARTY! PARTY!

Mummy Pro Tip: You’re not supposed to use the soap in the dark for obvious safety reasons, but if you’re planning to be in attendance during bathtime anyway, why not? Put on some tunes, turn off the lights and PARTY!

partysaurusrex

Party on with the Partysaurus Rex! Picture Credit: Pixar

Thumper was so excited about the Sud-Z-Buddy, he just kept splashing his hands about, trying to grab it, and laughing as it slipped away from his grasp.

Once the soap is completely used up, you’ll still be left with a super-cute bath toy! The soap itself makes a nice lather, and it doesn’t get mushy, so it lasts a pretty long time. We’ve been using the soaps for about 3 months and we still haven’t uncovered the toy completely.

Warning: Science!

When examining the bottom of the Sud-Z-Buddy, there are two tiny metal bumps spaced about an inch or so apart. These are electrodes, and washing the soap in water completes the current pathway between the electrodes, closing the electrical circuit so that the toy lights up.

Buyer’s note: You can get Clancy Clownfish and Ophelia Octopus from Mummytoon.com, which also carries other kid friendly bath things as well as gentle products for eczema prone skin. I like their California Baby range as well as the Burt’s Bees range especially.

3.Submarines and buoyancy using diving pool toys

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Picture Credit: Swimways

Well, there’s no reason why a pool toy can’t also be used in the bath, especially, if they are awesome diving toys like the Submergency and Submergibles by Swimways.

These are basically little brightly coloured plastic balls which you twist to adjust their buoyancy. They can sink right to the bottom, float on the surface or even suspend themselves in between, just like a submarine! As you may imagine, the kids were fascinated by how it works and we had many conversations about how submarines and ships work, and also about swim bladders of fish.

Warning: Science!

When a submarine floats, it is because the weight of the water that it displaces is equal to the weight of the submarine. To control it’s buoyancy, a submarine has ballast tanks that can be filled with water or air. When the ballast tanks are filled with water, the submarine becomes heavy and sinks. This is the same with the dive ball – when it is filled it with water, it sinks, but if it is filled with air, it floats. If it has some water and some air in it, it will sink below the surface but not all the way to the bottom!

Buyer’s Note: The Barn Owl spotted these swim toys at Toys R’ Us, which is where we got ours, but we have also seen them at various retailers that specialise in swimming things.

What are your favourite bathtime products? Share them with us in the comments!

Homeschooling in Singapore

Ok Meimei, so the short answer to your question from last Friday is:

NO. Homeschooling is not very popular in Singapore.

This is for the following reasons:

  1. In most families, both parents will return to the workforce a few months after their children are born. This is a decision that is supported by our local government, which offers childcare and domestic helper subsidies, extra paid leave days as well as tax breaks for working mothers as well as additional paid leave and tax rebates for working fathers.
  2. The Singapore mainstream education system may be both rigorous and rigid, but it is affordable and effective. Children who attend school in Singapore will receive a reasonable level of literacy regardless of which school they do attend, in a safe and secure environment. I have yet to meet a Singaporean from the mainstream school who is unable to read, write and have a basic knowledge of math, science and local history.
  3. Most parents lack the skills to teach children and have no clue where to start. This is important especially considering that parents who intend to homeschool in Singapore must have approval from the Ministry of Education to do so, and this includes submitting a curriculum that meets the national standards. Children who are homeschooled must still reach the PSLE benchmarks.

That said, there are still plenty of homeschooling families in Singapore, and I think homeschooling is gaining popularity at a steady pace for these reasons:

  1. Homeschool creates a more sheltered and controlled learning environment for children to learn at their own pace. This is especially relevant for kids who have special learning requirements or interests.
  2. The teacher-student ratio in a homeschool is practically 1:1. It’s essentially full-time private tuition.
  3. Parents can be in charge of imparting values important to their family, without the taint of outside influences. This also means being able to choose like-minded homeschooling families to socialise with.

I have noticed that most parents who choose to homeschool have some form of teacher training or experience, but there are quite a few parents who are quite happy to learn on the job. Unlike myself, these parents all tend to be very patient, highly creative and extremely well-organised individuals.

There are also some local homeschooling moms whom I really admire and whose blogs I read on a regular basis:

1. Jus from Mum in the Making. I love the way she organises her lessons. For example, she is currently teaching her kids about the solar system, so she has drawn it all out on her chalkboard wall in the kitchen, and also had them working on crafts related to stars. Her personal weak point is in the Chinese language, so for that she’s clubbed together with some other homeschooling parents to form a chinese immersion study group!

2. Ka-ren from Mum’s Calling. She has a very holistic approach to learning, often taking her kids on field trips and creating teaching aids from everyday materials. My favourite posts are where she teaches math concepts by using a song and a couple of pot lids, and then brings the kids to the beach to count sand.

Personally, I do not feel that I can handle the pressure of being the sole educator for my children nor am I adequately equipped with the skills necessary to teach or formulate a cohesive curriculum. This is why I’m happy to outsource the teaching to the well-trained educators at J and Little E’s school.

However, I do like to supplement their formal school education with some home-based learning which doesn’t have to follow any fixed curriculum. I truly believe that this encourages autodidacticism, which should be the true goal of pedagogy. For my afterschool learning, I use a combination of excursions, books, online resources, and crafts – and over the next couple of weeks, I’ll give you some examples of how I use these learning methods to supplement J and Little E’s education.

Find out about the Singapore Ministry of Education Guidelines on Homeschooling here.

Find out more about the Homeschooling in Singapore here.

31 of the best (FREE) online learning resources for preschoolers

Over here in Singapore, there is tremendous pressure on children to excel academically, and many of Little E and J’s preschool classmates are enrolled in various expensive enrichment classes.

Although I am trying my best to avoid hot-housing my children, both J and Little E have a innate love of learning and I like to find ways to nurture and encourage them in their educational journey. Now with the June school holidays on the horizon, I find myself actively looking for meaningful home activities to keep them gainfully occupied during the day!

Here is a list of 30 of my favourite (free!) online learning resources that I find myself returning to again and again!

Phonics and Early Reading

With most schools returning to phonics to help children to learn how to read, these are some brilliant websites which will help you to reinforce what your preschooler is learning!

  1. Reading Bear – there are some very lovely videos to help capture your kid’s interest
  2. Progressive Phonics – this has some great e-books and worksheets too
  3. Starfall Phonics – the animations may be rather crude, but the songs are pretty catchy!
  4. Phonics4free – this is a series of videos and guides for empowering parents to teach phonics
  5. ABC Fast Phonics – A very simple no-frills guide to the basics which is good for parents who want to help their kids at home

Mandarin

Bilingualism is very important in Singapore with Mandarin chinese offered as a second language in most preschools. We speak very little Mandarin at home, so I have to find creative ways to expose my children to the nuances in both the spoken and written word. These websites have really helped me to keep my kids interested and engaged!

  1. Chineasy – This is a beautiful website which focusses on the pictorial nature of the chinese written script and helps kids (and adults) to remember chinese characters using gorgeous illustrations and beautifully animated teaching videos.
  2. CCTV Learn Chinese – This is an extensive library of videos aimed at teaching conversational chinese and touches on aspects of chinese culture and daily living as well.
  3. Fun Fun Elmo – Sesame Street has most recently developed a preschool mandarin programme featuring the ever-popular Elmo in a series of 10 minute vignettes! This first season is available on Youtube – and hopefully Sesame Street will release their subsequent episodes online too.
  4. Semanda  – These are some free printable flashcards which cover some basic concepts (such as colours, fruits, animals, vehicles etc) as well as some multiple choice style quizzes
  5. Hanlexon Chinese – This is a useful website for printing out writing practice worksheets. You can alter the worksheet to show the stroke order or allow tracing of the characters

Math

  1. Khan Academy – This site is brilliant for kids who already know how to count. J loves this because he can unlock achievement badges and trophies when he has achieved mastery of a new concept!
  2. Math Worksheet Wizard – Here is a simple worksheet generator to help reinforce simple counting, addition as well as subtraction.
  3. ScootPad – This has a basic free system for individuals as well as a subscription service for classrooms. The basic free system has both Math as well as Reading practice pages (but the Math pages are prettier), as well as some really fun math games!
  4. Math Game Time – this is self explanatory, but helps kids to reinforce their rote counting and number recognition skills
  5. Soft Schools – Here you can find some great free printable worksheets and online games to help grow little mathletes.

Art

These art sites are more for parents who are looking for simple, foolproof art projects for preschoolers as well as lesson plans to introduce kids to art history!

  1. Mrs Brown’s Art Class
  2. Teach Kids Art
  3. Art Projects for Kids
  4. KinderArt
  5. Museum of Modern Art NY

Science

These are a collection of brilliant websites that include some very impressive science demonstration videos as well as projects and simple experiments that you can set up at home!

  1. Science For Preschoolers
  2. Ellen McHenry’s Basement Workshop
  3. The Kid Should See This
  4. BrainPOP
  5. SESL Writing Wizard

Other Useful Resources

There are plenty of awesome sites out there that will inspire your kids to learn more about the world around them! Here are our current favourites that include everything from World History to Astrophysics :

  1. Typing Club
  2. Learning with Fun
  3. Crash Course World History
  4. NASA Kids Club
  5. The Good Stuff
  6. Smarter Every Day