On the look-out for killer mobile apps to make your family’s 2018-2019 homeschool year run more smoothly? We have some great suggestions. At our house, we don’t necessarily emphasize ed tech for learning. But Mom and Dad rely on a few mobile apps, especially for homeschool record keeping, ad hoc curriculum, excursion planning and reference.
As app developers, we tend to be picky about the products we use. We’re delighted to share some of the best apps on the market. Here are a dozen handy apps that support our homeschool activities and might be helpful to you, too.
Books! And more books.
Books are the foundation of the learning experience in our homeschool. With the GoodReads app, it’s easy to search and preview various book titles. You can read reviews to see if the content lines up with your child’s interest, reading level, developmental level, areas of academic focus and your family’s values. Preview mode allows you to see the quality of the writing, too. Check out reviews of books you have not read and brush up on favorite titles you have not read since you were in school. Most importantly, you can discover some newer titles using their recommendations feature. If you don’t mind sharing your lit preferences with the app, it will offer titles that you might also like, much like Netflix does.
Also, the app lets you tag books you’ve read, are currently reading, and books you would like to read in the future. Obviously, you can also contribute to the literary community by writing your own reviews.
Basically, it’s like interactive, intuitive Cliff Notes for homeschool parents.
Teachers Pay Teachers
I use this one All-The-Time for assorted, ad hoc curriculum. When my daughter requests a subject for study, or when I want to prepare her to get the most out of an upcoming field trip or event at her resource center, Teachers Pay Teachers is the first place I look for materials. The resources are teacher-generated and tend to be well-sorted by grade level.
I can also find other great resources. I discovered some amazing posters for our learning space about “Habits of Mind” to encourage the learning mindset I wanted for our homeschool. I’ve come back to TPT again and again. Dolphins, Rapulzel, sea turtles, Greek mythology, science experiments, grammar info, you name it.
TpT Is Affordable and Supports Teachers
Many resources can be found for free. Others are inexpensive. You can even upload your own materials to sell to other teachers. Who doesn’t like that? You can use the search term “Homeschool,” but I have found that this unnecessarily limits my search. I get the best results by searching for curriculum using grade levels and keywords.
In the Spring, I inherited a couple of classes at our Homeschool Co-op. I referenced TpT every week to come up with K-12 curriculum materials based on what the kids were interested in learning and what I was interested in teaching. This app readily sourced animal crafts and informative coloring pages for my TK-1 Littles. Also, I used it to find lists of AP level literary terms for my budding mid-school and high school novelists.
I use mobile apps like TpT in those parenting down-time moments to cue up The Next Big Things in our homeschool. By using the Teachers Pay Teachers mobile app, I find I print fewer unwanted materials. I focus on finding just what I’m looking for rather than thinking, “I’ll print that now, just in case,” as I often do when I’m at home on my computer.
Teachers Pay Teachers represents a huge reserve of creativity and veteran experience educating kids that homeschool parents can also draw upon.
Nook, Kindle, Audible, Google Books, etc.
Naturally, the public library is a homeschooling parent’s best friend! When you’re trying to get the most out of your curriculum budget, it certainly pays to borrow books. Now, though, most public libraries allow you to borrow e-books and audiobooks, too, so an app that serves up literature on a budget homeschooling platter has become a must.
We cherish actual-paper-books in our home, too. We have TONS of books in our personal library. We’re at capacity, actually. I must acknowledge that juggling bulky books and storing them is often a challenge and they do have a magical way of disappearing when they leave the house. Plus, overdue library books can become an issue whereas e-borrowing just expires. A reader app like Nook, Kindle, or Google Books is a solid way to manage many of these book-related and audio book-related issues.
The Portfolio App
The Portfolio app is 100% designed with homeschool parents in mind. It’s a marvelous way to collect all those amazing moments of learning we witness every day. The app is an adaptable multi-tasker for Homeschool record keeping. It also creates beautiful and necessary portfolios.
We developed this app with the Greens, based on their family’s 15 years of experience homeschooling. It’s a tool we use all the time in our homeschool. We’ve developed it to be flexible enough for use by different families with completely different styles of homeschooling. This mobile app even allows parents to maintain documentation for unschoolers without getting in the way of their unfettered learning.
What kind of records does the app keep?
We use Portfolio as our primary way to capture and organize everything related to our homeschooling, travel-schooling and life-schooling activities. Using a customizable tagging system, Portfolio files our many photos, lists, videos, attendance logs, reports and documents in our mobile devices for easy reference. The information is shared across devices, so our family is always on the same page, wherever we go.
If you take attendance, it has attendance. If you don’t bother with attendance, you don’t have to see it. We use it for reporting to third parties when needed. (And the reporting function is about to get a terrific upgrade!)
Why do Homeschoolers Need a Portfolio?
The app enables you to design custom portfolios featuring your children’s milestones, achievements and homeschool journey. You can periodically memorialize their school years, as perfect-bound portfolio books, or as sharable on-line portfolios. Organize photo archives and records for college applications, Year-End PSA Portfolios, Eagle Scout or Gold Scout rank applications, social yearbooks, scrapbooks, even as gifts.
Record keeping and privacy are increasingly important issues for homeschooling parents. As homeschooling comes under greater scrutiny, certain states are attempting to regulate homeschooling activities and to demand specific accountability. The Portfolio app is an easy, dynamic way for homeschooling families to maintain vital records seamlessly while celebrating all the things we love about homeschooling our kids.
Portfolio is available with a free trial and affordable Cloud Storage Plans based on how much data you plan to use. An Android version will be available in the next several months. Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to get the latest product announcements.
Maintaining good online security is the first step toward real privacy. While creating and maintaining good passwords is a hassle, it’s also the best thing ever. They’re essential.
With so many different accounts for ourselves, our schooling, and our kids? Organizing and securing them under one program is an investment. The rewards include improved security, time saved, and greater privacy. Plus, the stakes have never been higher in terms of online predators. Identity theft, credit card fraud, sexual predators and phishing schemes are all over the web. Helping kids learn to create sound passwords and to understand the reasons for doing so is part of a great education in Digital Citizenship.
Password Security in one Fell Swoop.
1Password is exactly what it sounds like. The app allows you to design a single, smart, secure password (you can remember always) for 1Password which unlocks a vault that secures super-crazy passwords you could never remember for all your online accounts. Open the vault, then copy the password you need and paste it into the account login in your browser. This puts an end to shuffling through stacks of sticky notes for passwords that may not even be current and recycling possibly-compromised passwords. Or, like me, you can prevent the password-reset routine for getting into infrequently-accessed accounts.
Just carefully maintain one, brilliant password to unlock your password vault and the program will generate and remember a unique, super-duper password for each account you use. When you add it up, you probably have as many 25 online accounts, each of which could have a randomized, 32-character password that ROCKS. In the security arms race, a 32-character randomized password will put you enough ahead of the game (and most everyone else) that it’s simply not worth a potential hacker’s time to crack your account.
1Password also has a paid family plan with added features that allows each family member to have their own password. Again, this is what professional computer security people who keep track of hundreds of really great passwords recommend, so you know it’s the good stuff.
Homeschooling can just as easily be called Car Schooling. We’re all over the place! In a good way. The flexibility of our lifestyle means that we can often take advantage of light-traffic travel times and the occasional scenic route or side trip. Having good, real-time, data-driven navigation on board is important for exploring our environs, especially on an irregular schedule.
Great nav is also essential when we plan an amazing field trip to some farther-away place. When I need to make a long drive to meet our group by 9 AM to get “The Homeschool Price”? I turn to Waze to set my alarm and get out the door at just the right moment.
Waze’s “Find the best time to leave” function predicts my best departure time, based on standard traffic patterns, up to a week in advance. The app then stores my trip as a “Planned Drive” with a reminder. It also monitors traffic live and lets me know if I need to leave earlier, should traffic become extra-snarly. Another great advantage with long trips is that I can see how much time I would be behind the wheel, depending on the departure time. If Waze predicts that I can spend 20 minutes less time driving by arriving ten minutes earlier? That might work better for me. (Unless we’re talking 5 am, and then all best are off!)
The app can send me an alert ten minutes before it’s time to GET IN THE CAR RIGHT NOW. This lets me rally the troops with enough spare time to pour my coffee into a travel cup.
I’m sure other navigation apps have a trip planning function, but I have covered many thousands of miles using the Waze app, and I have no plans to switch.
There’s Car Schooling, and then there’s Travel Schooling. Am I right?
If you’re planning a Very Big Adventure, whether it’s a round the world tour, or a trip to a Homeschool Convention in Orlando, TripIt is a great way to create and maintain one Master Itinerary for the whole family. It also allows you to share your travel plans with select people in your inner circle and offers real time updates, like flight delays. If you’re traveling with a group, TripIt really helps the organizer keep everyone updated on where they’re supposed to be.
You make the bookings for air travel, car rentals, ground transportation, hotels, etc., then forward each booking confirmation email to the app. The details are automatically added to a Master Itinerary. Boom. This is an app designed for, and beloved by, business travel power users, so it’s robust. Plus, bonus functionality in the paid Pro version adds even more features, in case you really do plan to travel the world.
Traveling with kids is a handful and a half, no matter how well you plan it. TripIt puts all your details in one place, in your hand. You can even access the itinerary when you’re offline, without fumbling for paper or searching through emails. Handy!
The Quizlet app is another good resource for existing curriculum and general educational materials. The app sources and creates flashcards, diagrams and quizzes to support learning on any topic. From State Capitals to Physics, from Chinese History to Biology Vocab, you can search Quizlet for common topics to find and store existing study sets all the way up to the college level.
Keep in mind that the existing sets are created by users, many of whom are teachers, but you’ll want to vet them for accuracy, appropriateness and usefulness before using them with your kids. When you search “homeschooling” under “Classes,” you get a whole lot of nothing useful, but by searching for homeschool under “Diagrams” or “Users,” the quality of your results improves. You don’t need to search using homeschool, either. Just look for what you need by topic.
Not only does the app support parent teachers with free resources, but clever homeschooling parents (and older kids) can build their own study sets for any subject imaginable. Astronomy, coding, first aid, Pokemon characters, SAT prep, Model UN, knots, the Periodic Table of Elements, “Stranger Things” trivia. The possibilities are bounded only by your kid’s interests. It even has a “game” mode for quizzing that might be fun for kids.
I do have some reservations about this app. I didn’t find it to be very intuitive to set up and use. Videos on YouTube helped me find my way around the app, though.
Also, just a heads up on the “written” mode for quizzes. It’s somewhat useless, unless you’re teaching absolutely specific terms, where you want an exact word, spelled correctly, like foreign language vocabulary or state capitols. (Or a spelling test!) Uncheck and AVOID the “written” mode. It’s case sensitive and demands the EXACT word(s). For example, if the answer is “Franklin D. Roosevelt,” and your child types in “Roosevelt,” “Franklin Roosevelt,” “FDR,” and/or any misspelling of the name? The written answer will be counted as incorrect (and annoying) unless it matches EXACTLY.
I embrace this app because I think many parents will find great stuff here, and the ability to create your own learning materials is pretty fantastic. Hopefully the developers will continue to improve the app as time goes on.
Yep. That’s an app. If you’re like me, homeschooling keeps you on your toes. I make a point of learning continuously. That doesn’t mean I want to have all the answers for my child all the time. Quite the opposite. In the age of the internet, perhaps the most important thing we can teach our kids is good Digital Citizenship. Helping kids learn to find quality information for themselves is the biggest lesson of all.
In this regard, the Encyclopedia Brittanica App seems like a no-brainer. When I’m out and about, the encyclopedia is a good place to start when I get an education-related question about ANYTHING. From “Aardvark diet” to “Zoomorphism,” I’m covered.
What about Wikipedia?
Sure. I can ask Siri to Google stuff for me. When I do, that one answer she gives me is often a dead end. And, while hammering my query into Google will give me an array of options, most often, Google serves up Wikipedia. In reality, Wikipedia can be edited randomly by just about anyone who is motivated to do so. PR people, a competitor with a commercial agenda, an ax to grind or simply bad information. As an experienced researcher, I have learned to regard everything in Wikipedia with a degree of skepticism. I’m not saying I take the contents of Encyclopedia Brittanica as Gospel, but it’s maintained by a traditional editorial board and is certainly less of a moving target than Wikipedia.
I tried the Curiosity App for science, but quickly found it lacked basic entries. If I want to amuse myself with the weirdness of nature and the Universe, then sure. Curiosity is nice. But it’s not going to settle a debate with foundational science about whether the climbing tree at the park is an evergreen or a deciduous tree. Nor will it readily yield the basics of how photosynthesis works. Encyclopedia Brittanica is the best way to get a specific, concise answer with just a few keywords.
For organizing and visualizing tasks, Trello is a productivity app I use a lot. In fact, Trello is an app frequently used by people who develop apps!
Based on the traditional Japanese “Kanban board” tool, Trello Boards create a visual way to organize your work flow. Use Trello like you would use sticky notes and a whiteboard. It’s dynamic and versatile. Plus, the app itself works very well because so many app developers have hammered on it for so many years.
Trello is an app the whole family can use as a team to plan and execute ANYTHING together. Read: Project Based Learning! It’s much better than trying to put a marker board in your pocket wherever you go. Field trips, vacations, chores, gardening, training, lessons, family enterprise, budgeting. You name it. You can plan it. Any multi-step process you want to keep track of? This app will help you stay on task with lists and boards.
I did not plan to include any social media apps on this list at all. However, just yesterday I acquired a terrific Ikea desk for $25 from a neighbor. I suddenly realized how useful NextDoor is for so many things related to homeschooling. And, unlike other social media apps, this one is focused on the real world, just outside our door. It’s not a perfect choice for everyone, but it definitely has unique benefits. I’ll get to my reservations in a minute.
Unlike most social media apps, NextDoor users should be verified as your neighbors, posting with real names, in your neighborhood only. The subject of most posts are related to community affairs, neighborly concerns and the kind of civic engagement that makes a difference you can see up close.
What did I find on NextDoor TODAY that’s relevant to homeschooling? An upcoming Jazz Festival at a nearby park. A Blood Drive. An event called “BBQ with a Cop” where various community agencies will be present with resources and personnel. (We prepare interview questions for public servants and politicians when we attend events like this.) Silk screen frames for $10. An invitation for student groups to tour the local sewage treatment plant. (A field trip opportunity I would NOT have otherwise imagined!) Free intro guitar lessons. A math tutor. Tips on how to control our seasonal ant problem. (DEFINITE science experiment potential with this one.) An invitation to a Town Hall meeting with local politicians on Neighborhood Counsel reform.
And then, there’s ALL the Free Stuff.
Neighbors are constantly getting rid of stuff, especially kid stuff. NextDoor is a great avenue for unloading your useful stuff, too. Free cuttings for succulents, kid movies, free fabric, books, bookshelves, outdoor toys, animals in search of loving homes, pet items, building materials, tools, art and office supplies. You name it.
We live in a large urban area, so I’m still naturally cautious about my neighbors. But I grew up in a very small town, so it’s easy for me to imagine where a smaller community, with even greater social accountability, might offer entrepreneurial possibilities for kids. Parents could thoughtfully mediate situations where kids could start a business washing cars, mowing lawns, finding lost pets or babysitting.
Even in a big city like ours, I personally feel comfortable picking up plant trimmings and free pots from nearby neighbors as a gardening project for science. Discarded furniture can be artfully re-furbished and decorated. Old bikes can become engineering projects. All of these projects could then be enjoyed, sold or donated.
My daughter will be working on a community service project this year and identifying what to do is half the battle. I can see us using NextDoor to identify a local problem that needs a kid-sized solution, like creating a system to check on elderly neighbors on hot days, or getting neighbors to donate fruit from their trees for the local food bank. All with appropriate adult supervision, of course.
Sure. On NextDoor, your busy body neighbors will surely reveal themselves, in all their glory, and crusaders will be found using the platform as the town square soap box. You can avoid most of the drama by not commenting on threads at all and/or by shutting down notifications on posts you don’t want to follow. I’ve seen neighbors comment on long-dead topics even months later.
Also, it’s social media. Never get too comfortable! You might unwittingly encounter creeps or criminals. Yes, it’s possible to add a cutsy profile for your pet, but I avoid revealing much about my family and I use discretion posting about homeschooling. Why take chances on safety or privacy? Use common sense. And don’t post looking for someone to watch your house or dog while you’re out of town for a month!
That said, more than any other social media platform I can think of, NextDoor has great potential uses for homeschool educators. It’s the only social media app I recommend here, with reservations.
I’ve used this app consistently since waaaaay before my parenting days. It’s an easy way to keep track of what the heck is going on around town. Now, I use it to find field trip opportunities! The fact that it offers discounted and advanced tickets? Woo-hoo!
Goldstar offers a wide variety of types of events, all in one place, from movies in the park to symphonies & opera, sporting events and museums. Plus, theater! I admit that plays would be mostly off my radar without this app. Special cultural events and food events can also be found. Escape rooms. Street festivals. Whale watching. I have discovered corners of my city I didn’t even know existed. I get a summary every week with a run down and I can narrow my search to find kid-friendly stuff.
And it’s hard to beat the deals for many events. The flexibility of our homeschooling schedule means we can take advantage of discounted and even FREE events. We pay just a few dollars for Goldstar’s processing fee.
Heck. If you play your cards right, you might even be able to use the Goldstar Events App to plan a Date Night. Imagine that!
Stay Tuned. Sign up to receive updates from BlueSky Schooler. We may update this post with additional useful apps in the future!