Lots of the world is currently dealing with “shelter-in-place” or other names for keeping people at home to try to avoid the spread of the Coronavirus aka COVID19. Here in Alameda, we have completed a week of working from home, and school-from-home too for our two elementary school age kids. For me, WFH is my norm, so the only real change I’ve noticed has been the increased noise in the house! For the kids, it has been a big change though, and I thought I’d capture some of the ideas we’ve come up with in case they’re useful for others, and also some things I’m looking at for the coming weeks.

School Work

Starting on Tuesday of last week, our kids were assigned work in an online application called IXL. There is a lot of content in here, organized by grade and topic (Math, English, Science and Social Studies). For our third grader, his teachers have been recommending the sections he should work on; for the kindergartener, she was basically left to explore at the start of the week. Later on, her teacher did flag which ones they should focus on.

The application does have a “diagnostic” area where it tests the student to determine their level, but both kids quickly got fed up with that and did not manage to complete it. It isn’t even clear that it did end – the third grader did spend at least 30 minutes on this and it was still going.

Boring & Frustrating

After a few days of working with IXL, both kids announced that they found it boring. The presentation is very plain; they press a big green button when they have filled in their answer, or selected their choice. The button is labeled “Submit” – just not kid friendly.

More frustrating though is the progress bar & scoring system. Each exercise has 100 points available when completed. The first question will often make the score jump into the twenties, after that each question is worth ever diminishing amounts, until by the end it is often just one point for each question.

Even worse, getting an answer wrong subtracts points, and not just a few. In one case, I watched it reduce the score from 97 to 67. That is a question that had he submitted the correct answer would have been worth just one point, but when he got it wrong resulted in a huge step back. These tests do not have a fixed number of questions, instead they keep going until you reach 100, so these leaps backward are pretty frustrating for the kids.


The kindergartener has also been given her login for Kids A-Z to access Headsprout, a reading application. This one she did enjoy doing, and the presentation is clearly more kid-friendly. Looks like this needs to be something the school signs up for though as the first question on the home page is the teacher’s name!

Social Contact

.While the school was busy working on getting the academic components worked out, we took on the challenge of trying to allow the kids to stay in touch with each other.

Our solution, tested on third grade first but then expanded to every grade of elementary, was to create a video conference room where the kids could drop in and chat, just hang out while they worked or played, or even play games with each other. We used Jitsi, which is a free video conferencing service that works in Chrome (including on Chrome books) and also has apps for iOS and Android.


For the first couple of days, I had the room open on my laptop (camera & mic off) so I could monitor them and make sure there was nothing inappropriate. With exception of one who found the way to add a password on the room (and was hastily told to remove it or be banned), the kids behaved really well.

Games & More

The end of the first day, a group of the third graders started an impromptu game of pictionary over the video link. They played for a while, and had a blast while doing it. Since then, the video room has attracted more and more of the kids, and they’re always letting people know who dropped in earlier too – the afternoon one of their teachers dropped in was a big hit.

I’ve heard from other grades that they are also enjoying it and, while it is certainly no substitute for the kids hanging out together, it is as close as we’re likely to get over the next few weeks.

Future Ideas

Trying to look into some more things we can do to try to make this less painful for the kids. Missing school was one thing, missing after school sports hit a little harder, but missing time with their friends at the weekend has been even tougher.

Some ideas I’m working on logistics for (not least how to fit this around work):

  • Converting my after school coding class into something I can do via the Jitsi video conferencing system. Might also try to make YouTube versions of this so I can make it more widely available.
  • Story time for the kindergarteners, again over the video conferencing (with dial in perhaps for people who can’t get into it on a computer or device).
  • Other online services that might provide activities for the kids, especially ones that don’t require screen time. One that falls into that category is Pinna, which has kid-oriented podcasts and audio books. They are also offering a 60 day free trial at the moment with the code PINNA4KIDS.

If you have any other great ideas for keeping the kids occupied, leave them in the comments. Any that we try, I’ll add reviews of here.

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