Sometimes it is just fun to fluff up our pillows, open up the laptop and play some fun, interactive games with my kids. Bonus that most of these free online games are actually educational games. I like this collection of games because they all tend to be tiny adventures or challenges rather than time suckers that can eat up hours of the day. Some of these sites require an account, but all of them are free or have a free option.
Drop us a line if you have some favorite online activities you can do as a family.
Reading, Language Arts & Phonics Games
These two websites combined give us a half hour of reading practice without much effort. Sometimes I can even nap while my daughter goes through the games.
Starfall has been around forever and still has the same great content it had when my college-age daughter was a preschool kid. It is even more useful with my youngest struggling reader. We can use it in small, entertaining doses to practice sight words, phonics and language arts. The Lessons feel like fun games and have been useful in our efforts to get her up to grade level. I have purchased the subscription to the full site, where we have access to additional materials, but we actually use the free material the most. Starfall is completely ad-free (even if you don’t purchase a subscription) and they do not collect personal data.
Age: Starfall offers three levels: (1) kindergarten and pre-k activities; (2) language arts, music, math and seasonal activities for first through third grade kids; and (3) math and English games for kids in Grades 4 and 5. In a world where online advertising and data collection is the expected norm.
Time: I like to choose one phonics unit and spend no more than 10 minutes practicing before we move on to other fun.
A Scholastic program, you need a library card to access Bookflix. All of the Twin Cities metro libraries offer it. While I link directly to the scholastic site above, you’ll need to log in through your own library with your library card when you want to use it. If you are in the Twin Cities Metro, use this MELSA link to select your library and log in.
Age: Bookflix is best for kids aged PreK to 3rd Grade. Bigger grade school kids may like FreedomFlix, ScienceFlix, and TrueFlix, also by Scholastic and available through libraries. None of these are quite as fun but they do offer a wealth of non-fiction information.
Time: We spend about 20 minutes reading one animated fiction book and one read-along non-fiction e-book and then playing a couple games to aid in reading comprehension.
More options for Online Reading Practice
Our library is our best friend for learning to read with interactive content. These are a couple other interactive games offered by at least some libraries:
- TumbleBook Library, offers “[a[nimated story books and chapter books with highlighted text.” Besides story boks, it includes some graphic novels, nonfiction books and videos, puzzles, and games. Best for Kindergarten through 5th Grade.
- Kids Kanopy. Kanopy is like a FREE Netflix through the library for movies and tv series, except the main section is not unlimited. The Kids portion, not only offers unlimited streaming, but many of its offerings are read-along books.
- One More Story. Like Bookflix, choose a picture book from a small “shelf” of books and the play a word-building phonics came and explore vocabulary words used in the book.
Educational Math Games, Puzzles & Critical Thinking Skills
If you’ve never played Set, it is a game of recognizing patterns, an important math skill. This game lends itself to family time really well. Each set card has four features with 3 options — color, symbol, shading & number. You need to match all or none of each feature in a set of three of three cards. The website has an instructional video to teach the basics.
Age: This started as an adult party game. There is a learning curve even for adults, but we found that even a four year old can learn and play with a little help at first.
Time: We own a couple decks for family game nights and family gatherings, but what I love about the daily puzzle is that there is a definite beginning and end. One game with 12 cards is dealt out each day. There are 6 solutions each day. Then you are done. As a family, we usually find all of them within 15 minutes or less. If I’m playing by myself, I don’t always find them all.
The website also offers a daily Quiddler Puzzle and a daily Karma Puzzle, if you want some more challenges.
This website can be useful if you are a good planner. The free account only allows you to play three games a month. I used mine up the first day just testing out the site. With some pre-planning, you can look over your child’s math syllabus and pick three games each month that would complement what they are learning in school that month. Or you can upgrade to premium and let them play. My gut is that my kids would tire of this website fast if I gave them unlimited access, but if I only let them have three games a month, they would enjoy it more.
Age: Games are offered to help teach preschool through 8th Grade common core standards.
Time: Most games can be completed in 3-5 minutes and they are repetitive so kids will tire of them quickly. The free account is perfect for 10-15 minutes of math review per day.
My middle-grader and I love this game, Number Hive can be played against the community, as a private game (as long as each family member has their own device), or cooperatively against the computer. The object is to get four in a row, but you do this by multiplying two numbers, so it is good practice for multiplication facts.
Age: It helps to have a solid grasp of multiplication tables, but with my younger child, I can print the table.
Time: Single games are pretty quick, but it is tempting to just keep going once you start.
Civics, Social Studies & Government
My daughter brought iCivics home as a school assignment but continues to play it both by herself and with the family. There are plenty of games to choose from on this site, we like to play Do I Have A Right, where we get to pretend to be attorneys specializing in constitutional law. These games lend themselves well to a cooperative family game and create discussions about civics while you play. The games are free to play, but you can create an account if you want your games saved.
Age: Choose between games for upper elementary and middle school and high school.
Time: Because these games are aimed at teens and tweens, they take a little longer. Consider a family game night to play iCivics games.
I’d like to keep this list growing. What is your favorite way to turn screen time into family time?