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Looking for something to do? Websites offer academic, personal enrichment

Streaming TV shows and movies is getting old for those of us sheltering in place at home. Once you’ve seen “Tiger King,” revisited the back catalog of “The Office” or watched another classic Buffalo Sabres game, the mind and body yearn for something else.

For those having more free time than usual, this is a good chance to slow down and rediscover some of the simple pleasures of analog living. Read a book (you may be able to download some from your local library), go for a socially distant walk in nature, commit yourself to a new fitness routine, clean out the garage – you know the drill.

When it’s time to get back online, the web offers so much more than passive entertainment. There are education and training resources to benefit all ages. And many are free, some just unlocked during the coronavirus slowdown.

For the sake of discussion, let’s stipulate there are two kinds of people cooped up at home: Parents of school-age children and everyone else. “Home schooling” is probably an exaggeration of what most parents are doing as their children participate in remote learning. For adults toggling between their own job responsibilities and trying to keep their kids on track, a better description would be juggling sharp axes on a unicycle along the rim of the Grand Canyon.

Complementing the classroom

Several online educational resources offer the promise of relief. First is Khan Academy, the English-speaking world’s premier destination for free and high-quality learning content, presented in YouTube videos. There is plenty for kids to learn and for adults to, let’s just say, brush up on academics. Mystified by Common Core math? Khan has it covered.

The site also has instruction in English language arts, history, science, computer programming and much more.

For the STEM crowd, Prodigy Math and Mystery Science are two standout websites. Prodigy’s free version uses the equivalent of video games to teach math skills with friendly competitions. Mystery Science presents video lessons alongside complementary experiments and other activities.

Learning a foreign language during down time is an appealing prospect for youngsters and adults. The popular app and website Duolingo has 300 million registered users, is free and can launch learners into their choice of more than 90 languages.

Crossover appeal

Individuals who have more free time than usual these days, adults or youngsters, have many choices for self-improvement. In addition to the thousands of free video courses found on YouTube, there are useful sites for pure learning as well as well as training in useful skills.

Learning to code in various web programming language seems like a sure route to securing employment. Codeacademy is a great place to get started, with basic skills lessons that are free, with higher-level courses available for a fee.

Edx and Coursera are two of the giants offering MOOCs – massive open online courses. Leading colleges and universities provide a range of courses, many of them free. Computer science, data science and robotics are among the offerings.

If you’re yearning to pick up a guitar and a smartphone to share your musical talents with the world – and who isn’t these days? – check out the three months of free online guitar lessons offered at With a few weeks of practice you’ll be ready to delight or annoy your friends. Why should Mark Poloncarz have all the fun?

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