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learning pods
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Learning pods for NYC students

2020 is presenting a new reality for students. Classrooms are being replaced with learning pods—here's the scoop.

Written by
Danielle Valente
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Even though schools in New York State are permitted to reopen this fall, there's still plenty to square away before September. (Like the first day, for starters.) 

At a time when so much is uncertain, parents are turning to new academic experiences, including learning pods. These micro classrooms assemble a handful of children together in a student's home (or virtually) while a professional educator guides them through their curriculum. Essentially, it's school from your own digs, only parents don't need to step in as teachers. 

We've provided a guide for NYC families who are considering this option. From supplemental and replacement curriculums, to full-time and part-time offerings, this list will provide insight into education's newest trend. Whether your children are learning in-person, remotely or a combination of both, we wish you a safe start to the new term.

And when you—or your child's educator—need a breather, we'll keep the little ones entertained with daily storytimes, with help from the New York Public Library. 

Learning pods

The brainchild of Portfolio School, Hudson Lab School and Red Bridge School, Learning Pods allow pre-K and elementary school students to receive an in-person experience without stepping foot in the classroom. Rather, a student's home becomes the new site for full-time learning. One educator is paried with a group of three to nine students  five days per week (9am–11:45pm for pre-school pods, 9am–2pm for elementary pods). Students will still be enrolled in their traditional schools on a remote basis, but teachers will implement a project-based approach to cirriculum. Pricing varies on length of time and the number of students per pod. To learn more, register for the virtual information session on August 14 at 8am. 

An alternative to a traditional learning experience is the SchoolHouse program, which is considered a "micro school" that can take place at a student's home or a local community space. A teacher is assigned to a group of four–eight students who are participating in either an enrichment curriculum (three days per week, four hours per day starting at roughly $10,000 per year) or a complete school replacement (five days per week, five hours per day starting at roughly $14,000 per year). Educators come from prestigious public, private and charter schools and will work to make the curriculums flexible for the group, whether that means exploring a STEAM or Montessori approach or any other style that is suitable to the children.

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For supplemental or replacement curriculum options, Varsity Tutors offers remote online pods for up to 15 students of all grade levels. Taking the digital experience a step further, the program uses a live learning platform to keep kids engaged with each lesson. Call 888-888-0446 for questions about pricing. 

FunFit Kids is offering pod support for pre-k and elementary school groups that are already in place. Have an issue with your instructor? Curious about extra curriculars? Need to attend to HR matters? This group's got you covered. Call 646-580-3758 with any questions. 

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An online warehouse for everyone—families, teachers and schools—Selected pairs professionals to the appropriate learning pods. Over 1,200 schools are available on the site and include district, charter and private schools from pre-K to 12th grade. 

More fun for kids

The goofball science podcast Wow in the World is jam-packed with comedy and information. Hosted by Mindy, a klutz with a time machine, and Guy, her uptight foil, ‘Wow in the World’ takes on serious scientific inquiries and makes learning fun – even for parents. After all, the podcast is from NPR, a standard-bearer in excellence. The expanding cast of silly characters, led by Reggie, the carrier pigeon, keeps the episodes fresh, and it won't take more than a few listens for your kiddo to dream of being a Wowzer too.

Perfect for the budding feminists in your life, ‘Girl Tales’ is a long-running podcast that reimagines fairytales – popular, obscure, and made-up for the show – through an empowering lens. Don't expect any helpless damsels in distress in this likeable series, which is all written by female, non-binary and trans authors.

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Perfect for curious kids who aren't afraid to turn off their nightlight, ‘Unspookable’ offers a family-friendly take on popular urban legends, scary stories and myths (think clowns, vampires and other topics that'll give 'em the heebiejeebies). Whether your littles are camp-bound or in the Halloween spirit 24/7/365, this is the perfect podcast for budding horror fans.

A debate show for kids and families from the makers of Brains On!, ‘Smash Boom Best’ takes two ideas, smashes them together and lets you decide which one is best. It teaches critical thinking, as well as how to take oppositional viewpoints. It also is a lot of fun. Past topics include Aliens vs Robots, Pizza vs Tacos and Invisibilty vs Flying.

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Indoctrinate your tykes with this lo-fi weekly playlist of ‘indie music for indie kids’. Not only will children enjoy starting the day listening to music made for kids, but parents will be delighted to discover that age-appropriate tracks from some of their favourite bands routinely make the cut. Why not off start the day (dancing) on the right foot? (NB; it certainly helps if you have a healthy appreciation of They Might Be Giants, who invariably feature heavily).

If you have a budding scientist on your hands, then ‘Tumble’ is an absolute must. Experts in various fields stop by to discuss their work and ask questions guaranteed to inspire curious minds. With a stated mission to explain the process of science rather than simply working through a series of well-worn, long-proven theories, the ‘Tumble’ podcast aims to make your kids fall in love with science.

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‘Five Minutes with Dad’ is not unlike the conversations that might happen in your family. Listeners will enjoy how this father and his two kids tackle everyday issues, from staying positive in school to losing a tooth to showing appreciation for your relatives. Host Nick Pavlidis (the dad) and his school-age co-hosts Pavlos and Angela are as charming as they are relatable. Despite the moniker, the episodes are more like 20 minutes long.

Here is how ‘Story Pirates’ works: kids supply the ideas and the characters, and then they’re polished – but not too much – into performable form. While the stories are excellent and silly, the performances are the real fun. The tales tend to be read by comics, but some of the celebrity guests are truly memorable, including megastars like Julie Andrews and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

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Do your kiddies have a burning question about the world that you personally don’t have a clue how to answer? Perfect! Send 'em in to ‘Brains On!’, a show that each week finds a different expert to address the wildly esoteric sense of curiosity that kids possess. Anything from the existence of the multiverse to whether dogs know that they are dogs has been covered! There are no boundaries here.

Take a sci-fi trip with Finn Caspian, his friends and their pet robots as their hurl through space aboard the Famous Marlowe 280 Interplanetary Exploratory Space Station. Kids will delight in the crew’s misadventures as they explore strange planets, meet aliens and gather feedback from listeners on where their intergalactic journey should take them next.

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Storyteller Eric James O'Keefe turns kids questions into wacky scenarios in ‘What If World’. If your tots are inquisitive, send in their questions and let the fun unfold! The scenarios are typically gloriously unmoored from reality: think ‘what if a doughnut had abs and liked to work out?’ or ‘what if it started raining elephants?’ It might just happen, so it is best to be ready.

When eyelids get heavy, tuck the kids into bed and select the perfect adventure on ‘Story Time’. The flagship podcast on Bedtime FM isn’t complicated: these 20-minute-long episodes each tell a story, often narrated by the author. They’re perfect for the end of the day and are split up according to age brackets, ranging from pre-school to preteen.

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It is a truth universally acknowledged that kids almost constantly need to calm the heck down, both for their well-being and that of everybody else. ‘Peace Out’ – the sister podcast of ‘Story Time’ – offers the perfect solution. Youngsters can learn all about the subject of mindfulness as they are guided through activities, relaxing stories and breathing techniques, paired with interest piquing topics such as descriptions of sea creatures.

When it’s time to boogie, start up this musical show for fun ‘kindie’ tunes that’ll have kids shaking out the sillies. Each playlist contains two hours of music, which is also perfect come birthday party time. It is very much focussed on the subgenre of indie written especially for children – but it turns out that’s a surprisingly large body of work.

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With a touch of humour and a side helping of curiosity, ‘Short & Curly’ focuses on ethics while exploring topics in pop culture, tech and everyday life. It sounds a bit haughty, but this Australian podcast is a pretty clever take on the classic kids asking questions theme. Some previous episodes include, ‘was Robin Hood right? Should you rob the rich to help the poor?’ and ‘what's the point of a school uniform?’ We've all asked those questions, in fairness. 

Wind down at the end of the night by tucking in, turning on the nightlight, grabbing a teddy and listening to original content from ‘Little Stories for Tiny People’. Think of this podcast as a bedtime story in audio formThe oft animal-based stories are aimed at younger kids, though they tend to have blessedly chunky running times, usually around half an hour.

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Tweens looking for new books to add to their collection will find new ones to dive into after listening in on this biweekly podcast. They’ll hear other kids chatting about a great story, along with other literary recommendations and celeb guests who will read an excerpt from the week’s chosen title. This American podcast roughly corresponds to US middle grade, ages eight to 12.

Calling all fans of 'Stranger Things'; this one is for you! The Peabody Award-winning podcast that is appropriate for middle-grade students uses a cast of actual middle school kids to tell the tale of an 11-year-old boy who goes off in search of his missing buddies. The series wrapped up in 2019, but if you are new to it, then you’re in for a treat: just start from the beginning!

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Adorable nine-year-old Eva Karpman and her mom Olga interview celebrities, entrepreneurs, award-winners and experts in a variety of industries to answer questions and encourage kids to dream big. It can be a little cheesy, but the interviews are always well worth it.

It is storytime all the time. Circle Round takes folk stories from across the world and adapts them to a modern tale for little listeners. Get ready to swoon: This podcast has been recorded with ‘Stranger Things’ star Noah Schnapp, among other notable entertainers, so you know you are going to be in good company. 

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Chompers
Photograph: Gimlet

Chompers

Successfully enforcing the two-minute tooth-brushing time is the holy grail for most parents, a near-mythical achievement rarely realised. ‘Chompers’ is a twice-daily podcast designed to help with that by providing precisely two minutes of fun, varied content each time, with the idea obviously being that little ones will brush continuously throughout.

You’re Dead To Me
Photograph: BBC

You’re Dead To Me

Older kids will love Greg Jenner’s history podcast for the BBC, which sees the Brit comic plus guests offer a very alternative look at history. Subjects are a mixture of out and out irreverence – a history of high heeled shoes, a history of ice cream – to subjects you’re unlikely to come across in school: the Battle of Salamis, Rameses the Great.

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Live from Mount Olympus
Photograph: Onassis Foundation

Live from Mount Olympus

This thrilling co-production from legendary NYC avant-garde theatre company The TEAM offers a technically sophisticated but invariably fun theatrical romp through the great Greek myths, aimed squarely at tweens. The show is hosted by gossipy deity Hermes, aka Tony-winning actor André De Shields.

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