Web Sites Help Kids Heading Back To School

If you have kids getting ready to go back to school, you both might want to go online, first.

On The Early Show Thursday, Regina Lewis, AOL's consumer adviser, suggested several sites to help students of various ages, and their parents, prepare for the new school year.

Among others, the ones she showcased help elementary school students combat summer's "brian drain" and help them study and do homework, aid high schoolers seeking to quell back-to-school anxiety, and assist college students in textbook comparison shopping.

Lewis gave co-anchor Maggie Rodriguez a primer:

How common is it for school-aged kids to forget some of the skills they've learned over the summer? Teachers spend four to six weeks at the beginning of each year re-teaching material that students forgot over the summer. Writing, spelling and math skills are all impacted by summer learning loss, and younger children are more susceptible to losing those basic skills.

But there's no shortage of educational sites geared toward children. The key is finding the quality ones. A good one for elementary-age kids is www.funbrain.com. FunBrain's learning drills have names such as "Math Arcade" and "Math Baseball"; there are "MadLibs" to develop vocabulary and reading skills, and memory-match games.

One of the plusses to using the Web to get the kids back on track for school is that it's a little more engaging and interactive than opening up a book. The Web can also add a fun factor.

How long should kids spend on these sites? If you spend 15-20 minutes once or twice a day with your elementary-age child, that's plenty to get them back in the learning mode and kind of shake out the cobwebs. Perhaps one session could be math, the next is reading.

As is, kids easily get out of their normal routines over the summer in terms of overall "screen time," between the computer, TV and video games. As a parent of three, Lewis vouches for how hard it is to be conscious on all fronts of the amount of overall screen time kids are exposed to each day.

And the Web can help throughout the school year, not just as a back to school aid.

Homework help online is a big, big category. The online searches light up for "homework help," particularly on Sunday evenings. A good site to bookmark is www.scholastic.com. It actually has a "homework hub" (www.scholastic.com/kids/homework/) that includes a tool for making flashcards (www.scholastic.com/kids/homework/flashcards.htm).

It's usually a good idea to go online with your child to help guide him or her. A lot of the drills, you can do together.

What about slightly older kids who may be apprehensive about the fist day of school?

For some, heading back to school is a stressful time, particularly if they're changing schools. There's peer pressure, the stress of meeting new classmates, not to mention, loads of homework.

A back-to-school survival guide at www.beRed.com offers tips on how to best prepare and psych up for the return to the classroom. There are tips on a number of teen topics, from fitting in on the first day of school to choosing the right friends, to prepping for SATs and getting your homework done. Plus, it offers dating and fashion advice!

There's also a special hub for college freshmen to help them adjust to life away from home.

Of course, a lot of college kids are buying their textbooks online this year and many of them wait until they actually get to school to do it.

The price at the campus bookstore used to be the price you paid and that was that, but that's not the case these days. There's competition.

BestBookBuys.com is a good starting point. It's a textbook comparison shopping site that searches dozens of textbook sellers online. So, start there before you hit the college bookstore, just as you might comparison shop for clothes or backpacks online before you hit the mall. You want to know if you can get a better deal elsewhere. Think of BestBookBuys.com as kind of the PriceGrabber or ShopZilla.com for textbooks.

Textbook sites have grown in popularity. With a single hardcover book sometimes costing in excess of $100 new, if you can save 30, 40, 50 percent, why wouldn't you?

Another factor driving the popularity of such sites is that when students are through with the books at the end of the semester, many of the sites will buy them back. So, you save on the front-end and cash in a little bit on the back-end. And on the buy-back, the sites usually pony up more money than the college bookstore would give you.

The price for shipping is also key with these sites. On most of them, shipping rates are clearly posted right next to the textbook. Your best bets for saving on shipping are: 1) Ordering early: That way you can select a slower, less expensive shipping method; 2) Double up: Order as many books as you can from the same seller, so they can be bundled in the same shipment; 3) Buy local: Choose a bookseller close to your shipping destination.