With the sudden closure of schools amid the Covid-19 pandemic, districts around the country are scrambling to figure out how to keep millions of students engaged and in learning mode while they’re at home. Challenges abound and vary widely from district to district, including equitable internet and device access, educator training, or a lack of digital materials and resources. Happily, educational companies as well as educational and trade publishers are part of the all-hands-on-deck response, quickly ramping up access to their existing digital resources and support, and also creating new ones to assist educators, parents, and students with distance learning. Here, we present a selection of those efforts.
A number of educational companies well versed in helping schools and districts implement ed tech have stepped up to the plate to extend their services. Britten Follett, executive v-p of Follett School Solutions, notes that her company is in a unique position because its Destiny library management system is the platform of choice for the vast majority of K–12 schools. “It’s designed to connect students with e-books and digital content at school and at home,” she says. “But not every school has a library already loaded with e-books. That is why we’re partnering with Weigl Publishers to offer Lightbox, our PreK–12 interactive e-book platform, and AV2 World Languages, a K–3 e-book program, free to all schools worldwide. These resources are interactive, which gives parents a break, allowing students to independently learn new topics by exploring the multimedia content.”
Additionally, Follett has waived the cost for its current Destiny customers to use Classroom Ready Collections, which are standards-aligned open educational resources (OER) in English language arts, social studies, and science. All of the company’s resources for educators and distance learners have been compiled on the Follett eLearning Resource page, “where it’s easy for customers to get signed up and started,” Follett says.
Educators have been very receptive to this assistance out of the gate. Follett notes that “in the first 10 days of the free Classroom Ready Collections offer, we had nearly 6,000 free licenses activated, which shows educators are taking advantage of it.” And during the first week of the Lightbox-AV2 World Languages offer, 12,000 schools signed up, Follett says.
Mackin Educational Resources, another leading provider of print and digital books for pre-K–12 schools, has launched its Distance Learning Essentials web page providing information on implementing effective distance-learning methods, current health information addressing the Covid-19 pandemic, and free resources and content, activity guides, author interviews, videos, and more. The company is also offering “tremendous discounts” on more than 140,000 e-books, audiobooks, and databases, which can be used in conjunction with its MackinVIA free digital content management system.
The Teach Company, a U.K.-based provider of educational resources and such online publications as Plazoom and Teachwire, has begun building a “home learning platform.” Richard Stebbing, the company’s head of commercial solutions, says the new platform “will host hundreds of free resources from early years through to KS4 [roughly up to age 16 in the U.S.]” He notes that the precise launch time has not yet been set, as “we have seen such demand from the industry that we have expanded the scope of the project to support as many businesses, as well as parents, as best we can.” To support print advertisers, Teach Company has converted school magazine subscriptions to personal ones, mailed directly to teachers’ homes, and “future magazines, as well as our archives, are being made available completely free to anyone wishing access,” Stebbing says. “This means that our content is available to support anyone who needs it, as well as a wider audience for our print advertisers.”
In response to the coronavirus crisis, Capstone has made its digital curricular content hubs PebbleGo and PebbleGo Next, as well as Capstone Interactive e-books, available to schools for free and curated a collection of free printables and educational activities starring favorite book characters. The company debuted a dedicated page of resources for parents that serves up a question of the day, which can be answered by searching in PebbleGo, and a variety of exploratory activities kids can do “around your home and neighborhood.” Amy Cox, associate v-p of marketing at Capstone, says, “This is obviously an incredibly challenging time, but it also reminds us of how wonderful this business is. It’s important to us as a company, as employees, and as members of the community to be able to help in whatever way we can, and the feedback we’ve received from educators has been really heartfelt. We’re inspired to keep figuring out ways to do what we can for them as events continue to evolve.”
Digital learning platform Epic is offering free worldwide remote student access, available by teacher invitation. Educators who use Epic can send invites to their students, enabling those families anytime access—on all devices—to the Epic library of more than 40,000 e-books, audiobooks, and learning videos, through June 30.
Lerner is making its books available for online readalouds for free through June 30. “Our authors and illustrators are also able to read their books aloud online to share with everyone,” says publicity manager Lindsay Matvick. “We have created a Help at Home website and we are continuously updating our blog with free downloads, resources, and videos.” The Help at Home page contains links to a hundreds of e-books grouped by grade level and searchable by various filters, within the Distance Learning Library from Lerner Digital.
“Here at Nomad Press, we’re diving deeper into the services we already provide for our customers, many of whom are schools, libraries, and home schoolers,” says director of marketing Rachel Benoit. “We’re getting the word out about our extensive Learning Center, where parents and educators can find activities, classroom guides, videos, and more.” And, in a move that many publishers of all sizes are making, Nomad has relaxed its permissions policies for use of its published content. “We’ve granted permission to our authors and all educators to use Nomad Press books in ways typically prohibited by copyright laws, including making videos of readalouds,” Benoit says.
There’s probably never been a better time for a virtual field trip or author visit, and the Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration is on hand to help facilitate those educational opportunities. CILC has teamed up with its many content partners to create the CILC Community of Learning, which offers free, interactive livestreamed programs from 9:30 a.m.–3:30 p.m. ET. Each day of the week focuses on a different curriculum, and different sessions are available for students in grades K–6.
Trade publishers take action
Trade publishers of all sizes, from the Big Five to smaller independent houses, have shifted into high gear to curate, create, and make available a broad roster of digital materials for educators, parents, and kids. For most companies, new distance-learning efforts involve expanding the content and activity on their websites and existing social media channels and increasing the frequency of newsletter updates, as well as relaxing the restrictions on posting and sharing audio and video recordings and livestreams of readalouds. Several houses are also hosting a variety of virtual events via their social media channels.
Beyond these strategies, publishers—together with their authors and illustrators—are further exploring how to best engage with, entertain, and support kids and their teachers and parents. Here we present a selection of publishers’ current plans.
According to Beth Eller, senior director of school and library marketing and domestic subsidiary rights at Bloomsbury Children’s Books, her company is “creating new resource materials to support educators, librarians, and families as they look to engage young readers at home.” She adds, “We will be sharing readalouds and extra content, focusing on all age levels from picture book through teen.”
Tonya Agurto, senior v-p at Disney Publishing Worldwide, says, “Across Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, and National Geographic, Disney Publishing Worldwide is creating and curating enriching resources tied to learning, reading, and activities for kids, families, and adults.” In addition to educator guides, activity books, coloring books for all ages, and printable worksheets, she says the company is “collaborating with partners to activate promotions, including offering several e-books for free and encouraging our authors to engage with fans digitally.” Among the digital highlights, Agurto adds, are author Carlos Hernandez’s creative writing workshops and Studio Time with illustrator Ryan Higgins, which will feature drawing lessons and storytime sessions, both on YouTube.
Harper at Home is the new umbrella title under which HarperCollins Children’s Books has organized its established digital resources and fresh content, including a daily programming lineup of authors, illustrators, and Harper staff providing storytimes, activities, and learning tools. The publisher’s individual platforms HarperKids (for the youngest readers), Shelf Stuff (for the middle grade crowd), Epic Reads (for young adults), and HarperStacks (for teachers, librarians, parents, and caregivers) all have their own schedules for virtual events and activities, and updates will be posted on the Harper at Home landing page.
Nellie Kurtzman, v-p of marketing and publicity at HarperCollins Children’s Books, explained her team’s approach: “We already have robust social media channels at Harper, so our first instinct was to use our existing platforms to provide programming to kids, parents, and teachers as they face the challenge of filling up days that were previously occupied by school classes. We immediately moved away from our scheduled strategy to focus on providing comforting and compelling content to fill this void.”
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has taken a multitiered approach, delivering distance-learning efforts from both its education and trade divisions from its education and trade divisions. The new At-Home Learning Resources page offers flexible curriculum access, virtual professional development for educators, and tech support for HMH’s educational platforms (including Waggle and Writable) and other programs.
In addition, HMH has made an initial donation of 65,000 books, with more to come, to partners First Book and Save the Children. Trade division HMH Books & Media has launched the #HomeWithHMH campaign, which has at its core a weekly newsletter containing activity guides, coloring pages, author/illustrator videos. The campaign also directs people to the HMH Books for Young Readers Resource Library of educator guides and other materials.
A roster of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers illustrators will take turns each providing how-to-draw tutorials during the weekly LBYR Draws event on social media via @LittleBrownYR. Other virtual events include a Lunch Bunch Book Club, Dinner and a Movie (and a Book!) every Friday evening featuring live tweets of the movies through @TheNovl for YA and @LittleBrownYR for children’s, and the NOVL CouchFest virtual book festival slated for April 20–24, hosted through LBYR’s YA community NOVL. A repository of activities and guides can be found on the trade and school and library division landing pages.
Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group has coordinated with its corporate digital team to aggregate and share existing downloadable materials to make them easily accessible on a new online resources page, as well as on the MCPG dedicated school and library site.New material across the publisher’s social media channels includes a robust weekly schedule of activities on the Fierce Reads Instagram page, and virtual initiatives like live drawing sessions on the First Second Instagram page, and Friday Snack Time on the MacKids Instagram page.
In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, the children’s divisions of Penguin Random House moved up the launch of their Read Together Be Together family reading initiative, a partnership effort with Parents magazine, which was originally slated to begin this summer. The program was designed as a celebration of “the importance and power of reading with young children,” according to a statement. The #ReadTogetherBeTogether hashtag debuted March 23 and features a series of daily virtual storytimes with award-winning and bestselling PRH authors and illustrators, and celebrity readers. As part of the campaign, Random House Children’s Books and Penguin Young Readers are donating 75,000 books to First Book. @PenguinKids hosts a daily live storytime on Instagram and Facebook and the PRH website Brightly has launched a new Reading Through It Together portal as a source for educational content, teaching guides, and activities all curated by “age and stage.”
Random House Children’s Books now provides daily virtual content for parents and teens via @RandomHouseKids and
@GetUnderlined, respectively, on social media. Highlights include RHCB Art School on IGTV showcasing tutorials from illustrators, Learn from Home Thursdays featuring presentations, and q&as on Instagram Stories and Video Storytime. A resource hub for teachers, librarians, and parents can be found on the Random House Teachers and Librarians website and will be updated regularly with new content.
Media company Rebel Girls, home to the bestselling Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls print books, has kicked off a #RebelGirlsAtHome campaign. The company has released free digital versions of its I Am a Rebel Girl journal and the educational activities typically found at the end of titles of its chapter books. It’s also planning to team up with retailers to offer an educator guide to Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls and chapter book activities on retailer sites and social accounts.
Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing has developed a number of initiatives for kids and resources for parents, which can be accessed via the new Read & Learn with Simon Kids landing page. Lauren Hoffman, v-p and director of marketing and publicity, says, “We want Read & Learn to be a one-stop shop for families looking to incorporate books and interactive storytelling into their schedule, and keep kids engaged beyond their remote-learning school days.”
Among the newest offerings is the Snack & Read Live with Simon Kids live video series, which launched on March 31 and is being hosted three times per week (Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday) at 2 p.m. ET on the Simon Kids Facebook Live page. Kids and parents are encouraged to grab a snack and watch live read-
alouds and activities. Also new is the Read & Learn with Simon Kids video initiative on the publisher’s YouTube channel, which features self-shot videos from S&S authors and illustrators, including storytimes, drawing tutorials, sing-alongs, and other activities.
For older readers, S&S has launched a Riveted by Simon Teen virtual book club accessing the Free Reads available on its Riveted Lit site, which includes an Instagram Live chat about each selection. The first discussion took place on April 3.
At Scholastic, Lauren Tarshis, senior v-p and editor-in-chief/publisher of Scholastic Classroom magazines, says the teams at her company “knew it wouldn’t be useful to simply deliver content without also providing structure.” With that mindset, Scholastic built Scholastic Learn at Home, which she describes as “an entirely free and accessible digital hub for students in grades pre-K–9 and up organized into four daily journeys, one each for language arts, social studies, science, and math. Our hope is that even though students are not getting valuable classroom time, they will still have access to meaningful learning that is so engaging it can be done independently for about two to three hours each day, and that this helps relieve some of the planning burden for the educators and families supporting them.” In addition, Scholastic’s digital book community for kids, Home Base, hosted its first digital book festivals on March 20 and March 27, allowing kids to interact with favorite authors and stories.
How it’s going
Many publishers noted that educators have not been shy about asking for what they need in this challenging time, and that demand has spurred publishers on. “The dedication and creativity of teachers and librarians as they quickly responded to this sudden switch to at-home learning is inspiring,” says Eller, at Bloomsbury. “In the hundreds of content requests I’ve received, teachers shared that they had to leave their classrooms with no opportunity to bring home materials. We’re committed to supporting their efforts with new resources each week through the end of the school year.”
The picture is similar for Random House Children’s Books. “We are doing all that we can to make sure that our readers, educators, and librarians can still connect with our books, authors, and illustrators, and that parents and caregivers are supported as they take on new teaching roles at home,” says Adrienne Waintraub, executive director of school and library marketing. “We have seen an increase in our site traffic and use of materials, and we’ve heard from many teachers that they are very pleased with our open license announcement for classroom readalouds.”
Since its March 13 launch, Scholastic’s Learn at Home site has had nearly 30 million page views. “It’s been an inspiring experience for our team to receive the incredible feedback from parents, grandparents, teachers, and district leaders across the globe,” Tarshis says.
And, laudably, the curation and creation of so many new resources for families and educators has been taking place as publishing company employees have been scrambling to adjust to working from home. “The process of completely overhauling our workflow without notice has been daunting, but our teams have risen to the challenge and we are all feeling energized about our next steps,” says Molly Ellis, executive director of publicity at Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group. “I am also very optimistic that we can use what we learn during this strange time to make our workflow more efficient and creative in the long term. We’re a close-knit bunch, so I think we are all missing the face-to-face interaction we’ve grown used to, but I’m amazed at how quickly everyone is adapting to working together while apart. Plus, there’s something really satisfying about attending important meetings in leggings!”