A few weeks ago, I asked friends on a forum I frequent if any of them use blogs, websites, or other things like that as part of their curriculum for homeschooling. Of the responses I recieved, not one was a resounding "YES!" Several folks said they had thought about it, but nobody had really committed to it.
Well, I am here to tell you that I have fully committed to using computers and the internet for a HUGE chunk of our homeschooling curriculum this year. Let me list for you the ways we are using them this year, and perhaps you will be inspired.
I am going to focus on how I am using the computer with my older homeschooling student, Tex (age 13):
- My oldest homeschooler likes doing his math on the computer. Last year, we used Teaching Textbooks and he LOVED it. This year, we reviewed America's Math Teacher, on online math tutoring program, and he liked that, too. We still have a few weeks left of that math subscription, then we will re-evaluate where he is and decide where to go next. He also uses IXL or to Cool Math Games to do some daily math practice. IXL allows you to do twenty problems a day on any level without becoming a member, so he can practice whatever he feels he needs to improve. Cool Math Games is geared more towards fun. He also did his writing practice on the computer, as part of a review we wrote about an online writing program called Time 4 Writing (read about it HERE) recently. He discovered that he prefers to type his papers rather than hand write them, and will write more when he can type. I think that is good to know!
- Last year, I set up two free websites for him to post reviews he writes about books and movies. One is called The Reading Room and the other is called The Screening Room. Because of the Crew reviews, we haven't had much time to add to either this school year, but he has hopes to keep developing them later in the year. He even inspired a public-schooled friend of his to start a book blog! Having his thoughts "out there" inspires him to write a better quality piece, I think. He is learning quickly to write for an audience and to defend his ideas in a rock solid way (because people can check up on you using the internet, too!) I think it's a good way to establish a goal and develop student interests. Why not have fun while practicing our English skills, instead of just doing dry grammar exercises in a workbook?
- This year, I set up a blog for Tex to help me keep track of his weekly work (it is private, so I cannot share the link). He was doing a lot of our Review Crew stuff online anyway, and I figured being able to access the direct links to his coursework from one place would be a good thing. It also provides a place for me to write what I expect of him, and to post reminders about what is due or happening each week. That doesn't mean that I don't have to talk to him and check on his work...it just means that we are trying to be more organized about it. He still has to write down his accomplishments in our weekly planner (in case I ever have to defend what we did in a week to an official), and he keeps a list of the books he has read in that planner, but he is enjoying setting up a "Shelfari" online (it is a gadget that looks like a bookshelf and shows pictures of books you have read and/or liked) and has a good time finding links to add to the sidebar of his blog.
- For my own accountability, I have arranged on my blog a list of memes that we are trying to participate in this year with some regularity. We are really enjoying this. It is keeping us focused on accomplishing certain things that previously got set aside in favor of "more important" subjects...things like nature study and art. By having a deadline (each meme is different...some have linkys that stay open for a while, whereas others close within a day or a week of posting the topic), we are motivated to produce the work and get it posted on our blog. Then, we have the payoff of not only seeing it on our own blog, but of seeing it out there in cyberspace on someone else's blog...and sometimes get comments from other folks about it. I guess it fills the one need they were missing out on by homeschooling...having someone other than Mom seeing their work. The kids' current favorites are: Lego Quest, Outdoor Hour, Nature Study Tuesday, Sketch Tuesday, and Walls of Art Wednesday. We also started one of our own, a geography meme, called Where in the World? Wednesday. Having to come up with a post for that is inspiring us all to look up information and find fun links about the states we are learning about. It's a good thing.
- My son is helping with the photography, editing, and technical management of our blog, site, and computers. This is helping him learn skills that are easily translatable into jobs later on in life. He helps find links for the Homeschool-for-Free site, and is my "review partner" for the Homeschool Crew items I review on my blog. This is helping him to learn about accountability and deadlines. He is learning to proofread (he is actually spotting my typos now!) and is gradually tackling web design. He also already fixed one of our computers this year (it was BAD) and is going to check my laptop out this week (sometimes it sounds like a helicopter getting ready to take off....yikes!)
- Another current interest of his that uses computers is stop-animation. We looked up (together) some funny Lego animation videos and he was inspired enough to ask for an animation kit for his 13th birthday last week. He has been watching the mail every day, waiting for that thing to arrive...it is late. He is going nuts. He already has plans for his first movie, and has arranged for friends to come over on the weekend to help him film it.
- We use the computer for typing practice. Tex uses Dance Mat Typing.
- We LOVE our books, but we also enjoy using the computer to access news articles, magazines, and other print materials. You can see a nice selection of sites that offer free books on my Reading Links Page. Tex likes taking quizzes about books he reads on Book Adventure and my little ones LOVE playing on Starfall (helps develop reading skills).
- We LOVE audio books (sites such as Librivox and BooksShouldBeFree and My Audio School are awesome!). Listening to a more difficult selection can make digesting it easier, and it offers a nice alternative to TV...you can listen while you do housework, crafts, or put together a puzzle. You will find more links on my Audio Links Page. Many of these can be downloaded onto an iPod or similar device, to be listened to while a child is playing, doing chores, or on long car rides. HomeschoolRadioShows is nice for a change of pace, and of course, Adventures in Odyssey and other Christian audio shows (find out more links on my site's audio links page). You can listen to the Bible online, too.
- Gotta love Netflix, especially the Instant Streaming feature. This month, they added a bunch of National Geographic and Imax-type specials that I can't wait to see. Already, we have watched The Amish, A People of Preservation to go with our study of Pennsylvania. We have a dozen more lined up for the next few weeks. We also use Netflix as an occasional diversion for the little ones when I need concentrated time with my oldest student. Currently, Liberty's Kids is on Instant Streaming (it's about the Revolutionary War), and they have been watching those in order. There is a fee for this service, though. If you want to watch something educational, but free, you can try The Homeschool Channel for a variety of quality educational programming.
- We have used LessonPathways for finding some interesting links in specific topic areas...and it is now FREE!! It offers pre-screened lesson plans (with links to information and activities) for many levels of students in many subjects. LP does require registration.
- We also love sites like DonnaYoung for printables (like scheduling, chore, and handwriting sheets), CurrClick for freebies, and Lapbook Lessons for lapbooks (mostly used with the younger kids). You can find more links to internet options on my site, homeschool-for-free.
- The internet is an almost limitless resource for homeschooling materials, many of them free. We also visit Homeschool Freebie of the Day regularly for an endless variety of fun free stuff. Blue Behemoth also offers daily freebies. Registration is required.
- We use our computer to learn languages. Currently, we have Rosetta Stone, which the children enjoy. Recently, I have been having fun "grading" assignments (as a native speaker of English) on LiveMocha, a free online language learning program, to earn points towards free stuff. You can hear others speak their language, type in your responses, and even hear their spoken comments about your recorded answers.
- There are lots of fun and educational games online that I allow my kids to play when their regular work is done, or if we need a break from our usual routine. The educational games also come in handy when someone is not feeling well and needs a break, or if we have inclement weather and are trapped inside for long periods of time. Some of our favorites are listed under Our Curriculum Links on our website, or on individual subject pages.
- We like Mark Kistler's Mini-Marshmallow lessons and online video classes for art. We bought a three-year membership for the family for under forty dollars through the Homeschool Buyer's Co-op. All of the kids (who are old enough to draw) have enjoyed this purchase. Mark makes art lots of fun. Other art links (all free), are available on my site, homeschool-for-free.
- Of course, the internet is invaluable when researching topics of almost any nature (as long as the research is supervised). A recent review I did of LanSchool offered a viable option for monitoring his research from a remote location (check out my review HERE). All the kids enjoy checking out links. It's like a treasure hunt online. You can find almost anything online with Google (but we are always monitoring online activity)...from art lessons, to math, to how to play the guitar, or how to blow up a roll of toilet paper...it's on there.
- Access to the library stacks using the internet is great. The bookmobile comes to our house, so all we have to do to get the books we want is to go online, find them at our library, order them using our card number, and wait for them to arrive!
- Email is a nice tool for keeping in tough and for practicing letter-writing skills. Tex hasn't done a ton with email, but it is there as an option, and along with typing, he will be learning how to write business letters (an email to complain about why his animation program did not show up in 3-5 days, asking for a refund of the priority shipping fee!), thank you notes (to his grandparents who babysat his siblings so I could take him to lunch on his birthday), and friendly-letters (to his friends).
- Word Processing programs help teach English grammar, spelling, and punctuation. I love the feature that autocorrects...incorrectly, if you are not careful! He has already experienced the fact that you can't just choose the first thing that comes up. You have to pay attention to what you are doing and what you are trying to say (or spell). You can also learn desktop publishing using your computer as you write papers for classes, or produce a family newsletter, or make a photo collage, etc. The possibilites are endless.
- Of course, I have to admit the use of non-online computer games, if I am being completely honest. I do try to keep the games in the justifiably "educational" range...sort of. Tex likes Civilization IV at the moment, and other games like that that remind me of the board game Risk. I used to make him tell me something about each of the time periods he entered or personalities he encountered, but he's gone through them now, and has learned something from the game. It is interesting to talk to him about strategy, too. The little ones like Reader Rabbit, Putt-Putt, and Freddie Fish. These educational and problem solving games serve to occupy them if I need focused time with my older student.
- Speaking of strategy, we do have a computer chess teaching program that is good for learning critical thinking skills. I think that counts as school. We do other thinking skills sorts of things online by visiting our site, HERE.
- How about programs like Paint and Photoshop, that help you alter photos or make your own designs? That's useful and counts as school, too. You can find many "how-to" tutorials for these things for free online, if you look.
- Tex's dad has been teaching him to use Outlook to keep track of his schedule. He emails what he is doing to his dad, who can participate in his school day from work via email. That's kind of neat, and I think organizational skills and accountability are two of the most important things we teach.
- We do NOT currently have a textbook or curriculum we are using from online, BUT there are many available. You can find many listed at my site, homeschool-for-free, especially in the science and spelling sections.
- We use the internet to stream audio and video sermons for our family Bible studies. I do a series of posts called Sermon Sunday at my blog that I sometimes have Tex use during his Bible time.
- We LOVE using YouTube to look up demos of experiments we'd like to do, songs done with ASL, hymns, and educational clips on artists, musicians, and more. You can even take entire classes using YouTube, from places such as MIT. As far as YouTube goes, I recommend, creating an account, then making playlists of the various things you find, such as "Music," "Art," "Science," and "How to Play the Guitar." It will make accessing what you like a whole lot easier, and help you avoid looing at junk you don't want your kids to see during school time.
I could probably think of more, but this list is getting kind of long, so I will stop here. As you can see, your computer can be a really useful tool in your homeschool...when used judiciously and safely. As with anything, too much of a good thing can lead to trouble, so reading print books, playing outside, and doing some honest hard work can balance out computer use and ensure it remains a positive learning experience.
I am looking forward to seeing how others use computers in their classrooms.