Do you remember the early 2000s?

I remember flying back and forth across the country, packing a candy-bar cell phone, an iPod, a camera, sometimes a laptop, an internet cable, and power cords or chargers for all of them. I also would take a pile of books because books. It was ridiculous. I remember thinking, “You know, someday I’ll have a device that does all this and I’ll only have to pack ONE thing!”

My friends, the future has arrived. A basic Kindle Fire, let alone a smartphone, can do all those things and also talk to the internet magically through the air. In the raging discussion which is kids and tech, I can say that modern technological advancements are a really good thing for our homeschool.

A little bit about why we do things the way we do:

  • First of all: We like computers. They’re fun. My husband and I want learning to be delight-based as much as reasonably possible, and if computers make the girls want to do schoolwork, then yes we will let them. It would be a problem if that meant they couldn’t apply their learning in real life—but they can.
  • Second: People on the internet know things I don’t know. I cannot give my kids hours of watching octopi because we don’t happen to have a giant aquarium—but the internet can. I was baffled by a deponent + ablative of means Latin verb construction the other day, but a resource on the internet helped me figure it out.
  • Third: Websites do a great job balancing self-directed learning with guidance. The girls work on a topic and pursue it as far as their interest holds out, and then they can change directions and explore something else, all while practicing level-appropriate schoolwork. I want them to be life-long learners, and I feel like letting them explore learning online is a better model than training them to expect a teacher to spoon-feed them everything.
  • And fourth: Disclaimers. The girls know which websites they can visit. Our computer is in a public area and there are always sisters hanging around monitoring computer use. They know not to give out personal information or sign up for anything. Also, technology is great, but it’s not the only good thing. So far, it doesn’t crowd out their real life. Our girls both love books and get a balance of screen time and real-life play daily. I’m sure it’s not perfect, but it does seem to be working for our family.

So, to dive into specifics:

We do math with Khan Academy. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a great resource and free. You make a parent account and create connected accounts for your students. Most of their subjects are for older learners, but they have math available starting at foundational counting. Even my preschooler can do the math problems if we help her read the questions. The website awards points for work accomplished which they can use to level up their little dragon avatar, or something. It seems to be very motivational. We do supplement online math with old-school workbooks for the sake of being well-rounded. We like the ones by Kumon.

For nature studies, I’m really excited about my new app, Seek, by iNaturalist. I can point my phone at a plant or creature and it identifies it! I’ve been wishing for an app like this for YEARS. It’s making me extremely happy. I go through life saying things like, “Excuse me, I have to go identify this weed,” and “Red Deadnettle is a HILARIOUS plant name. Red. Deadnettle.” Meg will point out plants that I thought were the same as ones I’d already identified, and it turns out they really are different. Seek keeps track of what you’ve collected and awards badges—sort of like Pokémon Go, I think. It’s classic family entertainment.

Our newest Latin help is from the site Cactus 2000. Meg was getting tired of practicing Latin on paper (though she still has to most days), but she likes this. It’s bare-bones but flexible: with one option, you can type in the verbs you want your child to practice, and it generates a matching exercise with the word, number, and case on one side, and the Latin forms on the other. When you complete them all it pops up an animal picture for a reward. It has so few bells and whistles I thought she wouldn’t enjoy it, but she does. I’ve heard of some other Latin practice websites and plan to start tracking them down.

PBS Kids are masters of semi-educational entertainment, which I appreciate, and many of their online flash games reinforce science topics. They are part of the nationwide STEM push, especially science for girls. Some games have the kids navigate the human body and kill germs, build a device that does a thing, or solve a puzzle. Wild Kratts games introduce them to exotic animals. In Constellation Exploration, the player builds a constellation and then the mythological story behind it pops up. They also have games to practice Spanish or cooking. The exact games available cycle in and out according to what shows PBS has at any time. I wouldn’t use the site exclusively for learning science, but it’s a great broad introduction.

And that’s how we do computers. If you drop by on any given day, you’ll probably find library books spilling off the table, magna-tiles all over the floor, Latin on the whiteboard, My Little Ponies having an adventure, and somebody computing. Welcome to our house.

— Carolyn

Photo Credit: iStock.