Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Adding a Little Extra Tech to Our Homeschool (Don't Judge Me...)

Three years ago when we started homeschooling, I would have balked at the idea of employing electronic devices to teach my children.  I had done my reading and planning and we were going to "do school" with hands-on activities, real world experiences, and "living books" (which we would read while sitting next to a babbling brook and eating freshly picked wild fruit, of course.)

Things are a little different now, the most obvious of which is I have two more children than I did when I first dreamed up my dreams, and we've taken a little more "classical" approach to school.  It turns out, my perfect blend of Charlotte Mason/unschool-ish/unit studies doesn't actually work for us.  We still do those nature-y/hands-on/real world things as often as possible (which is fairly often, thankfully)  but they are not the backbone of our homeschool.  They are more like the happy side effect of short lessons (which IS a backbone of our homeschool) and the freedom to set our own pace and schedule.  

A couple years ago, my mom introduced us to the world of the iPad.  I was skeptical at first, but we quickly put it to good use and continue to use them, almost exclusively for school and audio books, daily.  This year I've been even more intentional about including  gadgets and screen time as part of the curriculum.  I really need "help" covering all my bases during lessons time, so I'm not above using technology as a servant.  The kids like it for the variety and I like it because it helps keep the learning humming along even when I'm not sitting next to a child in a one-on-one lesson.   (You don't have to link to any "screen time" articles in the comments, I've already read them and am aware that my children are more likely to be over-tired, obese, violent delinquents with every on-line Latin drill they complete.   I have been informed and have signed the waiver...   Man, can you believe they let people like me have kids???)    

So here's what we've been "using" so far.  Nothing earth shattering, but all very, very helpful to us :)  

Number (1) Most helpful: A new thing I call AUDIO LESSONS.  I put that in caps to emphasize how fabulous this has been so far this year.  It's part of my new homeschool philosophy: "go audio whenever you can."  My mom, who's good at this kind of stuff (thanks mom!) helped me get our curriculum cd's onto our hard drive.  I use Windows Media Center to create new playlists for the boys about once a week.  "Audio Lessons"  is part of their daily schedule.  It's an actual academic "requirement," not fun time at the computer.  

When it's on their schedule they have to listen to their playlist at least once, then review the material with me. They use a headset so that it doesn't disrupt the other lessons going on.  It's really been a game-changer around here because in the past, if I was working closely with one boy, the other one would often just wander around being distracting.  Now, he's engaged in his "audio lessons."  Dominic in particular learns songs and chants very easily and I believe this is going to be very beneficial to him; already he's learned more than I think he would have if I was just giving him plain old instruction.

Here's an example of Dominic's audio lessons playlist this week:

from the Math U See skip counting/addition facts CD:
     Skip Counting by 2's (both versions)
     Skip Counting by 5's (both versions)
     Addition Facts +8's
     Addition Facts +9's
from Song School Latin (books 1 and 2)
     vocabulary songs from Chapters 3 and 5 (book 1)
     present tense verb endings song (book 2)
     present tense conjugation of esse song (book 2)
     1st declension noun endings chant (book 2)
from First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind: Audio Companion for Levels 1 & 2:
     "The Goops,"  poem by Gelett Burgess
     pronouns chant
     state of being verbs chant
     state of being verbs song

So that's what Dominic's got right now.  Aaron is only listening to skip counting by 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, and 9 at this point in anticipation of starting multiplication around the end of the second quarter.  The lessons change every week - I take off old tracks and put on new ones to include new vocab, math facts, grammar rules, etc...  We'll also use it for poetry memorization as well as some science and geography memorization as well.  

(2) Good ole Old-Fashioned Kindle (I say old fashioned because I recently heard that they are only going to manufacture touch screens from this point on and I really recommend the old ones that are button-operated and aren't connected to the Web.)  

I'm so excited about this, I have to shout it from the mountain tops:  AARON HAS BEEN INDEPENDENTLY READING AND ENJOYING HIS FIRST BOOK!!!!!   I'm talking about the first book that he's reading on his own initiative!!  (but then I chat with him about it to assess/confirm comprehension and call it a lesson.)  Anyway, he's reading  The Boxcar Children on the old fashioned Kindle.  He likes it because it's "cool" and he can hardly believe that I'm letting him do it.  And I like it because he can't accidentally swipe the pages around and get lost or confused and he can't get on-line and ruin his childhood with scary on-line things.  I chose to let him use the Kindle in the first place because when your non-reader hints that he's interested in reading something, you make it happen immediately for $3.21 instead of waiting a few days for a library request to come through...  

Now that I've allowed my first book for kids on the Kindle, I'm wondering if i should consider the Amazon Kindle Unlimited subscription (and just make it official that screens are taking over my children's lives...)  Does anyone know if the Unlimited library has a decent selection of easy reading kids books?

3) Headventure Latin vocabulary drills (coincides with Latin for Children from Classical Academic Press)  So far, this has been hugely helpful to us.  Aaron and I review his vocab together a few times, then he sits down at the computer and does a couple rounds of Latin to English and then vice versa, reporting to me on his scores each time.  Once he gets enough A's, he's done for the day.   (Aaron's in Level B now, and what's available on-line is very limited.  It looks like they'll be adding to each level though.  Level A seems to have many more "fun" activities.)  

(4)  Math U See website drills.   The boys use these occasionally, but I have to admit, they're pretty lame.  I really like the MUS curriculum (and the lessons themselves are on DVD, so that's a bonus to me!)  but what they really need is an iPad/android app that allows students to play math games using the MUS method and order of instruction.  For now, the on-line drills will have to do...  (We also use their on-line worksheet generator a lot.)

(5)  Stuff you already know about - Netflix and Amazon Prime.  But maybe you didn't know how many educational programs are "free" (with membership) on-line.  For example, they have tons of NOVA on Amazon Prime :)  Also, now with Amazon Prime's new free music, you can basically decide in the morning which new classical composer you want to study and then start listening right away!  

(6)  And of course, we're still using the iPads.  I've found a few new-to-me apps that I can recommend: (don't forget, I usually get all these apps for free with the notifications from Smart Apps for Kids)  

Marble Math Jr.  - the boys really enjoy this game that combines math practice with a marble maze.  

Art Authority K-12 - this is going to be a wonderful for our art appreciation this year!  You can view the "gallery" either by artist, or by era/style.  The collection of artwork is very extensive but was assembled with young people in mind, so no nudes :)   I like this app so much I may end up writing about it more when we study our first artist this quarter.  It's worth checking out if you do art study at home and would appreciate having a veritable museum at your fingertips!

Handwriting Without Tears Wet, Dry, Try - if you use HWT curriculum I highly recommend this app.  Because HWT uses non traditional paper and method-specific strokes, etc... my kids often get frustrated when writing or tracing letters in other apps.  They're usually done differently than they had been taught.  It's nice to have an app that reinforces the method they use during lessons.  I also like being able to leave behind the dusty chalk, rags, and slates for the less-dusty iPad :)  

(7) Finally, as I mentioned before, I'm replying heavily on anything else that I can get an "audio" version of.  It's not my ideal situation, but I just don't have the time to read everything that needs to be read out loud.   So, books on CD or Audible?  Yes.  Among other things, we're using Story of the World, Volume 1: Ancient Times Audiobook CD  (Susan Wise Bauer), D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths from Audible (the list of narrators on this production is impressive!!  Paul Newman, Matthew Broderick, Sidney Poitier!)  and Tales From the Odyssey CD Collection  (Mary Pope Osborne).  It's really been a blessing to be able to "do history" while driving in the car.  Both the kids and I are really captivated by it!  I could never read each chapter two or three times, but in the car it's totally reasonable to replay a couple tracks and by the time we get where we're going we all know quite a bit more about ___fill in the blank with your favorite topic using your best dramatic Jim Weiss imitation___.  

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Tech time can never replace real books, activities, and time spent learning through human interaction, but as I have more and more on my plate each year, I'm open to new ideas for making home learning fun and sometimes more feasible.  What ways do you use gadgets, screens, and technology to aid (but not invade!) your homeschool?  

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You might also like to check out...

Thoughtful Apps for Thoughtful Pre-Schoolers


  1. Great ideas!!!

    So I didn't know about many of the Amazon Prime offerings. I need a cheat sheet! And the kindle unlimited sounds great. I have a reader who is non-stop reading, and this would be amazing. Must check into it! Thanks for the great ideas!

    1. Thanks, Gina! I'm still finding my way around Amazon Prime, but I have been using Netflix for the past few years. They have so many good documentaries that are appropriate for kids, especially of the nature/animal variety. If you're in Pinterest, you can search "Netflix for homeschool" and get all kinds of great subject-based lists. As for the Kindle account, one of these days I'm hoping to go search their library to see what the offerings for kids are like. One of these days......

  2. oh man, i'am jealous! we have no gadgets :( no ipad, no kindle...not even headphones! do you have them listen right off your computer? you need to let me know how that playlist works and how you separate what goes with what list. i play the cds on the one cd player we have in the house...but usually the kids are dancing and fooling around and not sure how much they retain! really good ideas though. i wish i could just drop my kids off at your place. you are a way cooler mom than me! very impressed with your creativity.

    1. Yep, the playlists are on the computer, so the headphones are just hooked into there. I've given up on CD players - we've gone through so many of the cheap little ones and now they're getting harder to find for a reasonable price. it truly is becoming a digital world...


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