When I was growing up, my homeschool materials were essentially limited to the books that we could obtain.
If I were really lucky, I might be able to get a poorly-produced educational video or cassette tape. That was about it.
In striking contrast, we homeschooling parents now have a plethora of academic riches, and as the technological advances continue, the argument to homeschool only becomes stronger. The opportunities increase daily, and I wanted to just share a few of the resources that we have been using lately.
I plan on writing about some of these over the next year both in print and online, but I wanted to start by encouraging homeschooling parents to purchase an essential homeschooling tool: an Ipad.
You can buy an iPad for about $400 to $500, and while that may be a hefty sum for many parents, I urge you to consider it. In fact, if you can afford to, I would recommend buying several.
Besides the iPad, there are many other choices for tablet computers. Three attractive choices are the Kindle Fire (priced from $159 to $269), the Samsung Galaxy Tab (priced from $179 to $349), and the Google Nexus (priced from $199 to $499).
The difference in pricing for the various models of iPads and other tablets is due to different amounts of internal storage and also whether they offer wireless internet through regular phone networks.
Models which offer phone-network internet not only cost more, but also will require you to set up a data plan with a monthly charge. Unless you really know what you want, buying a lower-priced “wifi only” tablet with the minimum storage available is probably the best way to go.
It is also a good idea to investigate which apps and services are available on each tablet, as some apps are exclusive to certain tablets.
Once you have your tablet computer, you will need “apps” to run. I recommend the following apps and sites. It’s not an exhaustive list, but it’s a start.
1. Google Earth
Learning geography from a book is fun, but never as fun as using Google Earth. This program allows you to see an actual photo of the entire planet and zoom in to any address or region in the world.
For those of you who are not familiar with this program, you will probably believe that you read the last sentence incorrectly. You didn’t. I was using this program with Philomena the other day, and we looked up her grandmother’s house and the burial place of Jesus.
As we did so, the program zoomed out from California, and we watched the earth turn until it arrived at the new spot, and then zoomed in on the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. It’s incredible—and free.
An MIT graduate and hedge-fund manager named Salman Khan began producing videos and sending them over the internet to instruct his cousin who lived far away.
What began as a tutorial to one person became a gift to the world. The slogan of Khan Academy is: “A free world-class education for anyone anywhere.” They’re on the way.
Khan Academy has over 4,000 videos covering math, economics, chemistry, astronomy, civics, and more. Its mathematics section begins with “1 + 1” and goes all the way through calculus. My children use it all the time, and they love it.
The students can learn at their own pace, and even practice their lessons on the iPad’s touch screen.www.khanacademy.org
Did I mention it’s free?
3. iTunes U
If your idea of the perfect school would be assembling the best teachers in the world in the convenience of your own living room, iTunes U (available only on Apple devices) comes pretty close.
In Apple’s desire to make education accessible to their users, iTunes U (University) offers a wide array of online classes and lectures. There are hundreds of thousands of downloadable lectures from colleges ranging from Princeton to Christendom to Ohio State University, and most of them are free.
With this application, you can take a class in Financial Markets from Yale, followed by a Probability course from Harvard; in the afternoon, you can hear a lecture from Dr. Warren Carroll, and finish up your day with a class in chemistry from Ohio State—all from the comfort of your living room in your robe and slippers.
Rhapsody is a music subscription program that costs about $10 a month, and while it doesn’t have every musical piece ever recorded, it’s close. I showed this to my mom and dad the other day at dinner, and they couldn’t think of a song that I couldn’t play for them.
If you are teaching your children classical music, this is a pretty good learning tool. (Please keep in mind that some of the music on the site is objectionable, so you will have to monitor use.)
Ebooks (electronic books) provide access to the world’s great literary classics, most of which are available for free. (Actually, I paid 99 cents for St. Thomas’ Summa.)
The beauty of it is you can transport thousands of books in a little electronic device. What more to say? That’s pretty cool.
When I think back to the days of being a homeschool student, and then consider what is available for my own children, I begin to feel a little jealous. It’s not fair.
The good news is that the job of homeschooling as a parent has gotten much easier just in the past year or two. There are hundreds of apps that you will find beneficial for your children. You can determine which are best for your family, but whichever ones you decide upon, you will find a tablet computer to be a fantastic addition to the homeschool assortment of tools.
Besides the great things computers offer, they also offer plenty of bad. Be sure to monitor your children’s computer use.
As I mentioned, in the following months, I am putting together a resource on the Seton homepage to direct parents to apps and sites that will help with the homeschooling process. If you have suggestions for me, please email me your ideas. I look forward to hearing from you.