I have, on occasion, considered homeschooling. I believe that an education is most powerful when kids can learn by following their own interests, and also by putting their learning into use. I also think that our traditional classroom environments stifle kids’ creativity and their nature curiosity. But, for now, and for our family, the benefits of the public education system outweighs the benefits of switching. That doesn’t mean that I leave all of their learning for the classroom, though. We focus at home on topics that are lacking in their current school day. And using apps is a great way to integrate fun into the learning process, as well as to help with subjects that I either don’t know or don’t feel confident teaching alone.
I was asked awhile back to do a compensated campaign with Verizon Educational Tools, an app and subscription service that helps parents find quality apps and video to support and reinforce subjects, as well as to help with organization and time management. While this is not the only resource available to parents who are looking for great apps, it ties nicely in with the idea of using the technology you already have in the home to enhance your kids’ learning, especially if you, like me are a “part-time homeschooler.”
STEM at Home
One of the biggest areas that I think my kids miss out on in the classroom is STEM, and specifically technology and engineering, as science and math have a strong focus. They have a class in the computer lab, but I think they actually use (ahem, waste) it typing poems and the like. Yawn. So, we have plenty of activities here at home based on circuits, building/design, physics, and such. But apps are also wonderful ways to learn and experiment on topics that are not practical to do at home.
Through Verizon Education Tools, I found a couple of fun apps for working on STEM activities. Here’s my favorite so far:
Lightbot Apps (Android, iOS) – This collection of apps teach kids (and adults) to think like a programmer by asking them to navigate a robot through a cubical terrain, lighting up certain cubes as they go. The instructions are symbolized by simple things like an arrow for forward, right, and left, and a spring to jump. You have to enter all of the instructions at once and then send the Lightbot on his way. If he succeeds, you move to the next level. If he doesn’t, it’s back to square one (literally). There are free and paid versions of the app, so you can try it out and see what you think.
Language Learning at Home
I am frustrated by the lack of foreign language integration in the younger grades at public schools. Even if kids learned simple vocabulary and songs in a language throughout their elementary school days, they would have a strong platform for language learning as adults. Since there’s nothing (not even an after school option) in our current school, we decided to work on it at home. The problem? I don’t speak another language well enough to teach it to my kids. I’ve been on the hunt for apps to help us with that. Best so far?
Duolingo (Android, iOS) – This free app is a great way to practice vocabulary and some grammar in 8 languages with more on the way. It’s not the perfect app for kids – it’s not really a priority for my kids to learn the word for wine! – but it’s fun and it has been helping me remember some high school Spanish as well. It uses lots of pictures, ties in the microphone for pronunciation, and helps you set goals for your practice.
Tips for Picking Great Apps for the Part-Time Homeschooler
There are plenty of other topics you might want to work on at home to enhance your kids’ curriculum. Maybe you want to focus on the history and culture of your ancestors. Or perhaps a music education is important to you. Or art history. Either way, there’s no reason for learning to stop in the classroom and apps can’t help you get the job done. Just seek out quality apps to ensure the best learning experience.
1. Look for apps with no advertising which is distracting and inappropriate for kids. You may need to pay a few dollars, but it will be worth it for the quality experience.
- 2. Make sure the content and controls are appropriate for their age. Test it out yourself.
- 3. Do some spot-checking to make sure the app content is correct. There are plenty of apps out there with false information, gross misspellings, and poor grammar. Those aren’t the lessons you want to teach!
Resources like the Verizon Educational Tools app and service have done some of the homework for you in terms of quality control. Clear reviews by qualified people can help you narrow down your options and make the best choices for your kids and family. And of course, sometimes I share some favorites on here, as well!
Disclosure: I am part of a compensated campaign with Verizon Educational Tools. All opinions and reviews are my own.