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Homeschooling with Your Computer

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By Clay Hougland

One of the most frequent requests I receive from those who are considering homeschooling their children is one for information about homeschooling with your computer. Many are looking for a complete program that will supply all the educational needs of their children with little parental responsibility beyond what parents might think of as normal school homework type help. I think there are two reasons parents turn to a computer curriculum, a belief that they lack the skills or knowledge to educate their children properly and a lack of time to spend educating their children.

Often parents feel their children are not receiving the best education possible in the public schools or they fear an actual threat to their child’s safety. All too often it is working parents that must deal with a child whose behavioral problems at school have kept him from learning or even caused him to be removed from school. They are looking for an easy solution and hope that the computer will be the technological wonder that supplies the answer to all their child’s educational needs. Unfortunately, computer curricula are not the answer.

Children need to learn in a variety of ways. While some may be able to learn well by reading computer text and participating in computer simulations, most children need hands on learning to cement concepts and skills as working knowledge. Computers will never take the place of interaction with other people. Although homeschoolers have exposed many of the common myths about the need for peer socialization, children do have a need to interact with others. Homeschooling works so well because homeschooled children have a higher level of interaction with adults. Children need to discuss what they are learning and in homeschooling they do that with their parents and siblings. They also need to hear their parent’s ideas and opinions as a basis for exploring their world.

Computer curricula should be seen at best as a starting point or baseline of study. The type of software packages that provide all you need for a particular grade level are often just workbooks with a few buzzers and bells added. Discussion, reading books, work with math manipulatives, and experimentation with scientific principles should still be a major portion of a child’s learning. Homeschooling does not allow you to move from one expert "the school" to another "the computer curriculum" to shoulder the responsibility for your child’s education. Parents need to be able to determine if their child is truly grasping concepts or just remembering answers to fill in a computer test. A computer program can tell you that your child scored 20 % correct on their punctuation skills evaluation, but it cannot tell you why. It also cannot determine if those skills are being used correctly in the child’s own writing.

There are, however, some ideal computer programs. Bright and lively math software can keep a child happily practicing his math facts, and the number and quality of programs like Logical Journey of the Zoombinis for developing thinking skills is outstanding. These programs can be purchased separately at your local computer store or in the EHO Homeschool Resource Center.

For those willing to spend large sums of money, it is possible to do school online. The Distance and Education Training Council Online (http://www.detc.org/ )website gives a list of accredited online schools. The EHO Directory has listings for Online Schools and Classes and Distance Learning and Correspondence Schools. Most of these schools are for high school level students. Some offer a complete package, while others allow you to integrate their classes into your own course of study. These schools often charge as much as a local private school would charge. Online classes provide some of the elements missing from other computer curriculum packages. Students in online classes can interact with each other and the teacher. Instruction often includes non-computer activities such as reading books, writing essays, or conducting experiments. Lab write-ups and essays can be submitted to the teacher by email. Reading assignments can be discussed during online class time.

Computers are a great boon to homeschoolers. They can provide access to many learning opportunities, but they should never be considered the complete solution to curriculum needs. The amount you choose to use your computer will be determined by what you can afford and whether it enhances you children’s learning experiences. Traditional methods are still many times the best and most cost effective way to learn.

Product and brand names used in this article are the property of their respective owners. The absence of a service mark or trademark symbol in connection with the marks identifying products or services does not indicate the absence of registration of those marks.

Copyright ©  2004  Eclectic Homeschool Association

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