Homeschooling in the Digital Age
Back when homeschooling was just starting to take hold again in the United States, there was no such thing as the internet. Nor were there any extensive digital resources that we now take advantage of, sometimes on a daily basis.
In many ways, the various digital aspects of our homeschooling routines are incredibly beneficial and could be used as full-time learning options, but there are pitfalls as well. You can take advantage of this vast “digital wealth” to homeschool your child but, at the same time, we must be cautious in allowing our children indiscriminate access. So, let’s look at both sides of that coin to help keep things in perspective.
Homeschooling with Digital Curriculum and More
As home educators, we’ve come a long way from the days of compiling lesson plans based on a stack of textbooks and workbooks. Now we have vast options for all manner of homeschool teaching styles. Not only can homeschool families put together a great curriculum for non-traditional methods, but many homeschool curriculum providers offer content that can simply be followed online, with few or no printed materials. Your child simply logs on to the provider’s website, completes their lessons, and submits them for a grade.
One of the things that make this a great option is that you can log on as a homeschool parent and view or print out the results to keep in your portfolio or record book. With plenty of options, you’ll find this an easier option than planning everything down to the letter all by yourself for an entire school year.
On the other hand, you can also print out copies of some digital curriculum. This is a great option for the homeschooling family that has multiple children. Instead of buying extra copies of the curriculum and other items, you can simply print out what you need. Because the content is digital, you need only print what you’re actually going to use. Instead of a book that you only use half of, you only need to print the portions you choose and leave the rest behind – in a digital file – not on a shelf or bin.
Homeschooling with Digital Planning
There are plenty of homeschool planners that you can download and work from, right on your computer, laptop, or handheld device. You can use them to plan subjects, keep track of grades and progress, credits, and course descriptions, and even for transcript creation. When it’s time to print information for your portfolio or record notebook, the information is clear and concise, not to mention, very professional-looking.
It’s a great way to keep track of all the assignments you’ve given and whether they’ve been completed, including assignments that might have been done or assigned through a co-op. You can even record the amount of time spent on each one if the planner comes with that option. Some planners are simple, giving you the option to keep minimal records, whereas others are comprehensive, and allow you to record the most minute details. Many allow the option of protection via a password, which means no one will ever “accidentally” click into the planner and accidentally change vital information.
Planners can also do the calculating for you with regard to grades and percentages. This is great for tracking progress and quickly checking to see if there are any trouble spots or gaps in learning. This allows you the option to adjust your plan going forward so that you can cover those gaps quickly and easily, often making up for it in record time.
Homeschooling with Digital Record-Keeping
There is no shortage of digital record-keeping software available for homeschoolers in today’s digital age. You can find programs and apps, both free and paid services, which allow you to keep up with every record form. Grade books, attendance records, lesson plans, portfolios, and more can all be accessed easily, with lots of options for printing hard copies when necessary.
Some homeschoolers are a bit hesitant to make use of these online forms of record keeping. However, with cloud storage available in forms such as Google Drive or Dropbox, your information is safer than it has ever been before. If you’re still apprehensive, you can always backup your information to a writable CD, flash drive, or memory card, all with just a few simple clicks. Cloud backup systems, e.g. Carbonite, work seamlessly and continuously in the background. This form of digital record keeping not only gives you a great “at-a-glance” look at grades and progress but more importantly, it saves you plenty of time for the more important matters of life with your family.
Homeschooling with Free Learning Online
The digital age has also given homeschoolers a wealth of free resources in terms of homeschooling curriculum for learning. Some homeschooling families take advantage of this extremely frugal way to expand learning, while others use it supplementally. Whatever your reason, it’s a great addition. Just look at some of the free options below:
- Khan Academy – This non-profit offers extensive learning options covering subjects such as math, science, humanities, economics, and even test preparation. Since you can log in, your child can not only work at their own pace but fill in gaps in their education as well, all while keeping track of everything right there online. Khan Academy can be used for every grade level from Prek to High School.
- Duolingo – If a foreign language is a subject your child is interested in, why not learn it for free? Duolingo is not only fun but it’s also personalized and offers rewards for “streaks” created by logging in to study every day. It’s motivating, mobile, and can be personalized easily. With more than 30 languages available to learn, including Spanish, French, and Greek, your child will find something they’ll be interested in learning.
- YouTube – There are so many opportunities for learning on YouTube, you’ll almost be hard-pressed to find something very quickly. When searching through this resource, be aware that the algorithm has changed drastically (and can change again with little to no warning), so you may have to do quite a bit of searching to find exactly what you’re looking for. With that said, it’s a great opportunity for visual learners on nearly any topic imaginable.
- Free Rice – Free Rice is a site where you answer questions in subjects such as English, Geography, Humanities, Language Learning (Spanish, Latin, French, Italian, Czech, and German only, currently), Math, and Science. While not a curriculum site, or a site that allows you to print off materials, it can be a great way to drill facts and learn. However, Free Rice does something more. For every right answer, an ad is generated on-screen that contributes literal rice grains to the World Food Programme. Creating an account is a great way to keep up with how much rice has been donated due to your correct answers. It's like a field trip without leaving your house!
- Project Gutenberg – This free resource includes extensive reading materials including more than 60,000 free eBooks. All titles found here are Public Domain, which means their copyright has expired. You can register, or just browse content which can then be read online or downloaded to your device. A word of caution: not all titles here are child-friendly, so be diligent and search with your child, or do the searching on your own.
If you have a homeschool student that has an auditory learning style, they may want to learn by listening to a podcast. There are loads of podcasts out there that are great for learning. Help your child search out what is of interest to them.
You will also find many resources helpful in teaching special needs students, as well. A quick Google search will turn up many homeschool program resources for virtual learning for students that have disabilities.
These are just a precious few resources where free learning can take place around the web. Don’t forget to check websites for local or nearby libraries, museums, zoos, historic locations, and any other destination where learning through a field trip is an important part of the experience.
Homeschooling with Digital Tools
There is a wealth of digital helps for homeschoolers that make life so much easier. One of the most widely used of these is Google Drive. This includes Google Docs, Sheets, Calendar, and even the opportunity to create quizzes and tests. You can then email or share them with your student who answers questions and submits them back. It’s a great way to strengthen many skills including typing, writing, spelling, and creativity, not to mention solidifying the information included in the quizzes and tests.
Utilizing video recording opportunities is another great teaching tool that helps with a variety of skills. In the Charlotte Mason Method, for example, narration is a big part of the plan. Allowing your children to record their own narrations, which they can then view, can lead to improvements in oration. It really brings to light such verbal “stalls” or “throw-away words” such as “like”, “um”, “yeah”, and many others that truly interrupt an otherwise intelligent vocabulary. Body language can also be monitored even though it wouldn’t normally be considered.
Homeschooling with Digital Devices is Not Always Perfect
We’ve already seen many ways in which technology and digital devices, programs, and apps can work to our great benefit in home education. However, like anything, there is a negative side to these things as well. We should never think that it’s appropriate simply to plop our children down in front of a screen and call that “learning”. It’s true, they may be learning, but sometimes what they learn can be negative.
Social media, for instance, can lead to as much, and sometimes far more, bullying than what might be found through enrollment in a traditional school system. With the recent surge in teen and pre-teen suicide rates, most stemming from situations like this, we MUST be diligent in staying on top of our child’s digital usage. Whereas some parents will call this an invasion of privacy, the fact is that NOT to do so is an abdication of one’s God-given responsibility. Such due diligence is needed today more than ever before.
Digital devices can even be a problem for us as homeschooling parents, as well. Have you ever been in the middle of a lesson with your child only to hear your phone message tone and immediately turn to it? Is your smartphone the first thing you pick up in the morning? Even if the first thing you do is your devotional app, it can still be a nuisance in your routine, taking up time that could otherwise be put towards your family, and your child's education. Why not do that devotional with the entire family? It may not seem like much, but over the course of any given day, you might be surprised to realize how many times you push aside the things going on right in front of you to give your attention to your phone.
Be very aware of the technology your homeschooled children are using. If you don’t understand an app or a download on your child’s phone or device, it can be a big problem. Information has come out, time and again, referring to hidden apps that may look harmless on the exterior, but that can be dangerous for minors to be a part of. If you don’t know, ask! Or seek counsel from another homeschooler who might know something about it. Many homeschool support groups have resources to help you know what many different apps are and how they're used. And never be afraid of simply putting a stop to those things until such time as you do understand them.
I’ve only skimmed the surface of all the amazing digital opportunities available for the homeschooling family. As you begin to research more along these lines, I’m sure you’ll find plenty more that are perfect for your specific homeschooling needs, your children, and your family. That, after all, is the most important part. Making sure that your homeschool, tools included, is set up in a way that’s entirely comfortable for you and your family. Of course, homeschool laws still apply to all aspects of homeschooling, so be sure to check HSLDA homeschool association to find out the specific laws for your state.
It’s true that we can never fully rely on digital tools, records, and concepts, however, it’s entirely possible to implement these things in ways that are a great benefit to us and to our homeschool. Even educational apps can be utilized, allowing our children to learn on the go, in the car, waiting in line at the grocery store, and in an array of other spaces. On the other hand, they can also be employed as “treats” that come after the hard work of learning. The good news is the choice is yours.