Neil Shenvi - Apologetics

Homeschool Tip #4 - Use Technology

Homeschool Tips
  1. Have a Schedule
  2. Push Reading First
  3. Schedule 1-on-1 Time
  4. Use Technology
  5. Embrace Educational Standards
  6. Teach Outside of School
  7. Relax

Growing up, doctors and educators were constantly warning parents about the dangers of electronics and too much "screen time." Until recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics had recommended that all children under 2 should be absolutely prohibited from watching television or playing video games. Consequently, my wife and I assiduously kept our firstborn away from all electronic devices. Even after he was two, we carefully controlled how often he could watch movies or use Mommy's iPod because we viewed them as useless entertainment. We relaxed our stance a bit when we realized that there were a handful of educational apps that they liked to play (or when desperation drove us to the electronic babysitter). But my thinking was completely reversed when our younger daughter started school.

After our fourth child's birth, I had my hands full teaching our older two and watching a newborn, so I would let our younger daughter (then age 2) play "letter games" for most of the morning. I didn't pay much attention to how much she was learning. But when she began pre-K, I was astonished. She not only knew all her letters and numbers, but knew how to write them. She knew what sounds each letter made and knew common letter combinations. She understood addition and subtraction. At age 4, after only a few months of school, she was reading and doing simple math. There's no question in my mind that her use of education apps on the iPad contributed significantly to her rapid progress.

As a result, we've altered our rules about screen time significantly. Our kids are technically each allowed thirty minutes of "entertainment" screen time three times a week (although we usually give them about an hour and add a weekly "movie night"). But we have almost no limit to "educational" screen time. They are permitted to watch BrainPop videos, read Epic, or do Khan Academy as much as they want. So far, this rule has never posed a problem. Our older son especially likes screen time and will watch educational videos for a few hours a day, but turns them off without complaint when we tell him he's had enough. And the benefits are extensive. During a car ride, our son began telling my wife about the components of blood and how white blood cells work. He's chimed in on topics like the Mexican Revolution or solar physics (?), none of which he's learned from us but which he's absorbed from electronic resources.

Two cautions are in order. First, the Internet is a very dangerous place and parents should take extreme care to prevent your children being exposed to pornography, sexual predators, or any other harmful influences. Cranking up the parental controls on your computer (and iPad and Wii) is not enough. You also need to keep your electronic devices in a public place, keep a close watch on content, warn your kids about potential dangers and -most of all- ensure that they are always comfortable talking to you about anything that bothers them. Second, there should be a balance between electronics and other forms of education and play. Always retain the right to pull the plug on electronics and never let your kids become addicted.

One other tip is that your kids' interest in educational technology will be inversely proportional to their interest in entertaining technology. If 95% of their apps are entertaining but not educational, your children are likely to find the educational apps boring. But if your children are only ever exposed to educational apps, they will be enthralled and will likely not even notice that they're learning.

There are all kinds of excellent education apps and programs available, many of them free, although some require a subscription. Here are some we've used extensively:

  1. Hooked on Phonics for beginning readers.
  2. Epic! for virtually unlimited children's books ranging in difficulty from preschool up through late elementary.
  3. DreamBox for mathematics from preschool through late elementary.
  4. BrainPop consists of ~10-minute funny, animated videos that teach kids about everything from astronomy to history to music.
  5. Khan Academy is the best educational site on the Internet. It has videos and interactive exercises covering everything from art history to physics. The mathematics section is particularly good. It will take your child from pre-K through college mathematics and prepares reports on your children's progress.

<< Back: Tip #3, Schedule 1-on-1 Time

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If anyone reading this essay has questions about it or about Christianity in general, feel free to e-mail me at Neil -AT- I also highly recommend the book The Reason for God by Tim Keller. It is phenomenal. Free sermons treating many of the topics covered by this book can be found here.

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