Finding homeschooling curriculum and programs to use with your child is a challenge. But what do you do when you come across a subject that you are not qualified to teach?
What happens when your child wants to learn piano but you’ve never looked at a page of sheet music in your life?
What happens when your child wants to learn German, but the only language experience you have is two years of high school Spanish?
How do you fill in the gaps of your homeschooling curriculum?
Utilize online leaning programs! Now, I know there seems to be this great debate going on about whether everything should be digital or whether everything should be analog. And, let’s be real here, this topic has the potential to turn into a heated discussion, particularly in regards to education!
But before we go there, let’s see if we can find some middle ground that we can all agree on. Because, when you stop and look at it, there are major benefits to be had from embracing both hands-on tactile learning as well as filling in the gaps with digital learning programs.
A Blend of Both Paper and Digital
Children are very tactile, hands-on learners. They need to see things and feel things. They need to feel the weight of a book in their hand as they begin to read the pages. They need to smell the scent of leather and paper and ink that is unique to a library. They need to learn how to write with a paper and pencil, to teach their fingers how to form each letter as they refine and enhance their fine motor skills. They need to utilize objects and manipulatives, moving them around, using them to figure out what they are doing when they solve a math problem.
In play, they need to be separated from screens. They need to play board games that require thought, movement, and interaction with other humans. When they play the game, they need to know the rules so they can play properly. They need to count up the points, adding them up all on their own.
On the other hand, in this digital age, you cannot ignore the presence of screens in our world. They are powerful tools that have helped enhance and streamline so many processes. From writing long papers and not having to re-write everything by hand to keeping track of library books and checking out those books with amazing quickness and ease. From looking up information that would have taken hours to allowing you to learn new skills from the comfort of your own home.
In good conscience, you cannot completely ignore the presence of screens. You cannot fail to teach your child in this area when the goal of homeschooling is to set them up to thrive, to become life long learners.
But what if there was a way to blend both the analog and the digital realms? What if there was a way to give your child the best of all worlds?
Don’t get me wrong, I fully believe that the younger your child is, the more their homeschooling should be focused on the analog, the “old school” realm of tactile learning with paper and pencil. Even as your child grows, there needs to be a primary focus on the paper and pencil approach in their schooling. But there are also great skills to be had, wonderful skills to learn when you are able to incorporate and blend in the wonders of technology to enhance the education you are able to give your child.
Just like most things in life, there is no exact black and white answer when it comes to determining whether to homeschool using paper and pencil or using online learning tools. So, instead of turning this into a question of either/or, let’s start to look at it from a different angle. You see, the biggest key is to determine the wise decision for your child and your family.
The Choice is Up To You
So, how do you start to figure out that blend of digital and analog? How do you begin to determine what method of learning will serve you and your family best?
There is a lot of gray area, a lot of personal decision inherent in this question, particularly when it comes to homeschooling. What makes the answer even more complicated is that the answer will be different for each family. To add yet another layer of complication, the answer for each child in your family might look a bit different!
As you begin to work with and wrestle with this question, you need to come back to the basics, to the foundation. Remember, everyone’s answer will look different! But, when you start with the right framework, when you start by asking the right question, you set yourself up to make wise decisions. So, before you even begin to think about any specific learning programs or tools, ask yourself this simple yet profound question:
In light of my past experiences, my current circumstances, and my future hopes and dreams, what is the wise thing for me to do?Andy Stanley
When you begin to look at each decision along this path in light of this question, it suddenly makes it less about you, less about what anyone else is doing and brings your focus back where it should be: Making the wise decision for your family in this season on what method of learning is best for your child.
Remember, as a homeschooling parent, you have the ultimate choice on this one. It is up to you to determine what things are best learned through digital mediums and what things are best learned through books and paper and pencils.
Don’t Get Overwhelmed!
A word of caution: It it very easy to get overwhelmed looking at this concept as a whole! Don’t allow yourself to get overwhelmed! When you get overwhelmed, you freeze up and making a decision becomes exponentially harder, if it happens at all!
Don’t look at this decision as one huge decision, but break it down into a series of smaller decisions that can be addressed one at a time. For example, start by evaluating whether this is the right time to add typing lessons into your homeschooling curriculum. Because, let’s face it, teaching typing is one of those things that must be done digitally – unless you have a typewriter…but I digress…
Once you have made your decision about typing lessons, move on to evaluate and make your decision about the next subject.
Break it down into smaller decisions. Take things one step at a time. Continue asking yourself this framework question:
In light of my past experiences, my current circumstances, and my future hopes and dreams, what is the wise thing for me to do?Andy Stanley
And remember: These decisions do not all have to happen at once! It’s very possible for you to add in typing lessons at the beginning of your school year and then add another digital learning program 5 weeks down the road. Personally, my family started learning sign language 3 weeks before our summer break! Take things one question, one thing, one step at a time.
Breaking It Down
But what options are out there to even consider? While there are a great many options to choose from, almost all digital learning falls into two categories: Virtual Classes and Virtual Enhancements.
Now, this is by no means a comprehensive list of every virtual class and virtual enhancement that is out there! However, the classes, online programs, and apps that I will highlight in this post are ones that have served our family well and ones that I have seen people have great personal results when using.
These are classes taught through an online platform. It could be a live class where your child must be online at a specific time when the teacher is giving the lesson or it could be a recorded class where your child can watch online whenever they choose. Virtual classes could even take the form of a lesson presented via DVD. With virtual classes, you do not have to worry about creating a lesson plan or teaching the lesson to your child. Instead, your role shifts to overseeing, making sure they are accomplishing the assignments their teacher gives and that they are understanding the lessons before moving on.
Virtual classes are available in many different subjects. You can even choose an entire curriculum that is virtually based. In fact, many school systems are now offering virtual learning or distance learning as part of their educational program.
Virtual classes are also available in one specific subject like history or math. These individual classes are very helpful, particularly if you as the parent know you need help in teaching this particular subject.
Most virtual classes do require you to purchase the class itself or a package that includes the virtual or DVD driven class. However, you will need to check each class individually as the prices vary depending on the exact class you are looking into.
HSLDA has over 40 live, interactive online classes available in many subjects from history and English to economics and SAT prep. Click here to find out more.
These online learning programs can take many forms, but one of the simplest forms is teaching a specific skill like typing or reinforcing a skill like grammar or spelling through strategically formed games. Virtual enhancements help teach skills that are hard to learn without technology or skills that you do not have.
Enhancements should be seen as just that – enhancements! They should not be used as the core of your curriculum, but add-ons to round out your child’s curriculum. They are there to help you. They are there to teach and develop skills that are necessary, but these enhancements should never take the place of the core elements of your curriculum.
Let’s be real, it is impossible to teach typing with a paper and pencil! The very nature of typing implies the use of a keyboard and computer. Our current world is dominated by computers and screens and keyboards. When you facilitate your child learning essential skills, such as typing, it sets them up for success later in life – particularly as this world goes more and more digital. Plus, when they learn how to type correctly, it serves them well as they continue to grow.
Here are a couple free programs that have helped us tremendously in our typing journey:
Typing.com :: This platform takes a systematic approach to the fundamentals of typing. It starts with teaching finger positions on the home keys and expands from there, adding letters and keys in small groups. You can set up a free profile for your child, and the platform will track their progress through the program, awarding them stars when they complete lessons and levels. It focuses both on learning the correct way to type as well as building speed and confidence in typing.
Nitro Type :: This platform is set up in the form of a car race! Taking a more entertainment based approach to typing, in Nitro Type, your child will compete in digital car races. The faster and the more accurately they type, the faster their car goes. It is a wonderful tool for helping to build speed and accuracy in typing and it has the added benefit of being able to choose your own race car.
Let’s face it, it is very difficult to teach a language that you do not know! Now, I firmly believe there is nothing that can take the place of having face to face conversations with a speaker of the language you are learning. There are nuances in pronunciation and grammar that can only be taught by interacting with another human speaking that language. Yet, there is a huge benefit in learning a second language even when you might not have access to a person who speaks that language.
Duolingo is a free online platform and an app that combines hearing the language, writing in English, writing in the new language, and answering comprehension questions to ensure you understand the language you are learning. It tracks your progress along the way, giving rewards (virtual points and crowns) for a job well done as you take consistent steps to learning more and more of a new language.
It also offers a large range of languages you can learn. From Spanish and German to Chinese and Japanese, the number of language possibilities is impressive. This platform has been a lifesaver for me personally because my children have all decided to learn different languages! Duolingo gives us the opportunity and flexibility for them to learn the language they are interested in, even though neither my husband nor I may speak that particular language.
Did you know that sign language is another language? It’s true! Learning sign language is learning to speak another language. Even though you are still thinking of the words in English, you are communicating those words in a different language through your hands.
The absolute best and most engaging tool I have found for teaching my children sign language is Signing Time. Signing Time was created by two sisters who have a passion for teaching and music. Their passion was refocused onto teaching sign language when Leah came into their lives. You see, Leah is the daughter of Rachel, the adult that appears in this video series. Leah was born deaf. So, her parents and extended family went on a quest to learn sign language so each one of them could communicate with Leah. Their desire to communicate directly with Leah and the realization that not many people knew sign language prompted them to create Signing Time, a video series that teaches sign language through speaking, signing, music, and repetition.
Signing Time is fun and engaging for all ages as well as extremely effective. Toddlers can learn alongside adults in this incredible series. Up to 50 signs can be covered in one 30-minute episode, but each sign is taught in real life context, creating that “sticking power” and a high retention rate for each sign.
Learning sign language is a journey that we have just begun as a family and I could not imagine doing it without Signing Time. This is one resource I cannot recommend highly enough!
Simply Piano is an effective, simple to use tool to teach your child how to play piano. Learning a musical instrument is such an incredible skill to have. Oh, don’t get me wrong, not every child will grow up to be a world famous concert pianist, but at the same time encouraging your child to explore new areas of leaning helps to develop their brain in many areas and helps them tap into the creativity they already have.
But what do you do if you want your child to learn to play the piano but you never learned how to play? How do you teach them and keep the cost down, particularly when they are first starting out?
Behold the beauties of Simply Piano. This intuitive app becomes the teacher, using the microphone on your iPad or Tablet to listen as your child plays the notes that appear on the screen. The program will allow them to continue and progress if they play the notes correctly and it will automatically have them go back and try again if they play the notes incorrectly. It is built to start at the beginning, teaching the basics through very short (3 minute or less) videos, and then practice, practice, practice.
Not only that, but it is designed to connect the notes they are learning to songs, whether it be the first 3 notes by themselves or more complex notes such as chords. For example, in the very first lesson, after practicing 3 notes played with the right hand, the program puts those notes into the song ‘The Blue Danube.’ The program plays the song as an accompaniment, allowing you to play along with the 3 notes you learned, showing you the skill you are learning in a bigger context.
This platform is also built to give you rewards along the way: Allowing you to earn stars based on how well and how accurately you played a certain song as well as unlocking more lessons and more songs as you progress through the program. It is an incremental program with built in encouragement and incentive to keep going!
Search for the Simply Piano in the App store on your smart phone, iPad, or Tablet to get started.
Wrapping It Up
Keep in mind that a computer program or a digital app will never fully be able to take the place of a flesh-and-blood teacher, particularly when it comes to skills like learning an instrument or learning another language. However, when you leverage computer and virtual programs to enhance your child’s education, they can be incredibly helpful and effective. Plus, many of these online platforms have the benefit of a much lower cost than private lessons as you child tries different things, figuring out what skills they want to continue to pursue!
As you walk this journey of determining the right online platforms and courses to use for you and your family, never forget:
What’s right for you will not necessarily be right for everyone else.
What’s right for everyone else will not necessarily be right for you.
Your homeschooling journey is unique. Your teaching style is unique. Your child’s learning style is unique. You need to decide what classes, what enhancements will bring the most value to your homeschool journey.
The question is up to you:
In light of your past experiences, your current circumstances, and your future hopes and dreams, what is the wise thing for you (and your family) to do?Andy Stanley (words in parenthesis mine)
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Additional Outside Links:
Elizabeth Tatham, founder of Inspiration in the Everyday, is a homeschooling momma of 5 who loves helping other homeschooling mommas create a unique homeschooling adventure your kids will love…without the overwhelm! Join in on the journey with 7 simple steps to make your homeschooling day go faster, easier, and with less tears here.