Friday, September 6, 2013

Online Learning Sites for K and Elementary

Do you use online learning or learning apps at home?

This question almost never get asked in conversations between parents here in Silicon Valley. Conversation usually revolves around which apps are most popular for toddlers, how far a kindergartener progressed in MineCraft or a second grader’s latest project in Scratch. Parents themselves spend an inordinate amount of time online – working, researching, playing, networking, or blogging. Kids in restaurants are usually very well behaved – completely engrossed in their nice electronic bubbles of iPads and Nintendos and not paying any attention to the world around them.

But learning apps are good for kids, right?

I subscribe to Times Magazine and one of the latest issues had an interesting article titled The Digital Parent Trap: Should your kids avoid tech – or embrace it? The article is available online only to Time subscribers, but in general the article argues in favor of technology use in the classroom and at home. The article went on to say that children learning on computers retain more of what they learn, can interact with people around the world who share the same interests, and master valuable skills that will be required in their future jobs.

What did we do in preschool?

We don’t believe in any kind of screen time for children under 2. Both my husband and I think that young kids should learn through interaction with human beings, not with screens. When our daughter was older, we started to spend some shared time on Starfall to solidify her knowledge of letters and numbers. Even later, when she was 4, we subscribed to Dreambox and watched Smarty’s already strong math skills explode. Again, initially we spent time on the site together and established some rules before letting her progress on her own.

What are we doing now – favorite online learning sites

Favorite learning sites for elementary school
Our daughter is allowed 30 minutes of screen time a day – either on computer or on iPad or TV. She can also earn extra time (up to 30 minutes) by writing a story (she is a reluctant writer). She is never interested in TV, and lately not interested in an iPad either. Her favorites over the past year or so were:
  • DreamBox (paid subscription) – we are currently not subscribed as Smarty progressed out of the level for lower grades and doesn’t like a new interface on the level for higher grades.
  • Moneyville – free site about earning and spending money
  • ABCya! – free, and activities are nicely split into grades.
  • Raz-Kids (paid subscription through school) – a site for leveled reading used by our school district. Students can login from home with their IDs. Smarty rarely uses it at home since she doesn’t want to “waste” her precious screen time, but the site is rather good.
  • Cool Math Games – Smarty’s current absolute favorite. She loves variety of games there, but I dislike the amount of surfing she does dropping one game that is “too hard” to try another game. This is, by the way, is also a problem with iPad apps.

What are others doing?

I asked a group of multicultural kid bloggers to share how they manage screen time in their families. In general, most families across several continents have similar limits on screen time to what we have in our family, but there are some “outliers with either no screen time or unlimited screen time”:
Right now we rarely use digital devices (including TV). My kids play nicely together, and if we bring out electronics they seem to lose their ability to self-entertain, and there is arguing over who gets to use what... MaryAnne from Mama Smiles
In my ideal world, they would watch none at all. My kids are about to be 5 and 6… They don't use iPads much and if they do, it is for 5 minutes very rarely or they watch/listen to music (usually Arabic) on the iPad with my husband sometimes. – Stephanie from InCulture Parent
…They do play games on ipads (my son is 10.5 and my girls are 7), but mainly educational ones. During schooltime not longer than 30 mins per day (my son's limit is 40 mins). … When they're on holidays we allow them more electronic device time because we want them to experience how addicting it can be. – Ute from Expat Since Birth
My older son (4) did get a Leapfrog computer for Christmas. He does not play it everyday, but typically does a few times each week. So far, we do not need to limit it as he seems to naturally be ready to move on after an hour (at most) – Jennifer from The Good Long Road
My kids (5 and 3) get too much DVD time but zero device time. As soon as we have allowed a Vinod iPhone or iPad, the whining and fighting and I can't stand it. – Cordelia from Mutilingual Mama
My kids (7 and 9) do own tablets. I've never timed them, but I'm guessing 5 hours a day, in between all the other things we do. It's wet season at the moment, so we're spending a lot of time indoors. In that time they will play games, including Minecraft, watch a movie or an episode of Doctor Who, listen to music , Google things, do whatever they like, I don't have a problem with it so long as they can put it down to do something else or read a book, which they can. Their computer skills are coming on really well, it's helped with their reading and vocabulary and accelerated their maths, both are a few years ahead of the schooled kids. Mine don't go to school so they have at least 14 hours every day of " free" time – Alyson from World Travel Family (check out this blog, very interesting!)

Your turn to share:

How do you manage screen time at home and what are some of your favorite online learning destinations?


An Almost Unschooling Mom said...

We don't limit screen time at all, and never have (we don't limit page time for books, either). When the children were baby-Kindergarten I limited them to a more educational variety of videos and games. It would be almost impossible to point to a favorite app or online tool - we use so many, and so many differently than they were meant to be used :)

Joyful Learner said...

I'm aware of all the latest, hottest games out there because so many people use them. And we've tried Dreambox which I loved, but compared to actual hands-on learning with a parent, it failed miserably. There is something to be said for face-to-face interaction.

Ticia said...

We go back and forth on screen time, there are many benefits to it, but also many downsides. I'm on one of my "cut down on screen time" kicks for the kids. I figure they will get enough of it later on.

Christy Killoran said...

I love your new look here!!!

Very interesting post!!! My kids watch tv and use other electronics, but we limit it quite a bit. NO video games (educational or not) on school nights and only family tv (all of us watching together) on school nights. On weekends and during vacations, we are more relaxed about it, but honestly, my kids would rather play outside with neighborhood kids than watch tv. I can't say the same for Tyler - he's 16 and likes to be glued to a screen which is why we do not allow televisions in bedrooms and his phone is plugged in at night outside of his room. He is pretty busy with sports, school, and his job, so I don't mind him playing games a bit when he is home.

Debbie Ingold said...

Sometimes it is hard to find the perfect balance with technology. I know we are beginning to use more, though Selena has always had her TV to watch. I do know she has learned lot from the TV that I chose for her to watch.

Love your new look!

maryanne @ mama smiles said...

I love the range of approaches you covered here. You are my go-to resource for electronic learning when we do use it!

Carrie said...

What a wonderful post!! We have been wrestling with screen time at my house as well. We just switched from a Waldorf school to a traditional school and now screen time is up to us more than ever. Thank you for sharing at Sharing Saturday!

Anonymous said...

Electronics and television are controlled substances here, but we still use them quite a bit. Our current favorites are Reflex Math (subscription) - using it to solidify TB's Multiplication and Division facts. I like that they teach them in fact families. Dance Mat Typing - (free online) - we're working on TB's typing skills to support his online History class. Duolingo (Spanish) free on the iPhone to support his Spanish enrichment classes. We're also using the "Word Roots" series from Critical Thinking Co. to practice word roots, prefixes and suffixes.

shelah moss said...

What an interesting post. Technology is a fabulous tool when used thoughtfully.