Home Education in the Digital Age

 Annie Regan

Digital technology is one of the many tools we use for home education and it has made our life and learning easier, and expanded our world. 

Finding Information: We often look up information on the phone or computer when we are wondering who, what, why, when, or how. Sometimes we have a discussion first and then search to find out more detail or check what the right answer is. At other times, we go straight to finding the information. Having done this for my kids from a young age, they now do it themselves as well. Knowing that they could easily find out information about any topic they were interested in has helped them to become self-motivated learners, with the confidence that they can find out whatever they want to know. 

Usually when we ‘search something up’, we come up with more questions based on the answers we find and can spend a long time following new trails of information and learning. It’s amazing how often we find a connection to something else we’ve been talking about recently – which makes the new information easier to remember, because there is something to link it to and is a great reminder that everything is connected – learning about one thing leads to more skills or knowledge in a whole range of areas. 

Having multiple sources of information readily available (for example, two different websites with conflicting information) has helped everyone develop critical thinking skills. We talk about how to determine if the information we’ve found is likely to be accurate, why two sites might say very different things, the dangers of believing the first thing you read (on the internet, or anywhere else), and how to go about checking the facts and figuring out what is reliable information. 

How To: We all have different learning styles – some of us prefer to read instructions, some like pictures, some like to hear the steps spoken, others need to see someone else doing something. Access to the internet means each of us can find instructions for new skills in a format that works best for us. 

YouTube: YouTube gets a lot of use in our house, for both instructional and entertainment purposes. My eldest daughter in particular learns best from watching other people, so if she wants to acquire or refine a skill she finds a YouTube video. An advantage of this over watching someone in person is that she can view it repeatedly as often as she needs to until she has figured it out. We have found videos on cooking, gymnastics, musical instruments, origami, crochet, other crafts, games, Lego, building, karate, make-up, hairstyles, altering clothes, sewing, pet care and training. All for free and without having to travel. 

The kids also watch videos of people playing video games, unboxing things, reviewing items, games or shows, or talking about anything that interests them. Watching someone talk passionately about something has inspired my kids to pursue new interests and ideas, and helped them build a huge body of knowledge in a really varied range of topics. The gaming videos have helped their own game play, they’ve learnt a lot about popular culture (both current and past), and have been exposed to lots of critical thinking. They don’t tend to accept facts or opinions just because they’ve been told, but compare them to other things they know and question what doesn’t seem right.

Maps and Navigation: I use maps on my phone and computer to plan trips or to navigate when I’m out. The kids help with this and now that they are older and starting to go out on their own, they are using the navigation tools themselves. They can also look up Public Transport information easily on an app when they are out, so they can plan their travel and cope with unexpected changes to their day. I feel more comfortable knowing that they can use their phones to help find their way around. 

We often look places up on the computer to see where they are, what they are near and so on. The big advantage of doing that online rather than in an atlas is that we can also then look at the satellite image and really get an idea of what the place is like. We can look at what there is to do in that area, compare it to other similar places and so on. 

We have several geography games on our phones and computers – having the visual and interactive component in all of these makes it fun and easy to learn about the world. 

Photos: While I often use my SLR camera, it is so convenient having a camera on my phone and on the kids’ phones and iPods. They can take photos of whatever they are doing and send them straight to me if we are not together – I love having that instant link to their experiences. We can share what we are doing throughout the day with their dad while he’s at work, or with our friends and family who live far away. We also take pictures of interesting things we find, information we’d like to remember, or things we want to look up later. 

Languages: We use Duolingo for learning languages – between us all we are learning French, Spanish and Greek. Having the app on our phones means we can learn whenever we feel like it, and at our own pace, and the learning is tailored to where we are up to. At times we do a lot of language learning, several lessons a day, then it becomes less of a priority for a while – and we can pick up where we left off when we come back to it. 

Musical instruments: we have many musical instruments in our house, and the kids don’t do regular music lessons. When they want to learn a new piece or song, they find an online tutorial or a YouTube video, and use that until they are happy with the result. They can hear how it is supposed to sound, they can learn at their own pace, and can become proficient in the areas that they want to, without having to progress through levels that don’t interest them. 

Music: We all use our phones and iPods to listen to music. We have family sharing so we can all access everyone’s music. I love that my husband and I have easily been able to introduce the kids to music that we enjoy, and I’m appreciating a lot of the new music the kids are listening to. Having our entire music collection available when we are in the car or away from home is a bonus too. 

Audio books: Having audio books on our phones/iPods has made many long car trips more enjoyable and even a time to look forward to. We’ve listened to books together as a family, or individually using headphones. Some of the kids listen to books as they are falling asleep or when they need quiet time. It’s also meant that everyone can listen to any book they are interested in, even if they aren’t yet able to read it themselves. It’s helped to establish a love of literacy without any pressure. 

Games: Gaming is a popular pastime and learning tool in our house. We play digital games on iPads, phones, computer and gaming consoles. We play multiplayer and single-player games, and we all discuss our games with each other regularly. The amount of learning that comes from gaming is phenomenal, and usually done without even noticing. Areas of learning that have been covered by the content and gameplay of games include counting, mathematical operations, reading, writing, history, physics, geography, health, anatomy, botany, finance, coding, mythology and much more. Other, less obvious skills are being developed too – social and negotiation skills when playing with others, strategy, risk taking (with little consequences, so it’s a great way to learn how to try new things or to make a decision without having all the information available), decision making, planning, dealing with disappointment, patience, perseverance. I see these skills in use every day as they play games and then applied to other areas of their life (and I experience the same benefits when I play as well). 

Social: Digital technology use has enhanced our social interactions with family and friends. When playing with friends (or each other), the kids chat about the game and a huge number of other topics while they play. Even when playing single-player games, there’s often a group of kids sitting around watching, offering suggestions, commiserating or cheering, and chatting. Kids who are less comfortable in social situations often feel okay sitting and watching someone play a game (or having others watch them) and it’s a relaxed way to become part of a group. I’ve seen strong friendships grow from early shared gaming experiences. Even if they aren’t playing at the time, the kids often connect with new people they meet by talking about games that they both enjoy. 

The kids also use Discord or Skype to talk to their friends in other houses when they are playing an online game together, or playing D&D, or just to have a chat. 

Messaging and social media help my kids stay in touch with their friends easily. At camps and other activities, we’ve made friends with families who live all over Victoria (and even interstate and overseas). It is wonderful to be able to have regular contact with these people when we don’t get to see them very often. My kids talk to their friends (local and at a distance) via text messages, SnapChat, Instagram, Facebook, Skype and Discord. This regular contact helps to keep friendships strong – and they don’t get to see each other every day like they would if they went to school together, so it’s great that they can still communicate easily. They share information and news with each other as well as just chatting, and I find this often inspires more research into topics so they can discuss them more fully with their friends. Our kids can message their friends while they are still doing things with the rest of the family – this feels better to me than when I was a teen and spent hours every night on the phone to my friends, away from everyone else. 

Talking with the kids about online safety and some of the concerns about social media has helped them think about respectful relationships in general, the importance of being careful about what they write and say, and about ways to protect their own safety. 

The kids can also keep in contact with us easily when they are out or at a friend’s place, which means they are safer and able to be more independent. We share interesting articles, pictures and jokes with each other and I really enjoy the little messages I get from them. In our experience, social media and messaging have added another dimension to our relationships. 

Using digital technology is not the only way to achieve the benefits I have listed above – and we definitely use a wide variety of learning methods. We value all types of play and learning and don’t prioritise one over any other, however I am grateful that we have the opportunity to take advantage of all the benefits offered by the digital age. 

Otherways 162

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