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A couple of online educational resources

September 26, 2011 Leave a comment

I’ve recently discovered a neat website that is very handy for homeschooling; or for anyone who needs writing practice. It’s called ESL Writing Wizard, and it lets you create your own personalized practice writing sheets for printing or cursive, which you can save or print directly from the web browser. Since I tried it out last week our kids have both taken a sudden interest in practicing their cursive handwriting. It’s great! It’s more fun for them since they can create whatever words or sentences they want to practice and then immediately print them.

Another interesting resource I found is called Alison.com. It’s an on-line university of sorts with high school and advanced college courses that is free to use. This site is definitely geared more toward higher education and adult learners; with course offerings covering digital literacy and IT, financial and economic courses, business, health and safety, English language skills and diploma courses. I discovered it through This Article which goes into more detail about it.  My kids have really been enjoying Khan Academy videos and exercises, and this follows that growing trend of redefining free, on-education for the future.

With the sky-rocketing cost of conventional educational institutions (not to mention the absurd level of student loan debt in this country) it will be interesting to see where all this goes.

Speaking of Homeschooling…

I realized the other day that even though we homeschool our kids, I’ve never written much about it here. Writing about the wonderful resource of the Khan Academy the other day got me thinking about it. I still hesitate about whether I should write it ‘homeschool’ or ‘home school’. The WordPress spell checker (spellchecker?) doesn’t seem to like it combined as ‘homeschooling’, but I just noticed it also doesn’t approve of the spelling of ‘WordPress’ either. I’ve seen it written both ways on the internet, but I think I prefer it all as one word; so for now on I shall use ‘homeschool’ and ‘homeschooling’ when referring to the way Stephanie and I educate our children. Also, Dictionary.com tells me homeschool is a proper word. So there!

But back to the subject; homeschooling is something that seems to have gained a lot of popularity over the years. I guess there are different reasons why people homeschool their kids. Many parents seem to do it for religious reasons, I suppose to more thoroughly instruct their children in their particular belief system. Or to protect them from the ever-lowering moral standards of average American society (I can certainly relate to that!) Then there’s the general state of fear, intimidation and violence that kids can be exposed to in schools these days. Even in suburban schools or in more ‘affluent’ areas, the bullying and violence that we hear about fairly often was unimaginable when I was a kid back in the sixties/early seventies. Heck, when I was a kid it was pretty rare to hear about someone getting a punch in the nose, let alone worrying about if some psychotic classmate was packing heat, or having death threats sent to you by email for being the least bit different!

My wife used to work with kids in the public school system, so I know part of the reason we homeschool our children is from the horror stories she’s seen first hand of what kids are capable of doing to each other in modern schools. I also think a major reason many parents choose homeschooling is because we’ve learned that there are many different ways that people learn, depending on the individual. I certainly don’t have anything against schools or teachers in general; but most public schools are limited to a certain style of instruction in a crowded environment and cannot give attention to a student’s individual needs the way home schooling can.

Another reason we chose homeschooling is that we want our children to be creative people, to be free-thinking individuals who follow their own core values as opposed to following the dictates of their peers or cultural fads or the false fulfillments of advertising that seems to dominate our culture. I think some people may thrive in an environment of group mentality; of doing what you’re told and conforming to the will of the masses; of competition over cooperation. But I also think that those who do well in our test-oriented superficial system of education do so in spite of the system, because of their own inane intelligence that is fostered outside the school environment by parents and relatives. And also there are the statistics that show again and again that America has fallen behind other nations, especially up-and-coming third world nations; in the sciences, technology, history, culture, the arts. And because of the decline in our general economy over the last decade or more, the things that I think matter most like Fine Arts, Music, Literature and Philosophy are the first things being cut from our school systems. Short term memorization has become more valued than cognitive thinking skills. And what can teachers do? Their budgets are constantly being reduced. Or teachers are losing their jobs. Resources for education dwindle, especially in the inner-cities, until it seems only the rich and entitled see any hope for a better life than their parents had.

I recently heard that the Rochester, New York City School District, near where we live, has a high school graduation rate slightly lower than 50%! And the Rochester area is better off than many cities in this country. That’s pretty scary!

But I’m getting off on a rant now, and I was really trying to avoid that! There are lots of reasons for homeschooling your precious offspring. And many different philosophies of home schooling, from unschooling to homeschool co-ops to Montessori . I supposed we’ve used a little of everything so far. But I can only say that at eight years old, my son reads voraciously and knows so much on such a wide range of subjects that I have little doubt he will grow up to be a well-rounded, compassionate, witty and highly ‘educated’ individual. As will his younger sister, who at five years of age has an amazing number of interests and talents. And we are very fortunate to live in an area with many large homeschooling groups and communities with all kinds of resources for sports, activities, education and socialization.

But primarily, life is our school. As it has been for thousands of years of human experience. Organized, institutionalized school systems are a rather recent development of the Industrial Age, after all. Every waking moment is a natural stimulus for exploration and study and experimentation. As little children, we found a natural delight in experiencing the world of our senses. That’s what I think ‘education’ is really about. You know, it cracks me up when someone will ask me (like last week) “So do you take time off from homeschooling in the summer”, or something like that; and I am dumbfounded for a moment at how to answer! Because most of us are so conditioned to think of ‘learning‘ as something that happens in an institution, or within the walls of a classroom; as something formal and separate from what the brain does in any other waking moment. So I suppose I could say “No, we don’t generally categorize life into ‘learning’ and ‘non-learning’ time. We learn just as much by playing and exploring as we do reading a book. Whenever we encounter the strange or unfamiliar or beautiful or frightening or puzzling world around us, we’re always learning. And everyone we meet and everything we see and hear and feel and touch is our teacher.

Ken Robinson: Changing the education paradigms

Ken Robinson on TED: Bring on the learning revolution!

50 fantastic play and learn apps, sites and toys

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