Thursday, June 26, 2008

Web-Based Summer Learning

Summer time is a time for kids to relax and unwind from the stress of the school year.
It's okay for kids to goof off, snack between meals, stay up late, and even watch more television than they would normally watch.
But if, as a parent, you don't believe that memorizing all the dialogue and gestures in every episode of Sponge Bob Square Pants will give your children an educational leg-up next year, you may not be alone.

Whether your children go to boarding school, private school, public school, online school or are such radical unschoolers that you don't know where they are most of the time, they are all homeschooled in the summer, and that means we are all homeschooling parents. We have a wonderful opportunity to teach them new things, help them get ahead for the next school year, help them to explore new interests, or remediate learning from the previous school year.
You don't have to send them to summer school!

But no matter what you do, you don't want your children to feel chained to a desk, especially in the summer. You need to make it interesting.

One company, Time4Learning offers web-based summer learning that is comprehensive and fun.

"Time4Learning is a great change from school and for some children, a great antidote (and an interesting alternative to attendance at summer school). What this means is that many children have developed some bad habits about school. They've found themselves in a rut where their learning style and the school's teaching style are not working. This is especially likely with the children that find themselves needing remediation since they have apparently been thru the school year without learning what they are supposed to. Time4Learning allows the student to control the pace and learn the material which can be a very maturing opportunity for them. The summer school environment in many ways would just recreate the classroom environment with all the same distractions, teaching styles, and attitude problems that created the problem in the first place."

Not a bad idea.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Asperger's Syndrome

They say that one in a hundred a fifty kids now are on the autism spectrum.
Despite what official twits, such as Michael Savage say, Autism is real, and no matter how much my son "straightens up" and "acts like a man" he still a person with Autism.

Asperger's Syndrome is as much of a puzzle to me as other forms of autism. I watch my boy, who can't catch a ball, can't run, can't walk without tripping, has many odd mannerisms and a strange tone of voice, struggles with friendships, and needs to be taught many many things that neurotypical children just naturally pick up, such as how close to stand to a person, and how many times to repeat something for emphasis. (He likes to repeat things five to seven times on average)

Here is a formal definition I lifted from somehwhere:

"Asperger’s Syndrome is part of the Autism Spectrum. It is characterized by poor social interactions, obsessions, odd speech patterns, and other peculiar mannerisms. Although children with Asperger’s have an average to above average intelligence, they sometimes have specific learning issues and difficulty reading the body language of others. They also tend toward obsessive routines, unusual special interests or preoccupations, and sometimes display a sensitivity to sensory stimuli (for example, they may be bothered by a light that no one else notices; they may cover their ears to block out sounds in the environment; or they might prefer to wear clothing made only of a certain material)."

People with Asperger's Syndrome need help with pragmatic language and abstract thinking.
There should be more awareness among educators on how to best help children with Asperger's Syndrome in school. As it stands, there isn't enough, and children with AS are bullied, misunderstood, and treated as if they are strange and inferior, not as if they have a significant disability. This can cause lifelong pain, which just isn't necessary, and their many strengths are not often recognized.

Let's get some teacher workshops in schools, shall we?

Technology Vacation

You know there is a problem when kids have to check their schedules to find out if they can play, especially during summer vacation.
The other day, my daughter, who was happily and healthily bored, was outside coloring the bark of a tree red with Kool-Aid powder and water. She spied a friend of hers getting out of her mom's car.

"Hey...ya wanna come color this tree bark with me?"asked daughter.
"Uh, I dunno. I have to check my schedule," said friend.
"You have a schedule?" said my daughter.
"Sure. Don't you?"

It is true. My daughter's friend, even smack dab in the middle of summer, has a schedule of activities she has to follow, which includes strength training, speed and agility training, soccer practices, and soccer games, not to mention soccer meetings. She's twelve.

I know there are so many children like this nowadays that it makes my kids look like neglected slackers, since I purposefully do not book many scheduled activities for them.

Some of the best learning, thinking and creativity comes from bored kids. Parents, let your kids get so bored that they run out of things to do. Turn off the television, video games, and internet.
If you are brave, set out a pile of magazines, some glue and glitter and scissors and paper in the middle of the table and start washing the windows. See what they do. Save the vacuuming for later!

Put an empty bowl, a spoon, and a box of brownie mix on the counter and just leave it there, and go about your business.

And I know it sounds like child abuse, but send your children outside with a watch, and tell them not to come in for at least 45 minutes. If you give them some jars or tupperware, they can collect bugs, strange leaves, or other interesting tidbits. Have a show-and-tell when they get back in.

Get some old telephones, appliances, or speakers from bulk trash or yard sales. Give your kids some tools. Let them take stuff apart, and put it back together again. What better way to learn about technology than to understand the mechanics of some of it?

Are these activities really less valuable than a soccer training session or visit to the mall?

Some people call this benign neglect, but when done well, it can add a boost of independence and creativity for your kids. They can learn to be responsible for keeping themselves occupied.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Can’t we just buy them a nice set of wood blocks?

This really shouldn’t be a surprise. Cellphones, laptops, digital cameras and MP3 music players are among the hottest gift items this year. For preschoolers. On one hand, it makes sense. Play has always been about kids emulating the adults around them. This is what the adults do these days. However, I think I agree with the doctors and other experts in the article that state that a computer screen is no substitute for imaginative play. Something has to be lost if we let our kids grow up depending on digital technology to substitute for imagination.

I was lucky in that computer technology wasn’t quite there yet for kids when my kids were toddlers in the mid to late 90s. They grew up with the same sort of traditional toys we all had, plus they had access to a computer. I fear today’s toddlers are skipping the wood blocks and Hot Wheels in favor PC based building games and a Hot Wheels game on a Playstation. It’s not the same.

Written by COD for ParentalTech

This article uses alot of vocabulary. In support of building English vocabulary, including for non native English speakers, let me suggest: İngilizce Kelime Dağarcığını Öğrenin. And also, to learn english, Lernen Sie Englisch-Vokabular

Thursday, June 12, 2008

This school is missing the point of education

In NJ, a middle school has blocked Wikipedia from all school computers because it can be edited by anybody and contains inaccuracies. I wonder if they burned all their copies of Encyclopedia Britannica when a 12 year boy found significant errors in it?

Shouldn’t the school be teaching the kids how to use online sources, instead of blocking them outright? Wikipedia probably shouldn’t be a primary source for a middle school student anyway. However, it is great for providing an overview on just about any topic imaginable, and most articles are annotated with links to the primary sources. Instead of blocking the site, the school should be requiring the kids to either create a new entry, or contribute to the usefulness of Wikipedia by improving an existing entry. That would be educating. Is that too much to ask?

Internet Filters

We've already talked about establishing family rules about internet use, and teaching your children the basics of internet safety. Using an internet filter is an additional step many families take to add a layer of safety that could be a critical barrier between your children and the dark side of the internet.

Two types of parental controls that parents often implement as a part of their overall internet safety plan are controls provided by your service provider and blocking software.

High speed Internet providers usually have free or low cost parental control features that parents can use to monitor websites, filter e-mails, and limit the distribution of other online content. Some parents purchase additional blocking software, which has such added features as the ability to monitor or block chats, peer-to-peer interactions, and instant messaging, which according the the FBI, is one of the top places sexual predators use to locate vulnerable children online. Some of them also offer remote reporting, such as alerts and log reports sent to email or cell phone, as well as history reporting, and logging of security violations.

If your household has more than one computer, and they are networked, or if you have a fast Internet connection, you may want to consider using a router-based filter. A router is a piece of equipment that connects your computers to the Internet and to each other. Some routers offer an ability to filter content that affects all computers in your network. This method is harder to bypass, but it tends to be pricier, since you have to purchase the router, and pay an annual fee to subscribe.

Again, don't rely on the technology to do your parenting for you. According to the FBI's Parent's Guide to Internet Safety, "you should always maintain access to your child's online accounts and randomly check his or her email." Also be aware that your child could be contacted through the U.S. Postal Service.

Lest I leave you with a feeling of dread regarding your children and the internet, keep in mind that there is a lot of family-friendly content out there. Todays-Learners has a good little family-friendly electronic medial guide that will help you and your family keep the fun in your online experiences.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Technology Enables Helicopter Parenting

Helicopter parents have been beat up in the press quite a bit lately. I won’t pile on. However, this cautionary article from does make the point that all this wonderful technology we have in the home makes it much easier to micromanage your child’s life. They aren’t presenting that as a benefit either.

Just because you can log into the school extranet and check your child’s test score before he even gets home doesn’t mean you should. How are you going to foster and encourage open communication with your kids if you cut them out of the loop? Certainly there may be times when you need to take charge, but don’t jump the gun on that. Growing up under Orwellian surveillance from Mom and Dad can’t be healthy.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Internet Safety I (common sense tactics)

Keeping your children safe in when they use the internet is an important, and often ignored parental responsibility.
In a tech-driven society, our children have the opportunity to be exposed to many things that are not only inappropriate, but are things that thirty years ago, people would have had to search long and hard to find. Hate websites, porn sites, sexual predators, and other content that promote adult and/or negative themes can fall into an unsuspecting child's lap with the click of a mouse.

What can parents do to protect their children from inappropriate internet content?

First, know what is out there. The internet has a lot to offer. Children can, with a few seconds of navigating, travel to distant countries, learn about other cultures, visit sites that promote education, travel, intellectual thinking, family values, cartooning, movies, math practice, and the ever popular games. They can keep in touch with family members, visit potential college choices, trade photos with friends, and visit the site of their favorite sports team, or their favorite sports drink, for that matter.
There are a lot of sites created specifically for children, for educational and entertainment purposes.
However, one wrong click and a child can be transported into a world that is not only unsavory, but unsafe.
I did a quick Google search on anorexia nervosa, which any high school child could research for a class, to help a friend, or learn about out of curiosity. Using the keyword "anorexia," the fifth most popular site on google was a pro-anorexia site, which supports disordered eating, unhealthy thinness, and a desire to get as thin as possible. Websites run by mentally ill people who promote a community of other mentally ill people who do not want to get well are not sites most parents want their children to visit, as children are not often able to discern right from wrong in abstract areas.

Second, don't allow children to use the Internet in private rooms, including a separate office or study. All Internet use should be in a common, supervised area of the home. If kids want to do homework on their computers, in their rooms, give them an unconnected system.

Third, use the Internet with your children. You can visit sites you like together, teach them how to spot certain types of sites that you don't want them on, and help them avoid clicking on advertisements that look like games.
Watching a goofy YouTube video together can set the stage for a casual talk about videos they should stay away from.

Also, learn how to check your browser history. You can see all the websites that have been visited on your computer.

Last, consider disable your internet access when you are not home. Kids who are old enough to stay home alone, need to be protected just as much as younger children do.

Future blogs on this subject will include using parental controls, and reviews of a variety of internet filters.