Monday, June 26, 2006

Cool Free Resources for On the Go Homeschoolers

This entry was originally posted at my other site, Twice Bloomed Wisteria.

We spend a great deal of time in the car or waiting for a lesson to be finished. I always take books, books on tape, math fact practice, or Latin pronunciation practice. But, sometimes we want more - a little something different. I have found a solution or a few solutions - Podcasts!

Podcasts have become popular because so many people have high speed internet and mp3 players and because many people find it difficult to tune in to a particular series because of so many other time commitments. NPR, National Geographic, NASA and others have made it easy to find the stories in your interest area. Once you subscribe to the podcast or sometimes before, you can pick and choose the episodes you would like to hear or fit into your current study. You may then download and listen to the podcasts at your convenience, as many times as you like. I hate it when there is a great story on the radio and we get to ballet and I have to get out of the car and miss 10 minutes or the end. You don't have that problem with podcasts - just click pause.

Here is a sampler of some of the educational podcasts available:
  • American Experience: a PBS production -- American Experience is a History Podcast with topics such as Riding the Rails, Behind the Scenes: The Man Behind Hitler, Annie Oakley, Jessie James, and Victory in the Pacific. The time on these range from 5 minutes to 26 minutes.
  • Nova --Short science stories from Nova are as diverse as can possibly be. There are stories about Mummies, Hurricanes, or Wetland Restoration.
  • NPR Expeditions from National Geographic -- Typical stories include A Journey to the Edge of the Amazon, Societies of Sound in the Forest (insect sounds), and Sacred protection for Medicinal Plants.
  • Science @ NASA -- Great stories from NASA like The Pull of Jupiter, Jupiter's New Red Spot, Planets around Dead Stars, and Suit Sat.
  • NPR - Story of the Day --These stories are not all suitable for child listeners but stories like Chocolate's countless varieties, Dada on Display at the National Gallery, and In Praise of Don Knotts are interesting family choices.
  • Nature Stories - Farming the Desert, Listening to the Private lives of Wolves, and Listening to the Northern Lights are a sampling of the stories in this environmental education podcast.
  • Nature - Audio highlights from the international journal nature. Podcast segments are longer and the content is a bit more advanced, but no less interesting. Articles like Undersea volcanoes, genetic causes of deafness, the balmy arctic, and poisonous frogs.
There are thousands of possibilities. Podcasts are being added daily and most are free! Something for everyone - even Latin readings - can be found in these emerging resources. Even though I linked to the individual sites, I use iTunes which is also free. You can search podcasts and subscribe in one place. Obviously, there are other options if you don't use iTunes. You may subscribe to NPR Podcasts at their website. You may google podcasts and your topic. I find all of that daunting because sometimes I don't know what I want. I like to browse.

What I do know is that our weekly travel time will be more interesting and more educational. Podcasts are not just for the car or iPod, I listen to the NPR Story of the Day and NPR Weekly Book Reviews while toiling away at my computer.

Are there fun, interesting, educational podcasts that I have missed?

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Typing 101

My son's handwriting is not great. We will keep pursuing legible writing, but I will begin to teach typing/keyboarding or whatever it is called now. I took typing in ninth grade when there was no question what to call it with an ancient rigidly coiffed teacher who gave "business" (secretarial) instructors the type in stereotype. We all rushed to that class, not because the class was so exciting, but to stake out the few electric typewriters. Even though class was typically amusing, it had nothing to do with the lessons and everything to do with the frazzled older teacher managing (or not) her class. I digress.

Anyway, I began researching typing/keyboarding programs a while back and I found out a couple of things. No matter what program you use, learning to type is not exciting. No matter how many cutesy characters they intersperse into the lessons - typing is typing. I don't ever remember anyone saying in my whole life, "Oh, I love typing. Please let me type that paper for you." I do remember people making a good living in college typing papers.

Anyway, here are the resources I found. Some are better than others:
  • Typing instruction in a book (much like I used when I was in 9th grade). I looked at a few of these, but decided that since the computer was already involved, why not use it as a resource for instruction as well.
    • Typing for Kids! -- This is spiral bound, which is great for typing instruction since the pages lie flat, black and white line art book. The lessons take you slowly through the keyboard learning one or two keys per lesson. This is a basic approach and at $7.95 you can find much better in a computer oriented program.
    • Keyboarding Skills -- Another spiral bound book for typing instruction. This one loses the cutesy drawings and adds speed. This book will take you further faster. If you really want a book, this one is for the older audience who really wants to type. I think this one was $19.95, but I wasn't that interested so I forgot to document.
  • Typing computer programs -- I was stymied here for a while since most of the more documented programs have not kept up with technology or were not written for the Macintosh crowd. I eventually found several interesting typing tutors for modern machines (both Mac and PC) complete with bells and whistles.
    • Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing 17 -- This is the newest of the Mavis Beacon typing empire (Make sure you get the version 17. The older programs are still floating around in the discount shops, but will not work with more modern machines). This program has oodles of bells and whistles, videos and arcade games, and lessons (231) and tests. This is a huge program. My question is this. Do you really need it all? The price is $40 or there about and you can download a free trial here.
    • -- Offers free typing instruction for both adults and children. The basics are covered in a basics section and then there are exercises in another section. There is nothing to stop the child from skipping the basics and moving into the exercises without instruction. Though the information in the basics section is sound, there is not as much practice of the basics to ensure that proper form or hand placement is achieved.
    • Ten Thumbs Typing Tutor -- I like this Viking Typing Teacher. The on screen keyboard shows where the correct letter is so you don't have to look down. Lessons are short, can be repeated, and you get live stats. Some of this information is not important for the 10 year old boy, but for the parent who likes to play with the children's school resources, having all of the information is just grand. Another adult or child bonus is iTune connectivity. You can actually type the lyrics of the song you are hearing (if the lyrics are available). This is a shareware program for all operating systems so you can try it for a few days before deciding.
    • Arcade Typing Tutor -- I am addicted to this program. The program is for practice only - no lessons here. You must shoot the meteors, spaceships, etc by typing the words associated object. Some of the spaceships shoot back, so be careful. Speed, only, is important. $11.99 and you are supporting a med school student - a feel good purchase for Mac only.
    • Master Gecko's Home Row - I like this program for my 6 year old - though I hadn't thought much about teaching her typing, yet. I can read her writing. A gecko teaches the keyboard, then he introduces you to his friends in a maze game. Obviously, home row refers to the asdf - jkl; on the keyboard and you move forward from that point. You can choose levels - beginner, intermediate, or expert. This is a cheap any operating system program.
    • There are hundreds of typing programs that I won't address here. This site gives you reviews and a screen shot of many of them. There should be something for everyone.
After looking at many, many programs, I purchased the Arcade Typing Tutor and Ten Thumbs. Now, I have to set aside some time for typing. Making it a priority, setting aside practice time, and insisting on consistency will create a young typist no matter which program you choose.

Friday, June 9, 2006

Summer Learning

Official school ended a few weeks ago. Yet, Summer is perfect for learning. The slower pace, fewer organized activities, and the longer days stimulate learning. Children are drawn outdoors and left to their own devices and amazing truths of nature are observed, the laws of physics are tested, muscles are developed, art is created, stories recounted, and mysteries solved. By letting children play and get bored you open the door to creative problem solving and learning.

I've heard, "Mama, I'm bored," at least a hundred times this summer, already. I respond in a similar way each time, "Go outside and play." I know that time spent wandering around on the farm is never wasted. Day-dreaming, scheming, exploring and testing are great activities that are best done when bored. While bored, my children dug a canal and built a dam. They made boats of paper and wood and floated them on the waterway. Experimenting with the water, dirt and miscellaneous pipe, wood, and other collected junk is certainly educational, but it is also fun. Yes, I could go stand out there with a book and direct the activities and bark out why those sticks won't work that way, but all that teaching would ruin it. Instead, my children have spent days experimenting and finally came up with a sturdy dam while I kept my mouth shut. I, as always, keep a watchful eye and ear pealed to the laboratory of the day, but try hard to stay out of it. I did overhear my son say, "How do the beavers do this so well with just dirt and sticks?" I think I overheard them discussing building a lock, next.

On another boring day, my children took a long walk to the spring. They found a fairy village in the moss and spent time "helping" the fairies by building some structure for their town. My sister and I used to pretend fairies in moss, with acorn cups, and rock tables. I told my children the story long ago. My children have now made their own stories and memories. I was told on my last walk to the spring, that I had stepped on a fairy garden. Oops! I have to be more careful.

Last week, my daughter folded a "nest" of paper, filled it with sunflower seeds, and climbed a tree. She placed the "nest" in an enticing place and waited. And waited. And waited.

Other days, I hear hammers banging. Construction has commenced. Or, they just ride their bikes, shoot targets with BB guns or bow, pick flowers, look for frogs or birds. I know that the unstructured learning is just as important as the more structured learning of the school year. I have to be patient with the messes created both inside and out. I have to remember that it is better for them to find out for themselves, rather than for me to tell them. I have to be available to help and rescue when needed but otherwise stay out of the way. I am rewarded with children who entertain themselves.

The children do go to the pool, participate in some organized activities, watch a few movies, and help build fences and other home and farm work, but Summer is all about roaming freely outside. I know roaming freely is not practical for city dweller children, but backyards, city and state parks, and inside the house can lead to similar exploration. Just remember to provide unscheduled time without an agenda. Let the child invent, while you watch.