Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Multi-Media Education

We each have our own idea of what a good education is. We each have our own ideas about what are the 'core' subjects, and what makes up 'the basics' that every education should include. We each have our own idea of what makes an education 'well-rounded' and even about how important a 'well-rounded' education is. There is one thing, though, that is NOT a matter of opinion or open for debate, each and every one of us deserves an excellent education.

In my opinion, an excellent education has to include multi-media resources. There is so much available to us, in this day of modern & fast-improving technology. If we refuse to use these resources, based on our own personal fears of technology, our own limited knowledge, or those many studies that link screen time to obesity & sedentary lifestyles, we are doing our future generations a disservice.

Thanks to TV & internet, my kids & I have seen footage of important Historical events that we were not alive for (Apollo 13, MLK's 'I Have a Dream' speech, etc). Since these things happened before we were born, we would have had no way to witness them without TV & internet. We've seen space shuttles launch, explored the inside of a pyramid, and visited museums in other countries.

Shows like Between the Lions, Bill Nye, and Cyber Chase make learning fun. They may help give a child an appreciation for a subject they don't like. They may even be a large part of how a child learns to read. Sites like Starfall offer interactive books to help children learn to read & improve their skills.

I have literally hundreds, if not thousands, of links in my 'School' folder in my Favorites. These sites range from webcams in Africa to educational games, to interactive museum exhibits, to instructional videos, to lectures from a variety of universities, to interactive maps, to informational sites, and more. My kids can use the games to review previously learned concepts (which they prefer to doing drill sheets or flashcards for review). They can watch animals, on another continent, going about their daily routines. They can listen to lectures from Yale, Harvard, and many other universities to supplement their Science or History courses (or just to learn about something they are interested in). There are museums that we simply can't go visit, but they can visit them online. It might not be the same as being there in person, but it's better than never getting to see it in any way.

By using the internet, my kids can see first-hand photos of the destruction caused by the tornadoes that recently swept the South, or the tsunami that hit Japan. They can also see/read first-hand accounts of people who live in those places, on blogs & news sites. Our local news wouldn't be able to provide that kind of coverage. We can find videos that help explain math concepts or Science topics. We can find resources for any interest, no matter how unusual.

My kids listen to audio books, as well as reading voraciously (sometimes doing both for the same series). They use audio books for car rides, long trips, while doing housework and yard work, you know, those times when it might not be feasible to have an actual book.

We use Netflix instant streaming & DVDs from Netflix & the library for documentaries about all kinds of things. We use software, DVDs, and pronunciation CDs to supplement our foreign language studies. We use the internet and books for research.

We don't watch much regular TV. The few regular TV shows that we like, we watch streaming on Netflix or on DVD (so we're about a season behind). We don't allow our TV watching to control us. We don't have to watch when the show is on; we watch when it is convenient for us. We have a healthy balance between screen time, down time, and physically active time. It is very possible to find that balance. We watch Netflix streaming on a Roku. We actually have a separate Roku for our 'school room.' That one only has educational channels on it. It has the Khan Academy channel (some, not all, of the videos from Khan Academy available right on your tv), NASA TV (real-time footage), and Weather Underground (local weather info from, among others.

Now, don't get me wrong. I LOVE books. I love the feel of them. I love the smell of them. I love the way they look lined up on the shelf. I've been known to buy a book because I thought it looked pretty (mainly leather-bound or really old books). We have a good sized home library & really need more bookcases to help hold it. There is nothing that quite compares to curling up in an over-stuffed chair with a good book in hand.

I just don't think that the educational value of other media-sources should be underrated. We can learn a lot from books. However, there is no reason, in today's world, for education to be limited only to book learning. Education needs to evolve if it is to meet the needs of the current generation. We need to be offering an education rich in good resources, not one limited to one or two resources.

I think back to my years in school. There was minimal computer use. We sometimes watched a video related to what we were studying (usually insanely boring videos), and we watched some movies. That was it; the rest was textbooks and whatever books we were required to read for English. I see no reason for my kids to suffer that same education. There is so much available today. Almost every home has a computer & internet access. Almost every home has DVD players and/or VCRs. I know people who are living well below the poverty line who have several TVs, cable, DVD players, computers & internet. It's not like it was when I was a kid (or teen) & it was normal to know several people who still didn't have most of that stuff.

Many homeschoolers have said that homeschoolers, as a group, are more likely to see the educational value of games, imaginative play, daily life, etc. Yet, there are still many who refuse to use TV and computers for their child's education.

With the variety of educational opportunities available and the speed at which we can now access information, children who are not allowed to take advantage of these opportunities will be left behind. It is a competitive world out there. I intend to do everything in my power to make sure my kids are prepared for that world.