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How much online is too much?

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We've recently begun exploring more online programs. I previously had a bias against them thinking they couldn't possibly be as thorough as a real teacher, however, I tried xtramath and realised it could keep track of her math facts knowledge far better than I ever could. It could focus on problem facts and skip ones she knew. And most importantly, it got DONE, while math flash cards done in person were not. I tried out spellingcity, and now am exploring a few more and seeing the depth of practice I'm impressed. Doing a workbook page of spelling was a chore, and we could do inventive things like spelling while running in circles or writing in sand, but, 20 minutes might see us do each word once. However, I sit her down on spellingcity and she happily and excitedly goes through two or three games and asks for more, it does MORE practice, more efficiently than I can. With three kids soon to be studying, while I also work from home and study part time, efficiency is important for us. 


So I find myself wondering, how many online programs are too many? Being clear that I am talking about spelling city with word lists I create myself, or xtramath, or khan academy, or other very intentional programs I've found, not just sitting her in front of a site of 'educational games' for two hours. These are directed and supervised learning programs which I will be able to closely monitor the progress of and customise as needed.


See, I've been thinking... The kids are getting their own laptops this week due to a fortunate set of circumstances, and I am wondering... I have found enough great online resources to form a complete and thorough math and language arts curriculum without me. Those subjects are the need-to-do subjects, not the fun ones. What if I let them do all their core subjects on the computer? What if I saved all my time and energy to really dig into the content subjects and fun subjects (which, honestly, aren't getting done regularly right now because I have only had time for the core). I wouldn't be hands off, they'd do writing and reading in the content subjects and I'd probably do math unit studies at times for things like puzzles, living math, and one day beast academy. But if they used the computer for these core subjects it would free up my time and energy to really embrace the parts of learning we want to do and never have time for. 


But then again, I feel kind of like a traitor for suggesting it. Isn't the point of homeschooling to teach my own kids, not let some computer program do it for me? (I'm second generation, so this is pretty well ingrained in me, I've never understood the co-op/outsource culture.). But, I would be teaching, I'd just be freeing myself to teach the stuff we enjoy and do it properly instead of it being squeezed in at the end. But, these programs are used at schools and I know how poor school results are, how can they do a better job than me? Is it purely the one on one attention and supervision and availability for questions which would make the difference? I'm not going to stick them in front of the computer and go off to work, I'll use the time to be in the room helping them or doing dishes etc. I don't know, I feel conflicted and can't decide if it's a logical conflict or just being pulled towards the anti-school-program, teach-your-kids-yourself mentality where it may not be needed.



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I think it totally depends on what works best for you and your DC. :) In some ways, you could ask the very same questions about solo-working textbooks/workbooks. Yet some students really click with and thrive with that mode of learning. Same with online or computer-based programs.


Your family is going to be very different from mine, so my experiences won't likely help you that much, but FWIW, here was how I worked my way through that question. For us -- and we were homeschooling the elementary grades 15 years ago, so there are a lot of changes and new resources available -- doing work on the computer worked best for supplements, like math fact drills, and educational computer games to extend learning. We also used a lot of documentaries (as library videos/DVDs, but now there is much more access to online streaming) -- again, as extension and supplement.


Neither DS here would have done well with the computer as the primary teacher or mode of learning, and neither did well with solo/independent learning until at least 6th grade, and then it was a slow process for the next few years of becoming increasingly more independent by 10th/11th grade. Just their unique timetables.   ;) As a result, we didn't use online options as our "spine" sources of learning.


I found that using the computer in those ways (supplement/extension) was very helpful in the early elementary grades when students were less able to read or do work solo. Having computer time for one DS freed me up to work with the other DS one-on-one for 30-60 minutes each day, and by making it extension/supplementary learning, I could relax -- some learning and reinforcement was happening, they were enjoying their computer time, but I also wasn't reliant on the computer as the major component for any subject area so if no learning was happening, I didn't freak out.



I guess, in answer to your question "how much online is too much?" -- it would be the point where no learning is happening, and the online/computer time seems to be more about building or feeding an addiction rather than use of the computer and time online building learning skills.

Edited by Lori D.
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As far as "these programs are used at schools," in my experience the schools seem to excel in choosing the dumbest possible ones, just as with printed curriculum. The math one they want us to use is a whirling, twittering electronic carnival where you can barely find the math amid the bells and pinwheels. When I mentioned Khan the teacher kind of side-eyed me! So you can't judge "like the schools" on the fact that it's digital alone.


But I'm not sure one can do complete ELA that way, since it can't teach you composition or handwriting. My only issue with digital stuff would be aesthetic/behavioral - would I be building (or in our own case, worsening) a preference for being in front of a screen vs. curled up with a book. And aesthetics are unabashedly central to my vision for ELA. But that's a personal preference, and actually we've been finding that, whatever the romance of print, sitting together a comfortable distance from an ebook on a desktop screen is easier than huddling over a paper book together.


From the standpoint of does it still count as homeschooling, I think it's very similar to textbooks written to the student, or curricula that come with videos.

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Is your signature updated?  6 year old, 4 year old and a 2.5 year old?  How much time are you spending on school with kids this age?  If your kids are older then what I post below may not fit anymore, but just in case those are the ages you are dealing with...


I would definitely limit exposure to on-line material at those ages.  Especially if you are very busy it would be easy to let 10 minutes of them being on the computer turn into an hour or more daily and eventually that could stretch out even longer.  Screen addictions are real.  I'd be very careful with kids that young.


That doesn't mean you can't use on-line material to provide some exposure and certainly at those ages they don't need much in the way of structured curriculum (and some would argue they don't need any).  Some kids do really well with on-line material.  My son does.  Absolutely it can be useful and there ARE quality programs out there.


Since you want to do the content subjects with them, why do you need anything more formal for language arts at these ages?  Do copy work for the 6 year old from the content subjects.  Work on letter formation with the 4 year old.  Let them listen to audio books.  You could start a formal spelling and grammar program when they are a bit older but let them play the games for spelling and math as a side fun thing for now if they are interested.  


But don't use it as a daily babysitter unless you really have no other option (and I would be trying to find other options).  Set a timer.  Keep time on the computer fairly short.  In other words, be mindful of how long they are on.  It is easy to get caught up in your own responsibilities and lose track of time.  Make sure they are still getting plenty of time to play and to listen to books and to do things like play store or work with measure cups and other things related to math that help them connect the numbers to the real world.

Edited by OneStepAtATime
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I do think it depends on the child also. DS7 wants to "get it done". gets frustrated with toooo much repetition of "stuff he knows" (some once in a while , snuck in with other material, ok, but not pages and pages of it). Some online programs adjust well, like for math facts (we use sumdog.com, they prefer it to xtra math). It stops asking him the "easy" ones over and over.


So like a previous poster I use it for those sort of extras. Things I need to get done, but as I tell the kids often, there is only 1 of me and 4 of them. 


For next year, DD10 has requested no computer work (other than free writing of her stories). She was only doing vocab, spelling and geography drills this year. She prefers paperwork.


So for next year, the twins will use readingeggs/eggspress, ETC online, madcaplogic.com (art class), a programming class, and sheppard software for geography drills. All that is 1 hour or so a day.

DD10 will have probably only the geography drills once or twice a week (unless I can find an app to replace it, or maybe weekly quizzes?? not sure.) and the art class. Plus she has requested online drawing classes in addition to the art class.

DS13 will have vocab, geography drills, art class, algebra supplement (videos, etc), and maybe CTCs mind benders. Again about 1-1.5 hours a day. Plus time to type his writing assignments.

I tried spelling city one year, and may use it again for oldest ds with my chosen word lists.


I think you could do a core program online and do content/extras together, it really depends on follow up and quality of the content. Like Mobymax has a writing workshop, but parents/teachers have to log in and check/edit/score short answers/parts of the essays as you go. It is not 100% hands off.


ETA: I hadn't looked at ages on your sig, at that age no, I wouldn't do core instruction online, I was thinking 5th-7th like my older 2.. For KG, my twins only had 30 minutes on reading eggs, none of the extra stuff.  This year (1st) I added sumdog for math facts to readingeggs.


Edited by Um_2_4
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