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Mom tips: integrating tech tools into learning

How many computers, laptops, i-thingys and other electronic doodads are in your house at this very moment? According to the latest count, my household now includes two desktop computers, two laptops, one iPad, an iPod touch and two Kindles. Look like the kids and I are now firmly entrenched in the 21st century.

But while lots of parents worry about the hours their kids spend tethered to electronic devices, I prefer to focus on the opportunities. Here are some of our favorite ways to integrate tech into our lives and learning:

  • Google Chrome. My boys love this fast browser, which allows them to install app-like icons on their home page so they can easily access their favorite websites. They use Google and Google Chrome to search for all kinds of info. My 9-year-old, for instance, is into all things remote-controlled, so he spends hours comparing various RC cars online and watching RC videos. My 11-year-old has installed an app called MLB scoreboard that allows him to check baseball scores -- and even watch the games online. 
  • YouTube. Ah, the ways YouTube has enhanced our lives! We've watched Martin Luther King Jr's "I Have a Dream Speech," newsreel footage of the RMS Titanic and countless singers and music videos. We've even uploaded some of our own stuff. Got a budding film maker in the house? Let him or her create a YouTube channel and upload some simple films. Singers and performers may enjoy sharing their performances online also. 
  • Kindle. Want to get your teen to read some classic literature? Consider getting a Kindle, or downloading the Kindle reading app to your computer or smartphone. Amazon offers scores of classic tomes -- including Charles Dickens' Great Expectations and Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice -- free on Kindle. E-readers, such as the Kindle and Nook, can also inspire reluctant readers to read. One recent study found that middle school boys valued reading more after reading on an e-reader. 
  • iTunes U. Got a gifted student or teen learned in the house? Download the iTunes U app (available for iPad and iPods) and check out the scores of FREE classes from top universities. I recently downloaded a Yale course about the American Revolution for my 14-year-old history buff, as well as a building a business course from the University of Oxford. 
  • Interest-specific apps. There really is an app for almost everything. My 6-year-old is interested in the Titanic. So I searched for "Titanic" apps. Today, he enjoys "Building the Titanic" and "Titanicdock." An astronomy buff might enjoy "GoSkyWatch," which uses device's integrated cameras to help users ID stars and planets in real-time. Comic enthusiasts will love "Toontastic." 
  • Blogger or WordPress. Have you considered started a blog? Many families document their home learning experiences with a blog (which also becomes a record of their lives together). Other students or parents start and maintain blogs based on a personal interest. Both Blogger and WordPress are basic blogging platforms that are easy to use; if I can figure it out, anyone can! Blogs are also a great way to follow what's going on in the world. A kid who loves BMX biking, for instance, might enjoy keeping up with the top BMX blogs.  
  • Texting. If ur kids have a cellphone, u prob no they use it a lot. And you probably worry about the effect of text-speak on their language skills. Well, put those worries to rest. Scholastic Instructor says that the most research indicates that texting actually improves students' spelling and language skills.  

Of course, it's important to spend time away from the tech world as well. Right now, my kids are firmly attached to their electronic devices. Boy #1 is upstairs, using both his phone and laptop. Boys #2-4 are playing Halo on their Xbox with a friend. But tomorrow, we're leaving the tech behind and heading to a local woods to hike, play and fish. Some parents create elaborate sets of rules regarding when and how technology can be used; I prefer to create attractive opportunities for my boys to interact with the non-electronic world.

How do you use tech in your homeschool?