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The Web and Education--One Mom's Perspective

by A.R. Linder

Parents should get more involved in the education of a child. How many times have you heard this statement? My question is, Where does a parent begin? I understand that as a parent I must be engaged. I truly do get that I have to ensure the homework is done and that I am communicating regularly with my child's teachers. But beyond that, what else can a parent do?

I imagine there are hundreds of things a parent might do, but I would like to share my personal experience with you. Let's begin with a little insight into my background. Several years ago while developing and teaching Air Force training courses for U.S. Space Command, I became fascinated with the use of computers in learning. So when my child was beginning her educational experience, of course, I loaded up on the best educational software in the land. But, I kept hearing this persistent buzz about Internet resources.

Did you know that if you Google educational resources, you get 163,000,000 search results? If you narrow it down to let s say math, you end up with a whopping 269,000,000 results. Some of them are really good, and some of them really stink, and some have so much advertising you can't tell if they are really good, really awful or fair-to-midland. But if you hang in there and really look, there are some real gems out there and most of them are absolutely free.

One exercise I have done with my child over the years involves researching the admissions criteria for different schools. We found sites like CollegeTours.com, a site providing loads of information and virtual tours of different college campuses, to be references for this exercise. We have even gone as far as to look at scholarship requirements using databases such as CollegeNET.com and CollegeIsPossible.org. We also compared the costs of different institutions. We began doing this in her sixth grade year. Because we started early, my child has understood the requirements for college acceptance and financing for sometime now. When I started the process, my hope was that we would not be running around in her junior and senior years trying to get things in order. It is awfully difficult to bring up that grade point average in a couple of semesters, especially if the young person is stressed by time constraints. Getting my child prepared early was my way of ensuring we were prepared when we got down to deadlines. A worksheet for this exercise can be downloaded from my website YouthPlay.org.

My daughter is now in the eleventh grade. She is a member of the National Honor Society, president of her junior class, a starting member of her high school basketball team, an apprentice for a local neurosurgeon and a social butterfly. And, we are already inundated with college recruitment materials from the best colleges in the nation. In other words, we're getting there-- our strategy has worked thus far.

There were several not-so-accidental elements in my Internet strategy. For instance, practice is an essential part of a successful study routine especially when dealing with facts and rules. The Internet and various software can be very useful in providing repetition in a not-so-routine manner. Games such as Basket Math at ScienceAcademy.com where your child actually makes a hoop each time he or she gets the correct answer can make rote learning of multiplication tables a tad more interesting than just repeating the multiplication tables over and over.

I remember clearly when I began to dislike math a subject I had loved until, I believe, I ran into the wrong teacher. I remember my worst days in school. I remember my best days. I remember the teachers who were creative and inspiring and know that the best skills I possess today are in the areas they taught. Because of my own experience, I looked very hard for good learning websites to share with my daughter. I didn t want her to be turned off by sites that were really advertising monsters, just enticing you to a point of enjoyment and then launching an advertising scheme where you must make a purchase before you can go any further. Certainly I understand that many websites survive through their ability to sell products, however I believe this can be accomplished without bait and purchase gimmicks.

Goodness, have you ever tried to unlearn something you learned how to do wrong? You really have to make sure that the resources that your child uses are good resources. Every textbook is not a good textbook; every teacher is not a good teacher; and, every website is not a good website. Assuming these tools are good simply because they exist or because the school system uses them can cause your child a world of harm. A parent really has to do more than have these tools available. If you try out a piece of software or an Internet resource and you cannot follow the instructions, then there is a very good chance your child may not be able to effectively use the resource either. And the same rule applies with other resources as well. Some sites such as Math.com and MathForum.com gave really simple step-by-step instructions to concepts my child was learning in school, yet I had long forgotten. I was able to refresh my memory and to get her on track using these resources.

The vividness of the learning experience can also be very important. If I take my child to the zoo to learn about animals, he or she will learn more than if I just explain the animals. One of my favorite sites for young kids is Switchzoo.com. My younger nieces and nephews are fascinated with the animals they are familiar with, but just spillover with excitement as they manipulate the animals to make new ones. I think that my daughter and I are really supposed to be a little old for the activity, but in all truthfulness we have a great time with it too.

There are so many places out there that I neither have the time nor the money to take my child. The Internet has been especially useful in getting my child to those places. At our fingertips we have the Virtual Smithsonian Institute and the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. At GreatPlaces.org we have in living color enjoyed films and photos of Madagascar, Tibet, the Amazon and several other far away places. Websites such as the Academy of Achievement featuring diverse faces from different walks of life and Get Smarter provide children with the opportunity to interact with young people of different cultures. While certainly not substitutes for eye-to-eye interaction, these types of websites provide additional opportunities for young people to interact with peers from other backgrounds. Through the gateway of MuseumStuff.com, we have viewed museums all over the world including my personal favorite the web only exhibits of our National Museum of Air and Space in Washington DC. And let's not forget the brick and mortar library. Before computers the library is how my parents took me to far away places. It still works and every library that we have visited recently has wonderful computer resources as well. So, if you don't have a computer at home, that is certainly no excuse for not spending some time with your child using this wonderful technology. And I still buy books for presents wonderful, exciting, colorful books.

There are several good resources on the web that make the search for good, educationally sound websites easier for parents. The Education Place and Education World-- The Educator's Best Friend are sites developed by educators. These sites and the many others like them, including my own website www.YouthPlay.org featuring the websites I have used in educating my child, keep us updated on the newest and the best resources in education and help us in making decisions regarding our children s education. My personal favorite is my very own YouthPlay blog where I share my favorite educational websites daily.

I truly believe that the resources of the Internet have helped my daughter to tap into all of her talents and have the potential to help other children to do the same.

About the Author:
A.R. Linder is the editor of the YouthPlay blog found at http://youthplay-org.blogspot.com -- a daily review of her favorite educational resources. A cornerstone of the website is a wonderful area called YouthPlay.org --a collection of many of the websites she has used in educating herself and her child. Ms. Linder is a graduate of the University of South Florida in Tampa, FL. She has more than 15 years of experience in training and workforce development.



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