Homeschooling With Apps

by Moms With Apps on June 14, 2011

We forge ahead this week with an article written by Moms With Apps Co-founder Lynette Mattke of PicPocketBooks about how homeschoolers are using apps. Lynette approached Terri Johnson of Apps-School for leads on families who use apps in their home-based-classrooms, and found four moms to share their stories. They include Kim of Phoenix Arizona, Tracey of Fairbanks Alaska, Mary of Atlanta Georgia, and Kimberlie of Alvarado Texas, who all have their own opinons and implementations on apps for learning.

A marine scientist counted six Dolphins which were joined by 92 more. What was the total? It is a typical word problem for a student, but it is not coming from a teacher. Eight-year-old Jacob correctly calculates the answer to the question posed from the iLive Math Oceans app on his iPod touch as his mom drives him to baseball practice.

More and more schools are including mobile devices and apps in their budgets and in their classroom routines. From pre-school educational games to high school dissection labs, we are hearing how teachers and students are using apps. It is no surprise that homeschoolers across the country are saying that they are also turning to apps to supplement workbooks and online educational programs.

I’ve collected responses from several homeschooling families to learn specific ways in which they are using apps to augment homeschool lessons. Even if you are not homeschooling, their stories may give others some ideas about using apps as educational supplements at home. Especially with summer vacation coming up, parents may also choose to use apps to keep skills and concepts fresh to combat the “summer slide.”

Apps for review and preview

Kim, a homeschooling mom of 5, says that she uses math drills on the iPod Touch to reinforce the basics. She explains, “it has been especially beneficial for my 9 year old right brain learner who could not ‘get it’ using flashcards.” Her 5-year old used apps to practice his letter formation and cursive. She continues, “For my 5 year old, apps have replaced a lot of the workbook-like things that I did with the older boys.  He plays Math Bingo and Spelling Bingo and can learn falling off a rock so these things stick with him.  I have a struggling learner and two easy learners and the apps are mutually beneficial for all of them.  It’s brilliant how apps can appeal to all types of learners.”

Kimberlee, a homeschooler from Alvarado TX, uses apps with her 10 year-old to reinforce concepts or material that need extra practice, like fractions, and has found the Stack the States app perfect for U.S. Geography. She has also found that apps are a fun and effective way to introduce topics they’ll be covering next year, so she’s stocked the iPad with Solar System HD, Geo Walk, and Spanish language apps.

Tracey likes to use apps as warm ups before lessons or transitions to the next subject, for example, using Fish School to lead into a math lesson.

The role of apps in time management

One challenge with homeschooling can be the task of keeping a younger sibling busy with a constructive activity while working one-on-one with another child. Kimberlee has found that apps like Starfall ABCs, iLearn 123 and iLearn Words can keep her 2 year-old busy for up to 15 minutes at a time when her older kids are doing lessons.

She organizes her iPad with a folder of educational apps, and the kids can choose from any of those in the folder on car rides to get some extra learning time in and to take advantage of waiting times.

Another family notes that they use educational apps anywhere they are sitting or waiting to maximize learning and practice time – even while watching TV.

Apps as rewards

Kim explains her approach to using media time as a reward: “If they do their lessons willingly and cheerfully, they’ll get an hour after lessons (anytime during the rest of the day) to play electronics.  They already spend hours per day outside swinging, jumping on the trampoline, roller blading, swimming, playing baseball at the park and doing tae kwon do. So I think that we have a nice balance between electronics and the rest of our lives.  My boys have learned that when the timer goes off, so do the electronics.  And if they complain they lose their gadgets for a week.”

Parents and kids like it when the apps are both entertaining and educational. Several families mentioned apps that fit that bill, notably Stack the States and Stack the Countries (even grown ups like to play!), and “Contraption.” Kimberlee says, “One of our favorite apps right now is “Stack the States” (which I found from the MomsWithApps website last week). It sparks many conversations about states and historical events that are the source for the name of a landmark. “Contraption” also sparks a lot of conversation about physics and how one action will result in another reaction, etc.”

“Educational apps can be a way to bridge the gap between entertainment for children and the parents’ desire to stimulate their children’s minds. And it makes it not seem like academics which can be so encouraging for the kid who thinks he’s not as smart as others,” adds Kim. She also points out that apps seem to be especially engaging for boys (she has 4 of them, so that’s important!)

Most of the families noted that they have not needed to set limits on iPad use: the kids are able to self regulate.

Turning to apps for reference

Mary sees apps replacing other formats, “We mostly use flashcard apps instead of traditional flashcards.  We also use the maps extensively (Nat Geo Maps is our favorite) instead of consulting the physical atlas. Wherever we are homeschooling we have the iPad or my iPhone with us and can access SO MUCH through apps that just wouldn’t be possible otherwise.”

Kimberlee echoes that sentiment, “The “Words with Friends” app has brought up conversations about words and many trips to the AED Dictionary app. I can’t imagine living without my iPad or iPhone. They have both become more important than our computers.”

Apps as a springboard to other projects and activities

The homeschoolers pointed out that apps often inspire them to move on to other (non-digital) activities. Everyday Mathematics’ Baseball multiplication app gets Kim’s homescholers reaching for their bats and mitts. She also offers, “After playing a game, like Blokus, on the iPod Touch or iPad, we’ll get out a board game.  The drawing apps tend to make us break out pens and paper later.”

Tracey shares that Stack the States has gotten her family planning a trip across the country.

Kim says that using apps for homeschooling has made the family start thinking about ideas for developing their own app, maybe something with flying fractions!

Thoughts for the future

By finding ways to incorporate educational apps in their homeschool routines, parents and kids alike are benefitting from the independent and individualized learning possibilities that apps can offer. As more and more material becomes available on affordable mobile devices it is likely that educational mobile apps will overtake traditional workbooks and online computer programs in homeschool environments.

Several families noted that while there are lots of choices for alphabet and counting apps, the selection of educational apps for older kids (grades 3-12) is more limited.  Homeschoolers are looking for apps that challenge kids in the upper grades: Algebra? Flying fractions, anyone?!

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