In 1968, futurist educator George Leonard wrote a book called Education and Ecstasy, which had a chapter titled ”Visiting Day, 2001 A.D.” In this chapter he described a learning environment for kids where they would have access to all cultural knowledge via giant ten-foot square screens. While our screens are usually smaller in 2020 A.D., it’s quite clear that the future has arrived. Our kids have access to a vast world of knowledge through the Internet that only twenty or thirty years ago would have been considered far beyond the pale of what could be realistically predicted by any sensible person. We all should stop and marvel at this new reality.
Another part of our current reality is not so fabulous – a worldwide pandemic that is keeping everybody at home, with parents suddenly confronted with the task of becoming their children’s teachers at least some of the time. While this job may seem daunting to you at first, if you consider that you already have access (hopefully) to the Internet, which can be the greatest teacher your children ever had, then you might feel more secure. For even the greatest geniuses of the past – from Leonardo da Vinci to Albert Einstein– had only a small sliver of the fount of knowledge that is currently available to our kids.
Here are several ways in which you can marshal the incredible power of the Internet to teach your kids.
- Mathematics: the Khan Academy provides hundreds of mini-lessons of specific math skills from kindergarten to post-graduate, in videos lasting only a few minutes (and many more as well in other school subjects). Students can follow a sequence of modules, and get help with each skill by asking questions in a feature situated below each video. The beauty of this site is that students can watch and rewatch each video as many times as necessary until they have mastered the specific skill.
- Science: while the Khan Academy and other teaching sites have lessons based on science concepts, I think it’s better in the long run to access educational sites that focus on the sheer joy of exploring scientific ideas. There are a wide range of sites that do this including: The Exploratorium, Science Toys (where kids can perform simple science experiments using household articles), and Science News for Kids.
- Reading and Literature. There’s a wealth of literature available on line, especially if you have a Kindle. Amazon has great works of literature available on Kindle for free. For example, I downloaded onto my Kindle the complete works of Charles Dickens for $0.00, which purchased separately through a store would have cost me hundreds of dollars. Project Gutenberg is a site that also makes available over sixty-thousand primarily older literary works for reading online or downloading. For younger kids, Audible (owned by Amazon), has a service for kids where they can download free audio books of many great books. For a platform where kids and adults can find others who like the same books and can swap summaries and interpretations, go to Good Reads.
- History. The best way to study history on the Internet, is to choose a specific historical period and then search on Google for videos that explain or portray it, photos that illustrate it, audio files that provide documentary evidence, texts that expand on it, and historical records of the time (e.g. letters, journals, statistics etc.). But there are some great history websites out there for kids that provide more structure. Some of the best include: KidCitizen (good primary source for retrieving U.S. history photos ), National Museum of African American History, Smithsonian’s History Explorer, and History for Kids: BBC (with more of a focus on world history).
- Geography. The Internet has all manner of maps (historical, geographical, topological, etc.), and Google Maps can be a good place to start. But for a structured approach to exploring geography, there’s probably no better site than National Geographic Education.
- Art History: I had my first ”aha!” experience of wonder several years ago when I visited the Louvre website and looked at some of the paintings in their gallery. There are a wide range of the world’s greatest galleries that you can visit, including a virtual tour of the Louvre, the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. where you can search the entire collection, and the British Museum, which includes a page on ”how you can explore the British Museum at home.” And here’s a link that can connect you to 75 museums that folks can virtually tour.
- Writing Skills. While there are, of course, numerous websites concerning specific skills related to writing (spelling, grammar etc.), the best use of the Internet for writing, in my opinion, is for all the ways budding writers can share their work: tweeting on Twitter, creating your own blog, and/or emailing your favorite heroes and experts.
These features of the Internet are just an infinitesimal part of what is available for kids who are hungry to learn about the world and wish to hone their craft as writers, researchers, and explorers. Make sure that you stay in touch with your kids while they investigate these riches so that you can have conversations with them about the material they discover, give them encouragement when they run into difficulty, and provide hints and clues about next steps to take in their learning adventures. I’ve often thought that we should rechristen the Internet as ”The Ultimate Curiosity Machine,” because we’ve never had such a resource in the entire existence of humanity with the ability to teach our kids so much about the world around them.
For more information on the importance of generating curiosity, wonder, creativity, and other key learning qualities in our kids, see my book If Einstein Ran the Schools: Revitalizing U.S. Education.
This page was brought to you by Thomas Armstrong, Ph.D. and www.institute4learning.com.
Follow me on Twitter: @Dr_Armstrong