Computers and the Internet For Your Homeschool (Unschool) Curriculum
Karen M. Gibson
Computers. It is becoming increasingly difficult to find a line of work that doesn’t require some knowledge of computers. A person without a working knowledge of or exposure to the world of computer technology will likely find that lack limiting his career choices. For our family, at least, a computer is an indispensable resource and tool.
We have two types of computer users in our family. My husband and two eldest children are computer lovers. They easily understand how logically a computer works and are able to do seemingly anything with little to no instruction. Early on in their lives we noticed that these two children had a natural affinity to this new technology. It is as though they never met a computer or software program they didn’t like. And then there is our youngest child and myself. We are computer users who are comfortable with the software we regularly use. If you change the look of our desktop, we are sure the whole computer is somehow different. Have an unfamiliar message pop up and we are totally baffled as to what to do next. We just don’t understand how the computer works and I’m not sure we want to.
Often parents ask me if I place restrictions on my children’s computer usage or if I worry that they are using the computer too much? And my answer is always “not usually.” There are times when I will remind one child in particular there is life without being connected to a computer. I will ask him if he thinks he might need a break from the computer. Often he will say yes, but at times he is very involved in a project and feels it would disrupt his train of thought too much to leave it right then. Since I work in a similar manner, I understand and respect his desire to continue working. There are also days when my children use the computer very little or none at all, although those days when the computers are not turned on at all are very rare.
In addition to being concerned about the amount of time spent using a computer, parents often worry about the types of things the time is spent on, especially with regard to Internet usage. There are many monitoring and filtering programs available, but we have never felt the need to use one. Our computers have always been located in either our living room or our office room and these are rooms in which people come and go at all times. Therefore our children know that someone can, and will, come by at any time and see what they were doing. This doesn’t mean we parents are constantly looking over their shoulders. It does mean that, at least when they were first beginning to use the Internet, we limited the opportunities for temptation.
We have always made sure our children were aware that, while the Internet was a valuable tool, there were also sites that weren’t quite so good. When the children first used search engines, we assisted them, often learning together how important it was to be specific in what you were searching for. We realized there were sites we did not want our children to come upon and we limited their opportunities to do so, both by instruction and observation. As their skill in the usage of the Internet increased, we trusted their knowledge of our desires and also their ability to make intelligent decisions about which Internet sites to visit. This year our daughter turned sixteen and, for the first time, has a computer in her room. We believe she has exhibited enough maturity for her to make the decisions as to what sites she visits.
It all comes down to trust. Trusting your children. Since they were born we have raised them with respect, trusted their good sense, and basically tried to treat them as individuals with worthwhile opinions and feelings to be respected. When some action of theirs comes up that we are uncomfortable with, we discuss it with them, give reasons for our unease, and listen to their responses. It is a give and take, with listening occurring on both sides. It’s not always easy, and I know we have not always been successful. But we trust them, and I hope they trust us. They have not shown us any reason to distrust them; therefore we continue to do so. And this trust includes computers and Internet usage.
Our youngest does not yet use the Internet without assistance, mostly because of his reading level, but also because he simply does not wish to use the computer that much. He has a few games he likes to use, but the very act of sitting still in front of a computer for long periods of time is alien to him. He is much too active and would rather be outside doing almost anything else. He does have some favorite games, though, of which Age of Empires and NBA Live are the current ones.
The elder two children, though, use the computer extensively. They chat with friends, participate in role playing games online, build web pages, join email lists, research their current interests, write articles and stories and character descriptions, play with spreadsheets, create graphics, work on genealogy, and use our extensive software library. I am continually amazed at resources they find on the Internet; resources that I would never think to look for or have the slightest idea where to begin looking. They use the computer in all facets of their lives.
Copyright August 2001
Originally published in the September/October 2001 issue of HELM (Home Education Learning Magazine)