Dale and I are grandparents to seven children. Two of them live in Anchorage, Alaska and attend public schools. The other five live near us in Tenino, WA and are home schooled by our daughter. As you can imagine, schooling five kids is a tremendous challenge. To remove some of the burden, we are now taking the three older kids on Fridays/Saturdays for schooling with the use of computers, swimming lessons, and some other special outings. (They only have a very antiquated computer and dial-up Internet at home.)
For Christmas we bought them three Acer Apire One netbook computers to be used only for “school” at our house. Someday they’ll be able to take them home, but for now they’re safer at our house. Friday classes started the first week of January, 2009. As I began to prepare for what to teach the kids when they arrived, I found an abundance of free on-line games and activities that teach basic learning and life skills. Typing was going to be a big priority, and I knew they were weak in their math facts, so I started there.
For typing, our favorite has become Dance Mat Typing. The game uses flash animation to take the kids through the basics of learning touch typing and they have fun while doing it. It is geared for kids ages 7 – 11, but our 13 year old is enjoying it too. There are lots of other free typing programs available on-line, but Dance Mat is a good place to start. For basic typing skills without all the graphics, we also downloaded a free program for use off-line called Kid’s Typing Skills.
To strengthen their math skills I also found many free on-line games. But the absolute best for learning the multiplication facts is a program I downloaded directly to the computers called TimezAttack from BigBrainz.com. It came with many good reviews, so I took a chance on the free version. I still can’t believe that BigBrainz gives this basic program away for free. It has all the teaching ability of the full paid version. Children will learn the 2-times table through the 12-times table. But with the free version the “cricket” character will be forever running around in the same dungeon. I noticed my grand kids were starting to get a little less enthusiastic about playing it by the time they got to the 5-times level. But they enjoyed it so much and were learning their tables so well that this week I upgraded to the full paid version to reward them for their progress. The full version will give them more interesting and challenging “environments” to explore. I can’t wait to see the look on their faces when all of a sudden they find their character in a different environment!
One thing I really like about TimezAttack is that it will continue to drill on the facts that the child is weak in and he/she won’t pass a level until it’s certain they know all the facts for that level. But unlike boring flash cards, they have to fight off an ugly ogre, robot or dragon by typing the answers to his math questions in order to advance through the environment. This adds excitement and challenges the kids in ways that rote memorization from flash cards just can’t do.
If you have grade school age children or grandchildren, I highly recommend you give the free version a try. But if you’re like me, you’ll want to upgrade to the full version so your kids can experience the full graphic effects of the different environments. (I recommend you upgrade before they get to level 4 as that’s when the new environments start to appear.) This game’s graphics are a work of art in themselves, but it’s the teaching strategies that it employs that makes it work.
What’s the Take Away?
Kids in school are learning computer skills at a faster pace than we older folks could ever have imagined. But some children may be left behind if they are home schooled in a home without an adequate computer system and Internet connection. Even though my husband and I are past working in the competitive job market, we recognize the importance of getting our grand kids up to speed on computers. In addition to typing and math, we’ve expanded out to include spelling, current events, science, music, and physical education – all using the free resources we’ve been able to find on the Internet. We hope our experiences will help others to explore the free resources available on-line.