Like most Americans, we spend a lot of time in the car. Between errands and running to and from classes and activities, I estimate we spend close to an hour in the car every day. This is especially ironic, because we chose to live walking distance to my husband’s work because we think time in the car is such a waste. However, until we develop some sort of instantaneous transport system, I’ve found ways to use our time in car for education.
Audio books are an excellent way to create a language rich environment for the kiddos. Anything narrated by Jim Weiss is excellent. I recommend American Tall Tales, classics like Treasure Island, the Jungle Book, fairy tales, and the complete Story of the World by Susan Wise Bauer. Audio books have made many a car ride more tolerable for me, as the driver, while the kids are engaged listening instead of bickering with each other or chattering questions at me that only Google knows the answer to. In addition, Sophia has been able to correct me on the differences between Caesar Augustus and Julius Caesar, and the Minoans and the Mycenaeans. These can be purchased on Amazon and listened to again and again, as we do, or borrowed from the library for free.
A company called Wee Sing makes great CDs with children singing folk songs, bible songs, and others. I especially recommend the Nursery Rhymes and Lullabies. This is a great way to prepare the soil for cultural literacy. Great literature and poetry, even art will often refer to nursery rhymes, fairy tales, lullabies, and other things passed down through generations. Classical Kids offers stories of famous composers paired with their music. This is relatively new to our use, so the kids can’t yet tell between Bach and Beethoven just by listening, but they have said, “Hey! I know this song!”Familiarity with great music will breed appreciation. Appreciation for great art is part of our classical education, and this is a really easy way to expose them to great music. The Children’s Group, who produces Classical Kids also looks to be developing an App which I am eagerly looking forward to.
If you are especially organized or ambitious any particular week, you can try to pair books relating to what you are listening to and have a basket in the back seat full of them for the kids to look at. I don’t make this requirement, I just hand a book to one kid when I start the CD without much if any explanation. They naturally start following along and become interested. I certainly never say, “Do you want to follow along in this book about the music we’re hearing?” I’d never get a yes. Maybe that’s just my kids…. I don’t set it up as something I want them to do. It’s just entertainment while we’re in the car.
Our favorite book and audio CD pairing for Bible stories is the Usborne Book of Bible Stories with read-along CD. Again, even if you are not a religious homeschooler, familiarity with Bible stories will contribute to general cultural literacy, and when listening to them with your children, as a parent you can editorialize however you like. That’s another benefit of homeschooling, the ability to directly transmit your values to your children when encountering new material. You can buy Usborne materials from Amazon, but I know that buying from an individual sales consultant benefits small business people, so I encourage you to try to find a consultant.
I know that people have strong opinions about whether or not young children should have screen time and if so how much. I tend to fall somewhere in the middle, and I don’t think it’s a catastrophe if you use some educational programming to electronically babysit your kids while you cook dinner, take care of a sick child, write a blog, or whatever. If you are a homeschooler, and start to fantasize about chasing down the school bus to take your kids off your hands for a few hours, you need some help wherever you can get it. I am a big fan of educational apps that the kids can navigate themselves when I am otherwise occupied. My preschooler, is high energy, and sometimes I need my almost 3rd grader to be able to work independently on an app while I put out a fire, (figuratively, not literally, knock on wood.) Also, my preschooler has a greater attention span when a phonics or math program is on a screen than when the same material is in a workbook. So again, why not let technology make my life a little easier? Apps also especially lend themselves to use during “Car School”. Here are some apps that we have used and like…
Starfall, WordFriends, BobBooks, Starfall Learn to Read, and Hooked on Phonics, and Word Families are all great introductions to phonics and sight words for the burgeoning reader. Nothing is more important to education, and Classical Education than a familiarity with words and fluent reading. Hooked on Phonics is an especially thorough and well done App, and the price reflects this. However, my four year old is able to navigate it without help and often sings along to the catchy songs.
The entire Teach Me series, including Teach Me Toddler, Teach Me Kindergarten, Teach Me 1st Grade, Teach me 2nd Grade, and Teach Me 3rd Grade are excellent general education apps including math, spelling, shapes, colors, sight words, etc. As the children progress through the levels they earn rewards, such as electronic stickers, or food to feed pretend fish. I have not tried the Teach Me Math Facts app yet, but it looks to be as good as the others.
All three cycles of the Classical Conversations app have fabulous history, geography, science, math, English grammar, Latin interactive stuff, including maps and catchy songs. It is missing, in my opinion, the fabulous timeline song and hand gestures.
An older child’s version of Hooked on Phonics is the Reading Pro app. This is My Body app teaches anatomy with very cute visuals and is age appropriate for elementary school students. Stack the States is addictive and teaches a remarkable amount of American geography and related trivia. Spell till you Drop is fun for spelling review, although it doesn’t teach any spelling rules. Children who dislike timed games may not like it. iMovie allows kids (and adults) to create really funny movie trailers.
The Reading Rainbow app was kind of a disappointment to us. It was clunky to use, and the books that children could download into their backpacks were really subpar. I thought perhaps that some of the quality books that were featured on the fabulous kids show, Reading Rainbow, would be part of the app. I was wrong. That being said, we did buy episodes of Reading Rainbow on iTunes and will download them to the iPad for plane trips or long road trips. They are still excellent. LaVar Burton, the star of Reading Rainbow, recently bought rights to the show and the app is a relatively new creation. I think it has room to improve.