Tip #18 – Expose Your Kids to Khan Academy

Sep 12

For my kids, screens are synonymous with “down time”.  They tend to grow giddy with excitement when I allow them to turn on a computer, iPhone, or Wii screen.  It’s time to play.  Further proof of their thinking is when I’m working on my laptop.  ”Why do you get to play on the computer?” they’ll ask accusingly.

“It’s work,” I’ll explain.  ”I’m working on my computer.  Mommy doesn’t play video games.”  The accusing child will eye me suspiciously.  He doesn’t believe it.  How can I not be having fun I’m in front of a computer screen?  Perhaps it is this kind of thinking that causes my insides to churn whenever they ask to play online.  I know their precious time will be wiled away watching cheesy YouTube videos or manipulating animated characters through some kind of race course.  Don’t they have something more useful to do with their brains? Like, say, perfect Beethoven’s Ode to Joy on the piano? Or read a book on the laws of physics?  I mean, I’ve read about kids who can do this stuff.  If my kids would only apply themselves to such worthy practices (and repress their desire to be video game junkies), they’d be so much further ahead in life.  At the very least, our whole family would have way better bragging rights.

That’s why I’m determined to teach my kids that the internet offers far more than video game thrills to the inquiring (or forcibly-inquiring) mind.  Because it really does.  My boys seem to believe that all the useful information provided online are relegated to a site called Wikipedia.  Not so.  That’s why I was so thrilled to learn about the incredible Khan Academy.  The brain child of MIT graduate educator Salman Khan, it started out as a small collection of math tutorials posted on YouTube for the benefit of his younger relatives and friends.  When the videos grew in popularity, he decided to quit his full-time job as a hedge fund analyst and focuses exclusively on providing “a free, world-class education to anyone, anywhere.”  Oh, and it has Bill Gates’ stamp of approval. (Isn’t that like the Oprah of technology?)

Today, Khan Academy boasts over 2,400 videos and 150 practice drills that cover topics ranging from mathematics to physics and finance to history.  And how does this apply to my kids?  you may be asking.  Simple… the drills and tutorials range from simple addition (for six-year-olds) to complex trigonometry (for someone smarter than me).  Kids can learn at their own pace and practice arithmetic problems until they’ve mastered that particular area.  In a typical school year, I often don’t know how well my kids understand their math chapter until the test comes home.  By then, there is little I, or the teacher, can do to remedy a bad mark this because it’s time to move on to the next chapter.  With Khan Academy, students graduate to the next level of arithmetic once they’ve “mastered” their current one.

An added bonus for the kids is that they get to spend time working on a computer (that’s right – WORKING), not playing.  In my household, any screen time is better than no screen time.  At the same time, they are exposed to the notion that digital devices can be used for productive purposes – not just entertainment.  And, heck, if they happen to find Khan Academy to be more fun than work, I’m not going to complain.

Do your own kids a favour.  Help them discover that there are myriad ways to use their digital time productively.  There is a mass of information to help young students achieve academic success on the internet – help them find it, use it, and appreciate it.

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