Computers were heralded as the next great learning tool back when they were introduced into schools when I was a kid. But studies since then have shown that it's how the computer is used that determines whether it can be considered a learning tool or not. If I just let my kids play on Nickelodeon or iCarly all the time, the only thing they're learning is how to use a mouse and navigate through windows. What you want are websites that actually teach your child a skill, or expose them to things that they wouldn't have a chance to see otherwise.
My 6 yr old and I clash when I try to help her with reading or math, but I've found that she takes direction well from someone she doesn't know online, so I've put icons up on the favourites bar so that she's only a click away from her favourite sites. Here are the ones she keeps going back to time and again (and I like them too):
Starfall - a simple site that helps kids learn the alphabet and the sounds that letters make. This site was recommended to me by many people, including teachers, and my kids love it.
Poisson Rouge - a French language site that has over 200 activities and language learning possibilities hidden throughout the picture. This site also includes some English and Spanish.
Minuscule is a site with short videos of the imaginary lives of insects, which is very cute and educational at the same time.
Khan Academy is probably one of the most amazing resources I have ever found online. Wired had an article about it called How Khan Academy is Changing the Rules of Education that is worth reading before you get your child started on it. The 6 yr. old has been using it for math, and I'm trying to find a few minutes to watch some of the videos on economics.
The Kid Should See This is described by the creator like this:
"There's just so much science, nature, music, arts, technology, storytelling and assorted good stuff out there that my kids (and maybe your kids) haven't seen. It's most likely not stuff that was made for them... But we don't underestimate kids around here. Off the grid-for-little-kids videos and other smart stuff collected by Rion Nakaya and her three year old co-curator."
Strange Maps is more for adults, but when I find something interesting there I make sure to show my daughter. I want to expose her to the idea of a world beyond our own, and this can be an unusual way to do it.
If your child is into science, like mine suddenly is, engineerguy.com has videos demonstrating how things work.
Mama Lisa's World may be the place you'll find the lyrics and sheet music for that obscure song you remember from your childhood, as well as videos, pictures and poems.
Virtual Museum of Canada is, in their words, "As an endless source of discoveries, virtualmuseum.ca is a unique interactive space that brings together Canadian museum collections and riches in a variety of thought-provoking and instructive contents. It’s the window on current museum news and the reference guide to planning an outing. In virtualmuseum.ca, you will find virtual exhibits, an image gallery, teaching resources, and innovative projects."
For those interested in art, you can access some collections on the websites of MoMa, Art Institute of Chicago, the Louvre, the Met and the Guggenheim.
I recently came across an education blog post which lists 100 educational video sites, some of which may be familiar. There are some great suggestions here, and they will be added to my already gigantic "Learning" favourites folder.
Of course you should never let the computer do all the teaching for you, instead, take your children out to experience things first hand. Here in Medicine Hat we are fortunate to have art galleries in the Esplanade, the Cultural Centre, Inspire Studio and Gallery, and The Hive Artists' Hub, just to name a few. If you want to learn more about our natural surroundings, go to Police Point Park, open year round, where interpretive guides can answer any questions you may have about local flora and fauna. If your children, like mine, are interested in astronomy, then check out the Sunridge Observatory. And even though the computer is great, nothing beats good old fashioned books, so make use of the outstanding collection of resources at the public library.
I know that more than a few of my readers are teachers or homeschooling parents, so if you have any additional website suggestions, please leave them in the comments section below.