Technology has invaded the classroom at a rate that no one imagined a few years ago. Illinois is spending $194 million in 1999 to bring more technology to schools, up from just $30 million in the 1996-97 school year. And the latest data from the National Center on Education Statistics shows that 90 percent or more of schools have Internet access, up from 35 percent in 1994.
Technology can enhance education by allowing kids to log on to research sites that rival the most extensive libraries, view interactive maps and atlases, watch a video lecture from miles away and use software to learn everything from their ABCs to organic chemistry.
Here are ways to help your child take advantage of digital learning:
1. Become tech-savvy
Don't let your child be the only one who really understands how to use the family PC or Mac. The more expertise you have, the more confident you'll feel about guiding your child's computer use. You'll also be able to work with your child on projects and stay involved in their education.
2. Teach kids the basics of safety and privacy
For the most part, pornography and other inappropriate material won't pop up out of nowhere in cyberspace, but it is possible for your child to stumble across adult-oriented sites. Monitor kids with an occasional, relaxed "Hey, what's that you're looking at?'' Check out parental controls and filtering software; two good safety-oriented sites are SafeKids.com and SafeTeens.com
3. Consider your child's age
Preschoolers may or may not be interested in computers; don't force them if they're not, but let them sit on your lap or handle the mouse while you use the machine. School-age kids will begin using CD-ROM encyclopedias, research sites such as Encarta and educational software. Read the software reviews on some of the Other Resources sites to determine what will best help your child. The site SmarterKids.com lets you search for software by age group and other categories, such as software for gifted and special-needs children.
4. Know what your school is doing
Visit to see how teachers are integrating computer learning into the curriculum, or ask the principal to set up a "computer night'' for parents. Ask your child's teacher to recommend software. Form a technology committee with other parents. Make sure all children have access to computers if needed, either at home, the public library or in an after-school computer lab.
5. It's only a tool
A computer can't do your child's work. Kids have to learn on their own how to analyze the causes of the Civil War, set up the right equations to solve an algebra word problem, memorize scientific facts and construct a coherent sentence. Learning takes brainpower, and a computer can't provide that.