My son was in a guy’s home recording studio adding a cello track to a rock song. At first the process was fascinating. Then it got very detailed and monotonous for anyone not involved. Which, at that point, was only me. But I was fascinated with the technology. There were recording devices everywhere and somehow each seemed to be related to an iPad. The only laptop in the room was mine.
Which made me think about why I even buy my kids laptops. Maybe laptops are outdated? Maybe they are not good for homeschoolers?
My research showed me that people with traditional ideas about education spend a lot of time debating whether kids should have laptops or tablets. But to people who are not bound to rigid curricula, the answer is really obvious: A tablet can become the tool a child needs to learn. A laptop is always a laptop.
I talked with my friend Lisa Nielsen, head of technology for New York City public schools, and she pointed out that the tablet can become a keyboard if you need a keyboard, but because the tablet’s screen responds to touch, the technology is way more flexible than the keyboard commands that guide a laptop. Lisa sent me this list of the learning tools a tablet can morph into that a laptop cannot:
A piece of paper
The gold standard for high-end design is Photoshop, which requires tons of computing power. But most kids don’t need the computing power that Photoshop requires. There are numerous high-quality and inexpensive apps to choose from that enable kids to explore art in a more flexible, tablet-based environment. Here’s a list of five from Lifehacker. And once a piece of art is finished you can turn your tablet into a bulletin board or gift shop to share with a global community.
A sorting bucket
Being able to sort objects is so fundamental to learning through play that it’s listed on almost all timelines for developmental milestones. There’s a huge range of ways to sort using the tablet. One of the most popular apps for children is Stack the States. It helps them learn state capitals, shapes, geographic locations, flags and more, while touching, moving and dropping animated states into their correct location.
A physics lab
Kids get a primer on how gravity and momentum affect objects in motion with Angry Birds Space. Other apps allow kids to build contraptions that experiment with the laws of physics, and run experiments with light that you can share with friends.
A tablet is easy to take outside which means it can go where a kid’s curiosity travels. Mashable has a list of top astronomy apps for star-gazers. Many apps show you close-up views of the night skies, and the coolest apps encourage you to tilt the tablet up to the sky to get an overlay map of what you’re seeing.
A review on the technology guide Edsurge points out the irony that a tablet is so much more flexible than a laptop that a tablet can actually become a laptop if that’s what you need to get a task done. And if your child is a budding writer, a tablet will allow her to not only type the stories, but also illustrate and publish them with an app like StoryKit.
Remember when you are thinking about technology for your kids that curricula was designed for a paper and pencil. And then adapted for keyboard-based computing. Once we think in terms of learning outside the classroom it makes no sense to restrict kids to a keyboard.
A big part of the homeschooling conversation is about the cost. For the most part, homeschooling costs nothing. But it’s hard to imagine homeschooling without any technology. So if you are choosing between a desktop, laptop or tablet, go with a tablet. That will be enough for any kid to have the world at their fingertips as a self-directed learner.