EDUCATIONAL HOME COMPUTING:
Why parents often fail to encourage their children's advancement
In our first SuperKids column we
wrote that for children to engage in mindful educational
computing at home, parents would have to become seriously
involved. By serious computer involvement we meant providing direct support
and assistance. However, we ended by noting that our studies have indicated that many
parents seldom, if ever, become involved. Here we discuss the reasons
behind their lack of involvement and offer a few suggestions about ways to
deal with them.
Reasons for Lack of Parental Involvement
Little Motivation or Skill.
Two principal reasons for involvement in any aspect of life
are motivation and skill. When it comes to
educational computing, many parents lack the motivation, so they do not
encourage their children's educational computing at home. And many parents
lack the skill, so they cannot help their children very much even when they
want to help.
Today's parents are overcommitted, with work and home
obligations paramount to the family's well being. When both parents work, there is little time left for helping
children at and around the computer. This situation is even more stark in
single-parent families. Often the best that parents think they can do is
buy a computer for the kids and leave it up to them to "figure out" how to
use it to further their schooling.
Fear of Computers.
Another frequent obstacle our studies have confirmed, is the dislike or fear many
parents--especially mothers--have of computers. There are quite a few
reasons for this dislike or aversion, some of which seem to be
gender-related, for example, the dislike on the part of many women for
mechanical and/or impersonal machines. Obviously, lack of familiarity or
skill with computers both contribute.
Limited Financial Resources.
After sacrificing for a computer many parents face a double whammy.
They discover that the computer needs upgrading and that educational
software can be expensive, particularly since children can use it for only
a short period of time before more advanced or different software is
needed. Even the current push to
use the Internet is an expense many can ill afford. The cost of
subscribing, the cost of telephone time, the cost of possibly a second line
in the home--none of this turns out to be cheap.
Other Negating Attitudes.
There are also a number of parental attitudes that tend to lessen involvement. For example:
Finally, some parents believe that children should decide how their home
computers will be used! Not surprisingly, children most often prefer to use home
computers for fun and games.
- Based on bad first experiences, many parents hold low opinions of educational software,
believing that good educational software simply does not exist.
- Some parents often assume that only children with learning
difficulties need to use home computers educationally,
- Others think that the school knows best how their children should be using computers, if at all.
Suggestions to Enhance the Home Computer's Use
Each of the above conditions weakens, in one way or another,
parental involvement in children's educational home computing. While some
of these conditions are more easily dealt with than others, they often coexist.
This does not, however, make the situation
hopeless. Here are three important first steps parents can take to
overcome such conditions.
- Make Educational Computing a Family Priority
Although we can't create more time for parents, we suggest that
having the time to get involved in children's educational computing efforts
at home is simply a function of giving priority to it. Ultimately, all of us
choose what we do with our time. An important first step is making the
conscious decision to spend time on this activity and to devote less time
on others or to reorganize them. Yes, it's tough - but if you want to maximize the value of your computing investment and the potential gains in your children's education, you need to do it!
- Form a Shared Family Vision
Having taken this step, it is also important that parents understand that
their home is really a "social envelope" that needs to be altered in
important ways if change is to occur. Although most adults and children
find it difficult to change, creating a vision of educational goals to be
attained through educational computing and a plan for attaining them will
make it easier for parents to get involved. The formation of this
vision--and there is no one vision--about what to do at home can be
enhanced by talking to the local school computer expert or to friends or
relatives who, because of their success at home with their own children,
can act as role models.
Parents can also read in ways that might help them develop a
reasonable vision. In addition to following the on-line articles in
SuperKids, parents may also want to read various articles in print
magazines aimed at home educational computer use. Parents who engage in
such talking and reading will become aware of the value of educational
software and will discover that very good pieces of educational
software exist for elementary, middle, and high school students in general
and not just for children with special needs.
- Engage in Simple Computer Efforts
A third step has to do with making genuine but simple computer
efforts. Such efforts will help parents, especially mothers, become
familiar and comfortable with computers. Computer aversion is similar to other strong
negative reactions toward objects. It can be
overcome through deliberate effort and with time. A slowly
paced set of beginning computer activities can go a long way toward
overcoming this aversion and at the same time improving motivation, skills,
If relatives or friends are at all conversant with computers, ask them about the kinds of things that they do. These
things do not have to be educational. What is important is that one begins
to get a sense of how a computer works and to develop some control over it.
The computer does not have to be forever a mystery. If money is a
consideration, look for families with appropriate software that can be
legitimately exchanged or search for freeware and shareware, some of which
might be quite useful.
If a computer savvy child or relative or friend does not have the
time or patience to help, then take a beginner's course at a community
college or at night at the local high school. Even simple projects will make one feel more comfortable around
computers and make clearer how computers can be beneficial to adults and to
children for educational ends.
Although there are many obstacles to parental involvement, we strongly believe that they can be overcome and that parents, in overcoming them, will
help their children engage in mindful educational computing at home.
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