By Jean Hall
The idea of computer-based learning has been around for awhile. Schools have computer labs where students can work on problematic subject areas, e.g. remedial work in math. Educational software abounds, packaging lessons in games, music, and colorful characters. You can even find textbook programs online or on CD-ROM either to support a textbook-based curriculum or even to take the place of one. There are myriad reasons to use computer-based learning: working parents needing lessons presented in memorable ways, students needing extra work, a way for a homeschool parent to keep one child busy in a productive manner while working with another child, and more. However, interactive educational software of the high quality offered by Time4Learning, an award-winning online learning provider, has only recently become available to the homeschool market.
According to Time4Learning’s CEO, John Edelson, “There’s enormous opportunity to use technology for home education, to bring the best educational uses of technology into the home.” His experience in the industry taught him that the mission of game-making software producers for the popular market was to provide a fun game that taught something. That “something” might or might not be something of consequence; the fact that the game was “educational” meant that children weren’t simply wasting their time on mind-numbing activities. However, these educational games were more of a time-filler or stopgap than designed for deliberate, cumulative learning.
The mission of Time4Learning is very different from those fun games you’ve seen before that teach a little bit of phonics or drill math facts or use games to practice typing. Mr. Edelson puts it this way, “As a curriculum vendor, our mission is not just to teach easy or trivial facts, but to systematically provide a curriculum: tools, review, reinforcement.”
The focus of Time4Learning’s program is on teaching rather than testing and accumulating data to provide better availability of high-quality educational software and to push the use of technology in the cause of education forward for families.
As many entrepreneurial dreams do, Time4Learning started in a living room and expanded from there as the program took off. Mr. Edelson, the founder of Time4Learning, got his start in video games and 3D graphics. Having worked with Pixar, he had a good idea of what high-quality computer graphics could look like, but he had a vision for more than entertainment: He was interested in promoting online education that was more than twaddle. He hooked up with ChildU/Compass Learning, a company already known in homeschooling circles for their educational products and content, and packaged their content in an easy-to-use format, adding end consumer-level customer support.
Headquartered in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, the staff has expanded into office space roomy enough for seven people who are involved in web design, technology, and marketing. A major focus of the company is member support for its subscribers, and everyone in the company takes part in answering telephone questions. Telephone support hours have been extended to accommodate members from coast to coast, and online support is continually being improved.
Compass Learning, formerly known as ChildU provides the educational content. This content was previously only available to schools. In addition, Time4Learning added a playground feature, a sort of online recess with access to educational games to follow lesson time. Parents can set the amount of time to devote to learning and the length of the recess that follows. The built-in timer makes for less friction between parent and child—the computer ends play time with a cheery, “See you later!” instead of a parent having to nag or even argue with a child involved in a game.
With links leading off Time4Learning’s website for the playground games, one might ask about security. The company is very security-conscious complying with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act and contributing to Safer Child, Inc. and sponsoring Net Family News, a high quality newsletter and forum providing in-depth up-to-date information for parents and educators about technology and children. Links are monitored and chat features on game sites are disabled. However, web safety features cannot take the place of parental oversight, and the company stresses parental involvement. As a matter of fact, Time4Learning guidelines recommend that parents sit down with their children by age seven or eight and talk about online safety issues agreeing on a contract together for safe and proper computer use.
Who uses Time4Learning? Homeschoolers. Afterschoolers. Parents who want their children to keep their academic skills sharp over the summer or holiday. Students needing remediation or gifted students ready to zoom ahead, but no matter what the students’ capabilities, they are able to move at their own pace. Lessons are available from pre-school through middle school. The pre-school games are very similar to the simple learning software you’ve seen, but the academics from kindergarten-first grade on up are solid, packed with information and presented in an interactive format that draws the student in and keeps the interest level high. Language arts, math, and social studies are covered for all grades through eighth, with bonus science curriculum through grade six. The content is continually being updated and improved, and new content is added. A parents’ forum allows users to interact, ask for and offer advice, find fellowship, and share experience. A helpful email newsletter addresses educational topics of interest. There are also links to informative articles on the Time4Learning site, as well as a free e-book guide, Welcome to Homeschooling.
Time4Learning is not designed to be used in isolation, as a stand-alone product, but more as a “core” curriculum. Suggested additions to round out an educational endeavor would include journaling, additional individual reading, handwriting, reading aloud together as a family, conversation, field trips, hands-on activities, and extra-curricular activities. Mr. Edelson emphasizes that children shouldn’t be spending hours on the computer. For example, your student might do 30 minutes of Time4Learning math lessons, followed by recess, and then some paper-oriented study (reading or journaling or artwork).
How might the program serve your family?
If your child is having trouble in math, Mr. Edelson advises: “Dive in, start up and give it a try. Pick a subject you’re interested in, or one you’re having trouble with. The first day, a parent should be there, looking over the child’s shoulder. By the second day the child, pretty much at any age, will be chafing at the bit, thinking, ‘I can do this myself!’ Let the child have enough space to work on problems, acting more as a mentor than a hands-on partner.” Time4Learning works particularly well for students having trouble with math: They don’t understand, they might get embarrassed or frustrated, which adds a level of anxiety to work in math. The computer, however, is non-judgmental. The student doesn’t have to be self-conscious, watching an explanation presented in highly visual format as many times as needed with a patient tutor who never gets frustrated or short-tempered.
If you’re an experienced homeschooler, you might start by investigating particular subject areas of interest. Work Time4Learning into your schedule, and, while one student is productively occupied, you can be working with another student or catching up on necessary chores.
If you’re a new homeschooler, Time4Learning can give you breathing space. The curriculum is there, all the “basics” available. The program even keeps records of your students’ lessons and progress. Work with your child, be flexible, and don’t try to do everything every day. You might do math every other day, for example. The key is to establish a rhythm, a routine, and consistency.
What about the future? Mr. Edelson envisions ten to twenty percent of the curriculum being updated every year, as new material becomes available. This includes adding science to the 8th Grade curriculum and expanding into other academic areas. Community building is one of his goals including the introduction of a forum for middle school families and making the program available to more people while keeping prices affordable.
To find out more about Time4Learning, to view demo lessons, or to sign up, please visit www.Time4Learning.com.
Read a review of Time4Learning's Online Education Software.