Charlotte Mason · Technology

Technology in the Charlotte Mason Homeschool – Teaching Technology

Now that you’ve read my rationale for including technology in my Charlotte Mason homeschool, how to set rules for tech use and how we use it in the school day; let’s talk about how I teach it.

You don’t need to be a super amazing hacker genius.

You don’t need to be knowledegable in any kind of programming languages.

If you can use the Internet, you can at least teach your children the basics of technology.

Technology as a Science

Let’s start at the basics. Technology is a science. If we are Charlotte Mason homeschoolers, it can be easy to teach technology “the CM way” by simply using the same process for science – just with technology.

Charlotte Mason’s nature study is the bedrock of how she taught science. But it’s not the actual “nature study” that does it – it’s the teaching the children to OBSERVE what is going on around them. A scientist is an observer who asks a lot of questions. By not squelching the child’s innate “but why?!”, they can grow up to be adults who still ask “but why?” As children get older, more theoretical things are added into the CM science program.

How does this apply to technology and how to teach it?

Think of it like this:

  • Observation of nature = observation of technology. The kids see self-checkouts in the store, people with smartphones and tablets. They hear and watch rocket launches. They get frustrated when the Internet goes down. Their friends tell them about Minecraft servers. They futz around (technical term here) in Scratch Jr. and on Code.org. Just like you may guide your children in nature study (“Why do you think cardinals are red?”), you guide your children in tech. For example, my 10 year old has yet to notice that she can use a loop function in Scratch Jr to make her cat move forward 10 places. She still will put 10 forward blocks down. I’ve mentioned things like “you want to make sure your code is simple as possible – can you maybe see if anything can be substituted?” but she hasn’t totally made that connection yet. I may directly tell her to use the loop function, or I may let her futz and see if she gets to it on her own.
  • Living books of science = living books of technology. There’s a million and one books out there about STEM, and some of them are very good. Just like you do a nature walk and read living nature books; your “nature walk” is time to futz with whatever technology you’re learning and your “living nature” books are just living tech books.
    • For example, my first grader’s tech class this term is about electricity. We have been reading about Benjamin Franklin. We will also read about how electricity works in general, both Edison and Tesla (of course), and finishing it up with a fun book about the inventor of television. Obviously, I’m not going to let her do Franklin’s kite experiments, but she is getting some Snap Circuits for Christmas that should let her futz in a safe way.
  • Some tech topics aren’t going to be taught via inquiry or living books. Typing is an example. I see this on par with “lab safety” or “how to use a microscope/telescope”. I do use the same CM method of short lessons, and starting with standard keystrokes (and expanding out to words, sentences, etc). Just like there’s no “living book” for handwriting, there’s no “living book” for typing. Grab your favorite typing program and rock it.

That is essentially how I teach technology to my kids.

What Should I Teach?

There are so many things to teach, it may be overwhelming. But here’s a small list of things, that in my opinion should be taught to kids in terms of technology. The age brackets are approximate. If you’re new to intentionally teaching technology, start at the Beginner level. I even included some guidelines for lesson lengths and frequencies.

Beginner Technology (ages 7-10)

15-20 minute lessons, 1-2 times a week.

  • Typing****
  • Basic web design (as in, don’t put a purple font on a black background and never use the Comic Sans font for anything ever.)
  • The fine art of Googling
  • How the Internet works (including how to run a web browser, how to use email)
  • Internet safety – privacy and basic safety
  • Scratch Jr.
  • Tech ethics
  • Scam guard

**** – if you teach your kids nothing else, TEACH THEM TO TYPE! And not “hunt and peck” typing – actual typing with the proper hand positions and everything.

Intermediate Technology (ages 9-14)

30 minute lessons, 1-2 times a week. You may need to add in more lessons depending on the topic.

  • Scratch
  • Building a simple website
  • Content management systems
  • Free and Open Source Software
  • Basic databases and SQL
  • Internet safety – social media, viruses, malware, etc
  • Linux – Ubuntu
  • Tech ethics
  • Scam guard

Advanced Technology (ages 12+)

Time spent on this is entirely dependent on the topic being covered.

  • Building a complex website (bonus if it has a commerce portion) and how to keep it secure
  • Building a responsive website and how to keep it secure
  • HTML/CSS/Javascript
  • Artifical intelligence
  • Hardware
  • Networking
  • Robotics
  • Internet safety- communicating with people safely (try this towards the end of the teen years, not at the beginning of the teen years), doxxing, keeping your bank information safe, using the Internet to buy things, etc
  • Linux – Gentoo
  • Making an app
  • Tech ethics
  • Scam guard

But I’m Technologically Challenged

It may seem overwhelming to teach your children technology, especially if you’ve thought yourself as anything but a techie.

First, you are capable of doing this. If you can use the Internet, you can teach the Beginner level technology. While you may not be able to teach things like networking, you can do typing, basic web design, simple coding and Internet safety.

  • Typing: Programs like Dance Pad Typing and Typing.com are pretty self-explanatory.
  • Web design: what’s your favorite website/blog/etc? What do they look like? Do they use light colors and pretty pictures, or a black and white minimalist theme?
  • Code.org has a bunch of great (free) coding courses. Basic familiarity is all that is neeed here.
  • Internet safety: I’m sure you’re aware about not posting your address, etc on the Internet. Don’t give out personal information. Be choosy what/when/how you post pictures. Lock down your social media profiles. Impart on your children that never, ever talk to someone online. Make them aware (appropriately) about the dangers of the Internet (lewd pictures, creeps posing as children, etc).
  • Tech ethics: Questions like: “do you think the developers should have made [whatever new feature] pay only, knowing full well that you can’t beat the game without that feature? “
  • Scam guard: “Wow, I just got a text saying I would be arrested if I didn’t click this link and use my credit card to post bond! Good thing I didn’t click anything, it’s definitely a scam wanting my banking information!”

It’s as simple as that.

Second, read. Read well-written articles and books and blogs that provide a realistic view of technology. I like my technology articles in the middle of the road. Realistic but not overly optimistic or pessimistic. Some sites to learn about technology or just see what’s going on:

  • Popular Science – Technology
  • ZDNet
  • Computer World Blogs
  • Teslarati – mostly Tesla, SpaceX, and electric vehicles; but they are posting more general tech posts as of late (sidenote: it should be obvious with a name like ‘Teslarati’ that they’re pro-Elon Musk, so if you think he’s a hack you probably should just skip them. 🙂  )

We fear what we don’t know. If you’re afraid of technology (and I’m not talking about sentient artificial intelligence, which you probably do want to be a bit nervous of) but more in the sense of “I just don’t want to break my computer” or “I don’t understand this TikTok stuff”, definitely read about it. If you know it, even in a basic sense; you’ll find yourself less afraid of it.

Third – outsource what you don’t know. There are SO many online courses for technology. Udemy, Coursera, Khan Academy are three off the top of my head. MIT has online courses (for free). Just hit up the ol’ Google and see. Chances are if your kids want to know how something like making apps for Android AND Apple, there’s a course out there to teach them how to do it.

“You’d never make it in the sciences.”

Let me close with a story. I was a kid who spectacularly failed at math. So much so that my doctor had me excused from math for my junior year of highschool because I was getting physical stress symptoms (horrible acid reflux). I graduated with (I believe) a D in sophomore geometry – and that was the highest math I took for my entire highschool career. My dad was an Air Force jet engine mechanic and my mom was a stay-at-home mom. I did not grow up in a tech family. I even failed typing in highschool – the only class I failed in my K-12 career.

My guidance counselor told me flat out “It’s a good thing you’re going to study music in college, you’d never make it in the sciences. You’re just not good at math.” Being a naive 18 year old, I believed what had been told to me since elementary school. I would never be in the sciences because I was horrible at math. Ignore the fact that I made archaeology digs of my Barbies as a little kid and took advanced biology courses in high school (dissections were my favorite). I went to a community college for music, and quit at age 19 when an instructor told me I interpreted a piece wrong (what?!).

While at the CC, a kindly professor took me under her wing and essentially caught me up in math. Bless her, in the span of two years she took me from high school geometry to ready for precalculus when I transferred to a University to study geology. It took me four semesters at the University to get through precalc. But I eventually ended up going through junior level calculus (and passing it – not bad for the “bad at math” kid). I seriously contemplated a math minor (but got the anthropology minor instead). And even while in University, I STILL heard it – “you’re not going to be able to finish your degree, you’re just not good at math.” It took me six years (thanks health issues) but I got my degree and basically proved everyone wrong.

I’m telling you this because you CAN be good at technology. You may think you need a fancy gadget or a certain temperament or Einstein’s IQ. You don’t. Anyone can learn the Beginner technology. Learn it right along with your kids. Just don’t sell yourself short.

One Last Thing

I don’t really use any kid-focused books to specifically teach my kids any programming. I prefer to give them a goal (“make a narration of your reading using Minecraft or Scratch Jr”). They have to figure out how to get there. Note that this is for very basic programming, where you’re teaching the child more of how to THINK in terms of programming versus ACTUAL programming. Things like JavaScript you can learn from futzing but knowing why a function is called in a certain way is paramount. You’d definitely need a reference guide for that.

To compare teaching tech to Charlotte’s way of teaching natural science:

  • Reference manuals (like the O’Reilly ones) are like the Handbook of Nature Study: something for me to read and use to guide my kids (we haven’t gotten to that point yet, but probably will do so in the next couple of years)
  • Apps like Minecraft, Scratch Jr, Scratch, or things like Brackets or Visual Studio for writing HTML/CSS/etc – those are your “nature walks”
  • Specifically learning something like HTML or JavaScript is like a special study.

Up next: Living media (as a supplement to living books)

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