Charlotte Mason · Technology

Technology in the Charlotte Mason Homeschool – Living Media as a Supplement to Living Books

As I continue to surf around online, there are so many resources out there that we can use to educate our kids. I used to have hangups about using some of them, in all reality. I felt guilty because they weren’t books – they were absolutely incredible resources but I felt like I “shouldn’t” use them because they weren’t living books. So, for the longest time; I didn’t.

My extremely visual eight year old has needed things presented visually more than any of my kids. Sticking solely to books – as lovely and wonderful as they are – would not really help him in the long run. He could give me a better narration from a well-made documentary than from a living book about the same topic.

I decided to utilize amazing non-book resources to teach my kids and called them (jokingly at first) “living media”. This isn’t endless Youtube twaddle (like kids opening boxes of toys WHAT IS UP WITH THOSE VIDEOS?) but things like Ken Burns documentaries.

You need to be extra discerning with living media because videos and games can be more addicting. And an engrossed child does not mean something is living. But, living media has helped immensely. I watch it with them, and just like with living books, I require narrations afterwards, or recording items in notebooks, on timelines, etc.

Here’s a list of what we use and what I tend to call living media.

TV Shows, Videos, and Documentaries

  • Bill Nye the Science Guy
  • The Magic School Bus
  • Mythbusters
  • Brainchild
  • Brain Games
  • Odd Squad
  • Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood
  • Mr. Rogers
  • Mr. Wizard
  • Crash Course [insert subject here, my ten year old is working through Crash Course Biology, for example]
  • Simple History
  • Anything by Ken Burns
  • Anything narrated by Sir David Attenborough
  • Anything from BBC Earth (lots of overlap with the last bullet point)
  • Animal Airport
  • The Bionic Vet
  • Edge of the Universe
  • The Great British Baking Show
  • Anything with Bob Ross
  • Most TED talks
  • The Last Man on the Moon

Movies with an actual message

  • Coco
  • Moana
  • Lilo and Stitch
  • The Incredibles & The Incredibles 2

Computer Software and Websites

I can’t emphasize this enough: PLAY THE GAMES WITH YOUR KIDS. Really. Really, really. I have an account on Minecraft, Animal Jam, etc. I type for my autistic kid on Autcraft. I play the games with the kids and they absolutely love it (and I can see how the whole game runs as well!).

  • Minecraft
  • Autcraft (a whitelist only server for autistic folks, siblings of autistic kids, etc)
  • Animal Jam (set it to bubble chat if you want to minimize chatting)
  • Stardew Valley

As we continue into other special studies and new resources come out; I’ll do my best to update this list!

Charlotte Mason · Technology

Technology in the Charlotte Mason Homeschool โ€“ 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 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 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?
  • 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. ๐Ÿ™‚ย  )

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)

Charlotte Mason · Technology

Technology in the Charlotte Mason Homeschool โ€“ Technology in the School Day

Of this entire series, this may be the shortest part. Our technology use in school is pretty limited. I mainly have tools to help me as opposed to having technology replace subjects. We did do online math for a while for my third-grader but we transferred back to analog math once he mastered what was tripping him up. We don’t use Kindles, although we do have a couple of e-books that we utilize.

Also, we are an Android family but most of this should work for iThings. I don’t know if Apple has an equivalent for the Google Family Library, or if you can access the GFL from an iThing. I’m sure they do, but I’m not sure what it would be called.

Here’s pretty much what gets me through my days:

  • A Bluetooth speaker – I use a Bluetooth speaker on a daily basis. I connect it to my laptop or my tablet (usually my laptop) and play our composer study pieces, our German lessons – basically anything that is on the computer and needs amplification. Bonus: during Family Time when we have cocoa or other beverages; I can put my computer somewhere safe and still broadcast the music (as long as there’s no video component). I also put the speaker in my six year old’s room at night and broadcast LibriVox recordings through it. Currently, she’s listening to “Among the Forest People”. It helps her wind down and gets her ready for sleep. I can control it from my tablet or computer on a different floor so if I’m giving other kids baths, I can still run her story without having to leave the bathers unattended. (My current speaker is a SoundCore Nano {affiliate link} that I found in the clearance aisle at Walmart for $4. It works amazingly well, I wish I had picked more up.)
  • Spotify Premium – my Spotify is bundled with the basic level of Hulu, but Spotify is used constantly. GET THE PREMIUM I CAN’T EMPHASIZE THIS ENOUGH. The Premium subscription removes all the ads between songs on Spotify and lets you download music to your phone/tablet/gadget. I used to have free Spotify but was horrified when an ad for a certain “adult product for the bedroom” aired during Valentine’s Day. Thankfully this was before the kids arrived for Family Time. At any rate, Spotify is heavily used here. It’s how I also take our composer studies on the road when we’re in the car for the plethora of appointments we have each week. And I don’t blow through all my phone data in a week.

(If you’re curious, my kids can’t stand the ads on Hulu so they don’t usually watch it. We do watch Mythbusters on Hulu and we use the ad times for potty breaks, get a snack, stretch – basically leave the room until they’re done.)

  • Google Family Library – I use this to send the kids apps – I purchased Minecraft on my Google account, but using the GFL I can send it to my two oldest’s tablets without requiring them to have a payment method. It’s very handy. I can also send them books – my oldest has a couple of books I’ve purchased for her using my account, and then just stick them into the GFL for her to read from her tablet.
  • Google Chromecast – I don’t usually stream things to this for the kids BUT I do like to use it for the artist study. I can load the images as the Chromecast’s background and ta-da, captive audience. ๐Ÿ˜‰ We aren’t using the Chromecast as often as we used to since I got a laptop with a much larger screen. But back when I had a netbook, the Chromecast was very handy.
  • Streaming Services – not something we use for school on a regular basis; but we do have Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. I usually bust out the streaming services when I’m sick, or if we need a good documentary to supplement something.
  • The Kids’ Tablets – the kids have standard Samsung Android tablets, which are hand-me-downs from my husband and me. They’re older and slower, and don’t have massive amounts of space; so that limits what they can do on them. But, they’re new enough that they still get updates and whatnot – it’s a great balance. We mainly use these for coding – Scratch Jr and the stuff all run well on the tablets. Everyone can work on different projects (since everyone is at different levels) and there’s no bickering AND I can teach coding to everyone at once as opposed to daisy-chaining three different coders on one machine.

And really, that’s pretty much it! I try and buy physical books when possible, we print off our artist study (when we can) from Costco and frame the pictures, we use pencils and notebooks and whatnot. My whole outlook of technology is “helping, not dominating”. We have a wonderful balance between the real and the virtual.

Up next: Teaching technology – how to raise your kids as both readers and coders

Charlotte Mason · Habits · Technology

Technology in the Charlotte Mason Homeschool – Setting Ground Rules

Edited November 30 to include image of our tech rules

Now that you know where I’m coming from, let’s talk PRACTICALS! I love talking practical, I love getting action points, hopefully you do as well!

The number one thing you need to do is SET GROUND RULES. These are specifically for screens, because that’s what is hot around here. Technology literally puts food on our table (my husband is a database administrator and programmer) but like everything else, it will take over your life if you let it.

Technology is just like anything we set rules on. We can’t drive our cars at 100 miles an hour down the Interstate. We can’t drink pop 24/7. We can’t park on the train tracks. I mean, we can but it won’t work out well for us in the end. If I do nothing but read great literature all day, my eyes will fatigue, the kids will be rioting and my house will be a disaster. Technology is just like that โ€“ set your limits so you can enjoy yourself (and not be controlled by it).

In my household, we have the following rules:

  • No screen time for the toddler
  • No binging on series. Sometimes we will binge a little (Mythbusters….) but never will we watch an entire series or even a season in one sitting.
  • Older kids (age 8 and 10) cannot keep their tablets in their rooms overnight. They must charge them in the living room.
  • Older kids need to keep their tablets in a common area when they are using them (with rare exceptions, such as if they’re building something together in Minecraft and my zoo is too loud).
  • Older kids need to always keep the kid-proofing on (this prevents them from surfing the Internet, using Youtube, taking photos, viewing the app store, etc). If a kid tries to circumvent the kid-proofing, I will take away their tablet until they are 18 (and I am NOT EVEN JOKING about this and they know it).
  • Only Mom-Approved shows on Netflix/Hulu/Amazon and Mom-Approved apps on the tablets. Spoiler alert: most of the apps they have on their tablets I put on there and they’re mostly educational apps like Khan Academy. I rarely let them put requested app on (more on my criteria below).
  • Absolutely, positively, 100% NO TALKING TO ANYONE ONLINE (should they somehow circumvent the locks or whatnot). My oldest will use her tablet to talk to her grandmother and her aunt and that’s it. I log in regularly to her account and I read every.single.conversation she is having. And she knows that, too.
  • The kids do not know the pins, passwords, or anything like that for any tech related things in our household.

You can see the majority of tech rules are set for the two older kids. My younger kids are easier to deal with, I just shut it off and that’s the end of it. And they’re too young to really be into tablets and whatnot, so that helps. As the younger kids grow up, they will have these rules apply to them.

As my kids get older, we will have conversations about more adult themes. The oldest two already know about creeps posing as kids online. They know that there are websites that are absolutely hideous, and there are ads in apps and videos on Youtube Kids that no one should ever see. We talk about the power of the eye โ€“ how our brains can hold longer what we see vs what we read so even a glimpse at some of these nasty sites/apps/ads can be with them forever. I am extremely grateful that we have never once had an issue with inappropriate things online. They know what to do though should something even remotely seems weird โ€“ immediately shut it off and get an adult. It doesn’t matter if the “weird” is related to raunchy ads, misbehaving software, crashing apps, even the tablet needing a software update – anything that is not normal is to be immediately brought to my attention.

Any time someone wants an app installed, I immediately start researching it. The kids have at least a couple weeks of research done by me before I can make a decision. Most apps are denied because of too many ads, or the potential for bloatware/spyware/adware/malware is too high. Some are denied due to rating (as in “rated T for Teen”, not “1/5 stars”). I read reviews on the app page, Common Sense Media, and just general Google searches. If an app passes muster then I will download it on my tablet and play it. If it doesn’t do anything weird, have stupid ads, if it actually DOES SOMETHING as opposed to just sucking in attention; there’s a possibility it will be approved. But before it’s approved, my kids have to give me a good โ€œchange my mindโ€ argument about WHY they should have this certain app. Why not a book? Why does it need to be THIS app? Is there a documentary that will scratch this itch? If it costs money, you better give me the best argument I’ve ever seen for that app (the only app that has been approved that costs money is Minecraft).

If the app makes it through that gauntlet, on it goes. And if I see it’s become abandoned, I will remove it (because who needs extraneous apps cluttering up their devices). But what happens most of the time is that they end up not wanting an app after a couple of days. ๐Ÿ™‚

I am ruthless when it comes to screen time. I am not raising technoslaves, I am raising people. I am teaching them (all of them) self-regulation so that when they’re adults, they won’t be controlled by technology. Older kids get more screen time, but not by much.

Our daily screen limits (which do not count school, as I do use some public domain books online, documentary snippets, etc):

  • The two year old: never
  • The four year old: 2 – 20 minute cartoons
  • The six year old: 1 movie or three cartoons
  • The eight year old: 1 movie and 1 cartoon
  • The ten year old: 1 movie and two cartoons

All media is selected from pre-approved sources.

Additionally, they have a laundry list of things to do before screen time:

  • chores
  • playing outside
  • creating something
  • reading
  • school
  • playing inside

The funny thing is that by having other things to do before screen time, they don’t really hit their maximum allowed screen time. They often find themselves in some level of imaginary game that ends up stretching all afternoon and screens aren’t all that alluring.

I also extensively talk about screen addiction and technoslaves. It’s a very real thing, and they are all aware of it. They know that just like ads; technology can hijack your brain and make you compulsively check sites/apps/etc.

The screen limits and access to the Internet will change as the kids grow up (and as technology changes, as well).ย My end-all goal for screen time is to not make it so forbidden that they are trying to get access at other places from home, or constantly trying to circumvent the kid-proofing; but how to use it as a tool. I don’t want them turning 18 and discovering THE WILD WILD INTERNET. If I can guide them now (and through teenagehood), I hope to give them a solid foundation in which to build on as adults.

I have our rules written out and posted for all to see.

As the kids get fluent with telling time, the pegs of “a movie” or a “cartoon” disappear and turn into actual minutes. I cap the oldest two at 2 hours.

Up next: technology aids for the school day

Charlotte Mason · Technology

Technology in the Charlotte Mason Homeschool – Why Include Technology

If you’ve followed me on Instagram for any length of time, you know that I like to utilize technology whenever possible, especially for homeschooling. I firmly believe that there is a place for technology in a Charlotte Mason homeschool, and I also think that any subject can be taught with Charlotte’s principles in mind.

Before I get too deep into WHY include technology, let me make some disclaimers:

  • I am not a Charlotte Mason expert and I do not take a purist approach.

  • I am referring to the โ€œinformation ageโ€ that we all find ourselves living in when I say โ€œtechnologyโ€. STEM may be a good umbrella term to use. I use STEM, science, and technology all interchangeably in this series.

  • I define myself as a techno-realist as opposed to a techno-optimist or a techno-pessimist. I do not downplay or ignore the negative effects of technology, nor do I eschew all use of it. I also don’t think it’s the best thing to happen to humanity and that there’s absolutely NOTHING wrong with it. It shapes us, and we shape it.

I don’t intend to put any words in Charlotte Mason’s mouth, but I do believe that she would have utilized some level of technology in her program. Would it replace books? Nope. Would she include movies as the main portion of her programs? Doubtful. What about computer science and programming? Personally, I think so. Charlotte was incredibly forward thinking. Her views on personhood and education shook up Victorian England. She was well-read and stayed current on the most pressing issues of her day. I would be highly disappointed if Charlotte had simply stuck her head into the sand and pretended that our modern age was to be avoided at all costs.

I am of the mindset that Charlotte Mason and STEM can coexist peacefully. I find nothing in Charlotte’s writings that indicate she was a Luddite, or that she would have refused to have anything to do with advancements in science. She would not have minimized science to maximize the humanities, nor would she maximize science to minimize the humanities. It’s all about balance, with living books still reigning supreme.

Technology does not need to be (and should not) be the realm of a certain person โ€“ the sciencey person, or the person who can drop a lot of cash into fun computer programs. Technology should be taught to everyone โ€“ the very basics of it, at the very least. The more everyone knows about technology, the less likely we will turn into technoslaves.

Finally, and this point is purely practical. Jobs are becoming more automated as the years roll on. It’s easier to teach a machine to do a job than it is to train a human. Artificial intelligence is improving. Technology is not going away, so how can we prepare our children for it? If our goal is to raise well-rounded people, we cannot simply pretend technology will go away or that our kids won’t be in contact with it. If we can teach them how to use technology, how to create technology, how to be safe with it โ€“ our kids will be ahead of the game. Even if they don’t become programmers or computer scientists; they can recognize a phishing scam or create a good looking website (or brochure or whatnot), then all the better for them.

It’s important to realize that technology is neutral. It does what it’s programmed to do. If the people making new technology grew up on a diet of true, good, and beautiful; what would new technology look like? What would it do?

Next up: Using Technology – Setting Ground Rules