School-based educational software programs are now used in some schools to improve student performance on standardized tests. They provide Web-based instruction, practice, assessment and reporting built for individual states' standards.
How is this different than the educational software you use at home? The goal of most school-based software is to improve scores on standardized tests across the board; the programs can't be targeted and customized to match a student's individual needs and preferences.
By GreatSchools Staff
Would you like to harness the power of technology to help your child expand his horizons and succeed in school? Are you intrigued by titles you've seen in stores, like Reader Rabbit "Learn to Read" and Amazon Trail's "Rainforest Adventures"? Educational (instructional) software can teach specific academic skills (like reading and study skills) or subject matter content (such as history and science). Most educational software is fairly affordable (many titles cost under $30, and more expensive programs top out at $50), but choosing the right software for your child will keep your total investment down.
But how do you know which program to pick? The array of educational software programs available can be both tantalizing and confusing. Before you start shopping, you should understand how educational software works, what your child's specific needs and interests are, and how to find a reliable program tailor-made to your child's needs and learning style.
Educational software programs address academic skills and subjects such as:
Ask yourself what you want your child to gain from using the software. Does he need help practicing certain skills? Or is your goal to immerse him more deeply in a subject (like math or science) he struggles with? If your child is curious and passionate about a particular subject (say, dinosaurs, or the Civil War) he may enjoy delving into software that offers in-depth enrichment and exploration.
Once you decide what type of educational software your child needs, you'll want to narrow the list by considering additional features and factors that are suited to your child. Here are some questions to get you started:
If your goal is to shore up his skills or subject matter mastery, be sure the software is both age-appropriate and aligned with his grade level. That said, some programs are designed to be "leveled up" as he makes progress and as he moves from grade to grade.
Most kids prefer a certain way of learning, such as listening (audio), seeing (visual), or hands-on work. Some kids enjoy role-playing or creative activities. What approach to learning does your child most enjoy? What techniques help him learn best? Choose a product that matches his learning style.
Some kids respond to software that gives them frequent feedback and "rewards" to stay motivated. An ambitious or competitive child may prefer a program that tracks his progress and charts his success - and tells him what tasks he has yet to tackle!
No matter how reliable and appropriate an educational software program is, if it doesn't captivate your child, she probably won't use it.
Once you've matched software to your child's needs, the next step is to verify the quality and reliability of the program. Here are some key questions to ask:
Where can you find answers to these questions? The software manufacturer or computer store salesperson may be the first resource you turn to, but you should also seek information from less-biased resources, such as:
How effective is educational software in improving kids' academic skills and knowledge? There is still much debate about this among researchers. So it pays to do your homework when choosing software. No matter where you turn for information, be smart and somewhat skeptical of claims that seem too good to be true. Learn how to evaluate products and services for your child.
Since kids often mimic what they see us do, you can reinforce your child's use of educational software by modeling the behavior yourself. For example, if you use accounting software to manage your finances, or you're exploring your family history with genealogy software, tell and show your child how these tools help you manage and enhance your daily life.
Not a big "user" when it comes to your home computer? Consider trying computer software to learn a new skill (like money management) or a new language (learn to speak French!).
Once you and your child select and install the educational software that's right for her, you'll want to help her navigate its use and troubleshoot any glitches. As soon as she's ready to take the driver's seat, back off and let her work independently. (Hey, now you can get back to your computerized French lesson!) Don't hover but do monitor your child's use of the program and assist with any challenges that crop up. Above all, be sure to celebrate her progress and help her recognize how her efforts on the computer translate into greater success in the classroom.