Free Software and homeschooling: reports from the trenches
(this is a follow up to my first article about A little know but very powerful tool for homeschooling: Free Software. The information below may not be all up to date anymore: I collected it shortly after the first piece but, for several reasons, was unable to use it earlier. However, it is still relevant, in my opinion, because it really consists of reports from the trenches: parents who actually have done, or are still doing, homeschooling with, and just thanks to, Free Software)
Gary Frederick explained to me how and why he used Free/Open Source Software (FOSS) for homeschooling:
“We looked at specific educational software on Linux but did not find anything that we wanted to add to what we were doing. At the same time, we taught our children that they should learn to use the computers and their software as tools and learn to use whatever was convenient. So we used OpenOffice.org, Gimp and Blender, that run on both Linux and Windows. We also taught programming to other children in addition to our own, and even in this case we used FOSS that ran on both Linux and Windows. We installed Linux because, as a computer got older and Windows required more hardware to run, keeping the OS up to date was less fun with Windows than with Linux. Using Linux also let us do a better job of networking the computers so we could access files on any computer in the network.”
Another parent, Andrew Min, wrote me a long email about the same topic, which I took the liberty to rearrange in question/answer form for readability.
Andrew: I am a homeschooler, and I wish there was more FOSS out there for homeschoolers. Most of the FOSS I’ve experienced are small things like using TinyMCE rich text editor for the www boards at PA Homeschoolers’ online AP classes. However, there’s also a lot of informal stuff. My brothers have been playing around with programs like Tux Math, Tux Typing, GIMP, and Tux Paint.
Marco: Why are you homeschooling? Did your parents homeschool you?
Andrew: Well, it’s funny you ask that. My father and mother were staunchly against homeschooling, at first. My dad actually engaged in several arguments, taking the “homeschooling is wrong” side. Then one day, Dad met some homeschooled teens. He was amazed. They actually looked him in the eye, shook his hand firmly, and had a conversation with him. He was astonished. He then read a book on homeschooling while on vacation. He read all about the academics, the values passed down, and family quality time. When he came back, he told my mother, at the time a businesswoman on Wall Street, that “we are going to homeschool”. And that’s what happened. Every year, they asked us if we wanted to stop. We never said yes. However, I did take several classes outside the home, including several APs at pahomeschoolers.com.
Marco: What FOSS applications did you use exactly and why?
Andrew: These days, I use on a daily basis OpenOffice.org, VLC, Pidgin and Firefox. I didn’t really experience a ton of FOSS as a homeschooler, but I made sure my younger brothers did. They love GIMP and Tux Paint for the creativity options. Firefox + parental controls (open source, of course) as well. And they love Battle for Wesnoth, which was great for teaching them logic.
Marco: Why should anybody use Linux and FOSS for home-schooling?
Andrew: FOSS isn’t great for older kids, but there’s a bevy of learning options for younger grades. GCompris is a wonderful tool, as is the Tux4Kids suite and the open source KDE edutainment suite. As for Linux, you can lock it down to whatever level you want. You control where your child goes. In Windows, you gotta pay for that feature.
Marco: Are the reasons to use FOSS the same than in traditional schools or not?
Andrew: I think traditional schools could use FOSS, but not as effectively as homeschoolers. You usually can’t play computer games in traditional school, even if they’re educational.
Marco: Most parents are willing to make big efforts to do many things, but not when it comes to computing, where they usually don’t want to think, just use what’s familiar: what are the challenges to convince the parents who already make the extra effort of home schooling to also use Linux?**
Andrew: It’s free. It saves you money to buy expensive textbooks and you can lock it down however you want. It’s easy to get rid of applications you don’t want your kids having access to. But ever tried uninstalling Internet Explorer in Windows?