5 Ways Computers Can Reinforce Academics This Summer: Q&A With Dr. Mary

Three computers
Flickr photo by Eirik Newth

Today, Dr. Mary is addressing the topic of using computers for learning and maintaining academic skills.

Q: My son's teacher encouraged him to use his computer this summer to keep up with some of his academic skills, but she did not give us any specific information on what to work on. What are some of the ways that computers are used at school and what are some ways we can use it at home? I'm not sure where to start.


A: Our kids are growing up in an exciting time, where paper and pencil can be supplemented, or sometimes replaced, with the use of computer technology to learn and maintain academic skills. While the use of computers varies from school to school, computers have the potential of making learning more interesting and more understandable for some students, especially those that are more visual learners. Some kids are simply more engaged when viewing a computer screen, when otherwise they'd be unmotivated and unfocused while learning, and children with learning challenges often make significant gains through the use of computers. Just like traditional teaching, computer "lessons" should be individualized to meet the needs of each unique learner.

Here are some of the ways that students can use computers, at school and at home, to reinforce skills:

Reading. There are numerous programs available for all levels of readers and all aspects of reading (phonological awareness, phonics, fluency/decoding, vocabulary, comprehension). Many of these programs are interactive and provide visual and auditory cues. Many also store data about the child's performance, which can later be put into a report form for the teacher and parent. Check out: Starfall.com (pre-K through second grade), PrimaryGames.com.

Math. A variety of programs let kids individualize their activities and give kids immediate feedback on their performance. Activities are often interactive and paired with engaging sounds and visuals. Check out: AAA Math (kindergarten through eighth grade), Apples4theteacher.com (primary games).

Vocabulary/Spelling. The online dictionary and thesaurus can be used to find the meanings of words provided by a teacher. Words can then be put into computer programs that create fun activities like word searches, crossword puzzles, and word scramblers. Check out: AAASpell.com (first through eighth grade), FactMonster.com.

Essay writing. There are programs that give kids a graphic organizer, or a visual map, for developing and organizing their ideas when writing a story. Other programs allow children to correct errors in spelling and grammar. If children are illustrating their work, there are drawing programs to choose from. Check out: Visuwords.com, Wordle.net.

Geography. Online maps, including satellite views, can aid kids learning about other states and countries. Check out: National Geographic Kids, KidsGeo.com.

There are numerous free, online educational sites, to the point that it can be overwhelming. Talk to your son's teacher or the school librarian about which ones they use at your son's school and what they might recommend for summer learning. Recommended sites might also be posted on the school website (try the teacher's personal web page and the media center/library web page). Frequently, your local library will have recommended sites by grade level posted on its website as well. For those programs that cost, check with your school district before purchasing anything; you may be able to get it free of charge through the district.

With the right computer learning tools, your son can have success at maintaining his skills throughout the summer and have some fun doing it.

Dr. Mary Rosen is here each week to provide answers to your most pressing school issues. She's a school psychologist, licensed counselor, graduate school instructor, and parent.

Got a question about school learning and behaviors for Dr. Mary? Leave it in the comments below or email us, and Dr. Mary may answer your question in a future post.

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