7 Ways to Homeschool with Videos

Is Reading Better Than Watching? Not Necessarily.

TV Boy
Ableimages/Getty Images

Videos are a fantastic resource for homeschoolers. And the uses of videos in education are constantly growing. You can find videos to help answer a quick question, explore a topic in depth, or even serve as a complete course.

Videos are also easier to find and to use than ever. You can still rent or buy DVDs, or borrow them for free from your public library. But, more and more, families are paying to watch digital videos on their TV or computer through Amazon, iTunes, or Netflix.

And of course, millions of people every day watch free videos on YouTube and other websites.

Some parents and educators think print trumps videos when it comes to imparting information. I disagree. Videos let you visit historic sites and see actual footage of the bottom of the ocean.

Computer-generated special effects can show you what collisions between two galaxies or two sub-atomic particles may be like. Videos can even make math concepts clear when words and static pictures can't.

Used the right way, videos are a powerful learning resource. Here are just a few of the ways you can homeschool with videos.

1. Use a video as a complete course.

The number of Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, is exploding as homeschoolers and other independent learners take advantage of the chance to sit in on lectures from the top professors in the country. Offerings range from introductory physics lectures at MIT to Shakespeare at Harvard.

Some courses give you a choice of receiving a certificate when you successfully complete the tests and assignments, or simply auditing the course without worrying about any requirements.

But MOOCs are just the one way to take a course on video. Many classic high school video series created for classroom use like French in Action and The World of Chemistry are now available online at Learner.org or on DVD.

And lots of homeschoolers swear by The Great Courses (formerly known as The Teaching Company), which offers DVDs of lectures by popular professors, like Robert Hazen's Joy of Science. Although expensive, they have frequent sales, and some libraries carry them in their collection.

Video courses are especially useful for gifted students, who can use them to sit in on high school and college courses whenever they are ready for them.

2. Use a video to dive deep into a topic.

Documentaries, educational video series and specials are a great supplement for teaching. Our study of history was enhanced by watching documentaries like The Civil War by Ken Burns. The BBC also has interesting series like The World at War, which give a different view of world events than you get from American sources.

TV shows like PBS Nova let you stream full episodes online. And many PBS shows feature companion websites, with teaching guides, timelines, interactive animations, additional interviews and other useful resources.

3. Use a video to help with schoolwork.

Can't figure out charts and graphs? Videos from sites like Khan Academy from educator Salman Khan can walk you through the topic, letting you pause or back up as often as you need.

One great place to find videos that can help with schoolwork is YouTube's Education Channel, which organizes different videos by age range and topic.

4. Use a video to encourage reading.

Faithful video adaptations of books can introduce kids to wonderful stories and help add variety to their reading. Many of my childhood favorites -- from Make Way for Ducklings to Curious George -- were turned into videos by the company Weston Woods. (Years later, I even got to work as an animator on the Academy Award-nominated Weston Woods film Doctor De Soto.)

Today, those classic videos are available through the Scholastic Storybook Treasures collection (Compare Prices) -- along with current favorites like Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. And you can watch many of them for free online through New Hampshire Public Television's website.

5. Use a video to make a subject fun.

Learning doesn't have to be serious to be effective. Vi Hart is a "recreational mathematician" whose fun math videos use props like fruit roll-ups and to balloon sculptures. Generations of kids learned science concepts by watching the animated adventures of Ms Frizzle and her students about the Magic School Bus. And plenty of adults still hear catchy tunes from Schoolhouse Rock go through their head when they think about how a bill becomes a law.

6. Use a video to get ideas for projects and learning activities.

Online videos can be like having an all-knowing tutor in your home, ready to walk you through any project. When my older son needed to replace the broken glass on his smart phone, he found a YouTube video that showed him how. My younger son built himself a steady cam for his movie-making adventures following video instructions online.

And when I was looking for science activities I could do at home, I found helpful videos on sites like Steve Spangler Science and About.com Chemistry. They're a great source of information for hands-on learning projects.

7. Use a video to be inspired by the top thinkers of our day.

TED talks are videos of experts at live TED events giving short (10-20 minute) lectures about a topic of intense interest to them. TED speakers talk about art, health, new discoveries, and what lies ahead. TED videos can be used to take a subject your family is studying in a new direction. There are also many TED Talks that homeschooling parents will find inspirational.

Try them!