I'm not a big fan of using entertainment (DVDs, computer games, Leapfrog, etc) to teach basic skills even though sometimes these things can be amazingly effective. Aside from just a gut feeling that I'd rather find another way, I guess my reasons are:
1. Someone told me once: "Whatever you win them with you win them to." Rather than fostering a love of learning with these tools, I wonder if what is being nurtured is an appetite for TV and prepackaged entertainment. To me, building that attachment is not worth the possible educational pay- off. Kids can catch up in learning phonics and math facts; it's a lot harder to undo an addiction to media.
2. The second reason is related to the first. I don't want my kids to need to be entertained in order to learn something difficult. Eventually, in their educational career they will have to learn something for which no appropriate Sesame Street episode exists. I don't want them to balk against actively applying themselves because it has rarely been expected of them before.
3. Most educational media for children involves rapid fire stimulation with lots of moving images, sounds, and action. The studies that link media consumption to shortened attention span are pretty dramatic. I feel like a loss of attention span in children is a big problem for both the child's character and his trajectory as a life-long learner. In the long run, I would rather have a child who can diligently and happily concentrate for extended periods of time than a child with precocious academic skills.
All that being said, I'm not necessarily against making learning easier or more fun. I think though that there are ways to do it that empower children as learners rather than create an unhealthy dependence.
One of those ways to to set information to music. I've been amazed at the difficult things M and G have been able to learn after they have been turned into songs. At the beginning of every 15-20 minute school time that I do with the girls, we sing an educational song or two together. They enjoy it, and it painlessly transitions them into the learning mode.
To me, it's significant that we are actively involved with this learning tool rather than just listening to the songs on a CD as background entertainment. I want the girls to understand that singing can be a good mneumonic device- but that it is not just something that they have to wait for far-off people to serve up to them. They can make their own helps in learning- including maybe a song or two sometimes.
I've made up a few songs to go along with our lessons (e.g. I've taught the girls to spell their names with a song, and I have a short song for the names of the vowels) But I've also been able to find a few songs on the internet that have been very helpful for more involved memorizing. I thought I would share them with you in case you are interested in doing the same kind of thing.
They are not, for the most part, polished or entertaining links. They are simple, singable songs. I just use them to help me learn the tune and words so I can teach the songs to the girls during school time.
Days of the Week
Books of the Old Testament
Books of the New Testament
States and Capitals
Counting up to 20
The following songs are all on one CD by Montesorri singer Shelly Murley. I don't own the CD but instead learned the songs by listening to the song samples.
Oceans of the World
Months of the Year
Increments of time (how many seconds in a minute, etc)
I have also used a webpage that lists familiar tunes to use in skip counting, but I can't remember where that went.
(For the geography songs we sing the song while we put together an appropriate map puzzle. As each place is named, the child puts the piece of the puzzle in the right place or just points to it. By the way, I have a simple world map puzzle that I LOVE, but I can't seem to find it online, but here is a link to a very similar Montessori puzzle)
Please let me know if you know of any other simple, singable education songs so I can add them to our school time singing rotation!