Ah, summer. The beach, sunscreen, kickball in the street, plenty of time to wander the neighborhood with a best friend. Oh, wait. That was my childhood. My own teens seem to see summer as a time to stay in and stare at a screen. And that means I’m working from home to see that they don’t do that. But not all screen-staring is bad. In fact, here are a couple of sites I’m encouraging my teens to stare at.
My daughter Ava took guitar lessons for a couple of years. She enjoys music but the lessons were a hassle. We drove across town at the end of the day at a time when she was tired and I needed to make dinner so we could spend 30 minutes in a lesson. Getting there and back took longer than the lesson. When she wanted to quit, I didn't put up much of a fight. But she likes music and needs a teacher. So when TakeLessons.com sent me a note to explain that this service would help me find a local teacher, I checked it out -- hoping for one she could walk to. Takelessons.com didn't have a teacher near me. But it did have a better option: virtual music lessons. I quickly roped Ava into trying it. She loved the idea and sat down in front of her laptop with her guitar at the scheduled hour. She met up with her teacher, Gordie, on Skype. He asked a few questions about her ability, tested her answers by asking her to play. And when he’d judged her level, asked her what she wanted to learn. She immediately named her two favorite songs "Therapy" and "Lullabies" by All Time Low. Gordie, unfazed by this not-a-classic request, impressed us both by Googling the songs, listening to a few bars, determining which of the two she might be able to play, and breaking it down into cords for her -- all in just a few minutes. He threw some fingering cords up on her screen and walked her through the easier of the two songs until she could play it passably well. He told her she would have to learn a new cord, which he showed her, to master the other song. And the two said goodbye and signed off. I didn't have to drive anywhere! I didn't even put on shoes. It was cheaper than our in-town lessons and the instructor was better. And the lesson took only as long as the lesson, no traffic jams. But it had another benefit beyond those obvious ones. Ava didn't have to jump up, pack her stuff, and get in the car when the lesson was over. So she kept right on playing for another hour until she had mastered that cord. Now she wants another lessons so she can learn her other favorite song. That's screen time I will gladly pony up for -- once a week. TakeLessons.com, 30 min: $20
Summer camp can be expensive and require a lot of driving to and from. I just can’t do that every week in the summer, much as I like that it when my kids get out and do something productive. But if they stay in and do something productive, I don’t have to worry about the heat, transportation, or paying for camp. To that end, Google and MAKE magazine launched Maker Camp, a free virtual summer camp for teens aged 13-18 years. It started Monday and runs through August 16 on Google+. It’s bound to appeal to this age set: Aside from it involving their favorite screen-staring activity, it’s just a bit geeky and will have them building DIY projects to trick out their bike, build a rocket-propelled toy car, or play with computers. Every week they post new projects so, it’s a great, ongoing answer to that idle lament of summer, “I’m bored!” And it’s not just canned videos. It’s led by a team of DIY obsessed counselors. Kids follow along at home using Google Hangout’s video chat feature. All they need is a computer with an Internet connection. Every week ends with Field Trip Friday -- a virtual field trip conducted via Google+ Hangout (past trips include NASA and Ford’s Innovation Lab).
Maker Camp, free