EPJ reader Caroline B emails:
I have been meaning to comment about your post by an EPJ reader on Kindles. I think e-readers are amazing, but they are especially relevant to something I do with my family.
I homeschool my two children and most of the books we read are from unabridged 18-20th century works found in the public domain (pre-1923). Two years ago I was printing and binding these books myself and bought some in used book/antique stores and on ebay. The storage of the printed books was awkward but I have enjoyed many of the used vintage and antique books on my shelves. The used books cost $3+ each (often $8+). There are more than 500 books in the K-12 list on our curriculum disks (http://www.robinsoncurriculum.com/). When I learned I could download nearly all of the books for free onto an e-reader, I chose a Kindle. In the long run, it lowers our cost because printing and binding comes out to be much more expensive. Also, my local library system does not have all of the books we need.
I am amazed how simplified and affordable our homeschool is because of an e-reader, a computer and the internet (actually, it was simple and affordable before, even better now). Though I can access many of the books for free through Amazon's Kindle store, the two sites I most often use are http://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Main_Page and http://www.manybooks.net/. There is also a sister site of the Gutenberg Project, http://librivox.org/, that provides free audio book versions which can be used on the Kindle, computer, and iPod (or mp3 files). The Ludwig von Mises Institute (http://mises.org/) is a wonderful source for books on the reading list not found at the Gutenberg Project. I believe these public domain book sites are doing good work, and deserve major accolades for their accomplishments.
In assessing the utility of an e-reader like the Kindle, I find it's e-ink technology is of excellent quality. The font can be increased or decreased in a wide range of sizes. My kids love big fonts right now and I suppose it facilitates their enjoyment of the material. I think there is less eyestrain with a Kindle as I often find little blurry letters in some books. I would not want to have my children read on a device like a computer, the color Nook or iPad for extended periods of reading because of the back-lit screens on these devices. Back-lit screens are difficult to read in bright outdoor light and I believe they cause eyestrain. Also, there appears to be an argument among reading experts that e-ink technology and print on paper is superior to back-lit screens for retention of reading material. I'm not willing to chance it.
The Kindle is small and very light. Since it is arguably easier to hold than a book, perhaps there is less physical strain on the back, arms, and hands. Amazingly, an entire book takes a few seconds to download and the Kindle can hold approximately 1,500 books. When we travel, we can take a Kindle, not a cumbersome pile of books. There is a voice-to-text option which my children appreciate when the flow of the older language is difficult to understand. The integrated dictionary makes looking up the definitions of unknown words fast and simple.
We have the Kindle 3G. There is no external (ie. monthly) charge for the wireless service but the 3G version costs more than the WiFi version ($189 v. $139 ). While it is necessary, the Kindle's internet browser is not efficient and user-friendly. I tend to use my computer to access sites from which we download books because its faster than using the up-down, side-to-side buttons to scroll through web pages, and the Kindle's keyboard is small and difficult to type on. However, I don't really mind because I don't want the internet to be easy for my children to use when they should be reading. Unfortunately, the Kindle lacks a parental control option to block access to the internet altogether. Next time I will buy the Kindle Wi Fi version or perhaps another brand that has better internet usage and controls.
There is a free download, Calibre (http://calibre-ebook.com/), anyone with an e-reader should be aware of. You can convert most documents with Calibre for use on your e-reader, even PDF's. You can store books in the Calibre library that you would rather not hold on your device or through your e-store account library (like with Amazon's Kindle store).
I spend very little to educate my children. It amazes me that mainstream educators and parents believe thousands of dollars per child per year are needed (in addition to the multi-million dollar facilities, equipment and expensive credentialed pensioned faculties and staff!). Computers, e-readers, and the massive amount of good quality free and low cost curricula on the internet makes it possible to gather information needed for free or very little cost. Factoring in the curriculum, supplies, books, field trips, etc, I believe I'm easily spending less than $200 per year for both of my children.