As parents, we want what’s best for our children in every aspect of life: health, relationships, and education, to name a few. There is no “one size fits all” answer that works for every child. That’s why today’s educational options have grown beyond traditional brick and mortar public schools to include homeschooling and schooling online.
Once you’ve decided that online homeschooling works best for your child, a few minutes of research will reveal that there is an overwhelming amount to think about—curriculum, methodology, technology, and such. We’ve put together this guide to online homeschooling that will help you navigate it all.
Ways to Help You Decide if Homeschooling Online is Right for You.
Deciding to educate your children through an online home-school is a decision that should not be made lightly. It’s one thing to help your child with homework sometimes when they attend a traditional school. It’s quite another to be solely responsible for their complete educational journey.
Homeschooling on the web requires a solid commitment from both parents and child. Not only will you have to prioritize your child’s learning, but there may be state requirements concerning homeschooling that you need to be aware of, including mandated end-of-year and end-of-course testing. The US Department of Education and your state’s Department of Education are good resources for information.
That’s not to say you should shy away from this choice.
After careful consideration, you should do what is best for your child and your family. Here are some questions to ask yourself before deciding to homeschool online.
Before Homeschooling Electronicallly, Ask Yourself These Questions
There are a few factors worth considering as you discuss online homeschooling with your child. Parents should ask themselves these questions:
- Do I have the available time to manage my child’s education?
- Am I willing to commit myself to the ongoing effort to find a curriculum, plan and schedule school time, and provide the technology and curriculum resources for my child to learn effectively?
- What is my budget for online school?
- Am I aware that my child’s school day may be shorter with online learning, and how will this impact our family lifestyle (extra free time, childcare, outside activities)?
- Am I willing to research and abide by my state’s laws regarding educating my child at home?
- How will this choice affect the relationship with my child?
Students should also be asked the following questions to determine whether online homeschool is right for them:
- Why do I want to do online homeschool as opposed to going to a traditional school?
- Am I self-motivated to learn?
- Will I respectfully accept direction and guidance about my daily school obligations from my parents?
- How will I feel about being separated from friends during the school day?
Types of Schools for Homeschooling Electronically Online
Remember, too, that homeschooling online is not necessarily about planning every lesson and teaching your child day in and day out. Flexibility is a key component, allowing you to choose just how much online curriculum you want for your child and how much you as the parent want to be involved in lesson planning and guidance.
Certainly, you will want to provide opportunities like field trips to enhance your student’s studies, but online homeschool means just that. Instruction and assessment are online. According to Consumer Affairs, there are four basic approaches to online school that you should consider.
Online Public School
Online public schools are essentially taxpayer-funded schools provided by public school districts, state educational agencies, and charter schools. They are subject to the same federal and state testing requirements as traditional public schools.
Teachers in online public schools are certified and experienced educators. They work with your child to provide instruction and assessment, and educational support. The curriculum is set by state agencies and usually taught during the traditional period of the school year.
Online Private School
Online private schools are not funded with taxpayer money, so they must charge tuition for your child to have access to its instructors and curriculum. This tuition is often more affordable than brick-and-mortar private schools
Because they are not tied to a certain school district or state requirements, online private schools offer you more flexibility in location and schedule. Your family could literally be anywhere in the world that offers internet access, and your child can attend the virtual classes.
Online private schools offer more flexibility for your child’s academic schedule than traditional schools or other online schools. This allows the student to pursue outside interests and passions without interfering with his education.
Since online private schools don’t always have to answer to state guidelines, they may not be an accredited school or require annual state testing. If you go this route for online homeschool, be sure to choose a reputable, accredited school that is recognized by an educational organization.
Online Religious Schools
You may prefer to enroll your student in an online religious school so that he will receive instruction in line with your faith beliefs. Really just another form of online private school, an online religious school will charge tuition for access to its curriculum, teachers, and administration.
Accreditation and adherence to state regulations are not always required, so be careful when selecting this type of online school for your child.
Online Curriculum Providers
Online curriculum providers offer educational content through learning modules or prepackaged, downloadable lessons. There are also websites designed specifically for online learning; however, most are more supplemental than comprehensive.
Reputable providers offer standards-based materials that will challenge your child. What they don’t offer is the classroom structure and framework, assessments, or administration that you’ll find in more complete online schools.
Choosing Educational Resources for Homeschooling Online
Once you’ve decided to forego traditional public or private education, it’s time to dig in and discover what online homeschool options are available. A quick internet search may leave you dumbfounded and overwhelmed with all the choices out there.
Different companies, different methodologies, different foundational beliefs, different pacing timelines…well, you get the idea. There is a vast array of options, but rest assured, there is at least one right for your child, and probably more than one.
As you take a look at online schools and curriculums, it’s important to keep these points in mind to ensure you’re providing a quality education for your student:
Accreditation by The Department of Education is the first thing you should look for in an online school. To receive accreditation, an online school must meet or exceed all the requirements for its students to enroll in a college or university, or it must have the proper credentials, such as a government-issued school number.
Attending an accredited online school is so important because your student will be able to transfer credits to other online and in-person schools. They can also graduate with a fully recognized diploma and apply directly for admission to colleges or universities.
The downside of choosing an unaccredited online school is that your student may be required to take the General Education Exam (GED) to apply to college.
Unlike traditional brick-and-mortar public schools, most online homeschool options are not free. The cost can be anywhere from a minimal charge to thousands of dollars per year. However, online public schools are typically available at no charge since they are taxpayer-funded.
You’ll find that most private online schools require tuition to be paid before each school year or semester begins. Some may offer payment options that allow you to pay over a set period as long as you’ve paid in full before your child begins classes.
You may be able to pay for individual courses as you take them throughout the semester or school year. If you’re not completely sold on a particular online school or curriculum provider, this is a good way to sample their offerings before committing to an entire year.
Online programs can take on a variety of formats and frameworks. You should consider your child’s needs and abilities as you look at the options that can range from completely online to a mixed bag of online and offline work.
Some schools expect you, the parent, to be present and/or actively involved for much of the class time. Others work completely with your student and don’t expect parents to take an active role at all.
The time-tested way to measure a student’s academic progress is to evaluate their knowledge by tests and quizzes throughout the course and at the end of the year. Pass the class and advance to the next grade.
Some online schools use this method. Others choose to evaluate students differently or not at all. Standardized testing is a commonly accepted means of evaluation, and many states require it from all schools, even those online. This type of testing may also be pertinent to an online school’s accreditation process.
One of the benefits of online homeschool is that your student can advance at their own speed. Many programs let students demonstrate mastery of the subject by taking an exam whenever they finish the coursework. There is no deadline to complete the work or take the test.
Choosing to homeschool online opens up a world of possibilities for your child. There are many excellent curriculum options that you can access with technology you already have—a laptop or desktop and internet access.
The program you choose should offer lots of flexibility and be simple to use. You set the daily schedule with your child so that it best suits your family.
Here are a few things to look for in an online curriculum:
- Online safety: Accessing the curriculum portal should be safe and secure for your student. Ideally, the program will be free from advertising.
- Multimedia lesson presentations: Students will be engaged for learning if the material is presented through multiple formats like videos and audio clips, as well as more traditional means.
- Interactive lessons: Today’s student is used to an online experience that provides opportunities for interaction with the program itself and with other students. Video game-like content is often combined with printable worksheets to reach every learning style.
- Recordkeeping: A comprehensive online curriculum will automatically maintain records of your student’s academic progress through the program.
- Assessments: Your student should be given the chance to work at their own pace and be tested on their progress throughout the course.
Tips for Effective Online Learning for Homeschoolers
Your student may be totally excited about the opportunity to learn online at home. You, the parent, on the other hand, may feel some trepidation about everything that’s involved in making this a successful venture.
It’s important for your child to understand that online homeschool is still “real school.” It’s not just a chance to hang out at home, work for an hour, then go play. Sure, flexibility is one of the benefits of online learning, but flexibility is not the same as being slack.
Below, we’ve gathered a few tips to help you set up your student for success in the home-based classroom:
Establish a Physical Learning Space
Think about a traditional classroom. While they’re basically the same across the country, even across the world, classrooms look very different depending on the teacher, the location, and the students.
A classroom is designed to engage students in learning through multiple avenues. All the necessary supplies are kept on hand. Technology is available to facilitate student learning, and the area is personalized with student work and resource materials. Let’s translate that to the home classroom:
Create a Specific Place in Your Home for Learning
Going to an actual school building and walking into a classroom every day is a signal that it’s time to learn. Entering the homeschool zone within your home signifies to your child that the school day is beginning. In short, it’s time to get serious.
The learning zone should be in a quiet, low-traffic area of the house where there won’t be many outside distractions and temptations. It’s better that your child spends the bulk of his school time away from television, toys, and food.
Gather Classroom Equipment and Supplies
Homeschooling online requires, at minimum, a desktop or laptop, printer, headphones, and possibly a microphone too. This technology is a key component in the success of online learning. Set it up on a sturdy, flat surface (desk or small table) with a chair that fits your child and gives them good reach to all the tech components.
A high-speed internet connection is essential to effective online learning as well.
Make sure there are additional supplies like notebooks, pencils and pens, and, depending on the age of your child, markers or crayons. It’s a good idea to keep extra printer ink on hand to avoid a desperate trip to the office supply store in the middle of a project.
Personalize the Learning Space
Most of us like to add a few personal touches to our assigned area at work. It gives us a sense of ownership and pride in what we do. We display awards, family photos, and other items representing our work ethic.
Allow your homeschooler to do the same. For the same reasons we adults do it, personalization of the learning environment can motivate and inspire your student to perform at their best. Hanging up motivational quotes and displaying projects and excellent work will acknowledge your child’s effort.
Establish a Schedule
Traditional classrooms typically post a daily schedule in a prominent place for all to see. The schedule helps keep everyone on track throughout the day. Children who participate in online homeschooling will benefit from a daily and weekly schedule too.
One benefit to schooling at home is that you can tailor the schedule to fit your child’s particular needs and energy levels. If your teenager isn’t an early morning person and prefers to tackle his work closer to mid-morning, homeschooling online allows you to accommodate him. Doing so will often maximize his learning retention.
When you’re creating a learning schedule, be sure to build in time for other activities that are also part of your child’s everyday experience, depending on their age, such as:
- Outside lessons like piano or art
Having a routine provides your child with a certain level of expectation that online school at home is not an option. It helps establish a habit of staying on task during the allotted time for studies.
Work with Your Child to Set Goals
Tony Robbins, a well-known motivational speaker, has said that “setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible.” Goals help us all, and children are especially motivated by that carrot dangling in front of them, encouraging them to keep working to reach the goal.
At the beginning of each school year, sit down with your child to set a few specific and measurable goals for their academic progress that year. You can even break down the year into quarters, so the goal is more attainable and the reward more immediate.
The purpose of these goals is to help keep you both on track as you move through the online curriculum. Throughout the year, review the goals with your student to see where they stand. You can always adapt and adjust a goal if needed.
Diversify Learning Opportunities
Online homeschool shouldn’t be just all computer work, day in and day out. Even students who thrive doing most of their work online will benefit from mixing things up every now and then. An online homeschooling program or curriculum can be adjusted to keep the material fresh and engaging to your student.
- Re-pace: Slow down the pace if your child is especially interested in a unit of study. Allow them time to dive into the material by doing additional research on the topic.
- Supplement: Provide your student with access to additional resources during their studies. Use your local library or a homeschool resource site to borrow or purchase materials. A unit on the American West can include current news articles about ongoing issues on native lands.
- Enhance: Bring online lessons to life with field trips and outside projects that require your child to use other skills and think critically. Turn a history lesson into a field trip to a nearby battlefield or museum.
- Apply: Apply what your child is learning to real-world situations. For example, give your child a budget and take him to a supermarket to “buy” a list of groceries within budget.
Customize the Educational Content
The availability and diversity of online curriculum have never been greater. You can find curriculums that allow your student to explore her passions in addition to learning the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic. Talk to your child and do your research on the right program for you and them.
Not only can you personalize what your child learns, but you can also customize how fast or slow they learn. Your child can study and learn at a pace most comfortable to her without feeling bored or left behind. And, after all, isn’t that one of the main things homeschooling online is about?
You may have heard the term “differentiated instruction” tossed around. Customizing your child’s educational content, delivery method, and learning pace allow you to meet their individual need for a specific learning style:
- Visual – learning by observation
- Kinesthetic – learning by doing
- Aural – learning by hearing
- Social – learning by collaboration
- Solitary – learning by working alone
- Verbal – learning through the written or spoken word
- Logical – learning through logic and structure
Know It’s OK to Fail
If you’re new to online homeschooling, recognize that a FAIL is OK; that is, a First Attempt in Learning. After all, you may not be a teacher by training, and all this edu-speak is like Greek to you. Maintaining your own job expectations while overseeing your child’s online learning is challenging too.
It’s OK, and it’ll be OK! As you and your child continue the process of homeschooling online, you’ll learn from your mistakes. You can adapt, adjust, drop back and punt, and chalk it up to a lesson learned whenever something doesn’t go quite right.
Learning is a fluid thing. We learn something every time we embark on a new course, even if we learn what NOT to do next time.
Connect with Others
Of course, no one wants to fail. It’s understandable if you’re concerned about your lack of experience managing your child’s education. You may feel unqualified to create a pacing guide or set up a learning schedule that enables your child to succeed.
That’s why it’s completely acceptable to reach out to other parents or local educators for help. Educational professionals have the know-how and experience in designing individual learning plans for all types of students. Many are more than willing to share their expertise with you.
Another great resource of homeschooling online is other parents who are doing the same thing. They can often refer you to specialized homeschool resources, both online and local support groups. They can sympathize with you about the trials and pitfalls as well as rejoice in your successes.
Getting Outside the Online Classroom
To round out your child’s education, it’s important to offer them opportunities to leave the computer screen behind occasionally. Putting what they’ve learned into action or visiting a place they’ve studied enriches them in so many ways. It turns their head knowledge into life knowledge.
Online schools and curricula often include these types of enriching activities as part of their program. If they don’t, it’ll be up to you to determine how to best round out a particular unit of study.
Some common ways of expanding your child’s education include:
- Field Trips: Visit historical sites, national parks, or museums that further teach your child what they’ve learned online. Some online schools actually require field trips as part of earning course credit.
- Special Projects: Put lessons into action by having your student design and create a new invention or build a Free Pantry to help feed the homeless. Project-Based Learning (PBL) is cross-curricular in nature, combining skills such as math, reading, and critical thinking to solve real-world problems.
- Local Homeschool Groups: Your online school may be regional or national in scope, but often you can connect in person with other students in your area who are using the same program.
- Online Support Groups: Online schools and curriculum providers may give access to an online community group or forum with others using that platform. These are great ways to get support and make like-minded homeschooling friends.
- Sports: Participating in a sport may not be directly related to your child’s studies, but it will help them stay physically fit and often provides motivation to achieve in the classroom.
There has never been a better time to allow your child to stay at home and learn online. Technology has put the world at our fingertips. With a few clicks, your student can connect with online curriculum and online teachers from across the globe from the comfort of home.
Homeschooling online can offer your child and your family the flexibility to personalize learning and maximize family time. In today’s 24/7 global society, bringing education to your doorstep opens the door to a world of opportunities.