If you have kids of any age, there are a few things you consider carefully: their nutrition and overall health, their safety, and their education. In this day and age, parents have so many options for how to educate their children. Parents can choose from an assortment of public, charter, and private school options, as well as homeschooling. Parents can also select a brick-and-mortar (physical) learning environment for their children, a virtual (online) learning environment, or a combination of the two.
There are many reasons that a family might choose to have their child attend school online. These may include:
In the post-Columbine era, many parents worry about the possibility of school shootings or other school-related violence, such as bullying. Attending school online can not prevent cyberbullying, but the possibility of physical violence is greatly reduced. In addition, parents that are concerned about disease epidemics or pandemics may feel reassured that their children will have continuity of education if they are in an online learning environment.
For families that travel often or far, it may be difficult to have children in brick-and-mortar schools. Completing schoolwork online makes it possible for children of frequently-traveling parents to stay current on learning and not miss too many days of school. Students that are very involved in certain athletic or artistic pursuits, or that need to work during the school day, may also find that online learning provides them with the flexibility needed to ‘do it all.’
Students that have certain learning disabilities or differences may find it difficult to concentrate in a large classroom environment, with all of the distractions inherent in brick-and-mortar learning. Although learning online might make it more challenging for a student with specific learning needs to access the additional educational or emotional support they need for success, it may reduce their needs for such support as well. Many online schools also provide customized coursework options, which provide students at all levels to learn what they need, at a pace that is comfortable for them.
Work- or stay-at-home parents that want to play a bigger role in their children’s lives, but do not feel prepared for homeschooling their children, may choose cyber school for their kids. With cyber school, certified teachers will usually be the student’s primary educators, and parents can serve as learning coaches or supporters.
Some children are ahead of the curve, and get bored in classroom environments where all students move at the same pace. Online learning that replaces or supplements whole-classroom learning allows gifted students to move more quickly through their material, or to focus on the material that is particular to the student’s needs and interests. This helps prevent a student from becoming bored, and worse, disengaged, from the learning process. It also helps the student meet their educational goals more efficiently.
Parents that have made the decision to have their child learn online might be concerned that the process to leave a brick-and-mortar environment will be difficult. Not to worry! Here are 5 easy ways to set your kids up for online school.
1. Identify Your Needs
First, be honest with yourself about how much time and energy you are willing and able to commit to your child’s learning. If you work from home, are you able to frequently assist your child with their assignments? Are you more of a hands-on or hands-off parent when it comes to education? If you or another adult will be nearby to support your learner, you may select a type of online learning that offers less teacher-based support. Similarly, if online learning will only be used to supplement or augment brick-and-mortar schooling – say, on weekends, over summers, or as subject-specific tutoring, parents have a wider range of options to choose from. However, if your child will primarily be receiving their education online, and are not high-school age or highly independent learners, you may want to choose an online school that has high levels of teacher involvement and learner accountability. For these schools, you may need to provide a similar level of support as you would if your child was in a brick-and-mortar school.
2. Identify Your Children’s Needs
Is your child a social butterfly, or do they prefer to spend time alone with their thoughts? Introverted children will likely be, by their nature, more comfortable with full-time cyber schooling. Many cyber schools offer opportunities to socialize virtually, via classroom discussions, extracurricular activities and clubs, but do not provide in-person options for socializing. If your child requires frequent in-person socialization to be content, then you may want to consider a local cyber school that offers such opportunities. Some larger cyber schools provide regional drop-in centers for tutoring and socializing, as well as field trips, club meetings, and other activities like school dances and volunteer service days.
3. Check your Options
Depending on where in the country (or world) that you live, you may have different options for cyber schooling. Some brick-and-mortar public school districts offer online learning options for their communities’ residents. These can be great for students already enrolled in their public school system, that want to stay with the district for sports, extracurriculars, or other reasons.
Other regions or states have one or more charter cyber schools that receive public education funding and are considered public schools. These schools may be centrally located or cover entire states. Because these schools often have a broader reach than a brick-and-mortar district’s cyber option, they may be able to provide a broader range of elective classes than their brick-and-mortar counterparts. For example, they may be able to offer less common foreign language options, such as Japanese or American Sign Language. Many charter cyber schools provide virtual or in-person open houses for you and your child to learn more and decide if it’s the best option for your family.
Parents that are basically homeschooling but want their child to access certain (or all) subject areas via online resources, may want to check out subscription-based online learning services, or free resources such as Kahn Academy. In this case, they can pick and choose what subjects their child learns online, and from what sources.
4. Talk to Other Parents
When you are looking at your available options, one thing to take into consideration is the experiences of other parents and families. Before committing to a specific school or learning platform, see what other people have said about the option you are thinking about. You might find reviews online, or you can read comments left on social media. If possible, interview parents or students that have already spent a year or more attending classes in the online environment you are considering. Although their experiences may not mirror your own, their feedback may be useful in your decision-making process. At the very least, what you learn may provide you with what you need to ask more informed questions of the school’s administrators.
5. Enroll Your Student!
Unless your child is failing or miserable in their current brick-and-mortar school, consider waiting until the end of the current school year to enroll them in cyber school. Starting fresh after the summer break will help your student begin their new year with a positive attitude and a zest for learning. Generally speaking, it is no more time-consuming to register your child for cyber school than it is for a brick-and-mortar school. You are likely going to need to verify your place of residence, provide medical and vaccination information (even though it is a virtual learning environment), and ensure all parents with legal custody of your child agree to the new schooling choice. Depending on the age of your child, or any special needs, you may want to begin preparing them early for the transition to online learning so that it is not a shock to their system.
Once your child is enrolled in the cyber school of your choice, you may want to think about how to structure your home and your day to be an optimal learning environment for your student. Consider making a school-specific space in your home that has minimal distractions and will allow your child to focus on their work. Setting boundaries on when and where your child can use handheld devices like tablets or phones, watch television, or play video games will also help keep your student focused on work during the school day. Finally, work with your child to create a daily schedule that enables them to not just get their schoolwork done, but also have time for socializing (virtually or in-person), exercising, eating healthy meals, playing, and relaxing. Set a wake-up and bedtime schedule that works for both you and your child, which enables them to work on courses when they are most alert and fresh; this schedule may need to change as your child becomes a teenager.
There are many reasons that families may choose to cyberschool their children. They may do so temporarily or on a permanent basis. Regardless of your reasons or needs, there are many factors you may want to consider before embarking on such a significant change. Take your time in making the decision, if possible, and engage your child in the decision-making process. A switch to online education affects the entire family, not just the student in question, and is not something to do hastily.