Just sitting your kid at the computer to homeschool is perhaps the most tempting offer there is after a hard day of lessons. But, is it right for your child? Is it a good fit for you, as an educator? Not necessarily. Every family is different, but here are some things to consider.
For a child 4-7 years old, a computer-based lesson plan will not build their fine motor, gross motor or physical development. It won’t help them learn to interact with other people. It won’t give them the tools they need for life. It can’t be the developmentally appropriate education they need. As a result, I am not a fan of full curriculums that are online for this age. At this age, children need to interact with peers, adults and their physical world. They need to use play dough, blocks, and crayons—not keyboards—for learning. Does that mean I oppose all screen time for this age? No. My own kids enjoyed pbskids.com and other educational websites and shows, but they were always supplements, not our primary form of education.
For ages 8-12, there are some interesting options for online learning, and it may be worth considering. However, that doesn’t mean that using it will be as little work as you would like. Most kids in this age range need a parent checking up on their progress daily. Both to make sure that the work is getting done and to confirm that the child is understanding it. Many kids, when faced with a lesson they don’t understand, may try to skip it or avoid it. This means that if you aren’t checking in daily, a self-paced program may not get done. On the other hand, a program that sets the pace for your child may move too quickly, just as a regular classroom would.
If you want to test out online learning, consider carefully how you will be involved and how many classes you want your child to try. Consider just doing a single subject or unit study through a program, to test out how online learning works for your child. Classes that provide a teacher who will both instruct and give feedback are expensive but provide more value than a pre-programmed computer game style program. If your child has learning challenges, you will need to plan to be available to help them, no matter what type of program you choose.
In high school, I actually recommend trying some online programs and classes. If your student plans to do any type of college or post-high school education, learning how to do a course online will be an asset. Many college classes today have an online component and students can also learn how to handle information in different ways from these classes. There are tons of options, but here are a few I like.
Teaching Textbooks: I never had a goal of teaching high school level math, and this program that provides both the lecture and practice problems has been a lifesaver. That said, I still have needed to check on my student’s progress and provide some help. For a few lessons, this has meant I had to listen to the instructions and then repeat them for my student using different words to help it click. For a few topics we needed to go further and reteach the topic in a different way, but those lessons have been rare. I am very happy with their online program and how I can also see the grade book and lesson progress of all students. They offer a free trial for the first 15 lessons, which is worth using, just so you know if this program will be a good fit for your child before you buy it.
Time 4 Writing: Unlike Time 4 Learning, this program provided an actual teacher who gave my student feedback at a time when everything I said was wrong. The stress of having a teen made using this program helpful, just because it took me out of the equation. There are several different classes that you can choose from, each teaching an 8-week course in high school English. We used a few of them to supplement our own studies of literature and some co-op classes. The lessons each have a section to read, quizzes that are automatically graded, and assignments to write. The assignments are graded by a real teacher who gave real feedback. Learning both the skills and how to write for an audience that isn’t your parent is valuable for all high school students.
Brave Writer: This company offers many writing programs with online courses and some even allow students to share what they write with a group of peers. While I have not used the online programs, I have heard nothing but good things about them. My own kids have gotten to take Brave Writer style courses at a local co-op that followed their style and philosophy. That experience makes me think these programs should be a good fit for students who need to work on their writing skills. The teachers focus on positive reinforcement and encouragement, which can help even struggling or anxious students make progress.
Don’t Forget Life Skills
It is important to remember, that even if you turn your child’s homeschooling over to a computer-based program, you are still their primary teacher. Be aware of their progress not just with the programs they complete online, but be sure they are also working on learning life skills. No matter where life takes them, your student will need to be able to cook, create a budget and grocery shop. They will benefit from having a bank account they can learn to use and understanding how credit works. Even the best online program can’t provide the value of real-life experiences.
About the Author
Laura Sowdon, OTR/L is an occupational therapist, writer, speaker, educator and creator of the Five Senses Literature Lessons homeschool curriculum. She has worked as an occupational therapist with children in public and private schools, as well as private practice. Laura has taught and managed homeschool co-ops as well as homeschooling her own three children. Laura is dedicated to the idea of educating children at a pace that aligns with brain and physical development milestones and respects neurodiversity in all its forms.