This year, learners everywhere (and their parents) are excited to be getting back in the classroom full-time after what feels like eons of online or in hybrid learning. In the flurry of back-to-school clothes shopping, stocking up on school supplies, and saying goodbye to summer, this year feels different for our family for a lot of reasons. Not only are we back-to-school in America after ten years abroad (more on that in another article), we are just in time for my eldest son to embark on a new era– high school. And what makes this transition even sweeter is that this September marks his official reentry to traditional school after years of online education.
Now, I am not just talking about the mandatory online education we all found ourselves in due to COVID. We, like practically everyone with school-age children, have been there and done that too. But, after two years of “off again” “on again” online learning due to COVID restrictions, we made the difficult decision to pull our then-8th grader out of mainstream school and enrol him full-time in an online distance learning school. With the mindset that we were already accustomed to online school and in need of a solid American curriculum while still abroad, we wanted to do it right with consistency, a fully accredited curriculum, and experts in online education.
So, we took the plunge. We formally withdrew our son’s paperwork from his school and enrolled with one of the most reputable American online distance learning schools. And after a year-long experiment, I can honestly say it was equal parts positive and negative. We had the luxuries of a flexible schedule and more family time. We had amazing adventures at museums and historical sites on our educational excursions (Egypt made a pretty great backdrop for our field trips). We bonded over frappe-infused study sessions at our local coffeehouse in ways that we never would have with our son otherwise. But, we also worked harder at school than we ever had– both student and parents. We worried more. We got frustrated more. We questioned our decisions more. And we found ourselves knee-deep in more parental responsibilities than we bargained for.
So was online education everything we dreamed it would be? Yes and no. Would we recommend it to our fellow parents? Probably yes, at least for a limited period of time. But if a full-time, online education is something you are considering for any number of reasons, here are five things you need to know before you go “all in” with online education:
1. Online school is NOT easier – it’s in fact, much HARDER.
Most people assume these online schools are an easy route to straight A’s. But in fact, the opposite is true for most subjects. While online school does offer more flexibility, the amount of work involved is not less, it’s actually more. Because these online educators know that students basically have unlimited access to books, parents, and even trusty Google for assignments and tests, they design these fully accredited programs to be significantly more difficult. These online schools are leaps and bounds away from the impromptu online learning modules we were used to receiving from our regular schools during COVID. Writing assignments are aplenty and involve heavy research using multiple resources. Quizzes and tests challenge students with multiple “right answers” to glean which students are drawing on knowledge gained directly through the course vs. supplying answers available elsewhere. And online math– it’s practically a herculean task; no matter how sophisticated the online math tools are, understanding math concepts, working out problems, and drawing graphs is inherently harder online than on paper.
2. You will spend MORE time managing your child’s education than traditional school requires.
I’m not talking about helping with homework. That’s a given – they are learning at home, they will seek your help constantly. I’m also not talking about the coordination and constant emailing we had to do as parents during COVID. What I mean here is the actual education management portion of your child’s education. The “stuff” that school administrators and teachers do everyday that we as parents don’t see or simply take for granted. Organising quarterly schedules. Monitoring grades and progress. Sourcing lesson materials. Running discussion groups. Planning field trips and activities. IT support. Troubleshooting. Even though most reputable online schools provide the complete curriculum, lessons, testing, and grading components with teacher interaction/feedback, ensuring your child is prepared and equipped for each lesson and activity, on track, and following the system is a huge undertaking. You are in essence the teacher assistant, guidance counsellor, secretary, and principal, all rolled into one. As such, you will need to set aside time on a daily basis to ensure your child has everything they need to succeed and stay on pace.
3. Your child will need MORE MENTORS in their life than before.
It is easy to understand that you will need to socialise your online-schooled child. COVID made us pros in online activities, social groups, and virtual camps. We also knew to sign him up for after school sports and activities and plan fun field trips and excursions. But, we underestimated the important role adults play as mentors during the formative years of young people’s education. Teachers, counsellors, and school administrators, who are truly experts in childhood education, give children a much-needed boost of confidence and acceptance that they won’t find in their friends and family. We didn’t even realise this was missing until we began to prepare for high school. Between the long conversations with his guidance counsellor, meet-and-greets with teachers, and watching him interact with team leaders at our local community centre, we found our child motivated, engaged, and thoughtful on topics we had tried many times to discuss before without success. Being seen, heard, and supported by adult mentors who are not your parents does wonders for a child’s confidence. They take themselves more seriously and see themselves in a new light. So whether that interaction can be found through coaches, tutors, or community class teachers, you will need to provide opportunities for your child to interact with mentors as often as possible.
4. You need to be a TOUGH cookie to keep your child on track.
We all think we’re tough parents. We have created a fair but firm system of checks and balances in our homes and we are not easily manipulated. But, when your child is a full-time online student, you will often find yourself on that slippery slope between being supportive and being a “cool mom”. Because we want our child to enjoy online education and we desperately want the online school experience to be a success, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of making it too much fun. Being too flexible with bedtimes and waking times. Having too many breaks. And forget about rainy days that beg to be spent binge-watching Netflix. Furthermore, unlike online school during COVID, everyone else is not doing it too which makes it even harder to enforce self-imposed schedules and deadlines. If you are undertaking full-time online school, both your (and your child’s) time-management skills need to be ace. You need to be firm on sticking with schedules and treating online school as you would traditional school. Enforcing prompt start times. Making up work due to “absences” from sickness or travel. Ensuring your child doesn’t skip steps or take short-cuts with assignments.
5. Your child may actually be MORE SUCCESSFUL in online classes.
One of the most amazing things about online school is watching your child discover the joy of learning. Because when you strip away all of the noise, the classroom distractions, and the pressures and influence of friends and classmates, your child may surprise himself/herself with their ability to comprehend and absorb material that was previously difficult or challenging. It’s also normal for children to have preconceived notions about which subjects they dislike or think are too hard based on previous experiences with tough teachers or poor grades. But when they tackle these subjects in an online setting, suddenly many of these barriers to learning disappear. Children can become more confident in their abilities to learn and in turn, become more successful in their classes.
Albert Einstein famously said
“education is not the learning of facts but the training of the mind to think.”
Online education platforms may be just the thing to help kids successfully train their minds to think; all you need is planning, patience, and the knowledge of the essential tools you’ll need to navigate the online education journey.