Correspondence courses have existed since the 1840s, but it wasn’t until the 1990s that online schools were born. Even then, the homeschool community didn’t embrace the idea of virtual learning immediately. When I began exploring it around 2008, some programs existed but were not yet popular. Ten years later, online learning has boomed with an impressive array of full- and part-time programs available. While they may seem like a betrayal of “true” homeschooling in some ways, the options are so broad that most parents can find courses that complement their homeschool ideals. Best of all, online learning offers many benefits.

1. They help the parent by freeing up valuable time

When we begin the homeschool adventure, we expect to devote hours each day to it. Sooner or later, though, our responsibilities can begin to overwhelm us. Sharing even one subject with a trusted teacher can bring much-needed relief. “I loved the fact that I didn’t have to do any prepping, teaching or grading!” says Paula from Colorado.

2. They can be reassuring for challenging subjects

Parents may be able to teach a wide variety of subjects for many years, but eventually they may encounter one for which they don’t feel adequate. An online class taught by a trusted teacher can be the perfect solution. Several parents interviewed were impressed by their students’ high-caliber teachers and the rich, impressive content of the courses.

3. They offer a safe way to meet peers from other places

Most live online courses have a long reach, enrolling students not only across the United States but sometimes around the world. Homeschool mom, Mary Jo, says, “[My children] . . . enjoyed participating with students from all over the world.” “[My daughter] enjoyed the classroom interaction and getting to hear other students’ point of view . . .” Crystal R. adds, “I saw that her world was expanding.” And the daughter of Nancy Brown from New Hampshire made many friends on her class’s private forum. “[Four] years later, [she] still has these friends in her life, even though they all have moved on from the online classes.”

4. They give students valuable experience working with teachers other than their parents

Most homeschool students will someday choose higher education, and online learning allows them to prepare for the variety of teaching and grading styles they will experience. In addition, as Mary from Monument, Colorado, noted, other teachers offer new ideas. “They have really enjoyed all the courses so far, because they get a unique worldview and teachers with different perspectives . . .” Other parents saw that online classes helped teach their children the important skills of accountability and time management.

5. They can meet practical needs in ways that traditional homeschooling cannot

Online classes can offer several practical benefits, too. As an online teacher myself, for example, I’ve had parents seek my services simply because they didn’t want to be the “bad guy.” Entrusting me with tasks like giving critical feedback, requiring revisions, and refusing incomplete assignments, enabled them to better help their student without conflict.

Online learning can also build computer skills, as homeschool mom Julie observed: “All of my children benefited from their online learning, having been challenged to engage online/digital formatting . . . and have thereby embraced a more efficient, modern mode of learning.” Crystal R. concurs: “I think it was beneficial to [my daughter] to learn to use a platform like Zoom, because that is going to be a common experience as they grow older.

For some families, online learning can even solve a commuting challenge. Kelli from Castle Rock, Colorado, noted that the online option for her son’s computer class eliminated a long commute to the campus.

6. And best of all, they can ignite a passion for learning

One hope that many parents share when they begin homeschooling is that their students come to love learning. Choosing high-quality online classes can help support this ideal.

Several parents observed that their students took ownership of their education in new ways with online learning. Benefits included a motivation to find their own courses, an enhanced drive to succeed, and a deeper appreciation for their subjects.

Nancy from New Hampshire says, “[Her French teacher’s] enthusiasm for other cultures and languages sparked the same in my daughter, who has now decided she wants to study languages in college. Had I been the one to facilitate her French language learning, she would never have had this experience.” As a bonus, some parents even benefit personally from their students’ courses, because they can listen nearby or have their students review the material by teaching it back to them.

No educational format is perfect, of course, and online learning can certainly have drawbacks. For many families, though, it enhances the homeschool experience. Whether you seek a complete program or just an elective class or two, the beauty of online learning is that it offers something for everyone!

Copyright 2018, The Old Schoolhouse®. Used with permission. All rights reserved by the Author. Originally appeared in the Summer 2018 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade publication for homeschool moms.

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