6 Steps to Help Families Start Strong in Virtual School
When parents enroll a child in virtual school, the decision to educate at home is only the first—and often the easiest—step! Although some parents, once they adapt to online learning, find it very rewarding and report that it’s the best fit for their child, many of those same parents found it overwhelming at the beginning. Fortunately, there are six simple steps families can take now to overcome these early challenges and make a successful start in virtual school.
A high-quality online school typically provides orientation materials to help parents learn how to support their child’s learning. At Connections Academy schools, both students and parents benefit from an online orientation course presented using the same learning platform as the curriculum. As they learn about their new responsibilities as online students and Learning Coaches, they are also familiarizing themselves with the computer systems.
To help new Learning Coaches learn “the ropes,” some school locations may invite them to attend in-person orientation events. Whether seminar style or more of a meeting format, these events can benefit families that want to gain a better understanding of how to guide their child’s learning.
- Organize the Learning Space
Organization is always an appropriate theme for your student’s home classroom. Assemble-it-yourself furniture is a great, affordable way to furnish the at-home learning environment. But if that’s not in your budget, try a yard sale! A battered bookshelf bought at a yard sale can become a perfect storage area for school supplies in just an afternoon with a can of spray paint in a pretty color.
You can add a youthful dash of fun by repurposing unexpected materials into storage bins—such as cookie jars or bright, shiny buckets labeled with the name (or a picture, for younger students) of the bin’s contents. Colorful “milk crates” can be stacked or placed on shelves, then stocked with color-coded file folders where you and your student can sort learning materials by subject.
- Check Your Computer
To ensure that you and your child are ready to learn—without technical difficulties—look up your online school’s system requirements. You will want to download the latest software updates, particularly the Internet browser you will be using for school.
If your Internet connection is slow or unreliable, you may want to consider upgrading your service or shopping around for a better service provider. Anything you can do to avoid delays and frustration while your child does schoolwork will help him or her benefit more fully from the program.
- Attend School Events
In some states, virtual schools may also host in person back-to-school events, such as picnics, pizza parties, field trips, and other social gatherings. School events often include opportunities to chat with teachers, administrators, and other staff. This will let you get answers to any questions you still have about the school and how it works.
Attending events is also a great way to meet other school families! Your children will enjoy getting to know their classmates face-to-face for fun and socialization, and you can benefit from having a supportive network of other Learning Coaches who are ready to compare notes and share their ideas.
- Think about Your School Schedule
Start thinking about the best way to structure your child’s learning day. The virtual school schedule can be much more flexible than the “bell schedule” at a bricks-and-mortar school!
Consider your child’s natural inclination for sleep as well as when he or she is most alert. What kind of family or extracurricular activities and socialization do you have planned? And be sure to ask your child for input on making the schedule so he or she will be more inclined to be agreeable.
It’s important to read your school’s student handbook, to ensure that you are meeting the state requirements for hours of attendance. You will also want to talk to your child’s teacher early in the school year about what kind of schoolwork and online classroom sessions need to be completed at specific times, and which ones are more adjustable. Additionally, if the schedule you plan isn’t working, change it—and don’t be afraid to ask other virtual school families for advice!
- Explore School Resources
Take time to discover the information and support that your child’s virtual school provides for newly enrolled families. At Connections Academy, the list is extensive! Families can find all kinds of helpful tips for new Learning Coaches on the Prepare for Success website, on the school’s Pinterest boards, and through live online Parent-to-Parent Orientation sessions. During the school year, your child’s teacher will also connect you with subject-specific resources to support your child’s learning.
Don’t forget the most important resources of all—teachers and other parents who can offer specific resources, tried-and-true advice, and encouragement! You can be sure that this supportive community of online learners will always “have your back” and be able to help you make your way from being an anxious beginner to being an online school expert!
What suggestions can you offer families just beginning the online learning journey? Please share your sharpest ideas in the comments.