Helping Kids of Different Ages Transition to Virtual School
Are you and your family starting virtual school for the first time? School will begin in just a few weeks, so it’s time to get ready for the big switch! After plenty of researching, discussing, and planning, you’re familiar with the virtual classroom environment. But the experience will be very different depending on your student’s age.
The last couple of weeks before school starts can easily get crowded with the details of scheduling, setting up your virtual classroom, and more, so don’t forget to stay focused on the big picture. Here’s a brief breakdown of the issues you and your student can work on to help make sure your first year of virtual school is a successful one.
Elementary Students (K–5)
Younger kids need extra guidance to get used to the school environment, especially if they’re just starting kindergarten. Below are some ways you can expose them to the traditional elements of attending school and draw their attention to a few things that are especially important in a virtual setting.
- Make new friends and work well with others. Help expose your student to new people and new relationships by giving him or her a chance to socialize with different people. Arrange a playgroup, go to the playground, sign up for swimming lessons, or attend events in the children’s section of the local library. If you have more than one student, work on teaching them to collaborate effectively and get along during the school day.
- Learn how to use technology. Familiarize your student with computer technology or work on more advanced skills like typing, depending on his or her skill level. Do this before school starts to make the first week easier. Consider creating technology rules early on so your student won’t stray into unsafe territory or get distracted. Don’t forget to cover online communication and etiquette.
- Establish a routine. A consistent routine helps provide students of all ages with much-needed structure, but it’s especially important for younger students who need to get used to fitting school into their day.
- Give your student some distance. This is difficult for both parents and younger children, but it’s an important step in the process of building a student’s sense of independence. Virtual school students aren’t usually separated from their parents as much as those who attend a brick-and-mortar school, so make sure you help support your student’s self-identity by trying not to shelter him or her too much.
- Learn proper classroom behavior. An effective way to keep your younger student focused, motivated, and well-behaved is to create a reward system. Eventually he or she will mature into a self-motivated learner.
Middle School Students (6–8)
In middle school, students learn more independently, explore new interests, and experience social and self-image changes. Help them grow by focusing on these issues.
- Surf the web safely and responsibly. As kids get older, they venture online more and more. Remind your student of the rules of online safety and etiquette and introduce him or her to some safe social networks.
- Handle school frustration. As students progress, their schoolwork gets more and more challenging. Getting tired, bored, or upset during school sometimes is normal, so help your student recover his or her well-being and productivity by identifying and addressing each roadblock when it appears.
- Take on more responsibility in school. During middle school, your student should start to rely on you less and less, especially if you’re his or her Learning Coach. Make sure he or she is comfortable to reach out for help when needed, especially when calling the teacher would solve the problem.
- Stay involved in clubs or extracurriculars. In middle school, students’ tastes evolve and they become interested in new things. Encourage your student to be social and stay involved in activities by joining online clubs and activities, finding volunteer work, trying out for local sports teams, and more.
- Build confidence and self-esteem. Increased social pressures, whether online or in person, and physical changes make preteens more self-conscious than before. Spending too much time at home as a virtual school student can also become isolating, so staying social is important. To help your student maintain his or her academic performance and friendships, offer more freedom and responsibility when appropriate and direct his or her focus to community involvement, health and fitness, and other positive influences.
High School Students (9–12)
When students reach high school, it’s important for them to focus on planning for the future as well as performing successfully in school. Your student should be largely independent, so make sure he or she remembers to focus on the following priorities and to utilize the resources available from the school.
- Consider and set goals for the future. It’s time for your student to start to seriously consider important questions, such as What do I want to do after graduation? and What should I study if I attend college? You should both start thinking about the things that will matter after high school: SAT scores, resumes, etc. As a virtual school student, your child will have access to school counselors and other career and college planning resources, so make sure he or she takes advantage of these proactively.
- Find a part-time job. Learning how to find a job opening and interview for it is a lifelong skill your student needs to build. Besides learning the responsibility of holding a job, your student can also learn new lessons about financial responsibility and scheduling. Since virtual school students can schedule lessons throughout the day and don’t necessarily have to work “after school,” allow your student to decide when to take shifts and how to fit in study time.
- Face the challenges of a busy schedule. Virtual high school students have to handle additional privileges and responsibilities on top of more difficult schoolwork. If your student is ready for an extra challenge, he or she could enroll in online Advanced Placement courses or honors courses. But keep in mind that as an independent learner without constant supervision, your student has to stay organized and motivated. Keep an eye on your child to make sure he or she stays on track.
- Start investigating different career options. Virtual school offers your student the chance to consider a variety of traditional and nontraditional career options. Career Technical Education (CTE) courses are offered for students who want to begin the path toward job opportunities or a college major. Your student is also available during business hours to seek job shadowing or internship opportunities, which would allow him or her to experience the professional world firsthand.
- Make a difference. Volunteering is a great way for your student to build his or her resume and try new things, but for a virtual school student it can also provide more socialization and exposure to the community. Help him or her look for volunteer opportunities or even coordinate his or her own with family members and friends. Joining or leading local efforts can also inspire your student as he or she considers the future, and it could help him or her find a path with purpose and meaning.
Overall, students who attend virtual school versus homeschool or a brick-and-mortar school have the same needs; there are just different ways you can help fill them.
Are you and your student ready for virtual school? Let us know if you have questions.