What to Include in a Parent-Child Contract for Virtual School
Like fingerprints or snowflakes, each virtual school family is unique! And that’s one of the joys of this form of education—the ability to customize learning and the learning schedule to suit the family’s lifestyle. Despite their unique differences, many experienced online school families use similar tools and approaches to ensure that their children succeed in their studies. In this post, we’ll examine how a simple parent– or Learning Coach–child contract helps keep three students headed in the right direction.
To see firsthand how one of our families does virtual school, I spent the day with a family enrolled in our online school in Pennsylvania. The family included multiple children, one high school student and two middle schoolers. Their mom serves as the students’ main Learning Coach while she works from home. Their dad is supportive and involved. He works nearby and sometimes comes home for lunch with the kids.
Each student had a designated and neatly organized school area in his or her room with a desk, computer, learning materials, and school supplies. In addition, a Learning Coach–Student contract was displayed above each desk. The students’ mom developed a set of expectations for her children and formalized basic rules, consequences, and privileges, as well as important contact details in a parent–child contract that each of her students signed at the beginning of the school year. It serves as a daily reference to remind the kids of the rules they’d agreed upon for effective at-home learning. What follows is a summary of the contents of the contract sheet used by this successful virtual school family. We hope you’ll use this list as a guideline for developing your own “Learning Coach–Student Contract”!
A Daily Routine
The contract itemizes the family’s established schedule for a day of online school. This includes what time they wake up, a checklist of tasks that make up their morning routine, and what time schoolwork starts. For this family, the schedule includes exercise at the gym, breakfast, showering, and getting dressed, as well as small household chores and personal devotions. In addition, lunchtime and quitting time are included.
Rules for School
Rules of conduct for participating in online school are clearly spelled out in the family’s school contract. Among the most important: cell phone use, TV use, and other digital distractions are strictly prohibited during school hours, although the cell phone can be used for contacting a teacher for help or for a genuine emergency.
Taking a Break
The contract sheet specifies that students can take short breaks of five to fifteen minutes at any time, as long as they don’t disturb their siblings. Suggestions for break time are listed, including playing with the dog, taking a walk, getting a drink or snack, or hitting some golf balls.
Because a child’s idea and an adult’s idea of “cleaning up” are very different, the details involved in organizing the study area are spelled out clearly in the contract. At the end of the learning day, the students in this family are required to return their books and supplies to specific locations and to file completed work in the proper folders and binders.
To provide incentives for adhering to their schedule and school rules, the family had agreed on an assortment of small rewards, personalized for each student. These included a favorite type of gum or candy, a treat from the frozen yogurt shop, lunch with their grandmother, or small amounts of spending money. (Note that by limiting the number of rewards listed, you help limit the amount of stalling or dawdling a student can do while making his or her choice!) For your family’s school contract, you might want to add how often these incentives will be awarded.
As in any situation involving kids, it’s important to specify the negative consequences of not following school rules. For this family, the disobedient student would receive a mom-imposed “detention” that delayed the end of the school day. Depending upon the age of your children, other approaches might include timeouts, loss of privileges, or shortened TV or gaming time.
To encourage her kids to be proactive about their education and make it easy for them to reach out for help, the mom added complete teacher contact info on each student’s contract. This includes each teacher’s email address, phone number, and office hours, plus Internet links to his or her virtual classroom.
This mom also wanted her children to be empowered to take action if they experienced “technical difficulties” while she was unavailable, so she listed the location for online help as well as the phone number for the school’s technical support help desk. If your children are younger, you may want to make “Call Mom” or “Call Dad” the first step!
If they need even more assistance with their schoolwork, the students in this family know where to turn. Their Learning Coach–Student contract lists the times and links for online tutoring sessions and shows where to locate references and resources, plus message boards for school-specific forum discussions. With so many options for support—plus involved parents—students are sure to succeed! (And some virtual schools offer resources to help new Learning Coaches succeed, too!)
By organizing vital information in one central parent–child contract sheet, you empower your children to learn to be self-sufficient. Naturally, parent follow-up plays an important role in this learning process, but every effort you make will pay off in the long run when your students begin to take charge of their education and demonstrate personal responsibility!
What tools and strategies have you used to help your child become an independent learner? Share your ideas in the comments.