With a background in teaching and a family full of lifelong learners, it’s no surprise that school choice was something I took very seriously. I waited outside a preschool before the sun had risen to secure a spot. Later, I toured several local elementary schools to make sure we knew what options were out there. We made the big decision for kindergarten and assumed it would be the path through high school. Annnnd then pandemic. All my research ended up full circle with a kindergartener in our loft, ready to tackle virtual learning.
A Silver Lining
As we navigated our way through the spring semester, I noticed a few exciting things. My daughter was sleeping better. Despite the uncertainty of a pandemic, she was happier, more content, and more creative.
As the weeks went by, my husband and I began to consider our options for the next school year. We wondered about the quality of an online curriculum, the potential lack of socialization, and even our stamina to guide a first grader through her day. We questioned this parenting decision more than any decision we’d made up until this point. As we worked through our pro/con list, we started to realize that a lot of the negatives were based on myths.
5 Myths About Virtual Learning
Myth #1: Kids sit in front of the computer all day.
Truth: It goes without saying that an online school option will require time in front of a screen. However, we quickly learned that the majority of our daughter’s time would be spent tangibly interacting with math concepts, working on science projects and STEM experiments, reading physical books, writing in journals and workbooks, and participating actively in her classes.
Myth #2: Online school is like homeschool.
Truth: Nope. When you choose a digital school, you have the benefit of qualified education professionals researching, developing, and supplementing a curriculum. Your child has the benefit of a qualified and trained teacher who leads them through their instruction, works with them to set expectations and goals, and checks in to see how they’re progressing. With homeschooling, you’re it – the parent, teacher, curriculum developer, and principal. With online school, you get to be the supplemental support to your child’s education.
Myth #3: Virtual learning has a subpar curriculum.
Truth: We loved our daughter’s preschool experience, but struggled to find the right level of rigor for kindergarten. I worried that virtual learning would be another wasted year of repeating things she already experienced during her preschool years. Luckily, it was the opposite – virtual learning was engaging and challenging. In addition to offering an exceptional curriculum, it provided an opportunity for personalized learning and growth, deep diving into subjects of interest, and exposure to a wide variety of topics.
Myth #4: A digital school is impersonal.
Truth: My daughter’s experience was the opposite. Her teacher really got to know the kids and what motivated each of them. She knew how to make minor adjustments so the learning was a good fit for each individual. She took time to check in with parents and made it clear that she was always available for questions and feedback. She encouraged the students to reach out to her by email or phone with any questions or even to share something they were excited to explore.
In addition to a very personable teacher, virtual learning provided my daughter with an opportunity to use adaptive software. These supplemental math and reading programs adjusted based on students’ accuracy and speed. The graphics were beautiful and made the programs even more inviting. Some of the adaptive software even used gamification to motivate and engage learners by allowing them to earn virtual arcade coins upon lesson completion or unlock “pets.”
There’s no doubt my daughter’s school put a lot of effort into ensuring that each student had a personalized experience. In addition to the wonderful teacher and adaptive technology, students regularly participated in small groups based on learning levels in math, reading, writing, and passion projects. This was a way for the teacher to connect with students, as well as an opportunity for them to get to know their peers.
Myth #5: There’s no way to socialize in virtual learning.
Truth: Socialization was my number one worry about virtual learning. Within days it was obvious that although the socializing looked a little different, it played out very similarly to a physical classroom. There were still BFF struggles and joys, “passing notes” (through chat), and all the other normal kid stuff you’d expect to see in an elementary classroom.
My daughter’s classroom started each day with a class huddle. This live meeting had a community-building focus. The class learned about social and emotional skills, participated in breakout groups to build connections, and warmed up their brains with daily challenges.
In addition to the huddle, lessons, and small groups, the school also offered various opportunities to socialize. My daughter’s Learning Success Coach hosted weekly events – storytime, cooking class, holiday craft sessions, and more – which always ended with time for the students to interact and connect. The school offered virtual clubs before and after school, allowing students to pick an interest and connect with other kids.
Just like any early elementary student, some parental involvement is required for play dates outside of school hours. My daughter enjoyed 1:1 and small group virtual lunch Zooms and after school hangouts. We also organized unofficial grade-level parties for Halloween, Valentines Day, and the end of the school year.
Socializing in a virtual environment isn’t the same as being face-to-face, but virtual learning doesn’t make socializing impossible. In fact, when I asked my daughter what the best part of first grade was, she immediately said “making new friends from all different places.” There’s something so special about having the opportunity to have classmates who might live down the street, across the Valley, or even outside of Arizona all coming together to make one collaborative classroom environment.
Is Virtual Learning Right for My Child?
Now that you know more about some of the myths surrounding virtual learning here are my top five favorite benefits:
- Personalized Learning Path
- Enhanced Creativity
- Deep Character Development
- Practice with Time Management to Achieve Goals
There’s a lot of research that goes into finding the right school. Many students are choosing to remain in virtual learning. While virtual learning has been an incredible fit for our daughter, we know it’s not for everyone.
If you’re thinking about online school, ask yourself these questions:
- What is your child’s personality like?
- Does your child enjoy digging into subjects deeper than a traditional classroom allows time for?
- Are they driven and motivated?
- Are they comfortable asking questions?
- Does your child benefit from more movement opportunities throughout the day?
- Are they energized or distracted by an in person classroom environment?
- How much time do you have to assist and support their learning?
- Does your child have a quiet workspace at home?
- Do you have reliable, fast internet?
A Pleasant Surprise
My academic expectations for a pandemic year were very low. However, making the switch to a virtual learning program was the highlight of the year. We were constantly surprised by the quality of education, the focus on community and social-emotional growth, and our daughter’s engagement and enthusiasm about her education.