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Tips From a Veteran Virtual Schooling Parent

Those moments when everything is quiet and all is going according to plan...
Those moments when everything is quiet and all is going according to plan...
Emily L. Goodman

So…you’ve decided to virtual school your child, have you? Virtual schooling is a great method of learning that will provide your child with an excellent educational experience from the privacy of your own home; but it also comes with a few unique challenges. There are things that virtual schooling parents have to worry about that no other parent will ever face. For example…

Learn how to check your kids’ internet history. Get in the habit of doing it every day. As a virtual schooling parent, you can still get away with installing parental control software that prevents them from visiting particularly dangerous sites; but most of those programs do absolutely nothing for the host of game sites out there. You will never be able to block each one individually, either. Just when you think you’ve got them all covered, your child will magically discover half a dozen new ones.

Then there’s Google. If your child doesn’t eventually have the urge to google a random topic that has absolutely nothing to do with the subject he’s supposed to be working on (“How do I impress girls?” “When do girls get their periods?” “How do I make a bomb?”), count yourself lucky; because there are dozens upon dozens of sites that are perfect time-wasters for any child who would rather be doing anything but their schoolwork.

Check the internet history. Check it often. Have consequences in place for the inevitable point when you catch your child doing something that she’s not supposed to be doing. Make a habit of looking over your child’s shoulder frequently. This isn’t easy, if he’s using a laptop and what it’s easiest to get a look at is his face, so become familiar with the difference between “study face” and “zoned out on a game” face. It won’t always be possible to tell the difference, but you’ll get better at it. Also be familiar with the click-pattern of the mouse that is associated with working on a lesson versus the one that occurs when playing a game. That will give you a subconscious heads-up that something isn’t quite right even before your eyes can register it.

Be prepared to be trapped at home. Class connect sessions are of paramount importance for virtual schooled students. This is the only opportunity they have to interact with their teachers, and the only chance that the teachers have to interact with them. They need to be present for the live versions of these sessions, not the recordings, as often as possible.

This means that you may not be able to leave your house until after noon many days. It may mean that you don’t leave your house until after one, or two, or three, depending on the day and how the sessions fall. If you have a younger child who naps in the afternoon, you may never get to leave the house. It’s not really even a choice: you’re just stuck, at least if you’re going to be a responsible learning coach and parent.

Get used to this. Make friends with other parents of virtual schooling or homeschooling children and invite them over as a way to get out—their kids can use your wifi, or you can use theirs. This will at least enable you to maintain some semblance of adult conversation every once in a while. You can also host gatherings of friends in your home, which will help with the adult interaction problem. Just keep in mind that you also need to be available to help and monitor your children when necessary—so this can’t be an every day thing.

Take advantage of Fridays. Always in the past, Fridays have been a day essentially free of class connect sessions. Those are the days when you get your work done early and clock in some “supplemental hours” at the library or another field trip location, get in some “PE” by taking the kids to the park, or just in general get out of the house for a little while. Fridays are your best bet for appointments, errands, and play dates.

Keep in mind that your kids are going to need some social interaction. Get involved with a church group or a club. This can be difficult (remember the above: trapped in the house), but luckily, most clubs and church groups meet after the hours when your kids are stuck in front of the computer. They will get bored of each other’s company. They will get bored of your company. They will need to interact with other young people their age every once in a while. If your child is an introvert, or has been bullied, you may have to strongly encourage this, especially at first.

Keep your teacher’s phone number and email address in a place where you can find it. Do not make this place one that is only accessible by going online.

Sooner or later, somewhere over the course of the year, an emergency is going to occur. Your internet is going to go down. Your laptop screen is going to shatter into a thousand pieces when your child kicks it across the room. Someone will be sick, or hurt, and you will have to see to that instead of attending an all-important class connect session, or meeting.

You may be out and about when this occurs. You may not have access to the internet. But you will need to contact your child’s teacher and let them know. Most of the time, they’ll work with you. Class connect sessions are available in recordings, and lessons can always be moved to another day. Still, you need to do them the courtesy of letting them know what you’re dealing with and why.

Try to keep the Online Learning System up to date. Your child’s teacher needs to know what she’s really accomplished in the past week, the past two weeks, the past month. If you fall behind and don’t update her progress, you create problems for you, for her, and for her teacher. Keep on top of it. Make it a part of your daily or weekly schedule. Make sure that your teacher knows ahead of time when you do this. Do you have a habit of filling in the OLS on Friday, when everything is done for the week? Make your teacher aware of that so that your child doesn’t get in trouble for “lack of progress.” Do you habitually update attendance at the very last minute on Sunday night? This is something your teacher should be made aware of, especially since system outages can and do occur.

Print your materials ahead of time, not exactly when you need them. As mentioned above, emergencies do occur. The internet can go out. The OLS can be down for maintenance. In these instances, your child is going to need something to do; and that “something” will be much easier if they have access to the materials that they’re supposed to be working on. English and math tend to be relatively easy to complete, as long as you have the materials handy. Go ahead and print them out and store them somewhere that your child can easily find them. This both ensures that you’ll have access if you can’t get into the OLS for some reason and makes them portable, so you can take them with you if you need to leave the house for a little while.

It’s worth it to have a computer per kid. If you can make your budget stretch to accommodate this, it’s the best way to handle it. Increased numbers of class connect sessions mean that it is somewhat inevitable that your children will need to be in sessions at the same time. Even when they don’t both need to be in class at the same time, they will both need to be online, and fighting over one computer is more trouble than it’s worth.

Also, make sure that at least one, but preferably all, of those computers has a working microphone and speakers.

Keep an eye on that advance prep and your materials list. There are some materials that will make an appearance that you may not necessarily have on hand. Discovering this at eight p.m. the night before your child is supposed to complete the lesson is highly uncomfortable. Check out your advance prep at the end of every week, at the very least, even if you don’t plan to do any of it until Sunday night.

Be prepared to re-learn things you didn’t think you would ever need again. Remember those high school algebra classes that you were so glad to kiss goodbye? You may be dredging up that knowledge to go over material with your student. Remember, Google can always help!

Get in touch with your child’s teacher when they first start having a problem. You’ll have to actively make note of this. Most teachers aren’t paying attention to the number of times your child has taken an assessment or how they’ve done on it. Therefore, you’ll know that there is a problem before they do. Catch it early, instead of letting it go for six weeks before you realize that she’s in over her head.