I get this question quite a bit. What are the benefits and draw backs of a virtual school?
First, just so we’re all on the same page, a virtual school is a school in which you have full teacher support, a complete curriculum and lesson plan, and it is typically funded by state tax dollars that would normally go to your neighborhood school. Since laws vary state-by-state, there are not virtual schools in all states, and some states may have virtual schools in some areas but not others. There are private virtual school options also, where you pay for the books, teacher support, etc. also.
Now, each person’s situation is different, and like I said, each state has different laws, but here’s my feedback and what I’ve heard from many families.
Benefits of Virtual School
- The curriculum and lesson plan is made for you. This is the #1 reason why I suggest using a virtual school the first year or two homeschooling if you’re feeling nervous about what resources to use and how to plan it all. All the curriculum pieces are taken care of.
- Many states will fund virtual schools so just about everything is free. You still have to provide notebooks, paper, etc., but the school will send clay, paint, personal whiteboard, microscope – everything the school would typically provide.
- Some virtual schools organize clubs and field trips, allowing your children to take part in group activities and someone else takes care of the planning. You also normally get a group rate! Kira was in an online reading club that would meet virtually to talk about a book they read, and her teacher setup monthly field trips like going on a tour at the capitol building, and touring a grocery store (way more interesting than I expected!).
- Naysayers around you are usually at ease to hear that the school district still oversees some course work and the curriculum for the child.
- The teacher can be a great support and mentor for you, especially with just trying to manage everything. The teacher we had was fabulous! She was kind, caring, supportive, and always full of great ideas.
Drawbacks of Virtual School
- While scheduling is far more flexible than public/private school, there are still some limitations. There might be online class sessions the child needs to attend (I’ve heard these increase as they get older), and you normally need to have a specific amount of work done by the end of the school year rather than working through the summer.
- Working with multiple children can be tricky. I haven’t yet heard of a virtual school that has subject matters in each grade line up so siblings are covering the same general topics. This means that science for your 1st grader may be talking about volcanoes while science for your 3rd grader is talking about plant growth, so they have to work separately. If mom plans out the school year herself, she may have her kids work on similar topics at the same time so they can work together, and less work for mom!
- Virtual school work typically takes longer than purely homeschool work. Since you can’t combine writing with history or science, it takes its own hour instead of blending with another subject. Most virtual schools let you skip the busy work if the child understands the concept, but there’s only so much adjusting that can be done.
- Since the work typically takes longer, it can be hard to take advantage of homeschooling events in your area. A big push for us to start homeschooling on our own was so we could start going to more events!
- The child may end up with a checkbox mentality, meaning they just aim to finish the work so they can check the box and be done with it. Some kids like those check boxes, and once that is done, they don’t have much interest in exploring further. Kira is this way and I’m trying to spark that curiosity in her again, in sha Allah.
- You don’t get to choose the books. This is the biggest drawback in my mind, but it’s also the greatest relief to a new homeschooling family. You may have different beliefs than what is taught in the science textbook, or have a different take on how things went down in history. In Islam, we are not supposed to try to recreate the image of a animate object, so a typical art class can pose some challenges. Virtual schools are typically willing to work with you, but as the child gets older and more independent, you are aware less and less when something comes up that would raise a red flag.
In the end, we did a virtual school for two years before moving on to typical homeschooling. When I was pregnant with Amatullah, I asked Kira if she wanted to sign up for a virtual school for the semester I was due so we didn’t have to worry about my availability nearing my due date. She decided against it, but I’m grateful we have it as a back up if we ever need it.
Don’t want to use a virtual school, but feel lost? Here are some resources!
- Transitioning from a virtual school to traditional homeschooling. (Many points can be used for transitioning from public/private school to homeschooling, too)
- Where to buy and sell used curriculum
- How to get started with credit-by-exam
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Looking for online classes? Take something off your plate, but still keep homeschooling?
We love Currclick, and use both their printable curriculum options and their Mandarin Chinese class in our homeschool curriculum!
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The rest of the series to check out!
- Q&A: Homeschool Scheduling (February 20, 2013)
- Q&A: Homeschool Time Management (March 7, 2013)
- Q&A: Keeping Track of Grade Level (March 18, 2013)
- Best Kids Islamic Resources (April 1, 2013)
- Q&A: Planning the High School Years (May 7, 2013)
- Q&A: What is a co-op, and why have one? (May 28, 2013)
- Q&A: Pros and Cons of Virtual School (June 10, 2013)
- Q&A - I'm not patient enough to homeschool (June 26, 2013)
- How Do You Check Academic Performance? (October 19, 2015)