Whether you’re a homeschooling newbie or veteran, you’re probably constantly looking for ways to change, improve, and streamline your homeschool. We parents strive to give our children the best possible education. We are always evaluating our kids’ academic strengths, weaknesses, interests, needs, and goals. Often that means tailoring their schooling to fit their unique personalities and learning styles. We want to give them all the tools they need for a successful education. In short, we want to help them make the most of school—and it wouldn’t hurt if they enjoyed it, too! Hundreds of homeschooling programs vie for our attention (and dollars.) Thanks to the internet, online homeschool programs have a lot to offer.
Maybe you’re contemplating an online program instead of the more traditional textbook route. Is one approach better than the other? Does the quality of teaching differ? Will one help you run your homeschool more successfully than the other? We’ve researched and compared both of these options for you to help you reach your decision.
What is an online homeschooling program?
Simply put, it’s an online educational program complete with all the materials needed, geared toward homeschoolers. Expert educators develop most of the curriculum, which takes a big burden off parents in preparing lessons and teaching their children. An online homeschooling program delivers a comprehensive education including the core subjects of science, social studies, language arts, and math. You can access courses either online or on video. Most if not all of them also incorporate a variety of tools and resources to help parents manage and customize their homeschool. Some of these include online assessments, lesson plans, printable downloads, school calendars, recordkeeping, and grading systems.
What to Look out for When Researching Online Homeschool Programs
Two key words to look for when researching online programs are “video lessons” or “digital curriculum.” Some online programs provide textbooks that accompany their curriculum, others rely mostly on eTextbooks and other digital tools, like video lessons. Some websites use the term “digital curriculum” to describe their entire homeschooling program—all online or video lessons, resources, and materials, including textbooks. Others use this term to refer just to the e-textbooks and other digital resources they provide. Keep this in mind as you research so you’ll be sure to find exactly what you want, whether it’s an entire online homeschool program or just the digital materials to supplement your curriculum.
Is an online homeschool the same as an online school?
No, online homeschools and online schools are different. Online homeschooling implements a curriculum designed especially for homeschools. It may be comprised of one publisher (like BJU Press) or several different publishers with online offerings. Often when using an online homeschool program, parents may be the primary instructors or primary decision maker for their children’s education. They may also have access to expert teachers for various subjects. Parents may have to lay out their curriculum, plan the school calendar, and grade all student work. In rare cases parents may also need to plan and prepare lessons.
With online (or virtual) schools, certified teachers use a structured curriculum to teach your child, often a public school curriculum. At times they may collaborate with parents on their child’s online education, but the bulk of it rests on the teacher. Students will periodically meet with teachers for real-time lessons in the virtual classroom. Teachers deliver regular feedback to students by email or phone. They are also fully responsible for grading tests, quizzes, and assignments. Some online schools offer the choice of live or pre-recorded classes.
Video Learning vs. Textbooks Alone
When comparing these two options, parents should consider two main criteria: accuracy and student engagement.
- Accuracy. When it comes to accuracy, video lessons and their associated materials can be very reliable. Online resources can often be updated anytime. And due to their construction, updates can be smoothly integrated into video lessons and digital resources without any interruption for students or teachers.
- Student engagement. Video lessons are specifically designed to be interactive and attention-keeping. Video lessons provide many hands-on activities, interactive lessons, colorful graphics, organized content, and other features that build real-life learning and critical thinking skills. These all work together to engage students and encourage them to keep learning.
- Accuracy. When they’re first written and published, textbooks can be one of the most helpful, up-to-date teaching resources available. However, unless the publishing company follows an update schedule to maintain their materials, their information can become outdated. When a new edition is released, you may need to purchase the new editions because your materials are no longer offered.
- Student engagement. Textbooks are easy to use and straightforward, but often lack the engaging quality of a video lesson. Even the most attentive students can become bored or bogged down after reading several pages of fact after fact after fact. Additionally, unless the publisher provides additional related activities and instructions for completing those activities, the parent or teacher may need to find their own resources to support textbook material.
The decision to choose video lessons or textbooks largely depends on your homeschooling goals. If your primary issues are engagement and accuracy, video lessons may be the right choice for you.
Does an online homeschool curriculum work for different learning styles?
Online learning provides many creative ways to help students learn according to their own learning style: visual, auditory, reading and kinesthetic.
Online homeschool features such as videos, maps, diagrams, digital whiteboards, and PowerPoint presentations are especially beneficial for visual learners. Video lessons heavily rely on graphics to convey information, which greatly aids visual learners in learning facts, ideas and concepts.
Online homeschool programs that incorporate recorded lectures help auditory learners retain information better. They can also greatly benefit from one-on-one discussions. If your online program uses a live video teacher, students can ask teachers questions and have them answered directly. If they’re pre-recorded video lessons, auditory learners still benefit from hearing the teacher speak.
Most students learn best through this learning style. Many online homeschool curriculums deliver the bulk of their teaching through reading and writing assignments, handouts, and books.
You may be surprised by how many online homeschool programs accommodate kinesthetic learning. There are several online options that provide hands-on learning opportunities through artistic and other types of projects. Students learn problem-solving skills through role-play or creating real life scenarios. The only barrier in embracing kinesthetic learning in your homeschool is choosing to do the kinesthetic activities—such as lab activities, projects, and crafts.
Do online homeschooling programs work with the different learning approaches?
Every homeschooling family adopts their own learning method or approach. This simply means the way you choose to implement homeschooling. A few examples of different homeschooling methods include traditional, eclectic, classical, Charlotte Mason, unschooling, and unit studies. While online homeschool programs may not be tailored for these specific schooling methods, they often do work with any homeschooling approach—although some may take a little more work.
Some families approach homeschooling from a child-led basis. Parents encourage their children to pursue learning what interests them in their own time at their own pace. Homeschoolers of this method like the ability to choose from a variety of curriculum. They choose curriculum that meets their children’s needs, interests, and passions. If one publisher doesn’t engage their child, they’ll search for something that does. They often wind up with an eclectic collection of different subjects and resources. For instance, BJU Press online video lessons for math and reading, another online publisher for science and social studies, and printed textbooks for writing and grammar.
This approach appeals to parents who desire to be their child’s primary educator. They choose a curriculum, structure the school calendar, and take on the role of teacher according to what they want their child to learn, where, when, and how. For parent-led homeschoolers, online programs with video lessons become support resources—something to rely on when a parent isn’t available to teach, teaching difficult concepts, and nurturing independent learning, for example.
Teacher-led Learning or Independent Learning
Some parents want to homeschool their child but not be the primary instructor. They prefer to have certified professional teachers teach core subjects like science, language and arts, social studies, and math. These video teachers provide opportunities for parents wanting a more teacher-led approach as well as for parents wanting to allow their children to take responsibility for their learning and be independent learners. Many online programs offer not only a full curriculum, but also services such as grade keeping, annual assessments, and academic counseling. BJU Press relies on digital tools like the Homeschool Hub for grade keeping, and through the Academy of Home Education and Testing and Evaluation, they offer academic counseling and support for annual assessments.
Would homeschooled children with special needs benefit from an online curriculum?
Many online options deliver homeschooling curriculum that is customized for special-needs children. Parents should look for these standards when looking for an online curriculum for a special-needs child:
- Tailored activities for discovering and exploring
- Progressive levels of reading, writing, and math
- Progress and placement assessments for language arts and math
- Equal combination of learning and enjoyment
- Freedom for students to work at their own pace
An online homeschool program is ideal for children with dyslexia, autism, short attention spans, and other learning disorders. An effective online curriculum will incorporate the following:
- Interactive puzzles, games, and songs that teach through repetition.
- Activities that are divided into adaptable segments that won’t overwhelm or frustrate students.
- Colorful pictures and graphics on worksheets and tests.
- Numbering and bullets to help teach concepts.
- Self-paced assessments and activities so students can learn in the time and way that best suits them.
Both textbooks and online homeschool programs can help you give your child a solid, well-rounded education. Both options are suited for all types of learning styles and schooling methods. You can adapt either of these to fit your unique homeschooling approach, schedule, and preference. Whichever you choose, BJU Press can provide guidance, advice, and resources to help make your homeschool a success.
• • • • •Jennifer is a pastor’s wife and mom of two young girls and loves homeschooling them. During her own twelve years of being homeschooled, Jennifer developed a passion for reading and writing. She earned a bachelor’s degree in creative writing and relishes writing during her free time.