Are you and your family starting full-time virtual school for the first time? There are many things parents and students can do to create a smooth transition to online learning. That’s why we suggest parents focus their energy on the activities below to help elementary, middle, and high school students get off to the best start in the school year.
How can parents help elementary students transition to virtual learning?
At Connections Academy®, parents are called “learning coaches,” and if they have elementary-age students, their children need extra support to get used to the online school environment—especially if they’re just starting kindergarten. Below are five skills you can use to help your student get off to a strong start:
- Make new friends and work well with others. While your student will be learning at home, online school gives students opportunities to socialize and interact with their peers. You can help your child learn this skill—even remotely—through collaborative online game play or Zoom playdates.
- Learn how to use technology. Familiarize your student with computer technology or work on specific skills, like typing or talking on camera. Do this before school starts, to make the first week easier. Consider creating technology rules so your student won’t stray into unsafe territory or get distracted. Some parents also choose to set up screen-time passcodes and software monitoring to restrict when, where, and how their children use the internet. Don’t forget to cover online communication and etiquette.
- Establish a routine. A consistent online learning routine helps provide structure for students of all ages, but it’s especially important for younger students who need to get used to fitting school in to their day.
- Give your student some distance. This is difficult for both parents and younger children, but it’s an important step in building a student’s sense of independence. Virtual school students aren’t usually separated from their parents as much as those who attend a brick-and-mortar school, so make sure you help support your student’s self-identity by allowing them space to spread their wings.
- Learn proper classroom behavior. An effective way to keep younger students focused, motivated, and well behaved is to create a reward system. Eventually they’ll mature into self-motivated learners.
What are the top skills for middle school students starting in online school?
In middle school, students learn more independently, explore new interests, and experience social and self-image changes. Help them grow by focusing on these issues:
- Surf the web safely and responsibly. As kids get older, they venture online more. Remind your student of the rules of online safety and etiquette, and talk about the warning signs of online bullying.
- Handle school frustration. As students progress, their schoolwork gets more challenging. Getting tired, bored, or upset sometimes during school is normal, so help your student become more resilient by identifying and addressing each roadblock when it appears.
- Take on more responsibility in school. During middle school, your student should start to rely on you less, especially if you’re the Learning Coach. Make sure your student is comfortable reaching out for help when needed, especially when calling the teacher would solve the problem.
- Stay involved in clubs or extracurriculars. In middle school, students’ tastes evolve, and they become interested in new things. Encourage your student to be social and stay , finding volunteer work, trying out for local sports teams, and more.
- Build confidence and self-esteem. Increased social pressures, whether online or in person, and physical changes make preteens self-conscious. Spending too much time at home as a virtual school student can become isolating, so staying social is important. To help your student maintain their academic performance and friendships, offer more freedom and responsibility when appropriate, and direct their focus to community involvement, health and fitness, and other positive influences.
What are ways parents can help high school students prepare for college or a career?
When students reach high school, it’s important for them to focus on planning for the future as well as performing successfully in school. Students should be largely independent, so make sure they remember to focus on the following priorities and to use the resources available from the school:
- Consider and set goals for the future. It’s time for your student to start to seriously consider important questions, such as What do I want to do after graduation? and What should I study if I attend college? You should both start thinking about the things that will matter after high school: SAT scores, résumés, etc. As a virtual high school student, your child will have access to school counselors and other career and college planning resources, so make sure they take advantage of these proactively.
- Find a part-time job. Learning how to find a job opening and interview for it is a lifelong skill your student needs to build. Besides learning the responsibility of holding a job, your student can also learn new lessons about financial responsibility and scheduling. Since virtual school students can schedule lessons throughout the day and don’t necessarily have to work “after school,” allow your student to decide when to take shifts and how to fit in study time.
- Face the challenges of a busy schedule. Virtual high school students have to handle added privileges and responsibilities on top of more difficult schoolwork. If your student is ready for an extra challenge, they could enroll in online Advanced Placement®* or honors courses. But keep in mind that as an independent learner without constant supervision, your student has to stay organized and motivated.
- Start investigating different career options. Virtual school offers your student the chance to try a variety of traditional and nontraditional career options. Career and Technical Education (CTE) courses are offered for students who want to begin the path toward job opportunities or a college major. And because you have flexible scheduling in online school, students are available during business hours to seek job shadowing or internship opportunities.
- Make a difference. Volunteering is a great way for your student to build a résumé and try new things, but for a virtual school student, it can also provide more socialization and exposure to the community. Help your student look for volunteer opportunities. Joining or leading local efforts can inspire your student to choose a path in life with purpose and meaning.
Overall, students who attend virtual school versus homeschool or a brick-and-mortar school have the same needs; there are just different ways you can help fill them.
*Advanced Placement is a registered trademark of the College Board. Used with permission.