3 Ways to Support Socialization for Online Students

3 Ways to Support Socialization When Your Student Learns Online

Homeschool and online school parents have been wrestling with questions about socialization for years: How much peer interaction do K–12 learners need? How do schools socialize students? How can we offer our students the same opportunities as their peers in brick-and-mortar schools?

Parents who grew up before social media and smartphones might view screen time as the opposite of socialization, but these tools help students connect with each other in today’s world. A group of elementary or middle school students can play an online game in a safe, private, age-appropriate chat room just as if they were sitting in the same physical room. High school students can host study groups or book clubs over video chat as if they were sitting in a library or café together. These activities all support online school socialization even though they’re done through a screen.

Why Socialization Is Important

Student success depends on the entire learning experience—which goes beyond pure academics. For example, the more positive connections students have with teachers and peers, the more motivated and likely they are to stay engaged and excel in school.

But students need more than just connections. They also need to feel like they belong, have friends, and have a safe learning community. These feelings lead to long-term success in both academics and life, which is why socializing in online school is crucial to development.

Here’s how parents and teachers can help students with socialization, along with suggestions for collaboration among virtual learning students:

1. Join a Club

Extracurricular clubs and activities are a great way for students to explore their passions and socialize with like-minded peers. Joining a club helps students build a sense of belonging in their extended community. Students can participate either online or in person, depending on the club.

Check out the opportunities in your area. If your student is athletic, explore local youth recreational leagues or the parks and rec programs offered by your city, county, or state. If your student enjoys art, several online art clubs formed in the wake of the pandemic, giving your student the opportunity to pursue their passion and interact with students across the country. You can find online and in-person coding clubs, chess clubs, cooking clubs, and more. Whatever their interest, there is likely a club full of like-minded students for them to join. 

If you’re wondering how to socialize online in clubs and can’t find something that interests your child, make your own! If your student likes to travel and learn about new cultures, start a monthly travel club with classmates, friends, and neighbors. Students choose a travel destination each month and each club member picks something to research and share about that destination, such as culture, language, local food, geography, or government. If meeting in person, students can even cook food from their destination to share.

You can also organize a monthly hiking club to explore different local trails. Another idea is to have a movie screening (either online or in person) to get students together in a more social environment. Think about what interests your student and build a club around that.

Don’t forget to check out local museums, zoos, nature centers, and parks. These venues often host both online and in-person events at little or no charge to give your student a chance to interact with other people while experiencing something new and fun. If they do meet new friends, be sure to get their contact information so they can continue to connect after the event is over.  

Online students socializing in a Learning Pod.

2. Create a Learning Pod

A learning pod is a small group of students (generally in the same grade or class) that gathers in one physical location to learn under the supervision of a parent, tutor, hired teacher, Learning Coach, or other trusted adult. 

Learning pods can be customized to what works for both parents and students. You can choose to have a learning pod that meets a few times a week on a certain subject. For example, your learning pod could be a gym class run by a trained youth sports coach or active parent. You could also have a learning pod that serves as a book club with discussions on assigned chapters or writing assignments based on the book.

Learning pods can also meet daily and provide a more traditional classroom feel, giving students the opportunity to work collaboratively on school projects or assignments.

Successful learning pods require clear communication with other parents about what will happen in the pod. Set expectations and create a shared vision for how the pod will function. Decide when, where, and how often the pod will meet, who will supervise and what their role will be, and what the pod will do when they’re together. Consistency is key for helping students stay on track and understand what’s expected of them when the pod gets together.

An online student socializing in his online class.

3. Find Peer-to-Peer Interactive Opportunities

Socializing in distance-learning can take many forms—from highly structured activities to informal study groups, or simply checking in through chat or video call. These connection points are important ways to support kids’ social and emotional development. Many online schools build collaborative projects into their curriculum, giving students the opportunity to work together in a small group setting, which teaches them valuable life skills.

If your student is strong in a subject, look for opportunities to tutor peers who may be having issues. This creates a social and learning opportunity for both students. Many online schools, including Connections Academy®, organize peer tutoring sessions to facilitate these kinds of interactions. You can also connect with a study buddy either online or in-person to work through schoolwork (or to just chat about school or other interests!).

Remember, if you’re at an event, taking part in a club, or meeting your neighbors at the playground, get their contact information. This will help you set up ongoing opportunities for your student to interact with their peers.

Interested in learning more about socialization and online school? Read how this Connections Academy family creates socialization opportunities for their online school students.  

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