Combining Homeschooling and Distance Learning

Distance Learning can add another dimension to your homeschooling experience (Photo by Ross Griff)

When I started homeschooling fifteen years ago, the internet was an intriguing toy, and the term distance learning wasn’t even on the horizon. We used our computer to play educational games like The Oregon Trail, and to download a few lesson plans or ideas, but must of our learning came from textbooks. My first real introduction to distance learning was when I enrolled my son in Florida Virtual School. Through FLVS, he had access to an AP computer programming course, which helped him to eventually decide on his dual major of Computer Science/Software Engineering when he started college.

Nowadays, FLVS offers not only high school courses, but also a complete K-12 curriculum, for homeschooler and public school student alike. And FLVS is not the only game in town. According to the International Association for K-12 Learning (iNACOL), as of February 2012, 40 states had state virtual schools, or state-led initiatives. There are many reasons that homeschooling students and parents may decide to take some or all of their K-12 classes online.

In my case, it was the only way that my son would be able to get credit for taking an AP class. At that time, even the local high school did not provide any AP classes. Taking the computer programming and other AP classes online allowed him to test out of some college classes, a benefit that completing his homeschooling entirely at home would not have allowed. Other reasons for a homeschooler to take one or more classes online may be to supplement a parent’s teaching with subjects that the parent is not familiar with, or to expose a homeschooling student to standardized test-taking, in preparation for college. Enrolling a child or two in one or more classes can also free up the teaching parent to assist one child while another is completing his on-line homework.

Although originally many people began homeschooling for religious reasons, more homeschoolers these days take over teaching their children because they are dissatisfied with the traditional public school choices. Distance learning offers an additional solution. Homeschooling parents can turn to the online schools affiliated with the state they live in, but many online schools also cross state lines. For students of FLVS, being an out-of-state student means that they must pay tuition, while for residents of Florida, FLVS is free. Other online schools have a smaller geographic range:  insight school of Kansas only enrolls residents of that state, and Turning Point Virtual Program is open only to residents of the Emporia School District in Kansas. On the other hand, K-12 Online is available in 28 states, Washington, D.C., and 36 countries. Make sure you check the residency requirements for the school you are interested in.

I remember scouring the few homeschooling bookstores in town to find the textbooks, materials, and other resources for instruction that I thought would be appropriate for my son. These days, a homeschooling parent can troll the entire internet for assistance in creating lesson plans, but it’s nice to know that there is Kindergarten through high school access to the combined experience of hundreds of qualified teachers, if you want it.

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