As a parent, you’ve made thousands of choices to make sure your child is happy, healthy, and safe. Some of these choices are mundane and have easy answers (no, you cannot have frozen waffles for every meal), but others are not so simple. When it comes to choosing the right learning environment for your child, the possibilities can feel overwhelming.
While brick-and-mortar schools have been the norm in the US, parents now have options when it comes to their child’s education. The COVID-19 pandemic showed us that virtual school is not only viable, but for some students, it’s better.
Selecting where and how our children build knowledge, develop friendships, and learn social skills is a daunting task and there is no answer that’s right for everyone. Every family and every child has different needs and priorities. For many, perhaps even most, traditional brick-and-mortar schools are still the answer. For others, virtual school might be the right fit.
If you’re trying to decide which option is right for your child, read on. We’ve assembled eight factors to consider in your decision-making process.
1. School type: public, charter, magnet, private, or independent
Whatever type of school you’re looking for, you’ll find traditional and online options.
Many public schools now offer virtual learning. Your district will be able to provide information on what’s available and how to apply.
If you’re considering a virtual charter or magnet school, ask about their teaching and learning model and how many hours per week of live instruction (students receiving instruction from a teacher in real time) they have scheduled.
Although virtual private and independent schools often charge tuition and fees, many offer assistance to families that need it. Some, like Great Minds Virtual, are even tuition-free. The admission team at the school you’re interested in can help you learn more about tuition and financial aid.
2. Your child’s learning style and needs
There is no single learning environment that works for every child. While some students struggle in traditional school and thrive in a virtual setting, for others the opposite is true. Some students have trouble focusing when learning online and are happier interacting with their classmates in person. Others build confidence and feel more comfortable engaging with their peers and asking for help in a virtual setting. If you do choose a virtual school for your child, you’ll also want to consider whether they’ll learn synchronously (in a live class with other students) or asynchronously (independently and at their own pace).
To learn more about synchronous and asynchronous learning, check out this blog post.
3. Academic challenges and support
With large class sizes, teachers are often stuck “teaching to the middle,” without the resources to attend to students who need more challenging material or additional support. This can be true of both brick-and-mortar and virtual schools. If you decide a brick-and-mortar school is right for your child, plan to meet with your child’s teacher to make sure your child is getting the enrichment and support they need.
If you settle on a virtual school, ask about class size, how your child will interact with their teachers, and what types of support are available. Many independent and private schools have a learning strategist on staff. The psychologist/learning strategist at Great Minds Virtual works closely with our students, their families, and our staff to ensure that students’ academic performance, health and well-being, and social-emotional development are on track.
Ask about the instructional materials used by the schools you’re considering. Are the materials high quality and nationally recognized? Are they accessible and do they support all types of learners? Head over to EdReports.org to check reviews.
5. Flexible scheduling
If your student is an athlete or a performer or has other time-intensive interests and passions, flexibility in a day-to-day academic schedule is important. In a virtual learning environment, students have more time to attend practices and rehearsals and pursue their extracurricular interests. Similarly, if your family needs to travel for any reason, students who attend a virtual school can more easily continue their learning without disruptions.
In brick-and-mortar schools, as well as many virtual schools, students only meet with peers and teachers from the surrounding community. If you’re looking to provide your child with the opportunity to connect with classmates and teachers from around the country and even the world, look for a school with a geographically diverse student body and consider which types of social experiences will best meet your child’s needs.
7. Opportunities to engage with teachers and classmates
We know that opportunities for students to interact with peers and teachers in small groups and one-on-one in addition to whole-group instruction can make a huge difference for all students, especially those who need additional support and those who are ready for a challenge. In a brick-and-mortar school where students are learning synchronously and in person, whole-group, small-group, and one-on-one interactions are easier to manage. Students enrolled in an asynchronous program often only communicate with classmates through static discussion boards.
If you’re considering a virtual school, look for one that offers synchronous learning (or a hybrid approach) and opportunities to interact in multiple formats. At Great Minds Virtual, students regularly engage in inquiry, debate, and Socratic seminars—student-led collaborative discussions in which students reflect on and answer essential questions—that develop their critical-thinking and analytical skills.
8. Co-curricular activities
What kind of interests will your child pursue outside of class? Different brick-and-mortar schools offer different options, and likewise, some virtual schools have plenty of co-curriculars, while others focus only on academics. When considering a particular school, find out what they offer and whether those activities interest your child.
Remember, there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to picking a learning environment for your child. Whatever choice you make, the time and consideration you’re putting into making an informed decision will help your child learn, grow, and thrive.