Homeschooling 101: The Best Online Resources

Congratulations. You and your family have decided that homeschooling is the right choice for your young student. Now you’ve got to plan the curriculum — but there are many challenges and many questions.

What subjects should you teach? Will you offer your child enough to encourage his or her love of learning? Does your student need advanced coursework to keep him interested? Is the curriculum sufficient for your student’s secondary education or career choice?

Very importantly, should you stick with your own study choices, supplement with individual classes — or connect kids with a co-op in your area?

While homeschooling can be a hodgepodge of study choices and local classes, another option is to look into one of the many online homeschooling courses — especially if you choose to homeschool in an area where local options are few and far between.

Online courses can be used as a tool for difficult classes, such as advanced math and science for teens. They can supplement the curriculum that already works for your homeschooler, or they can even provide a complete curriculum to keep your student on task. But which program should you choose?

These online companies work closely with parents to offer educational opportunities for homeschoolers.

K-12. This popular online (and free) program began in 1999. Parents choose a school, either public or private, depending on location and availability — and work with a teacher to provide an online, accredited education that meets state requirements.

Students work at their own pace on suggested lesson plans, while the teacher works as a coach and monitor to ensure work is completed and kids are mastering the concepts properly.

As the work moves along, new assignments are given automatically, keeping the process flowing. Through 6th grade, parents can plan to give 3 to 5 hours a day of one-on-one instruction as they help children with assignments. In middle school, this should be less — around two hours — as students become more independent.

For high school instruction, students are expected to spend 5 to 6 hours per day on schoolwork with less flexibility as they stay caught up with classes. Teachers continue to provide feedback to parents and make sure assignments are completed in a timely manner. Students who complete the program receive a state-issued high school diploma.

Time4Learning. This Pre-K through grade 12 service began in 2004, and offers lesson plans that build upon one another for a monthly fee. Students log on daily to work on chosen coursework and work at their own speed. The program is also available as a tutoring or summer school alternative.

Studies focus on math, science, language arts and social studies at state standards, using multimedia activities and projects as teaching tools. Parents monitor lesson plans and receive detailed reports on their child's progress.

Additionally, this program is an approved Certified Autism Resource. Visually-focused lessons are available for students with different learning styles, and studies focus on individual student needs and abilities, rather than insisting that each student stay at a specific grade level. As there is no actual school involved, students do not receive a diploma or credit for their work; however, additional direction is available to high school students who are putting together a portfolio to present to colleges for consideration.

Virtual Homeschool Group. This tuition-free online co-op (which accepts donations) allows students to sign up for a variety of volunteer-led classes. It can be used as a supplemental tool or a total curriculum. Geared for middle school through high school, the main courses include math, science, social science, language arts, foreign languages — such as Spanish and Japanese — creative arts and technology.

Additional classes are offered in various interests as well. The schedule follows a typical school year, with holiday and spring breaks included. Some online classes offer live instruction, and students are also allowed to move at their own pace through the course work.

Forest Trail Academy. This accredited K-12 school is a private academy in Florida that offers both online and correspondence courses for homeschoolers.

While students can work at their own speed, coursework is taught by teachers who monitor their schoolwork and provide reports to parents (it's also aligned with Common Core standards). Individual classes, online summer school and Advanced Placement courses are available to supplement at-home curricula or provide a complete education. Students can earn a high school diploma, and dual enrollment is offered to qualified students who also seek a college-level associates degree.

International students can take courses toward a high school diploma. While this program is not free, monthly tuition payment or lump sum options are available.

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