Virtual Schooling … At Home

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Set your own schedules, control the subject matter, and have the influence on your children that you want them to have — all while watching your kids grow up in front of your eyes.

According to The New York Times, there are now around 250,000 cyber-schooled students in kindergarten through high school in the U.S. Is it right for YOUR family?

It usually starts with a question about my children.

It goes something like this:
Question:  How many children do you have?
Answer: Five.

Question: Wow … What are their ages?
Answer:  8,6,4,2 and 1.

Question: Wow … So what grades are those?
Answer: Second grade and kindergarten.

Question:  What school do they go to?
Answer: They go to a virtual school.

Question: Huh? A virtual school? Yes.

A virtual school is a chartered online public school where the kids do their lessons in the home under the supervision of their mother or father (in our case, their mother) and their mother reports (via the Internet) to a teacher in another city.  It’s like a public school — except the children stay home and their mother is their teacher. The virtual school provides us (for free!) with all the materials and a computer. It has worked great for our family.

Then there is a long pause as the other person tries to get their mind around what you just told them. The long pause is usually followed by one of two responses: (1) a strange look, like you are some kind of religious zealot, or (2) a barrage of additional questions about virtual schooling.

Technically, a virtual school is not the same as homeschooling because a virtual school is a chartered public school that has teachers, principles, guidance counselors, etc., and they must adhere to the various laws governing public schools because they get their money from the public school system. As far as the public school system in concerned, children in virtual schools are treated the same as children in the “regular” local public school. Homeschooling is completely independent of the public school system. Home-schooling families teach any subjects they want any way they want. Home-schooled children can take tests to get credit for a “grade” if they want to transfer into a public school or prove their level of education.

In Tennessee, the Tennessee Virtual Academy  ( is overseen by Union County Public Schools in Union County, Tenn., but virtually any Tennessee student can apply.

At any rate, virtual schooling and home schooling each has its pros and cons. We chose to virtual school because we wanted to have the course materials provided to us. We also knew that we could supplement the public school curriculum we were provided with any other subjects we wanted (for example, in our case, foreign language and religion). We also wanted our children to be credited with grades within the public school system so the transition would be smooth when the children transferred to the local “regular” public school. That’s right, we plan to transfer the children into the local public school system when they reach third or fourth grade.

You see, the only reason we chose to virtual school in the first place was to get more time with the children before sending them out into the world. More time to laugh. More time to play.  More time with brothers and sisters. More time as a family. Just more time. Children crave time with the family.

A Big Success

Our experiment with virtual schooling has been a huge success. My second grader reads at the fourth-grade level. My kindergartener reads at a second grade level. Both do math well beyond their “grade.” Both know more history, more science and more of just about everything taught in schools than their peers. We know this because we study what the local public school (the “real school”) is teaching children in comparable grades. We also know this because we compare our children to those in the neighborhood that attend the local public school.

More importantly, these years are precious because my 8-year-old has spent two more years with his mother and his brothers and sisters than he would have if he had attended the local public school. He still believes in Santa Claus and the tooth fairy, and he has no idea what the middle finger means. He has never ridden the school bus, and we carefully control his friends. He is athletic. He is testing for his black belt next month.  He plays soccer with a local team. He is also on a local youth wrestling team. He plays basketball with a team at the YMCA. He takes an evening art class, etc., etc. He is a normal happy little boy in every respect. Our 6-year-old is in the same situation. Meanwhile, our 4- and 2-year-olds are desperate to learn. They hang around in the classroom in our house during lessons and absorb much of what the two oldest are learning. My 4-year-old reads — because she sees her brothers reading and learning. My 2-year-old looks at books and goes with the flow of learning as part of the family activity and culture. It is nothing short of amazing.

Other benefits of virtual and homeschooling include: (1) setting your own schedule (you are the teacher); (2) having a very flexible schedule (you are the teacher); (3) selecting/controlling the subject matter (you are the teacher); (4) having more time to influence the choices of the children; (5) having more time to reinforce the family as the most important social unit; and (6) watching your children learn and grow right in front of your eyes!

Nick Schmelzer is a father and freelance writer.

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