Online learning is increasingly common. Today, millions of students at all levels access digital learning both inside and outside the walls of their schools. While many think of online schooling as geared solely toward high school and beyond, elementary school students can also benefit from supplemental or fully online school programs.
This guide is designed to introduce the key elements of online elementary schools and answer common questions about cost, schedules, curricula and other important areas. It will also help parents assess whether online elementary school is right for their children.
Online Elementary School Introduction
Online elementary schools come in a variety of packages. Many states, as well as some large school districts, offer online public schools free to those who live within that state or district. Students may also attend online charter or private elementary schools.
Some families turn to online elementary schools for educational enrichment, while others are looking for remedial help for struggling students. Students can enroll full time or use online courses to supplement the offerings at their brick-and-mortar schools.
Proponents of online elementary school point to a number of benefits. In many online schools, students receive personalized learning programs and immediate feedback on their progress through course management systems. Many online elementary schools offer self-paced learning, allowing students to progress quickly through subjects they have mastered and spend more time with difficult subjects or topics that engage their interest.
Families often seek out online elementary schools because they offer a great degree of flexibility while adhering to state or federal education standards.
What if my child decides to attend another school?
In general, transferring from an online to a brick-and-mortar elementary school should not be significantly different from transferring between two traditional schools. Online elementary schools are designed to deliver a rigorous academic curriculum. Accredited schools and schools partnering with local or state education departments will be able to provide transcripts and necessary documentation for your student.
How do students socialize?
Online students need to socialize just like their traditional school peers. In state-run virtual schools and those aligned with individual districts, students may attend school to participate in gym, art or music classes, and after-school and summer enrichment courses. Public and private online schools may offer field trips and other events. Other socialization options can be found through museums and athletic facilities and organizations such as the YMCA. Families of online students can take advantage of community-run sports and enrichment programs, including after-school programs such as Mad Science. Homeschooling groups exist across the country and provide regular opportunities for students to play sports, attend art or music classes and build bonds.
How are they evaluated?
Students of online schools turn in homework, write assignments, complete projects and take quizzes and tests. Work may be submitted via email or through course management systems, such as Connections Academy’s Connexus, Moodle or Blackboard. Teachers grade projects and written pieces. Public schools and those that partner with states and districts may also administer statewide assessment tests. Many online schools tout their ongoing assessment and communication with students and parents as a benefit over traditional brick-and-mortar schools.
How do they get the attention they need?
At the elementary school level, learning coaches (often parents) play a significant role in giving students the attention they need. This differs from the more independent, self-guided nature of online high schools. Learning coaches may facilitate communication between students and their online teachers. They are critical to providing structure, motivation and guidance as students move through the curriculum. Students can also get support from online teachers and other students using tools such as video conferencing, discussion boards, email or telephone.
How much does it cost?
Online public and charter schools are free for students within the host district or region. Students from other areas may be allowed to pay tuition to attend those schools. Several private online elementary schools are partnered with states or districts that cover tuition for students who live within those states or districts. Computers, Internet access and textbooks may be provided by the sponsoring organization. Private online elementary schools charge tuition and fees. Tuition ranges from several hundred dollars to around $6,000 for a year’s tuition. Scholarships and grants are available.
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Online Elementary School Glossary
Learning coachLearning coach is the term many online schools use for the adult primarily responsible for guiding the student through online elementary school. A learning coach is often a parent, but can be any adult willing to take on the role. Learning coaches must commit to providing ongoing guidance, supervision and motivation for their student throughout the school year.
Blended/hybridBlended, or hybrid, learning combines digital delivery with on-campus instruction. Blended learning may take a variety of forms, including in-class instruction combined with online practice or online exploration followed by in-class discussion. In general, blended learning refers to a formal program rather than an ad hoc use of technology.
SynchronousSynchronous learning closely resembles the image we have of traditional classroom learning. It involves a group of students all learning the same thing at the same time. Online tools for synchronous learning include videos, course management systems and web conferences. Synchronous learning can promote a sense of community for online learners.
AsynchronousAsynchronous learning refers to student-centered learning that is self-guided and self-paced. It can make use of communication tools, including email, discussion boards, course management systems and even face-to-face interactions between students and teachers. It provides a great deal of flexibility for students.
Full-time (or fully) online Full-time online elementary schools require no “chair time” or attendance at a traditional brick-and-mortar school. Fully online schools rely on digital delivery of instructional content and student work.
Supplemental onlineSupplemental online programs are designed to complement, not replace, brick-and-mortar schooling. Examples of supplemental online education include a single-semester course in geometry or the progressive study of a language over several years. Supplemental online education can be for enrichment or remedial education. It may be part of a formal program within a school district or an ad hoc addition for an individual student.
Public onlinePublic online schools are state-sponsored, publicly funded schools offering a curriculum that mirrors what is found in brick-and-mortar schools and meets state or Common Core learning standards.
Private onlinePrivate online schools charge tuition. They do not need to adhere to state or Common Core standards. Accreditation provides a benchmark of quality for private schools.
Online charter schoolOnline charter schools are sponsored and overseen by state or local districts. Students living within the sponsoring area may attend for free. Others may be charged tuition.
Course management systemCourse management systems like Moodle, Blackboard and Connexus deliver educational content within a comprehensive online system. These programs provide course materials alongside tools that allow students to participate in class discussions, chat with teachers, take assessments and track performance online.
MOOCMOOC stands for massive online open course. Khan Academy is a well-known provider of MOOCs. Usually offered for free, MOOCs deliver educational content and offer online assessments.
Why Do Kids Click With Online Elementary Schools?
Lights, Camera, Schoolwork
Elementary students involved in performing arts can’t take weeks or months off from school. Online elementary school allows them to stay on track as they are performing, auditioning or rehearsing.
When work or play takes parents across the country or off to foreign lands, online school offers a way for children to stay on track with schoolwork.
Health issues can keep students from attending elementary school. Online schools allow them to keep pace with their peers and ease their transition back to a local school when the time comes.
Reaching Further, Digging Deeper
Some elementary students need a greater challenge or crave more depth than their local schools can supply. Online learning can allow for more exploration of subjects that challenge, interest and engage students’ natural curiosity.
Quality Family Time
Online elementary programs are ideal for families that believe in schooling at home. Online learning encourages family involvement, and its flexible schedule meshes rigorous academics with meaningful family time and activities.
Focus Over Fear
Students who have suffered negative school experiences, including bullying, find online elementary schools to be safe havens. Online schools can offer top-notch academics along with opportunities for socialization in a supportive environment.
What Do Online Elementary School Students Learn?
All accredited public, private and charter schools should cover the same core courses and concepts, although there is flexibility in topics and delivery methods. Some schools offer elective or special courses as part of their curriculum. Online elementary schools affiliated with school districts or state education departments may partner with brick-and-mortar schools to deliver these opportunities to students.
The kindergarten curriculum provides the basic building blocks for success in school. Along with the fundamentals of literacy and math, students explore science topics such as how plants grow and social studies topics such as maps, landforms and bodies of water. Some schools offer electives in physical education, art, technology or foreign languages.
Kindergarten language arts skills may include:
Recognizing and forming letters |
Applying phonics rules |
Using sight words
Demonstrating reading comprehension |
Kindergarten mathematics skills may include:
Recognizing and forming numbers (1 to 20)|
Counting by ones and tens (1 to 100)
Deploying problem-solving strategies|
Adding and subtracting|
Measuring and comparing |
Ordering and sorting numbers and shapes
First-grade students build upon basic math and literacy skills to become more fluent. They will continue learning about science and the scientific method through topics such as weather, energy, animal habitats and rocks and soil. Social studies may include lessons ranging from the organization of communities (neighborhoods, towns and states) to the different kinds of systems we rely on (mail, transportation and communication) to famous people who have shaped our history.
First-grade language arts skills may include:
Identifying and retelling main ideas and key details within a story
Using details from the text to answer questions |
Decoding one- and two-syllable words |
Making short and long vowel sounds|
Answering questions in writing
Kindergarten mathematics skills may include:
Adding and subtracting (1 to 20)|
Working with number sentences|
Understanding place value
Counting by fives and tens|
Measuring, comparing and ordering|
Creating two-dimensional shapes
Working with halves, quarters and wholes |
Second grade works to build students’ critical thinking skills. Science lessons may cover topics such as the water cycles, erosion, states of matter, gravity and friction. Social studies may include lessons on local and federal government, early American history, maps and basic landforms.
Second-grade language arts skills may include:
Identifying different types of writing |
Answering questions using details from the text
Recognizing sense words in writing|
Understanding text features such as glossaries
Finding the meaning of words through context|
Reading irregularly spelled words
Learning prefixes and suffixes |
Decoding two-syllable words|
Writing opinion and narrative pieces
Second-grade math skills may include:
Adding and subtracting within 100|
Solving word problems
Working with equal groups (foundation of multiplication)
Using place values to add and subtract within 1,000|
Representing numbers and problems on a number line
Solving word problems with money|
Reading analog clocks
Recognizing shapes based on numbers of angles and faces
Partitioning shapes into halves, thirds and fourths
Third grade capitalizes on improved reading and writing fluency to explore topics with more depth and complexity. Science lessons might cover life cycles of plants and animals as well as ecosystems, the solar system and properties of matter. Social studies lessons may include topics such as economics, early Native American communities and history of migration.
Third-grade language arts skills may include:
Identifying character traits and points of view |
Comparing themes, settings and plots of stories
Showing how words create mood or setting|
Describing a set of steps or series of events
Drawing connections within a text|
Reading multisyllable and irregularly spelled words
Understanding or correcting words using context |
Writing opinion, informational and narrative pieces
Using irregular pronouns and irregular verbs|
Using correct subject-verb agreement
Third-grade math skills may include:
Multiplying and dividing within 100|
Identifying math patterns|
Solving two-step word problems
Rounding to 10 or 100|
Understanding and comparing fractions|
Using graphs and rulers
Finding perimeters of shapes
Fourth grade ushers in a higher level of thought, problem solving and critical thinking. In social studies, students may explore the culture and geography of different climates and regions. Science topics may include animal adaptations, necessary elements to sustain plant and animal life, force and motion, properties of matter, and phases of the moon.
Fourth-grade language arts skills may include:
Summarizing a text using key details|
Drawing connections between two texts
Explaining themes, events or procedures using specific details|
Decoding multisyllable and irregular words
Writing pieces with introductions, supporting details and conclusions|
Producing clear narrative pieces
Paraphrasing texts and participating in discussions using supporting evidence|
Using correct grammar
Fourth-grade math skills may include:
Performing multi-digit multiplication and division|
Doing operations involving fractions and decimals
Using place value in operations up to 1,000|
Analyzing and classifying geometric shapes
Fifth grade hones students’ language and math skills, preparing them for the challenges of middle school. Lessons in science may include plant and animal cells, plate tectonics, introduction to the periodic table, and the effect of friction and gravity on motion. Social studies may cover topics including European exploration, the American Revolution, the Civil War and westward expansion.
Fifth-grade language arts skills may include:
Analyzing a text |
Using quotes to back up assertions|
Comparing and contrasting stories and characters within those stories
Understanding similes and metaphors |
Evaluating and comparing different stories about the same event
Researching and writing a paper using a number of sources|
Preparing for and participating in discussions
Using multimedia in presentations|
Understanding conjunctions, prepositions and interjections
Following appropriate grammatical rules (capitalization, punctuation and verb tense)
Fifth-grade math skills may include:
Multiplying and dividing fractions|
Using parentheses in equations|
Graphing on a coordinate plane
Representing and interpreting graphing data|
Solving word problems using fractions|
5 Things Your Online Elementary School Should Have
There is no substitute for accreditation. Whether the school is public, private or charter, accreditation by a state, regional or national board provides a measure of legitimacy and a benchmark for quality that parents can rely on.
2. Well-qualified teachers
Most, if not all, online public schools hire state-certified teachers. However, certification is not necessarily required for charter and private schools. In those instances, it is important to ask about teacher qualifications. Do they hold a bachelor’s or master’s degree in elementary education? If not, do they hold a degree in the subject along with a background in education? Are they experienced? Do they participate in professional development?
Online elementary students and learning coaches need ongoing support. Learning coaches often benefit from orientation or tutorials offered at the beginning of the school year. They may also want opportunities to connect with teachers and other parents throughout the year. Students need to be able to connect with their teachers in a timely manner. Finally, many online public schools provide equipment—laptops, printers, and Wi-Fi access. In such instances, it is important that schools offer technical support.
4. Comprehensive curriculum
Online public elementary schools adhere to state standards for each grade level. Private and charter schools may not. Comparing the curriculum to Common Core standards is one way to gauge whether a school will meet your student’s needs.
Elementary students need to make connections with their teachers and peers. Teachers should work to make a connection to individual students and be available for voice or video calls. Schools can offer opportunities to build connections through virtual classroom discussions, chats and discussion boards. Many schools offer field trips, clubs, extracurricular activities and other opportunities for students to connect with their virtual classmates.
Helping Your Child Succeed in an Online Elementary School
Collaboration between parents and teachers is critical to student success at the elementary level. While middle and high school students are able to guide their own learning and access tools and technology more independently, online elementary students rely more on their learning coaches. Here are some ways to help students succeed in an online elementary school:
Organize each school day, each week, and the overall year as much as you can beforehand. Some online schools include course management systems that help students and parents stay on track.
Younger students thrive on routine. Daily and weekly routines help students succeed.
Have clear expectations.
Be very clear about what you expect from your elementary student. While many online schools will provide course management tools, younger students still need guidance and clear instructions from their learning coaches.
Be your school’s (and, therefore, your child’s) cheerleader. Even if you found a particular subject frustrating when you were in school, steer clear of sharing overly negative feelings. Model a positive, can-do attitude for your student.
When you take on the role of learning coach, you must be available to engage with your student. Online elementary school students usually require hands-on interaction with adults for success.
Most online elementary schools offer support to both students and learning coaches. When you connect with professionals and other learning coaches, you can share ideas and strategies, as well as ask for help when you need it.
Take advantage of extracurricular activities offered by your online school and your community.
The Balance of Technology and Personalized Learning
Balance is the key to success! Technology and personalized learning are the pillars of success for online elementary schools. Finding the right balance between the two is the secret to success for online students.
Online tools allow for an unprecedented level of personalization. Technology allows students to be self-paced, meaning they can spend more time on challenging subjects while progressing swiftly through subjects they have mastered. Course management systems can provide instant feedback and targeted skills practice. Flexible, asynchronous learning adapts to students’ individual needs.
Many elementary students crave one-on-one attention. Instruction from learning coaches or online chats with teachers provide a personal connection that encourages and motivates students. Face-to-face instruction is also a critical component of elementary education. Many schools provide support and materials to facilitate positive instruction from parents and learning coaches.
Sample Daily Schedule
One aspect of virtual elementary school is that there often is no typical day. Flexible scheduling and self-pacing allow students and learning coaches to craft each day, week or project to reflect the student’s needs and interests. If a student is struggling with a math concept, there is no need to stop the lesson and move on. Some students and learning coaches find they complete all of the day’s schoolwork before lunch, leaving afternoons free for additional learning projects, sports, clubs, music lessons or other activities.
Study spelling and take online assessment.
Work on Benjamin Franklin biography project: Create an outline using an introduction, three supporting paragraphs and a conclusion. Use the text “Who was Benjamin Franklin?” to find supporting details.
Break for snack and time outside.
Complete online math assignment on division and fact families. Chat online with teacher for support.
Watch online tutorial to prepare for afternoon online discussion on the life cycle of a frog.
Break for lunch and more outside time.
Participate in online discussion about a frog’s life cycle. Work on metamorphosis project.
Leave for soccer practice.
25 Online Learning Resources for Students and Families
The Internet is a goldmine of information for new homeschool families. The following online tools and resources are an excellent place to start.
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