Online Courses & Homeschooling
The benefits of homeschooling are many and varied, and virtually any homeschool family can name the ones that mean the most to them. Still, nearly across the board, one of the most frequently named benefits is the ability to tailor the learning to best meet the needs of each student. Because of this, homeschool families often make use of online courses to dive into topics of specific interest. Art courses and craft courses and even engineering and science courses are frequent options, but writing courses also offer unique opportunities.
The Value of Writing
All good education includes writing. Learning to put words together to communicate ideas clearly is essential to living in the world, especially with so much of modern life lived online. Learning to write and write well, offers young people the chance to shape the world around them with their thoughts and has value in virtually every career. But learning to write well and clearly offers another unique possibility: publication (and with it: potential income.)
Public school education in writing rarely takes much interest in what comes next after writing something. We don’t ask what you might do with this creation you have written. Public school children produce piles of reports and short bits of fiction, but once the report or story is written and the skills are acquired through the process of research, organization, and writing, the completed project no longer has much value. They pile up. Some are saved by doting parents but a lot of these pieces of work are simply thrown away. How much more might students value the educational process if they saw a clear value in the items they produce?
Young people, especially those in high school, are often frustrated with assignments that seem pointless and produce learning but no useful product. And teens are often interested in writing that communicates beyond themselves and thus spend time on different forms of social media because of that compelling need to communicate beyond themselves. If they put in the time and effort into the research, organization, and writing, they don’t want to abandon the end product. They want it to go further.
This is where writing courses that include elements of publication bring something new to the mix: the information and steps to take writers to the next step, from writing for its own educational sake to writing that can communicate to people in the greater world. On top of that, a student who approaches colleges and can say they’ve already been published tend to stand out, so doing the work of an online writing course can bring unexpected benefits.
Another value to online courses, whether art, writing, or something completely different is that parents don’t have to be the teachers of the course. In fact, in many of these courses, parents might choose to take the course too. In this way, an online course can offer parents and children an opportunity to learn together and help one another along the way. This can be a bonding experience, but it also imparts its own important lesson, namely that learning is a life-long experience.
Learning isn’t just for children, but it’s something we aspire to do always. It also gives the student a chance to see the value of working together, something critics sometime accuse homeschool of lacking. These additional benefits can also give parents the guilt-free opportunity to pursue something they’ve long wished for, a chance to pursue their own creative goals while also offering a learning experience for their children.
So When to Start Online Courses
Online courses in a variety of different subjects are available for virtually any age. In fact, they’ve thrived under the isolation of the pandemic when parents (even those not homeschooling) sought out new and exciting learning opportunities for their children. But since this is a writing blog, we should focus on online courses in writing. These usually do have age restrictions, often to allow students to get the most out of the course by being capable of working the course without undo frustration. For courses without age restrictions, certain things really are necessary. Let’s look at two obvious ones.
The student must be able to process instructions read. Writing classes involve a great deal of reading. Exercise directions and instructions must be read and comprehended. Mentor texts must be read and analyzed. And it’s not enough simply to be fluent in decoding words, students must have a level of reading ease in comprehending ideas like character and motivation and plot.
The student must have mastery of basic language skills. Online writing courses are different (usually) from online basic grammar and sentence mastery. In order to be able to focus on building unique and exciting characters or organizing research around a topic or theme, students really must be comfortable with the building blocks of writing: sentence construction, basic grammar, punctuation, and vocabulary. This is why most online writing courses work best with students in their teens who have a solid understanding of the basics of using language to communicate. Online writing courses will tend to be designed with the belief that all students have these basics, and some will even have evaluation activities to help students know if they have the needed skills to benefit from the course.
Students who take online courses often carry something unique into the situation: commitment. After all, we rarely dabble in school. We come in with the mindset that the work is there and we’re going to need to do it. Because of this, online courses (which sometimes languish with adults who are struggling to commit the necessary time to the course) meet teens at the sweet spot where they are interested in the subject matter, eager to succeed, and comfortable with the idea that the course will take a commitment of time and work. And because the student can see a goal and a purpose to the course, it can bring a renewed interest to school work.
So now may be the time to consider adding an online course to your teen’s life, the benefits will amaze you.
With over 100 books in publication, Jan Fields writes both chapter books for children and mystery novels for adults. She’s also known for a variety of experiences teaching writing, from one session SCBWI events to lengthier Highlights Foundation workshops to these blog posts for the Institute of Children’s Literature. As a former ICL instructor, Jan enjoys equipping writers for success in whatever way she can.
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