Starting your child in a 4th grade online program doesn't have to be a difficult choice to make when you consider the benefits. Just at a time when a 4th-grade student's curriculum is beginning to expand, they can explore new material at their own pace and advance in the ways that are necessary for them.
Online 4th Grade Schools
Just like there are multiple ways of learning and various types of intelligence, there are also numerous models of instruction that can be beneficial to a child. Online 4th grade programs can be of particular importance because of the flexibility and advanced learning they can provide at a time when a student's curriculum is beginning to expand. Even though online K-12 education has been around since at least the late 90s, it still leaves parents with a number of questions about the types of programs available and whether online 4th grade learning is right for their child.
4th grade online: a look at the curriculum
Fourth grade is often a time when teachers begin--or continue--to focus on teaching across the curriculum. Language arts lessons are often integrated with math, science and social studies concepts, allowing students to use their skills in a wide range of contexts. According to the Core Knowledge Foundation (coreknowledge.org), a non-profit that publishes suggested skill sequences, the following is a typical curriculum for a 4th grader:
- Language arts/English: writing, usage and grammar; poetry; fiction; speeches; sayings and phrases
- History and geography: world geography (spatial sense; mountains); Europe in the Middle Ages; the spread of Islam; Early and medieval African kingdoms; China: dynasties and conquerors; the American revolution; making a constitutional government; early presidents and politics; reformers; American symbols and figures
- Mathematics: numbers and number sense; fractions and decimals; money; computation; measurement; geometry
- Music: elements of music; listening and understanding (orchestral; vocal ranges; composers)
- Science: human body (circulatory and respiratory systems); chemistry: basic terms and concepts; electricity; geology: the Earth and its changes; meteorology
- Visual arts: art of the Middle Ages in Europe; Islamic art and architecture; art of Africa; art of China; art of a new nation: the United States
This broad curricular approach can begin to expand your child's knowledge and help them to see the real-world applicability of different subjects. Whether your child is studying at a traditional school or through an online program, you can expect similar types of subjects to be addressed but can more fully address a program's learning goals by comparing them with state standards.
Time commitments for students and parents
Depending on the online 4th grade program, time commitments can vary. However, with few exceptions, your children should spend less time going to school online than they should in a traditional classroom. Activities such as lining up for lunch, taking attendance, and answering questions from multiple students take up time in a traditional classroom but are nonexistent in online programs. An average day for a student at k12.com, one of the larger online education providers, involves five hours of "school" with 20 to 30 percent of that time spent on the computer. (The remaining 70 to 80 percent is spent in offline activities, such as doing science experiments and completing paper-based curriculum activities.) Parents are expected to spend about three hours a day working with their children--either assisting with lessons, teaching content, or reviewing completed coursework.
How online 4th grade programs work
While every program works differently, the process at k12.com is fairly standard:
- An enrollment counselor guides parents and students through course selection and placement. Students usually take some sort of placement test that determines the best place to begin in the curriculum.
- Students are assigned a state-certified teacher who will work with the students and guide a learning coach (usually a parent) in daily instruction.
- Parents (or other learning coaches) guide students through day-to-day curriculum, which is usually listed on a website that automatically updates lesson plans and instructions based on what students have completed so far.
- In some hybrid programs--for example, the Chicago Virtual Charter School, which serves Chicago public school students--the certified teacher is someone students see once a week in an actual classroom. Extracurricular activities, such as music classes or sports teams, may also be offered through these hybrid programs.
You may find that some programs focus tightly on the online learning process while others offer hands-on projects at home or even social get-togethers with other online students at parks. You could also discover that programs vary in the use of textbooks: some might offer materials that are entirely online while others send you textbooks and expect you to provide materials such as printer paper and ink cartridges.
Paving the way to middle school
Fourth graders might only be nine or 10 years old, but it's not too early to think about middle school, and online programs can help make that transition easier. Because of the integrated nature of most e-learning curricula, and the self-paced nature of the programs (students are placed at their achievement level rather than their grade level), students get a head start on the differentiation that is part of many middle schools and virtually all high schools.
Students who stay with online education during their middle-school years could find it easy to choose the type of extracurricular coursework that becomes available in terms of the arts, languages, leadership, and more. They may be comfortable taking a lead role as more options become available during the middle-school years. Even those students who head back to a traditional middle school could discover an easy adjustment to the flexible schedules, course selections, and need for self direction.
Potential challenges of online 4th grade programs
All online curricula pose challenges not faced in traditional classrooms. For example, parents (or other learning coaches) must take an active role in the process, which can be difficult if parents have grown (by 4th grade) used to leaving the primary responsibility to someone else.
Socialization can also be a concern for some parents, though homeschooling groups in many cities (both large and small) give children the chance to interact with their peers. Park districts, churches or temples and other social service organizations are also places children can learn social skills.
Regardless of the curricula chosen, online education can offer children opportunities that traditional classrooms do not. While the content of lessons is much the same as in a traditional learning environment, parents can take a more active role in their children's education, and children themselves can develop more independent skills that can help them as they grow older and more advanced in their intellectual development.