Online education is taking off in ways hardly anticipated by previous generations of educators. Online learning models vary in approach, but provide increased flexibility to students when compared with the fixed-day model used at traditional schools. Even at the 5th grade level, students can expand their learning across the curricula and decide how quickly to proceed through various facets of their education.
Online learning programs for 5th graders can allow students to build advanced skills in particular subjects and develop relationships with teachers and other online students--after all, social interaction is important at this age. These connections often occur through interactive computer applications or video discussions through the school and even with scheduled off-site events or activities. Whether online 5th grade programs give your child the chance to work from home or attend a virtual school, there are a number of ways a parent can gear his or her child's education toward the child's specific needs.
A look at 5th grade core curricula
While curricula varies across the country (and world), there are standards in place that can help you assess online 5th grade programs. The Core Knowledge Foundation, a non-profit that stresses the importance of standardized curriculum, lists the following skills as standard for 5th grade classes:
- American history and geography: westward expansion; the Civil War: causes, conflicts and consequences; Native Americans: cultures and conflicts.
- Language arts/English: writing, grammar and usage; poetry; fiction and drama; speeches.
- World history and geography: world geography, including lakes; early American civilizations; European exploration; trade and the clash of cultures; the Renaissance and the reformation; England from the golden age to the revolution; Russia; feudal Japan.
- Mathematics: numbers and number sense; ratio and percent; fractions and decimals; computation; measurement; geometry; probability and statistics; pre-algebra.
- Music: elements of music; listening and understanding (composers; connections); American musical traditions, such as spirituals.
- Science: classifying living things; cells: structures and processes; plant structures and processes; life cycles and reproduction; the human body, including the endocrine and reproductive systems; chemistry: matter and change.
- Visual Arts: art of the Renaissance; 19th-century American art; art of Japan.
These classes can help to expand your child's knowledge and aid him or her in making connections between various subjects. State standards can also help you to clarify whether the topics your child is pursuing are in line with the targets established by the state and whether your child is acquiring knowledge at the same rate as students attending traditional schools.
A school should be able to point to hard data indicating the ways in which its students have met or exceeded the norms or standards of traditional classrooms. While test scores aren't an entirely accurate way of assessing student progress, a lack of data (or the existence of troubling data) can keep you from choosing a school that might not be up to par.
Details about student learning
On average, online education takes up four or five hours of a student's day. In the lower grades, this online time should include no more than 20 to 30 percent of a student's school "day," but by 5th grade this might increase to 35 to 40 percent. Fifth grade is often a transitional year between the lower grades and middle school, which means students are encouraged to work a bit more independently than they did in 4th grade.
Students might even find themselves involved in hands-on learning during the day. They could have actual textbooks to read or print-outs to do or even need to build or develop experiments. While some disciplines--science, for example--are more hands-on than others, studying these subjects via online education does not mean that students will be at a disadvantage. The curriculum at online schools can include science kits, as well as art supplies, math manipulatives and more.
Parental support: Helping your child along
Parents are often expected to be their children's "learning coaches" in the online education environment. However, this can be an overwhelming job, and isn't something parents have to worry about with a traditional school curriculum. Parents can ask if there are parent training sessions or support groups for times when they feel frustrated or stuck. Also, feel free to ask the program what support is available for your children if and when you can't figure things out. The last thing a parent wants is his or her child feeling clueless and discouraged if the materials are confusing.
All methods of learning have their challenges, and online education is no exception. Students might have a difficult time transitioning from a more traditional classroom into an online environment, though anticipation of this problem can help solve it before it begins. For example, knowing that your child has problems managing time might mean that you need to set up a more flexible or more stringent study plan.
Preparing your child for the different school environment, setting up regular schedules, and making sure you choose a learning model that will benefit your child can help. Whatever type of 5th grade online learning program you choose for your child, you may discover a new flexibility and freedom in learning that you--and your 5th-grade learner--never imagined.