After weeks of indecision, you’ve finally decided that you’re not going to send your child back to school in the fall. But with so many terms floating around (remote learning, distance learning, and homeschool), you might be unsure as to what educational path to choose for your child. As you mentally prepare to become a teacher to your tot, it’s important to know what’s the difference between distance learning and homeschooling? As it turns out, a lot.
“While searching for the best educational option for their children, many parents may be confused about the differences between online school and homeschooling,” Laura Kronen, author of Homeschool Happily, Yes: You Can! “Though there are some similarities between the two, like the student learning from home, there are also many differences.” And the major determining factor involves parental involvement and responsibility for their child’s education—or not.
For starters, remote (or distance) learning is essentially an extension of the traditional classroom. It means that your child will follow the school’s curriculum, and you, as the parent, are there to help facilitate but not necessarily teach. “The school provides the curriculum and the instruction and is the accountability partner of the student,” says Kronen. “Every student in the online class is taught the same way.”
Homeschooling, on the other hand, signifies that you’re taking on the big decision to become your child’s teacher. “Homeschooling means that parents are legally responsible for overseeing their child’s education,” says Dr. Ronit Levy, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and the author of How to Educate Your Kid During a Crisis: Practical Tips and Guidance to Educate Them and Stay Sane. “When parents decide to homeschool, they file papers with their school district stating that they will create and oversee their child’s education program.” In this case, your child will no longer be a part of the school they attended.
Although it might seem like distance learning and homeschooling are two extremes, many parents are trying to find the middle ground when it comes to their child’s education. “During COVID, many parents are considering both options as they want to keep students home and away from potential virus transmission,” says Brian Palvin, Chief Academic Officer for Varsity Tutors. “Parents may be registering with their state government as a homeschool, but looking for distance learning options as ways to not have to be the sole educator.” For example, they might set up a homeschooling collective with other parents, or even pay for online classes or tutoring to help in subjects where they feel like their own knowledge may be lacking.
Some parents might find that distance learning does the job. After all, it allows them to keep their children home (and away from potential contact with the virus) while still offering them the connection to the classroom—and real instruction—that they need. “Following a school-based schedule, interacting with teachers and students on a regular basis, and still feeling like part of their school community are pros of distance learning,” says Dr. Levy. “Parents do not have to research and come up with the curriculum, pay for books and classes, or keep records.” Downsides might be a lack of flexibility, and it might not be a good fit for some students.
And for those opting for the homeschooling route, they might enjoy the flexibility (and freedom) that comes with an individualized learning environment. “Your child can go as fast or as slow as they need to in any area and dive deeper into their interests and passions,” says Kronen. Some negatives to homeschooling can be the amount of work parents have to put in (because, you are, after all, the teacher), having to actively seek out socialization opportunities for your child, and the stress that might come with having to teach your own child.
No doubt about it, this fall is going to be a challenge no matter what educational option parents pick. The important thing to note is that we are all in this together, and that your choice has to be the right one for your family—and no one else’s. And who knows, there might be some silver linings along the way, and experiences with your child that you would never have had if this had been a traditional school year. That just might make this school year something to celebrate.