Online schooling provides student with an excellent opportunity to work at their own pace and on their own schedules, as well as gain access to a quality education from anywhere. There are so many benefits for students who enroll in a virtual school, but some parents and students alike may have a few concerns when first considering an online education for middle or high school. One of the biggest things we hear from prospective students and their families is that they are concerned about social interaction. Since our classrooms are all virtual and we don’t have any face-to-face classes, it’s reasonable to be concerned about the lack of social interaction that your student will be getting. Before we delve into the various ways our students can advance their social skills while pursuing an online education, let’s take a look at the importance of social skills and how their proper development is vital to your child’s success.
Within a traditional school setting, parents and teachers see a number of different peer groups, all with different levels of social ability and peer acceptance. Some students are considered well-liked by all, while others are commonly bullied or picked on for any number of reasons. A lot of students fall somewhere in between these two extremes, where they may be liked but they aren’t overly social in large groups or they may prefer to stick to their small groups of friends. Social skills are an important part of any child’s life, as developing appropriate ones will be key to their success even after they graduate from high school. Adults need to be able to read social cues, respond appropriately to colleagues and other adults, and handle social situations maturely. For your child to develop these important skills, he or she needs regular exposure to kids of the same age, and their interactions should often be chaperoned by a responsible adult so that any behavioral changes that need to be made can be dealt with accordingly.
How Are Social Skills and Academic Learning Related?
Educators and parents often notice that students with academic struggles are most commonly the same students who deal with social struggles as well. There is a very good reason for this. Since many students with learning challenges experience struggles that are not obvious immediately, their difficulties can often be overlooked or simply not seen, and therefore are not dealt with in a timely manner. Problems such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), social communication disorder (SCD), and nonverbal learning disabilities (NVLD) can all contribute to a child’s academic ability as well as their social skills. For example, students who have attention issues may struggle to remain engaged in a conversation with their peers, leading other students to believe he is disinterested or rude. Children with language processing disorders or just general communication problems may struggle to keep up in a conversation and may not contribute to group discussions because of this. Some students simply struggle with reading social cues, usually nonverbal, from others and are therefore unaware of changing social atmospheres. All of these things can inhibit a child’s social skills and ability to be well-liked in school, and that can lead to students feeling left out, isolated, and sad when they are at school, which continues to contribute to their academic struggles. It’s an endless cycle that needs intervention in order to improve.
Whether your child has a learning disability or struggles with social skills or not, an online school environment can provide him or her with a much-needed respite from the stresses of traditional school. Additionally, children enrolled in online school will still be able to improve their social skills in that positive and academically-enriching environment. Students who attend a traditional school will work on their social skills all throughout their schooling years, but students who are homeschooled or do online schooling will have to be far more proactive in their approach. Thankfully, social skills and online education can still be intertwined and can still bring about a great deal of benefits to your child.
Ways to Advance Social Skills While Getting an Online Education
Online educational environments are really fantastic about offering students plenty of opportunities to work in groups and collaborate on a variety of projects. Students should embrace this, as working with others is something they will always have to do, even long past graduation and their schooling years. Technological advances allow students to communicate in real-time with audio and video, and they’re often able to screen share to work on presentations and projects together via the internet. Group work occurs in all educational settings, but it may be even more prominent in online schools since social interaction is minimalized by the virtual school environment. Students should embrace the opportunity to work with their peers and collaborate in order to improve social skills and make the most of their online education.
Participate in Class Discussions
In addition to group work, most online schools also have discussion boards or ongoing email threads about the class. While students may be required to contribute a set amount of times to these forums, they should really embrace class participation and interact with their peers as frequently as possible in these discussions. Additionally, during class time, students should feel free to ask questions, answer questions, and generally contribute to the conversation. Not only will participation help them improve their social skills, but they will also stay more engaged in the conversation and learn and retain more important information.
Take Advantage of Peer Meet-Ups
Not all online schools offer peer meet-ups, but when they do, students should take advantage of them and attend! This may be a physical meet-ups, like a study session at a nearby coffee shop, or it may be a virtual meet-up where students join video chats and screen share to prepare for an upcoming exam. A big part of social skills and online education is based on how proactive students are about socializing with their peers, so when opportunities for social interaction present themselves, students will benefit more socially if they embrace those opportunities and put themselves out there.
Play a Sport
Playing a sport is a fun, healthy, and easy way to improve social skills, regardless of where they attend school. Athletic clubs are all over just about every town in the US, and there are several opportunities for students to immerse themselves in a sport and get to know their fellow athletes, even if they don’t attend school with them. From track and tennis to baseball and football, typical sports can be played just about anywhere. If a student has an interest in a more unique sport, such as archery, fencing, or table tennis, you may still be surprised at how easy it is to find an organization nearby that will teach your child that sport. Bear in mind that some sports are seasonal, so you may not be able to find them at all times of the year, but there are so many sports out there that your child will surely be able to find something that interests him or her.
Get Involved in Extracurricular Activities
If sports aren’t your kid’s thing or if they still want more social interaction on top of athletics, find some extracurricular activities to get involved in. Many schools offer clubs or extracurricular classes, like culinary classes, book clubs, academic clubs, foreign language classes, and more. Students may also wish to get involved in a church youth group, an activity at the YMCA or local Boys’ & Girls’ Club, art classes at the local community center, and so much more. Older students may wish to get a job or spend time volunteering, take music lessons, or complete college and career workshops.
The bottom line is that social skills and online education don’t have to be mutually exclusive, and even if your child wants zero social interaction, she will not get that even at an online school. Social skills are vital to your child’s success both now during her schooling years and well into the future after she graduates. It’s best to immerse your children now in the important social interactions that they need so that they are set up for personal, social, and academic success.