KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Homeschooling shaped Rachel Coleman into the successful woman she is today. 

Coleman was homeschooled from kindergarten through 12th grade. She studied homeschooling in college, earning her Masters and PhD, leading her to the position she holds now as the Executive Director for the national nonprofit Coalition for Responsible Home Education. 

The nonprofit organization, that she boasts were virtual “before it was cool,” advocates for children who are homeschooled. 

For parents who are choosing the virtual option this year through their district, the idea can be daunting. While the virtual option is slightly different than homeschooling as it is a guided curriculum with teacher and school support, it is still different than in-person learning; in a classroom environment.

While each district has well-thought out plans regarding reopening of their schools and what the virtual option will look like, Coleman says it’s important to look for two key aspects of the programs that will indicate if your child is getting the most out of the virtual learning option. 

The first: Synchronous learning. 

Coleman explains that synchronous learning means in real-time interaction between the teacher and the student and the student and their peers. 

“Ideally for a virtual program to work well that provides that sense of connection,” said Coleman. 

The second: Limiting screen time.

Limiting screen time is especially important for younger kids. While kids of all ages doing the virtual option will be on their computers and tablets more than they usually would be, Coleman notes that a good virtual program will find ways to integrate other forms of learning. 

The example Colemans gives is a student starting a project on their computer that can have them finishing it another way that takes them away from the computer to help limit screen time. 

When it comes to facilitating the virtual learning option, Coleman adds that parent involvement is key, even with he support of teachers or other aids from districts. 

“When parents are involved the student does so much better,” explained Coleman.

She advises parents to continually check in with their child, ask them about their assignments, have them show the parent what they are working on; different ways to stay engaged. 

Another tip for parents is to create a space for their child to conduct the virtual learning option that mimics a classroom setting versus an office. 

Colemans adds that it helps if you give your child manipulative and incentivize like games that emulate learning or books, to help break their days up.

The most important thing, Coleman says, is for parents to remember they are parents first, and teachers second.

“Remember you’re their parent first,” Coleman reiterates, “don’t lose sight of that when you’re required to be that teacher and enforce those rules as well.”