Are you wanting to teach your kids at home but don’t know where to start? That’s how I felt last year when my oldest was headed into Kindergarten. Then I was told about K12, it’s a online school that is FREE and sends you all the materials you need to teach.
What is Online School?
Online School is a cross between traditional homeschooling and in-person public school. The traditional homeschool experience is where the parent/learning coach/teacher decides on a curriculum for each subject and devises a plan of what to teach when.
The traditional in-person public school is well…what most of us are used to. Kids go to school in a school building, they are taught by licensed teachers, take part in learning, social activities, etc. then at the end of the day go home and work on homework. There is much more to it than that but that’s just the quick version.
Why We Chose K12 Online School
I have nothing against in-person public schooling. I grew up in it and worked as a school psychologist for 7 years before becoming a stay-at-home mom. Now I teach my kids at home, which is something I never thought I’d do, but it’s working for us.
At first I chose to keep our kids home from school due to the COVID-19 pandemic in the 2020/2021 school year. That school year my oldest worked through a 4-year-old curriculum and 5-year-old curriculum in just one year! He was so eager to learn! At the same time, my twins who are two years younger than him worked through the 1-year-old curriculum and 2-year-old curriculum in that time. Busy boys and busy mama!
As our oldest was about to enter Kindergarten, we had a decision to make for the 2021/2022 school year. We knew that there wouldn’t be mandatory masking at our local school district and we knew that there would be another surge that fall (which there was: Omicron). We decided to keep our oldest home for Kindergarten even though we felt bad that he’d be missing such a fun grade and age. If you don’t know from other blog posts of mine, I am high risk for complications due to COVID-19, death, and Long COVID.
As the school year wore on, we saw our local school district’s numbers of staff and students contracting COVID increase steadily. By the end of the school year, 25% of students and 35% of staff had contracted COVID. We are a rather small school district of about 4,000 students and about 550 staff. We’re very glad we kept our Kindergartener home, now that we know infections can lead to Long COVID even in kids.
Knowing that we wanted to keep him home we looked into different options including traditional homeschooling where I research different curricula and decide on the best one for each subject. We decided on a school district about 30 miles away from us which used the K12/Stride curriculum and loved it!
At that time, they only used K12/Stride for a couple of subjects and within two years they dropped it all together. Due to how much my son loves K12 and does well with it compared to other platforms, we decided to find another school that still uses the K12/Stride platform.
What is K12?
K12 is a FREE online public school that is typically tied to a local school district. They also have private school options but we stick with public school.
As a quick aside, K12 used to be K12 Inc. but in 2020 they became Stride, Inc. We started using them in 2021/2022 and still call them K12 but apparently they’re Stride now…I’ll likely use the two interchangeably, just to confuse things. Ha! Just kidding about wanting to confuse things but I just know how I write so putting the warning out there. K12 or Stride = same thing to me.
Through Stride K12-powered school options, we empower students to learn in the ways that are best for them – in their own place and at their own pace.Stride K12 at k12.com/about-k12.html
Stride K12 notes some key facts on their site including that over 2 million students have chosen K12-powered schools, that they have K12-powered schools in many states that are tuition-free, career preparation is available for middle and high school students, and that they’ve been around for decades!
The last one is what really stuck with me. I love that they’ve been around since long before the pandemic, unlike so many other options.
Who does the Teaching?
For the first year that we were in the K12/Stride program, the parent/learning coach did most of the teaching. However, that changed the following school year as there was less parental involvement and more videos for the kids to watch.
It took a while to get used to this big change of me teaching my son to a pre-recorded teacher teaching him but at the end of the school year he seems to have warmed up to it and wants to continue for next school year.
Overall, I did like more parental involvement even though sometimes the mom/teacher dynamic was hard. I do have a bit of an advantage though, I do have two graduate degrees in education and have spent hundreds of hours observing classrooms with wonderful teachers during my career. As a school psychologist, I was technically observing a student at the time but always listened to the teacher and noted their great teaching tactics. It’s almost as though I knew I’d end up teaching my own kids someday.
One thing that has been difficult is overcoming the whole Mom vs. Teacher dynamic. I’m always mom and as my children, they don’t always respect me like they would a teacher. I know that my sons act out more for me while I’m teaching them than they would for a teacher, it’s just how things are. Kids are more comfortable at home and feel they can be their true selves. Which don’t get me wrong, that’s great, but can be extremely exhausting!!
With my oldest who is very active, has a short attention span, and is very intelligent, I’ve learned that I need to get to the point pretty quickly so we tend to fly through subjects as fast as we can. He’s still learning and absorbing things, as he demonstrates in assessments, but I know that if I over teach or lollygag on anything that I’ll lose him and it’ll be hard to get him back.
That’s one of the many great things about this way of teaching though is that I can teach to the individual student since right now it’s 1:1. Once his brothers are in Kindergarten and I need to teach them and him, it’ll be a little more difficult, I’m sure.
Below is a picture of his brothers joining him during a lesson. Typically they aren’t quite this close but that day he was involving them within his learning and quizzing them as he worked through the worksheet. It was really cute.
What About Materials?
K12 sends us all the materials that we need for FREE! We get a curriculum book for the learning coach for each subject as well as a workbook for the student. Students also receive supplemental materials such as science materials, various books with stories in them that will be read throughout the year, math cubes in the case of early learners, flashcards, and other needed manipulatives.
The curriculum book and some other materials do need to be returned at the end of the year but they pay for the return shipping as well. It’s all paid through taxes, even if you don’t live in the district you are enrolled in.
Below is what we’ve gotten so far this year for our 1st grader (I’ve updated this post now that he’s in 1st grade). We already had some materials from last year, which I didn’t take a picture of, but there are a lot of great resources for me as a learning coach and for him. We’re excited to jump in!
Are they Online ALL DAY?
A question I had going into all of this is if it’s online school, does that mean they’re online all day? I don’t want my kid having that much screen time!!
The short answer is: It depends.
The first year we were in the program, the layout was the learning coach/parent who teaches the lesson to the student using the curriculum books and other materials. Once the lesson is complete, the student goes to their iPad or computer and completes a short, interactive review of what they just learned.
The 2022/2023 school year as my oldest was in 1st grade, more is online than previously. It sounds like that was a K12/Stride decision and actually our teacher has decided to not have quite as much online through K12 as we started the school year out with.
In the 2022/2023 school year, the math lessons are taught on the K12 site via video of K12 teachers, followed by interactive questions which the students answer and get immediate feedback on if they’re correct or not. There is also a paper workbook which students work on almost daily, anywhere from 1-3 pages. Sounds like a lot to my 1st grader but honestly, the font is large and if it’s 3 pages it tends to be 3 problems that are broken down and asked different ways.
For English Language Arts (ELA), it’s very similar. There is a K12 teacher who will go through the book they’re working on that day, take them on a book walk through the book, talk about what they think the book might be about, then the teacher reads the book. The teacher will stop every so often to ask students questions about the book to which they’re supposed to answer aloud (this is prerecorded so it’s not like the teacher hears them but it’s good for them to respond anyway.)
The picture below is during one of his virtual class morning meetings and he was talking about something that interested him. He loves being social with his classmates. (He has my wallet from when I was a teenager on his desk for some reason with some fake money. I can’t explain why that’s there. lol)
How Long Does Online School Take?
Honestly, it depends on your child and situation. The only downside, I see, from online school vs traditional homeschool, is that with online school the students are still expected to do everything they would within a normal school day. This includes daily phy ed, a weekly art lesson, a weekly science lesson, and a biweekly music lesson, in addition to all of the academic courses.
It’s great to be well rounded, for sure, but it’s interesting when looking at how long things are expected to take throughout the week, up to 5 hours a day for Kindergarteners on the actual academic coursework. I was surprised and worried when I first saw that and just about quit the program, since most homeschool parents that don’t have the online component spend about 30-60 minutes a day and find it sufficient.
However, we found that the more we got into our routine, the more we figured out how to work together with this, we ended up spending just about 60-90 minutes a day of me teaching him during his Kindergarten year. That was much more manageable for me than 5 hours!
For 1st grade we’ve found that it just takes our son about 90 minutes at most to complete the daily math and ELA lessons, then another 20 or so for the once weekly Social Studies.
There were also 30 minutes for Morning Meeting where he met online with his class and often a 20-30 minute reading group once a day. Then the specials I mentioned above, Phy Ed, art, and music which take about 20-30 minutes but remember, art and music are just once a week or biweekly.
We schedule our days so that we do school in the morning and the specials in the afternoon throughout the week, as well as the other things his teacher assigns such as reading books on Epic, working on skills on IXL, and RAZ Kids.
At first I was really overwhelmed by the extra apps he was supposed to do everyday but then I started just having those be one per day and that made it much more manageable. He’s a really smart kid so I’m not concerned about him falling behind, he was actually already working on 1st grade stuff by the end of last year.
What about Socialization?
As a shy person and a school psychologist, I do worry about the lack of socialization of my young kiddos due to the pandemic. I have my reasons for the way we live currently, but I won’t get into that.
There are socialization opportunities within K12 and the district in which we are open-enrolled.
Through K12 there are clubs you can take part in, such as Lego club that my son was in last year. It’s all virtual, students are grouped by age (his Lego club was grades K-2), and kids are able to act with the instructor as well as each other.
This year I see they have a Social club, Lego club, Art club, Minecraft club, and theatre club! My 1st grader and I talked about it and signed him up for Lego club which is weekly and Art club which is biweekly. That’s on top of the online karate classes he already takes, which are separate from this.
We chose synchronous because it includes the social aspect of our son attending at least one 30-minute virtual session with his teacher and classmates online each school day.
For Kindergarten it was morning meeting which includes going through the calendar, day of week and date, weather, and other activities. Sometimes there is show-and-tell where each student gets a turn and other times they watch an educational and interactive video, such as from Jack Hartmann. Most of the school year there was also a second virtual session with his teacher and some classmates in leveled reading groups.
It was great to see him able to interact with his peers.
There were also some days where his teacher hosted a lunch bunch where the kids got to chat or play a game while eating lunch, or at least during lunch time, which was fun. There were a few in-person play dates schedule as well. We only attended one, outside, because we were worried about covid exposure. For those who aren’t as worried though they had at least 3 indoor activities during the school year and at least 3 outdoor activities.
During 1st grade, it’s been very similar. His 1st grade teacher leads a daily 30-45 minute morning meeting with the calendar, a daily topic such as ‘would you rather Wednesdays’ where each kid gets to say if they’d rather do option 1 or 2 such as have it always be cold out or always hot out. She comes up with much better ones than I am at the moment. Lol There is also a writing component during morning meeting and a phonics component. It’s amazing how she’s able to keep their attention and fly through so many topics in a short amount of time.
In addition, there are 20 minute reading groups Monday through Wednesday where kids are grouped into their reading ability and read together. It’s really great.
Seeing my son be able to interact via video with his licensed teacher and classmates on a daily basis is so great. He really enjoys this time, it is the highlight of his day.
All of these extra things beyond the K12/Stride curriculum are up to the local school district through which K12 is run. As we move into a new school district, continuing to follow the K12/Stride platform, things will be different for the upcoming school year.
From what I understand, he will still have two calls a day with his class and teacher, and the majority of the subjects will be on the K12/Stride platform.
The Way it Really Is
I’m not going to lie to you, teaching is hard. I cannot imagine having to teach a whole classroom of kids and commend those who do it for a living. I actually have taught classes before, just for a day or two at a time, and it’s hard work!! Not to mention, all the prep work, planning, and grading that goes along with it after hours!
I’ve worked with some amazing teachers throughout the years, and have been taught by some amazing teachers as well! I truly believe teaching is the most underappreciated and underpaid profession out there.
We’re in many crises right now between COVID-19, inflation, war, insurrectionists in our own country, increased violence including school shootings, and lack of funding, especially for schools. All the more reasons I want to keep my littles at home with me as much as I can.
I started keeping my kids at home due to the pandemic but I honestly plan on keeping them at home long term at this point. Though we often have power struggles and it’s hard to teach one kid while the other two are playing, or fighting each other, I feel it’s what’s right for our family.
I feel that by me keeping them home, I’m freeing up 3 spots in classrooms for kiddos whose parents can’t stay home with them and teach them. I’m able to spend more time with my kids and teach them at their own pace. I also suspect that at least one of my kiddos may have some learning difficulties but as a school psychologist, I know they aren’t significant enough to qualify for Special Education services so they would likely struggle in school. Though at home, I can be right there with them helping them through it and giving them that 1:1 or 1:3 attention they need.
I do believe that kids need to be exposed to germs, I’m not anti-germs or anti-socialization. I just don’t want my kids to get COVID, if at all possible, or for my husband or I to. I’m high risk for complications from COVID and for long-COVID complications. Even if I wasn’t, I’d still be careful, especially after some close family and friends have contracted COVID lately, a couple of them developing long-COVID that will likely affect them the rest of their lives.
Beyond COVID, I don’t want to be a helicopter parent but I also want to protect my kids from what I can. I want to protect them from bullying as much as I can, from having to participate in 5x yearly fire drills with blaring noises which I know would really set off at least two of them with sensory concerns. I want to protect them from having to participate in 5x yearly lockdown drills and the possibility of an actual lockdown and school shooter situation.
When I was working in the schools, I remember the fear in elementary school aged kids’ eyes during the lock down drills especially. Even though I worked in smaller cities of less than 10,000 people throughout my short career, there were at least two instances where we had a real lockdown because there was a concern of a school shooting taking place. We weren’t in the inner city, this is suburban/rural cities, it can happen anywhere.
I know I can’t protect my kids forever. I completely get that. For now though, we’ve decided to protect them as much as possible and teach them at home at their own pace. It’s really nice to have to opportunity to do so.
I can tell you one success so far, when my oldest was in Kindergarten last year he was tested and was reading at the level of a 1st grader at the end of 1st grade, so at least a full year ahead of where he should be. The teacher could only test him a year beyond his actual grade, so he may be even higher. We must be doing something right at home!
Online School At-Home Classroom
Are you looking for ideas on what you need for your classroom at home? Here is a blog post I wrote based on what we have found to work for us. We have our classroom in the front room of our house, including my craft/work desk/corner.
FAQ / Review
What is Online School?
Online school is a cross between traditional homeschooling and in-person public school.
What is K12?
K12 is a FREE online public school that you can enroll in through a school district within most states.
Who does the Teaching?
The Parent/Learning Coach does the teaching using the curriculum provided in some cases, whereas in others, there are prerecorded videos from teachers that teach students the majority of their lessons.
What about Materials with K12?
K12 sends us all of the materials we need for FREE!
Are the Kids Online ALL Day?
No, the school day can be much shorter than the traditional school day and doesn’t require them to be online all day.
How Long Does Online School Take?
It can take up to 5 hours a day, though we spend just about 2 hours a day. Depends on the student, the grade they’re in, and their work ethic.
What about Socialization?
K12 offers many online clubs kids can participate in. The district we go through in our state also offers online and in-person meet ups.
As a mom of identical twins and a son two years older, I have gained invaluable experience in the realm, and chaos, of parenting. With a Master's Degree and Education Specialist Degree in School Psychology, I spent years as a school psychologist, helping children navigate through their educational and emotional challenges. Now as a stay at home mom and professional blogger, I combine my areas of expertise to help you in your parenting journey.