You may be starting the new school year in mid to late August or not until after Labor Day weekend, but either way we have rounded the homestretch and the dig date is looming on the horizon. Whether this is your first time to homeschool or you have been schooling for a few years (or decades in my case – it’s what happens when you grow a baker’s dozen in your home!) you might be looking at the many different options available. It can be so overwhelming and, with the advent of the internet, online options are sprouting up left and right. I have tried my hand at a few, as well as looked at others that I chose not to use. Typically this was due to cost per course, not because I didn’t feel confident in the quality of the classes. I will start with one of the three online options with which I have first-hand experience.
Time4learning When I originally used this program they stopped at grade eight but have since added a high school curriculum which intrigues me quite a bit. I like that they emphasize that they are a curriculum program and as such the parent is teacher and in charge. They make it very clear that they are not accredited and, as such, can not issue a diploma. The parent is also the transcript/record keeper. They do a good job of explaining how to determine credits which I know some parents find disconcerting when they try to determine the value of their student’s work and how it translates into credits. From their FAQ section under the title How Many Credits is a Time4Learning High school course they share the following:
“Although each state is unique, a typical one-year high school course equals one credit, while one-semester courses equal one-half credit. Another way of counting credits is in hours spent on coursework. In general, 120-160 hours spent on a course equals one credit, while 60-90 hours of work equals one-half credit.”
When I have a free minute I will be looking more closely at the Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Homeschooling High School which Time4Learning frequently links and refers to, given that I have two high school students and several more upcoming.
I have broken down the details and my thoughts about the program into four sections below:
For pre-K – grade eight students the cost is $19.95 per month per student with a discount offered after the very first student when the price is discounted to $14.95. It is not immediately clear how many courses this entails. They do share how many actual lessons are available per grade; just not how this breaks down as to variety of subjects.
Once I looked at the lesson plans and course demos, I concluded that in terms of subjects, kindergarten offers math and language arts while grade one offers the same with the addition of science. Grades three through eight offer math, language arts, science and social studies with art becoming an option in fourth grade after the first month of enrollment.
It took a lot of digging around to determine this and I’m still waiting to hear back from Time4Learning to confirm these numbers. When communicating with them by email it takes them 48 hours to answer, but first one must enroll for their newsletter. (I did not enjoy learning this detail after initiating communication through their ‘contact us’ link.) They do have an 800 number you can call and talk to someone directly, an option I chose not to use.
For High school courses the cost per student is $30 per month per student and includes four courses for each student. Additional courses may be purchased for an extra $5 per month for each course.
There are no discounts for additional high school students but they do count towards a discount for the younger grades. So, in my case, if I were to enroll all five of my current students at home I would pay $60 a month for my two high school students and only $14.95 for each elementary/middle school student, to the tune of $104.85 a month.
*Ease of Use: There are appears to be little need for additional materials as much of the reading required by the various courses is online. You do not have to worry about installing software and as long as you have a working computer and an internet connection you can access the courses wherever you are. According to the technical information, tablets equipped with Flash-based technology can support their curriculum. Ipad users can download the Puffin Academy app which is free on iTunes. I poked around a lot of the demos and for the most part the lessons appear to be easy to navigate. However, when attempting to use the grade eight math demo there was no sound and both demos appeared to freeze after the first two or three exercises were completed. I don’t know if the demo ended in the middle of lesson or if there is a bug that needs working out. High school is a new addition so it might be a bug. The curriculum is designed to be started at any time of the year that suits your needs.
*How much time must the parent as teacher invest? At the lower grades, a parent will need to be available to guide the child through the online lessons and will need to be able to read the multiple choice questions to the non-reading child and let’s face it — most children are not reading in the first weeks of kindergarten and often not reading until midway through grade one. In the higher grades a parent should not need to be present throughout the lesson. There are supplementals available but as I can not access these I can not state how much the parent needs to be involved. They are, however, optional.
*Quality of Classes: I clicked through a large number and various grade levels of classes and was more impressed with some than others. I can say with certainty that the grade levels offered could be completed by my children at a younger age than suggested. When I had one of my high school students view the high school biology demo, I did not tell him what level it was. He guessed it was designed for a fifth grade level student due to the depth of the material and the type of cartoons being used throughout the lessons. I feel the use of cartoons in their materials (from middle school and up) is their Achilles heel. Both of my high school children and one of the middle school aged children were insulted by the juvenile feel to the cartoons. I feel I need to also point out that my kindergarten student, who enjoyed the grade one science demo, quickly lost interest in the phonics lesson.
I would strongly suggest watching and working through the demos with the children for whom you are considering using this course. It should help you to determine if the depth of material covered would work for them. Also, if you have the time, work your way through the detailed lesson plans available online to help you to decide whether to invest in this program. A serious positive is that they offer you a 14 day money back guarantee.
Conclusion: Ultimately, I believe this is a good option for families that have multiple children and really need to optimize their budget dollars. Compared to what I would pay monthly to use Seton just for two high school students, it is a substantial savings. With Time4Learning I would, however, be totally responsible for the keeping of my students’ grades and would have to issue the students diploma. Seton (which now offers the ability to submit lesson work and tests online) does grade a percentage of your child’s coursework, is accredited, and will provide a transcript as well as a diploma for students who meet their requirements. However, if as a parent, you are comfortable with doing your own record keeping (which Time4Learning makes easy with their online records), economically Time4Learning is a serious option to consider. I do think that it is more valuable for younger students than for high school students, though the Algebra demo was good enough to have me considering using the high school level just for that alone.
So that wraps up our first peek at one of the many options available to homeschoolers! Homeschooling curriculums have come a long way in a couple of decades, and it’s great to know that the right option is out there for your family. Throughout the rest of this series, I’ll share my experience with some of the other online curriculums that my family and I have explored over the years.
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Christi Gareis is a homeschooling mother of thirteen, with four children still at home. Her youngest child can boast that she was an aunt before she was born. Christi has been blogging since 2005 and has three blogs. In addition to blogging, Christi has been published on Catholicmom.com as well as in CCL’s magazine Family Foundations. She also wrote the section on How to ‘Prepare Your Child for First Reconciliation’ in the book '101 Stories of Reconciliation' by Sister Patricia Proctor.