Exploring Online Learning in our Homeschool

Written by Heather Bruggeman of beauty that moves

I’m not sure I would have been a very good homeschooler fifteen years ago. You see, the internet is such a valuable, expansive place for us. I’m amazed nearly every day by the endless variety of resources available, both free and paid.

We love our home-based and in town libraries, but there came a point in my daughter’s development where she craved something more formal. She wanted accountability beyond mom and dad. Lacking the right fit (so far) with a good homeschool co-op, we started looking around online for classes.

At fourteen years old, she is naturally ready for more.

This year we’ve had the opportunity to explore three different online learning tools/courses, each with varying degrees of formality and expense – I’d love to tell you about them today.

1. Family Herbalist Course

This is an eighteen month distance learning class created by Vintage Remedies. I’ll be honest, I campaigned for this one. I thought it would be fun to take a class with my daughter, and the idea of practical real life skills as part of our learning experience is something I’m always a fan of. The cost of this class is considerable, but it is a long program. Homeschoolers often stretch it to two years due to student breaks and vacations. Also, if you order a second set of materials (for a second family member), those are 50% off.

This course was not originally designed for homeschoolers, but word is spreading and it’s becoming popular among those in upper grades. (Vintage Remedies will be at Great Homeschool Conventions this year if you’d like to check them out in person.)

There is a more introductory course offered, but my professional background is in holistic nutrition so I thought we’d be okay with our choice, and it seems we are.

In The Family Herbalist Course,  students take exams, write research and philosophical papers, complete hands on projects, study health scenarios and design treatment plans (that is toward the end of the course), and so much more. This is truly an integrated program filled with chemistry, nature study, holistic nutrition and health, botany, aromatherapy, cooking, history, and of course, herbalism. 

My only criticism would be that the course name doesn’t capture the full scope this program offers; it is so much more than an herbalist course. Until you hold these books in your hands you can’t appreciate the many things you are about to learn.

2. Brave Writer

I learned about Brave Writer through Renee, she talked about one of their books, The Writer’s Jungle. I followed the ever so fun internet trail and found my way to Brave Writer’s online class offerings, and we chose Passion for Fiction.

This was our first attempt at a mom and dad hands off class. Emily loved it. She really needed something that was just hers, another ‘teacher’ she could do right by. She was also looking for a peer experience where she could interact in an academic setting.

There was a bit of a learning curve for me when it came to navigating the classroom and assignments, though Emily seemed to have no trouble at all (kids). After just a few days I was comfortably checking in behind the scenes on how things were going, and I was very pleased.

This class is “expensive.” I mark that with quotations because it’s all relative isn’t it? How do we put a price tag on quality learning? Well, we have budgets to stick to, that’s how.  I think most would understand, at $200, I expected quite a lot from this four week class. I mean, if I were to keep her in Brave Writer classes throughout the school year, this could really add up!

What I found is that it was worth it for us. Assignments were  posted by a certain due date in the virtual classroom to be read by the teacher (Nancy) and fellow students. Nancy gave incredibly detailed and supportive critical feedback on student work. I wondered if this level of feedback (paragraphs, at times) would be possible in a typical school setting.  She was also very prompt with email replies when Emily had a question.

My favorite part about Nancy’s teaching style (and I think it’s an important talent for anyone teaching online to have) is her ability to take the screen away with her conversational tone and genuine interest in these young writers. I think Emily found the student/teacher connection she was looking for.

Students also commented on each other’s work. There were no more than 25 students in the class with a nice age range of 12-18 years – which appeals to my belief in multi-aged learning environments.

Class ended last week, and I’m hoping to see some kind of report or overview from her teacher, but I’m not certain that is part of the deal. It would be nice though, to meet up with parents on the backside of things.

3. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology

A few months ago we moved to the country and have thoroughly enjoyed the abundance of birds in our backyard. Soon after unpacking our boxes we set out to the farm store and bought ourselves a bird feeder. Each and every day we were identifying various birds, sometimes by the dozen.

A blog reader reminded me of The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, a wonderful resource we’ve enjoyed for years but hadn’t visited in a while. In particular she told me of their Project FeederWatch program. We didn’t know about that!

$15 in materials later and we felt like semi-professional scientists helping the researchers at Cornell. Highly recommended! We make our reports via a special website.

From their website:

Project FeederWatch is a winter-long survey of birds that visit feeders at backyards, nature centers, community areas, and other locales in North America. FeederWatchers periodically count the birds they see at their feeders from November through early April and send their counts to Project FeederWatch. FeederWatch data help scientists track broadscale movements of winter bird populations and long-term trends in bird distribution and abundance.

Like any family, we consider our unique circumstances when forging our path in life and in learning.  We try to remain open to the changing interests and needs of our growing-so-quickly daughter, expanding our classroom to the virtual world is an example of that, and it has been a positive experience for us.

Have you tried online classes? What has your experience been?

About Heather

Heather follows the mantra “a life that is led simply and deliberately is a life fulfilled.” She is a dedicated yoga teacher, artist, holistic health coach, mother and wife. Heather’s blog Beauty That Moves is enjoyed by readers for its kind honesty, shared beauty, and simple guidance.


  1. My kids are still too young for this type of learning, but it is an option that really appeals to me. We don’t live in a completely remote place, but it is definitely rural, and I don’t have any homeschool co-ops close by, so it is something my husband and I have thought a lot about as our kids get older. I think there is such a wealth of information available that we have access to now. There are obviously cost considerations when buying a distance learning program, but there are other options. I have read a lot about the free online courses that MIT offers. It is something that I am interested in, and hope it is still available when my kids are older 🙂 Plus, I think that as technology advances, more will be available online.
    Heather’s latest post: not so yarn along

  2. I’m not even homeschooling yet (my daughter is still young) but I completely agree that I don’t know how I’d do it without the internet.
    Steph’s latest post: House Rules

  3. My two oldest children were in a similar situation — ready for more accountability and input from someone other than Mom. They began an online charter school for this school year. It has had its pros and cons, but some of the teachers provide great feedback. One definite pro has been that they found out they had been expected to do great quality work over the years. They often make statements that the assignments are easy or the essays expected are short, and they have easily made good grades — leaving me to wonder whether they wouldn’t be better off sticking with just Momschool.
    Jen @ anothergranolamom’s latest post: Teaching Our Children to Be “Passionate Observers”

  4. Thank you for writing this post–it was so interesting. I follow your blog regularly and love the ‘quiet’ of it.
    My children are also quite young, but I think the online option is a great one for certain subjects or seasons of life. I also think certain TED talks might eventually make their way into our school life when they are older. 🙂
    Sarah M
    Sarah M’s latest post: Movie Review: Hugo

    • Yes! TED talks have been wonderful for my 13 YO son. Have you tried TED-ed ? http://ed.ted.com/ It’s a great resource for all ages. Same quality, but in little bites. Lots of science, history, and “how things work.” You can even make little classroom collections, assignments, and customize quizzes about content if you want to go that route. We sometimes use the short videos as a “did you know?” exploration at the beginning of our days.
      Laura McClain’s latest post: [Live Video] How to avoid trail running injuries

  5. My oldest daughter would have loved this herbalist course. Instead she got stacks and stacks of books out of the library and experimented with making her own skincare recipes. This would have been much easier and she probably would have learned more. It’s great to know these kinds of courses are available now.

  6. Thanks for the thorough reviews! At 4 and 5, my kids are a bit too young for this sort of thing, but it’s good to know there are so many options out there when we’re ready for online learning.
    CC Jen’s latest post: Wordless Wednesday: Our Pets

  7. I love this post because it helps me see the future of what homeschooling will hold for us. That herbalist class looks fantastic (for me!). My daughter’s ballet teacher was also homeschooled and at the age of 14 attended college courses, which may or may not be appealing to you.

    My daughter is just 6, but precocious, so I’m always re-evaluating if I am offering her the right mix of things. We don’t do any online classes, but I think we would be open to one (starting in the fall). Even at her age, I find that she likes having other people to be accountable to, too. I’d love to hear what suggestions you might have or anyone else who reads this. Thank you!
    Jennifer @ kidoing!’s latest post: Nurturing Creativity: A Guide for Busy Moms

  8. thank you for this post. i found it so very interesting and helpful as my oldest gets more independent as a learner each year!

  9. just to clarify, for those that may be interested…. family herbalist is not an exclusively online class. it is designed as a distance learning program with the option to attend a virtual study hall once a week and to take tests online. other assignments are mailed in and textbooks are used. sorry i wasn’t perfectly clear about that in my post!
    heather’s latest post: 3 :: april

  10. Yes, we’ve used online classes – some we’ve liked (Brave Writer!) and others not so much (through Alberta Distance Learning 🙁 ). I think the student interaction is wonderful for teenagers and getting a fabulous teacher helps. My son really liked the deadlines and accountability to someone outside of the home (as did I). Since my middle daughter wants to homeschool through highschool (whereas my son opted to attend a local highschool) we’ll be further exploring online options as we go through the years.
    Kika@embracingimperfection’s latest post: The Help :: Is Racism Inherent Or Taught?

  11. Thanks for this, Heather! I seriously don’t know how I’d do homeschool without the Internet. And I want to use it even more next year, so I’m starting my search for elementary-aged courses that aren’t…. cheesy, for lack of a better word. I’d love to hear of any.
    Tsh’s latest post: Want a great marriage? Don’t compromise.

  12. I have been learning ab0ut using herbs through Herbmentor dot com. My son loves to read articles with me or listen to herbalist. He is 9 years old and learning right along with me. The internet can be very useful for us.

  13. Great article! I love the picture you’re painting. Since my oldest is 7, I bet everything will change by the time we get there, but this is a lovely foretaste of what it could be like.
    Rachel at Stitched in Color’s latest post: Pink Seeds

  14. Tiffany Evans says:

    What great resources for the older homeschooler! I look forward to using them. However, right now, I have a 6 year old. Any suggestions for online learning at this stage of the game?


  15. My mother homeschooled her five children. I am the youngest. She started with my eldest brother nearly 40 years ago. At that time there was practically nothing, and since they lived overseas, there was even less. I don’t know how she did it! I LOVE all the resources the internet provides.

    My kids are too young to worry about online classes, but I still like to look into what is available.

    My husband teaches high school rhetoric online through Memoria Press. He loves teaching online, so hopefully his students love taking from him. 🙂
    Johanna @ My Home Tableau’s latest post: Productivity Tip: Stop Multitasking!

  16. No Online classes for us yet. This is our first year homeschooling (a rough adjustment it has been) and do want to try some online classes. Maybe next year… The Brave Write sounds perfect for my 12 year old! She would love it, and I wish that we could make room for it in our budget.
    Debbye @ The Baby Sleep Site’s latest post: How Yoga Can Help Your Baby or Toddler Sleep

  17. Exploring Online Learning in our Homeschool is cool. I always do exploration online, it is one of my hobby if I have free time. Explore while learning.
    Shanel’s latest post: low carb diets for diabetics

  18. My kids are also on the young side, but I love this post. What fantastic ideas these are. We will be doing Bravewriter in a few years, because we are fans. Project Feederwatch we may have to add next winter. Thanks for such a helpful post. Got my creative juices flowing.
    Pam’s latest post: Loop Schedule Adds Variety to Homeschooling

  19. This online learning is a big help to a students even workers. Lots of information and knowledge to knew.
    Liz’s latest post: Hcg diet reviews

  20. I love these resources. My boys are headed into that age where they are interested in broader, more intensive subjects. We have used Khan Academy and are looking at Code Academy – both free! Your resources are fantastic and we look forward to checking them out. Thank you.

  21. fabulous stuff you share here Heather. Thank you. Also for your honesty about cost. Quality stuff costs. And as a family who makes our living online also – programming, writing, etc. I feel there is value in supporting online courses etc and understand the cost behind them. Since we plan to h-school through high school we will be incorporating more online classes as our kids grow.
    renee @ FIMBY’s latest post: Hello April, Please Be Kind

  22. Thanks for the info. We use Cornell Lab of Ornithology too. Their lesson plans are fabulous and we also subscribe to Birdscope magazine. It’s full of bird related inquiry based science articles, written by kids. My middle school age kids will be looking into online learning soon, so I’d love to hear more about this. Because the internet is such a vast place, other homeschoolers’ opinions are so very helpful. Who has time to do all the research alone? Thanks, Heather for sharing.

  23. Renee Maruniak says:

    Funny that I ended up here reading your blog today. I was looking for frugal cooking advice today and ended up at simplemom.net. From there I noticed homeschooling-related links and ended up here. Your review of Bravewriter caught my eye because my daughter just finished taking a class last week. Lo and behold, it was the same class you daughter was in! I think Nancy did a fantastic job. What a huge under-taking for her to respond so thoroughly to all that writing. Definitely worth it, IMO.
    Renee M

  24. Great blog. Thanks for sharing your experiences and views about online learning. Yes, online learning is providing all the wide range of courses to the students all over the world. Online education is provided in a convenient and stress free online environment. Online education is the great idea which everyone should opt for.
    Ashley’s latest post: Reasons for Government to take a notice on Online Education

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