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?