While most children participating in after-school STEM classes do them in person, some families opt to enroll their children in online enrichment programs. Virtual classes appeal to parents because of their convenience and flexibility and the sheer number and variety of subject matters offered.
I’m a proponent of online classes because they allow kids from all over the country to participate in STEM, even if they don’t have classes in their area. I’ve also found online classes are a great option for kids who have participated in a STEM summer camp and are eager to continue to learn during the school year. They may build on a subject they’ve already studied at camp, or explore new topics that aren’t available to them in school. This is where online learning shines, opening a world of options to students!
If you’re interested in pursuing online STEM enrichment classes for your child, but aren’t sure how to find the right match for your child’s interests, temperament, learning style, and skills, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, I’ve suggested tips and key considerations as you explore potential classes for your child, and provided a link to an article about specific programs.
Online STEM Classes Work!
As online STEM programs have grown in number and variety, many parents have been pleasantly surprised by the availability of good-quality and engaging learning activities their kids can do from home.
They’re also pleased with the format: online STEM classes tend to be smaller than in-person, enabling the instructor to get to know each child and work with them individually. Some children who are shy in larger groups feel more comfortable in a small online group setting and participate more. The winning formula for most online STEM programs includes these smaller classes, shorter session times, active learning that incorporates multiple ways to learn, and sometimes independent work outside of classes.
Providers tell me that the most popular classes are computer science classes, particularly coding, game development, and classes that work with Minecraft and Roblox to teach children as young as six the fundamentals and more advanced aspects of programming. The online format lends itself to these topics, so their popularity is not surprising.
5 Key Questions: Determining What Kind of Online STEM Class Is Best for Your Child
There are many factors to consider when choosing an online STEM class. The short list below is based on what I learned from speaking with STEM providers and parents and my own experience choosing a class for my daughter. I hope they’ll help guide you, first in deciding if an online class is right for your child, and if it is, in finding a good match.
1. How does your child learn best? Some classes are highly interactive, others include a lot of hands-on learning, while others challenge students to work independently between class sessions. Look for a course that matches your child’s preferences and style so it’s an enjoyable, relaxing format for him or her.
2. What kind of class format do you want? Small group classes are typically the norm, but the online environment also allows for one-on-one classes. Many organizations offer personalized, custom learning with one-on-one instruction where you can even choose the instructor based on your child’s needs and interests. This can mean less pressure for students, too.
3. What style of learning would benefit your child? You may prefer a formal curriculum (where the instructor is following a prepared lesson guide) vs. more open-ended learning (often guided by the student’s interest and what they want to explore or a project they want to work on), or even a tutor situation where the instructor is there to answer questions and provide additional learning as needed.
4. How often do you want classes to meet? The timing of classes runs the gamut, with after-school, evening, and weekend options. Frequency also varies: while many students take one class a week, there is the option to do more. Think about your child’s schedule and ability to participate immediately after school; if they need an unstructured break, an evening or weekend class might be better.
5. Can your child participate without your assistance? Are you hoping the class will free you up to work or do other projects without interruption? If so, assess whether your child will be able to participate without your assistance. Also, before starting a new class, plan to set up the computer, load software, create a work area, and/or unpack supplies for your child in advance. You may also need to work with your child before the first class, so they are comfortable opening or working with the software, using Zoom or Google Meet, or switching between screens if necessary. The time you spend in advance will go far to ensuring that your child can work independently and you will have the time you need to do other things.
3 Tips for Assessing a Class
1. Match the content and teaching approach to your child’s learning style. Review the content, curriculum, instructional approach, and the instructor’s teaching experience to assess whether the class is a good match for your child. If the social aspect is important for your child, look for an online class that has small classes and plenty of time built into the schedule for the students to interact. If you’re looking for ways to fill your child’s after-school hours, some classes also include independent work where students work on a project, build their skills, and deepen their knowledge by reviewing what they worked on in the class. Others have the students work on a team-based project between classes.
2. Look for project-based, hands-on, participatory, active learning. Teachers all over the country have discovered that the classic lecture format is especially difficult when they’re conducting online learning. Keeping the students actively engaged is essential, although some passive learning is inevitable. For your child, a maker-style class or a class where the students are writing code interactively or collaborating on projects may be a perfect complement to the rest of their day, balancing their more abstract in-school learning with an activity that yields a tangible or visible product. On the other hand, if your child needs adult assistance to work on these kinds of projects, an online format may not be the best choice.
3. Involve your child in the choice. Talk with your child about their interests and share a list of class options. They may surprise you (and even themselves) with a new interest or their curiosity about something they haven’t explored before. Talk together about the time commitment and logistics and how your child views success in the class.
Ready to Start Searching for Classes?
Here’s a collection of companies that offer online STEM classes your kids can do from home. These programs are offered live and are led by instructors. They include coding, engineering, science, math, technology, and entrepreneurship subjects, in after-school, evening, and weekend formats.