How the Snyders live on their terms through interest-led online learning

How We Outschool Nov 19, 2020

For the Snyders, 2020 is a bit closer to normal than it is for other families. While many have had to adapt to online learning, they've been doing online homeschool for over seven years.

Along the way, the Snyders have experimented with resources and approaches to make learning fit their active lifestyle. Mom Sarah travels extensively for work, and the two older children compete in gymnastics, also traveling often. After their younger daughter also moved to learning online this year, Sarah says that the family will all continue to do full-time online homeschool going forward.

We spoke to Sarah about the lessons she's learned from almost a decade of online homeschooling, and the advice she has for families just beginning a similar journey.

Hi Sarah! Can you tell us about your family?

I have three kids: 16, 14 and 9. My older two have been doing online school for seven years.  My nine-year-old is in her first year of doing online school. She's used Outschool since the early days for holiday break and weekend classes. I work full time. So she's used to using Outschool on days where school is closed but I work.

Sarah's 9-year-old takes a break from online learning to relax with her furry classmates.

What advantages do your kids have because of their online learning experience?

On a daily basis, we talk about how much they have an advantage because their school hasn't been uprooted this year. Things haven’t really changed for them.

For my youngest, she had a definitive advantage when everybody else switched over to online learning because she had been doing it already. For example, even her dance studio went virtual, and they were laughing because she was the one that helped everybody with Zoom. She had already been using it with Outschool, so she already had those skills.

What’s an example of a topic your kids have explored outside of “core” classes?

My 14-year-old is a testament to what Outschool can do for a kid.  This summer, we were stuck at home, and she took a lot of the entrepreneurship classes on Outschool. Then, she took a few classes on interior design, and each week they did an interior design challenge. She also took a Sketch Up class to learn 3D modeling.

Sarah's 14-year-old created this Etsy shop after combining skills learned in Outschool classes on entrepreneurship and design.

So all these things together helped her, and she created an Etsy shop. I think that it was, to me, more valuable than any math class. These are the tools that are going to make you succeed in the future.

Can you explain your philosophy about educating your kids?

I wasn't homeschooled. I didn't have friends who homeschooled. It was just not part of the conversation. My kids went to public school, and my husband and I were public school educated, too.

But that all changed because my kids really did well in school, but they just did not care for it at all. My son was an avid reader. He read Harry Potter in kindergarten, but he did not do well in school.

My older two kids are competitive gymnasts, and they travel all over the country. They had some teammates that were doing different styles of school. At first, I said, “You guys -  I can't homeschool you! What are you talking about?”

Seven years ago, the same number of options weren't there, but I saw a commercial for an online public school, and I said, “Well, if you guys really want to do it. I guess we could try something like that.” So that's what we did.

Sarah's 14-year-old practices on the balance beam. Sarah believes online homeschool frees her daughter to travel and train for gymnastics while still living a balanced lifestyle.

That first year, it was public school at home, but it was at least something different. I saw that I could actually do this. It built some confidence that even while working full time, I could do it. Now, seven years later, the options are so crazy amazing that I don't know why anybody would put their kids back in public school.

If I had Outschool back then, I can only imagine how much further along they would be in their development and their overall education. I lost a little bit that first year, and then after that we did a combination of things over the years. We did Classical Conversations one year, and we've used Open Times Academy.

What's your daily routine look like? How does learning fit in?

With COVID, we're not traveling as much for gymnastics competitions. But before COVID, in January and February of this year, my son spent a week in California. He spent a week in Vegas. And he never had to miss a beat. He was able to keep up with his classes.

That's a benefit to having an option of flex or live classes. We prefer live classes because it keeps us accountable. But the option to have flex helped in times like that because we can change things up a little bit.

Sarah's nine-year-old follows along with her Outschool teacher during a class.

We try to do school Monday through Friday. Most days we start around eight o'clock in the morning, but we don't have a set schedule, per se. My youngest does well not having a rigid schedule. We've never been one that has been super regimented, but they’re able to do competitive sports at a high level, and get rest and eat well, and they would have never been able to do that otherwise.

Can you tell me about your work as “Online Homeschool Mom”?

Online Homeschool Mom is a blog I started late last summer because I felt like there's not a lot of working professionals who homeschool their kids. Even at our co-op, or any kind of homeschool events, you're really an outsider. People just can't comprehend the idea that I don't teach my kids. So I'm not really homeschooling in that way. I help a little bit, but I'm not the teacher. It gets hard to relate to that. I felt like there was this gap, and I decided to write about it.

When people think of online school they think of kids getting taught by a robot, and they don't realize that there's Outschool and a whole list of resources for parents. Online learning doesn't have to be a robot teaching your kids.

What have you learned about online school that you can share with others on a similar journey?

Start with classes that are of your kids’ interests. And if you start with that, then they buy into it.

Even my nine-year-old, she knows how to use the search function. If there's a little gap in time, she’ll search and look for an Outschool class. If you go with their interests, then it explodes from there.

Sarah's 14-year-old gets a hands-on learning experience during a live Outschool class.

I think if people relax a little bit, and let their kids steadily work on their interests, you'll be amazed how quickly they want to read, and want to figure out math.

I try to look at online learning like an opportunity. Maybe you can't connect with your local friends, but you're meeting kids from all over the world. What better socialization opportunity do we have? There’s always a different way to look at things.

Speaking of friendships, what’s your philosophy around socializing while doing online learning?

My friends that I talked to on a regular basis aren't necessarily people that are in person here. It's on the phone or via text or whatever. So why would we expect our kids to be different?

We just started doing the Outschool Learner Community, and that's pretty cool. My daughter did that yesterday, and she liked how they asked her questions. She felt she had input into the future.

Sarah's nine-year-old takes her learning on the road by logging onto Outschool in the car.

Online learning allows them to expand and connect with people that have their interests that maybe they wouldn't find in their middle school or elementary school. For example, my son does a chess club. Yeah, he might be able to do that in high school, but with his schedule, he wouldn't.

What else would you like to share with other Outschool families?

Outschool’s Camps are really great. My daughter is nine, and she's probably been doing the Camps since she was six. For example, I remember her doing an American Girl Doll Camp back then.

As a working mom, it made my life so much easier because instead of having to ship her off every morning or drive her to a summer camp, she did Outschool Camps.

I work from home, but I travel extensively normally. I could set my schedule so that if I was home, then I could do something with her. But if I'm traveling, and my dad was staying with them, she would have Outschool classes and camps. It just made my life so much easier, and she was learning at the same time.

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Gerard Dawson

Gerard Dawson is a teacher, parent and writer for Outschool.