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Parenting

Are Outschool classes the easiest way to homeschool?

We tried a few of their online classes to find out.

Girl doing science experiment outside Credit: Outschool

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If you have an unsettling feeling of deja vu, you’re not alone. The year 2022 is looking more and more like “2020, too” and—just like that fated first year of the COVID-19 pandemic—many of us are being thrust into teacher-mode and managing home learning.

With schools closing due to reasons ranging from antigen test shortages to union negotiations, one thing is for certain: The spread of the Omicron variant is definitely making continuity in the classroom far less predictable. If you’re scrambling for enriching home learning that can keep your kids engaged at a moment’s notice, you may want to give Outschool a look.

A favorite of homeschool parents, we tried this online learning platform to see how it holds up educationally, and if it can hold the attention of a curious 7-year-old who—quite frankly—would rather be drawing dragons than anything else.

Pros and Cons of Outschool

Pros: A robust selection of core and extra curricular classes
Cons: Teacher experience and aptitude can vary

What kinds of classes are on Outschool?

Choices run the gamut from academic to artistic to social-emotional. With over 140,000 classes to choose from it seems there is something for every age group and every subject area your kid might be interested in. For younger kids we liked the interactive science classes, but for older kids you can find anything from AP physics to Minecraft to piano.

My son's first class was a show-and-tell of live reptiles conducted by a patient education outreach instructor at The Amphibian Foundation and since then he has taken courses on everything from the history of the Titanic to a weeklong DIY dinosaur dig—all perfectly geared toward his age group.

How are the teachers on Outschool?

It's a bit of a crap shoot—but a pretty decent crapshoot overall. Most teachers are fun, engaging, and patient. Some hold doctorates, others are retired teachers, and others are passionate hobbyists who want to share their knowledge with kids.

Class management really differs per teacher. In some classes my child dutifully raised his hand and listened intently, while in others it was a free-for-all with a dozen kids working to see who could be the loudest. Some teachers allow for parents to hang around while some will chastise you for "staring at them" (as I was) if you stick around for the first minute of class. (I was curious! She had candy!)

Some teachers aren't quite as meticulous as others: In one class we got a printout with a pretty gross and confusing error about the placement of the sun in the cycle of the moon. Another time a teacher gave a seemingly incorrect fact about flightless birds in New Zealand. The Outschool site says it only hires teachers who have “teaching experience, subject matter expertise, or a unique passion they want to share with learners.” Like any school, some teachers are great and some aren’t. We recommend you read the teacher biographies, pay attention to their credentials, and look at parent reviews.

Can you test Outschool classes before you enroll?

Most teachers allow potential students to try a trial class for $20 or less. We signed up for a handful of $8 to $12 classes and started to get a feel for which teachers are best for consistency and more rigorous learning, which ones are best for mixing things up during a tedious day, and which had styles that didn’t mesh with our son.

After a few trials we began to get a feel of what to look for to find a class that would be a fit for our kid.

How are Outschool's class sizes?

For the most part, classes seemed to cap at 12. Twelve did seem manageable and even in the most unruly situations every kid seemed to be able to have a turn to talk and be a part of the class discussions. We’ve now been taking classes through Outschool for two years and generally feel like 90% of the teachers are savvy about class caps and are even great at managing kids of a wide age range.

How much does Outschool cost?

One-time classes start as low as $5 while the 10-week semester-long classes can be anywhere from $100 to $600. Teachers set their own prices and the prices vary by subject, age range, content, and time.

What technology do you need for Outschool?

As long as you have an internet connection, you can use Outschool. In the past two years we have accessed Outschool on our laptops, tablets, and even my iPhone when driving to the beach.

​​Outschool works on all major web browsers, they Zoom for live video meetings. You’ll need a working webcam and microphone, and a solid internet connection. Teachers can mute the kids, so they can remain in control of the volume in the online classroom.

Depending on the teacher, kids will be asked to use the “hand raise” function in Outschool or ask questions in the chat. We’d advise that you check in a bit if chats are open, as one chat went rogue with older kids telling fart jokes.

All Outschool classes are filmed by teachers so that they can later be accessed online. Children and their names are part of those recorded sessions, so if you're uncomfortable with that, Outschool is not a viable option. There is a disclaimer that no recordings should be downloaded and shared, but that's difficult to enforce.

Is Outschool right for your child?

From my family's point of view, Outschool is not only a major time saver and an opportunity for educational engagement when worksheets get tedious and my skills as a teacher are maxed out, but it's a way to give children a unique learning experience, tailored to their interests and learning levels.

We have been taking Outschool classes for two years straight, either to supplement my child’s learning or to use as positive screen time when he’s home from school and we feel like the classes just keep getting better.

Outschool is great for a family that needs to supplement learning, or one where your kid just wants to explore new interests at an affordable price point. It has given my child a learning experience that keeps him excited and happy during a time when parents can use all the help they can get, and we can’t recommend it highly enough. If you'd like to try Outschool for yourself, you can save $20 for a limited time use the code KEEPLEARNING.

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