TORONTO -- Private learning pods are sprouting up around the Greater Toronto Area as parents look to supplement the education they are receiving in virtual schools.

The pods consist of small groups of children with a teacher or tutor who offers a range of services for a fee and help guide children with the online experience, assignments and provide additional lessons.

Yvonne Xenidis works from home and signed up her children in Grade 6 and Grade 3 at the Toronto District School Board with the The Etobicoke Learning Lab. They learn with two other children in Grade 6 and Grade 1, four hours a day, four days a week.

“On their own I found it very difficult for me to manage so I need help. I’m not a teacher and I have a full-time job and I want them to be happy and I want them to have a good experience,” said Xenidis.

“I think it’s good that we get to socialize and we get more help and do more work,” said Xenidis’ son, Pierce Jack. “It feels more like it would in school, school.”

The Etobicoke Learning Lab charges $79 an hour for pods with three to five children and $59 dollars for one or two children. Since forming the company in July, director and teacher Kimberly Weir told CTV News Toronto it’s grown to servicing 30 students.

“The ah ha moment, just seeing that and being able to provide that for them is an amazing experience,” the OCT certified teacher with the lab said.

learning pod

These type of learning pods appear to be taking off in the pandemic.

Learning Pods - Canada is a Toronto-based Facebook group with more than 11,000 members and acts as a sort of student-teacher match up community.

Within a few hours Tuesday, about dozen people responded to a post in the group created by CTV News Toronto, writing they were offering new learning pod-type services.

It’s providing a boost for some students — but could leave others behind.

Extended ‘summer slide’ possible for some online learners: professor

Todd Cunningham is a psychologist and professor at the University of Toronto who focuses on children with academic challenges. He said pods could create a similar scenario to what’s known as ‘the summer slide.’

“Families that don’t have the same means and abilities or time to provide the same language-rich summers at home, taking kids to the museums or other cultural places, having literature in the house to read, having the time to read to their kids because they are working multiple jobs, that those students often fall two to three months behind over the summer and have to catch up,” Cunningham said.

He said while these students are making the same development as other students, there is always a bit a of a gap.

“And that gap over time continues to build and build and build from summer to summer to summer.”

“The COVID period is like an extended summer slide that we could be running into for students who are not able to engage in the leaning online, not able to tend to it, not developing those skills and acquiring that knowledge and so therefore when we do return to a new normal, or schools do return, we might see larger gaps in their skills and knowledge compared to other students who had the opportunity to engage in that learning whether at school, online or in these pods.”

The TDSB said there are about 84, 000 elementary and secondary students in virtual school.

“Students continue to receive a great education at the TDSB — both in-person and virtually,” said TDSB spokesperson Ryan Bird in an email to CTV News Toronto.

learning pod

But Xenidis said that in a pod, her children can have their questions answered immediately, learn offline for a few hours a day, and play outside with supervision.