Is there anything wrong with traditional schooling? Are there other options that may suit my child better?
The truth is, if you’re asking these questions, then you’re already doing the best thing you can – you’re being conscious, considering options, and trying to figure out what is best for your child or children.
Parent involvement, whether a child attends a public school, charter school, or is homeschooled, is one of the best predictors of success and achievement. Knowing that their parent cares about them, their education, and their success as a person motivates and encourages children to do their best in whichever type of education system they are participating.
Gail Nagasako, in her book “Homeschooling: How and Why,” says, “In fairness to the school system, consider the task of trying to set up a system to educate over 53 million highly diverse children.”
The education system in our country is always under scrutiny, but the truth is that it is incredibly complicated and difficult to design a system to meet such overwhelming demand, especially in an era in which psychologists and educational specialists are starting to understand the importance of individuality in learning. No two people learn the same thing the same way, but we can’t have 53 million different ways of teaching!
People choose alternative schooling – Montessori, Sudbury, homeschooling, unschooling – for many reasons, from philosophical or religious ideologies to logistical constrictions. Some people want more control over their child’s education, some people want the chance to spend more time with their child, and others are worried about the constraints traditional schools may place on children and their potential.
All of these are legitimate concerns, and depending on which is your highest priority, there are many types of alternative schooling to consider. While there’s certainly nothing “wrong” with public education — after all, 53 million kids learn to read, write, and do math in public schools — some families opt for one of the following alternatives.
This label covers a wide variety of education options. Homeschooling encompasses online learning (usually supported by the state’s education department), curriculum provided methods (usually purchased from a reputable homeschooling organization by the parent), and self-devised curriculum in which the parent and child determine what the student will learn and how.
All of these options have merit. The most appealing aspect of the first two options for parents is usually that they don’t, in fact, have to figure out what — or how — to teach their kids. Online schools provide materials and even teachers. There are free programs in Ohio, like K12 and ECOT. Parents also can choose to purchase curriculums, complete with books, videos, workbooks and pre-made tests. The third option is for the parent, hopefully in conjunction with their child, to choose what concepts, information and subjects to study on their own, utilizing whatever materials or sources they deem fit.
The true appeal of homeschooling, though, is flexibility. You can tailor your day, your week, your month, and even your year to your life, rather than to a school’s schedule. If your child is sick, there’s no need to worry about what they’ve missed at school. If the only time you can schedule a family vacation is in the middle of the school year, there’s no negotiating with school to get the time excused. If your family suddenly needs to relocate, for a job or a military posting, there’s no interruption in your child’s educational experience.
There’s flexibility in learning, too. If your child is struggling with a particular lesson or concept, they can spend as long as they need to figure it out without being pushed too hard, or even labeled as “slow.” If, on the other hand, they grasp something really quickly and verge on becoming bored, you can move on to the next lesson without holding them back. If they didn’t sleep well and can’t focus, you can take a break, let them take a nap, or get a snack. These are the most popular virtues of homeschooling, the things that most parents will talk about when you ask them what they like about it.
Montessori or Sudbury Schooling
While these two styles of schools are different, they often are categorized together because of the freedom they allow children in their learning space. Both styles operate on the premise that children will learn of their own accord because they naturally want to learn, since learning is enjoyable to human beings — especially children who easily absorb and even obsess over new information and concepts. In these schools, many different learning materials are provided in a safe, easy to navigate space, and children are allowed to move from station to station, spending as long as they want with each material. Adults are present to help when needed, to demonstrate when requested, and of course to monitor safety and behavior. However, in these systems, adults are also equals with the children; they are not disciplinarians, they are supporters and encouragers. They pay attention to a child’s emotional and psychological needs as much as their physical and academic needs.
The Montessori system was founded and developed by Maria Montessori, an Italian doctor working in the very early 1900s, who developed a revolutionary new method of educating children who were considered “unteachable.” She gave them manipulations, toys or handmade “works,” which allowed them to physically as well as mentally interact with concepts of language (letters, words) and math. To her astonishment, and to that of the rest of the world, these children soon began reading and doing math, with little to no intervention from adults. Over a hundred years of research and data from 22,000 schools around the globe has proven that the Montessori method is effective not only in producing academically stellar students, but also kind, well-rounded people and citizens.
The Sudbury Valley School was established in 1968 in Massachusetts on the premise that children who are given the responsibility for their own education will accept that responsibility, and that children who are given the same respect as adults will learn to respect everyone around them. The school has been so successful and inspirational that more than 30 schools attempting to replicate the Sudbury method have been founded, and more are founded every year.
Unschooling has a somewhat radical reputation, largely because on the surface it appears to be the poster child for all of the negative stereotypes of non-traditional schooling methods. Unschooling is based, similarly to the Montessori and Sudbury methods, on the premise that children are “natural learners.” Unschoolers often point to the fact that children, for thousands of years, learned the skills needed to operate in their culture by interacting with their culture through household jobs, family responsibilities and job training.
Those who label themselves as “unschoolers” fall into many different categories, leaving it difficult to precisely define this educational style. In some unschooling households, children receive no academic direction, nor any mandate for what they do with their time. In other households, there is direction at varying levels. The assumption is that, through every day play, home life and social life, they will learn what they need to learn. While the basic premise of this theory is sound, given psychological and historical evidence, the parent participating in unschooling has a tremendous responsibility to support, encourage and guide a child’s learning without ever actually directing it or interfering with it.
Charter and Private Schools
Despite common perceptions otherwise, most charter and private schools operate on a traditional schooling method (art and music schools being common exceptions). In these schools, children sit at desks or tables while a teacher stands at the front of the classroom and directs the children’s education. While there may be good reasons to send your child to a charter or private school, such as for religious education, they do not usually fit the definition of an “alternative schooling method.”
All of these choices can be “good” choices, depending on a family’s needs and priorities. If you’re interested in learning more, here are some useful resources:
— Joline ScottRoller is co-founder of College Colleagues LLC, an educational success center located in Middleburg Heights that provides one-to-one tutoring, special workshops, and other educational support. For more information, email [email protected] or visit www.collegecolleagues.net.