Monday, July 2, 2012

Alternatives To 'Traditional" Schooling


The start of my sister's school career took place in Guam. My father was stationed there in the Navy for three years and, despite being a US territory, they 'did school' very differently from how we do it here. Instead of grouping the kids by ages the way our public schools do, they went by the students' academic and maturity levels.  For instance, my sister was in first grade by age five while there were kids who were eight years old but hadn't started yet because they couldn't be away from their mothers for the whole day. Like I said, it was very different. With all of the issues public schools are having stateside (overcrowding, lack of funding, etc), though, many parents are starting to look for alternatives to a 'traditional' education for their children. Also, some kids need an alternative because they don't learn as well in the 'usual' settings. What are these alternatives, you ask?

Our friend Jaclyn Hughes gave us a few 'talking points' regarding home school (, which is an increasingly popular idea in many parts of the country. In my area, a few families have formed a 'home school group' so that their kids can have more socialization and so the parents can share the responsibilities of teaching. This is especially helpful if you have parents with different areas of expertise!

Other alternatives to traditional schools are:
  • Charter schools. These schools still receive tax dollars, but are run by private-education firms or community groups. They still have to adhere to requirements such as No Child Left Behind, but they are able to offer a more specialized model of education and organization than your average public school. For more information about them and to find a charter school in your area, check out
  • Montessori schools. Similar to my sister's school in Guam, Montessori schools offer a more 'self-directed' style of learning. Rather than students being taught in a group, Montessori classrooms have 'hands-on' materials that allow children to learn at their own pace and in their own way. In addition to the actual academics, Montessori classrooms teach the self-discipline, concentration and motivation they may not get in 'traditional' settings. Since the kids aren't taught in groups, the teacher is able to give individualized attention and develop a lesson plan that follows each child's progress. Sometimes the students can help each other but, since it's not a competitive or 'grades-based' environment, it is much less stressful than traditional schools can be. For more information and to find a Montessori school in your area, visit
  • Online or 'Virtual' schools. You've heard of 'distance learning' or online college degrees, right? In some places, the same option is available for 'lower' education. While the ages at which this is offered differ from place to place (some are mostly for high school while others go for all grades), the students take all or most of their classes online. This works very well for students who can't go to 'physical' schools due to health problems or who need to work to help their families. While there are several different models, a 'virtual' school is very similar to a charter school in that they are still associated with the public school system but are allowed more leeway in which to operate. They are still taught by certified instructors and still meet face-to-face occasionally so parents and teachers can have more involvement. If you'd like to learn more about this option, your local school board should be able to help you.

As you can see, there are many more opportunities for students to pursue an education outside the 'traditional' system than there were when we were growing up! While every parent needs to decide for themselves what type of education is best for their children, hopefully I've given you a few places to start looking.

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