Alternative education is a general term encompassing many different approaches to teaching and learning, differing from that of the mainstream method of teaching employed in a culture. Alternative learning environments are found within state, charter, and private schools as well as home-based learning environments.
Your nanny families may choose to investigate alternative education for a variety of reasons, sometimes they are pursuing a learning environment that mirrors their ethos and worldview more than standard public education. Sometimes the reason has more to do with their lifestyle, for instance in the case of traveling musicians the parents may be interested in developing a learning environment for their kids that allows them to travel on the road with them. High-profile families may choose to educate their children in alternative ways as a protection and extension of their own privacy.
There are multiple ways to support, nurture, and challenge kids with their educational goals outside of the typical public school. There are private schools that are founded on particular learning philosophies like Montessori, Waldorf, and Reggio-Emilia, and then there are home-based learning philosophies like Unschooling, and lastly, there’s the streamlined international curriculum of World Schools. To better understand why parents might choose to explore these educational options for their children, let’s take a moment to dig into each of these philosophies a bit deeper.
Montessori schools are a system of education for young children that seek to develop natural interests and activities rather than using formal teaching methods. Developed by physician and educator Maria Montessori, the Montessori educating style was based on teaching independence, freedom within limits, and respect for a child’s natural psychological, physical, and social development. Although a range of schools exist under the name “Montessori,” the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) and the American Montessori Society (AMS) cite these elements as essential:
- Mixed age classrooms; classrooms for children ages 2 1⁄2 or 3 to 6 years old are by far the most common, but 0-3, 6-9, 9-12, 12-15, and 15-18-year-old classrooms exist as well.
- Student choice of activity from within a prescribed range of options
- Uninterrupted blocks of work time, ideally three hours
- A constructivist or “discovery” model, where students learn concepts from working with materials, rather than by direct instruction
- Specialized educational materials developed by Montessori and her collaborators
- Freedom of movement within the classroom
- A trained Montessori teacher
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Waldorf education (also known as Steiner education), is based on the educational philosophy of Rudolf Steiner, the founder of anthroposophy. The structure of Waldorf education follows Steiner’s theory of child development which divides childhood into three developmental stages and describes learning strategies appropriate to each learning stage. These stages, each of which lasts approximately seven years, are somewhat similar to those described by clinical psychologist Jean Piaget. The main facets of Waldorf philosophy in the early childhood stages are centered on creating rhythm and predictability within the educational environment so that the school feels like a safe, comfortable extension of the home. The stated purpose of this approach is to awaken the ‘physical, behavioral, emotional, cognitive, social, and spiritual’ aspects of each individual, fostering both creative and analytic thinking. A 2005 review by the UK Department for Education and Skills found that Waldorf schools successfully develop ‘creative, social and other capabilities important to the holistic growth of the person’.
Where is the book in which the teacher can read about what teaching is? The children themselves are this book. We should not learn to teach out of any book other than the one lying open before us and consisting of the children themselves.— Rudolf Steiner, Human Values in Education
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The Reggio Emilia approach is an educational philosophy focused on preschool and primary education. It was developed after World War II by a psychologist named Loris Malaguzzi along with parents in the villages around Reggio Emilia, Italy. Following the war, people believed that children were in need of a new way of learning. The assumption of Malaguzzi and the concerned parents was that people form their own personality during early years of development and that children are endowed with ‘a hundred languages’ through which they can express their ideas. The aim of this approach is to teach young children how to use these symbolic languages (e.g., painting, sculpting, drama) in everyday life. The program is based on the principles of respect, responsibility, and community through exploration + discovery in a supportive and enriching environment, based on the interests of the children through a self-guided curriculum.
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Unschooling is an educational method and philosophy that advocates learner-chosen activities as a primary means for learning. Unschooling students learn through their natural life experiences including play, household responsibilities, personal interests and curiosity, internships and work experience, travel, books, elective classes, mentors, and social interactions. Unschooling encourages exploration of activities that are initiated by the children themselves, believing that the more personal learning is, the more meaningful, well-understood and therefore useful it is to the student. A fundamental premise of unschooling is that curiosity is innate and that children want to learn. From this an argument can be made that institutionalizing children in a so-called ‘one size fits all’ tradition school setting is an inefficient use of the children’s time, because it requires each child to learn specific subject matter in a particular manner, at a particular pace, and at a specific time – regardless of that individual’s present or future needs, interests, goals, or any pre-existing knowledge that the learner might possess about the topic. Many unschoolers believe that opportunities for valuable hands-on, community-based, spontaneous, and real-world experiences may be missed when educational opportunities are limited to those inside a traditional public school building.
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World Schools exist internationally to provide seamless education to students that are currently living outside of their home country. Many educational facilities that consider themselves a World School adhere to the curriculum and standards of the IB. Founded in 1968, the International Baccalaureate® (IB) is a non-profit educational foundation offering four highly respected programs of international education that develop the intellectual, personal, emotional and social skills needed to live, learn and work in a rapidly globalizing world. Traveling families find this option particularly attractive because their kids are able to complete their education with continuity from early childhood through high school, anywhere in the world.
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Understanding the basics of alternative education gives you some insight into why your nanny family may have chosen to pursue a particular approach. As a nanny or private educator your role is to support and further the goals of the family, including their educational aspirations, and deepening your own understanding of their chosen learning philosophy is just the beginning! To learn more, check out the sources listed below and invest some time in teaching yourself as much as possible so that you can continue to add incredible value to your nanny family.