Alternative Teaching Methods
When you hear the words ‘alternative education’, your brain most likely goes straight to homeschooling. It makes sense; homeschooling has always been a very popular alternative to mainstream education. And, what with the collective trip down the homeschooling route that was temporarily imposed on us not so long ago by Covid-19, parents and students have become that bit more acquainted with what it means to take education outside the classroom and explore the other options that exist.
However, between mainstream teaching and homeschooling, a plethora of theories, practices and beliefs exist regarding the all important question of how (and what) to teach our children. Over the last twenty years, with the digital revolution having transformed our access to information, these theories have gained extra momentum, opening the educational sphere up to debate like never before. We’ve compiled a list of the top five that we feel are the most exciting, some well known, others just beginning to find their tribe.
The Montessori Method
The Montessori Method is one of the most popular alternative teaching approaches out there. It’s all about allowing children to seek out their own opportunities for learning. While teachers are present as guides, their presence is not an authoritative one but a curious and supportive one as they are asked to follow their students’ lead.
This approach moves away from traditional lesson structure and allows children to spend large stretches of time engaging in uninterrupted learning. It also avoids separating children by age in the way mainstream schools do; children in a Montessori setting may be up to three years older or younger than their classmates. Montessori alumni include Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos, and Google co-founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin.
The Reggio Emilia approach
The Reggio Emilia approach is used in early childhood education and, like the Montessori method, allows children to set their own paths for their learning. It’s based on democratic and collaborative principles, meaning there is no set curriculum; instead what is taught is decided upon through discussions with parents and children. This approach embraces the use of many different media - from print to art to music - and places a strong emphasis on collaboration. Children are asked to work in groups, both big and small, in order to solve problems and develop their social skills.
Rudolf Steiner, founder of the Waldorf Method, believed that, during the first seven years of a child’s life, play, instead of academic learning, should be their focus. This would allow them to develop their sensory relationship with the world around them, including a connection to the environment.
The next seven years would be concentrated primarily on creativity, allowing a more academic approach to start taking hold from the age of 14. Currently around 800 schools throughout the world implement Steiner’s principles, 31 of which are in the UK. They are known as Steiner Schools.
The Amara Berri System
The Amara Berri system focuses on learning through real-world channels. It moves away from the abstraction that is so present in mainstream education in favour of utilising everyday situations to help students gain a full, contextualised understanding of what they are being taught. For example, Maths teaching will involve shop scenarios or perhaps imagining that they are taking out a bank loan.
The idea behind this method is to impart skills that will allow students to thrive in the real world and level the playing field by equipping everyone with the same fundamental knowledge necessary to succeed in our modern society.
Begun in Scandinavia, The Forest School Association places emphasis on allowing children to build a relationship with the outdoors and thus develop their problem-solving skills and ability to take smart risks. It’s part of a wider outdoor learning movement in which students are often taught survival skills and how to connect with nature in its purest form. The pioneers of this approach believe it allows students to be nurtured not only intellectually but also emotionally and physically, with the optimisation of their long-term mental health being placed firmly at the centre of their aims.
An educational revolution?
Each of these approaches is interesting in its own way and even if teachers/parents may not be ready to adopt them in full, it is possible to learn from their basic principles. While they may diverge in their details, what they have in common is a strong faith in children and their capacity for curiosity. This belief that working with children rather than against them is what unlocks their abilities has a lot of potential to help teachers expand their thinking in areas such as classroom management and inter-student dynamics.
By simply exploring these methods, we are being asked to approach the educational space differently. Whether or not we agree wholeheartedly with the philosophies behind them, it’s important that we never stand still in the sifting of ideas on how to teach and learn. A constant exchange of theories and possibilities might just be the key to ensuring that the incoming generation produces a culture of curious, compassionate and independent-minded adults.
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