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Exploring Alternative Educational Models: What Parents Need to Know

Updated: Sep 15, 2023

Teacher doing an activity with students of microschool, Greeg Gate Children's School

Education is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. As our understanding of learning and development evolves, so too does the landscape of educational options available to parents and students. In this article, we'll explore alternative educational models, providing parents with the knowledge they need to make informed decisions about their children's education.

Article Overview

Understanding Alternative Education

Alternative education refers to teaching and learning approaches that are not from state-provided mainstream education. These models often feature innovative curricula and flexible programs tailored to individual student interests and needs. The landscape of alternative education is vast and varied, encompassing a broad range of philosophies and methodologies.

Historically, alternative models of education have coexisted with the public education system since its inception in the first half of the 19th century. These models have been developed by educators, parents, and students who sought alternatives to the state-provided education system for a variety of reasons. In fact, many of them are rooted in the values and methods parents have long used before the existence of public education.

In recent years, several teaching practices developed in alternative schools, such as student-centered and independent learning, project-based and cooperative learning, as well as authentic assessment, have influenced the culture of public education.

Exploring Different Models

Montessori Schools

Montessori School, Alternative Education

Montessori schools are based on the educational philosophy and methodology of Italian physician and educator Maria Montessori. These schools feature multi-age classrooms, student-chosen work in long time blocks, a collaborative environment with student mentors, absence of testing and grades, and individual and small group instruction in academic and social skills.

Montessori pedagogy views children as competent beings capable of self-directed learning. Learning is stimulated through a prepared

Waldorf/Steiner Schools

Waldorf Education, Steiner Education, Alternative Education

Waldorf schools, also known as Steiner schools, are based on the educational ideas of Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner. These schools aim to develop children and adolescents into free, moral, and integrated individuals by integrating practical, artistic, and intellectual approaches into the teaching of all subjects.

Waldorf education is based on seven-year developmental stages with particular perceptions of the learner. The learning environment in Waldorf schools often takes up organic shapes and forms, such as rounded walls, reflecting the broad range of creative and artistic approaches to learning.

Homeschooling and Unschooling

Students at work at microschool, Re*Wild Family Academy

Homeschooling is an alternative education model where parents or tutors educate children at home instead of sending them to traditional public or private schools. This model allows for a personalized learning experience and can be particularly beneficial for students who need a flexible schedule or a different learning environment. Parents choose the curriculum and craft a schedule that is geared more towards their child's individual needs. The pro-family nature of homeschooling is one of its strongest benefits for many people.

Unschooling, a subset of homeschooling, is a learner-centered approach that often involves community-based learning. Unschooling encourages exploration and learning through activities that interest the child, rather than following a structured curriculum.

Classical Schools

Classical schools are educational institutions that follow the principles of classical education, a model rooted in the classical civilizations of Greece and Rome. These schools emphasize the pursuit of knowledge, wisdom, and virtue through the study of the liberal arts and the great books of Western civilization. The curriculum is divided into three stages, known as the Trivium: Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric, each corresponding to specific developmental stages of a child's learning. Classical schools, which exist in various forms including private schools, charter schools, and homeschooling networks, offer a unique alternative to mainstream education, emphasizing critical thinking, eloquent expression, and the development of moral virtue.

Microschools and Learning Pods

Students learning Photography at microschool, The Studium at Northfield School

Microschools and learning pods have emerged as innovative alternatives to traditional schooling, offering a midpoint between private schools and homeschooling. These forms of "permissionless education" can be seen as a reinvention of the one-room schoolhouse, creating personalized learning experiences tailored to the individual needs of students. Often started by dissatisfied parents or former educators, these schools rethink the way education should be delivered to students. While these schools gained popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic, they address the shortcomings of the current education system and offer a more personalized approach to learning.

Hybrid schools (homeschool and microschool)

Students watching football at microschool, Green Gate Children's Schooln

Hybrid schools are gaining traction as a flexible and innovative alternative to traditional education models. These schools, which blend in-person instruction with home-based learning, offer a more personalized approach to education. Typically, students attend classes in a physical school for part of the week and learn at home for the remainder. This model provides a balance between structured learning and independent study, allowing students to take greater responsibility for their education. Hybrid schools have been particularly appealing to families seeking more affordable and flexible schooling options.

Other Models

There are numerous other alternative education models, including democratic or free schools, which are organized around the principles of autonomy and democracy. There are also models like the Dalton Laboratory Plan, which enables students to work independently on the basis of a contract.

The Benefits and Challenges of Alternative Education

Alternative education models offer several benefits. Usually, they are smaller in scale and have less bureacracy. This leads to more flexibility and freedom to focus more closely on learners' needs. They often provide a more personalized learning experience, cater to different learning styles, and foster creativity and critical thinking. These models can also promote a love of learning by allowing students to explore their interests in depth.

However, alternative education also comes with challenges. For instance, some models may not follow the traditional grading system, which could pose issues when applying to colleges or universities. Additionally, these models may require a significant time commitment from parents, particularly in the case of homeschooling or unschooling. Funding can also be a challenge for innovative education models. However, both funding and higher education are becoming more accommodating as more families become interested in alternative education models.


Choosing the right educational model for your child is a personal decision that depends on your child's learning style, interests, and needs. By understanding the various alternative education models available, parents can make informed decisions that best support their child's learning journey.

Remember, the goal of education is not just to impart knowledge, but to ignite a lifelong love of learning. Whether you choose a traditional or alternative education model, the most important thing is to create a nurturing environment where your child feels supported and inspired to learn.

If you are in the Wichita area and are looking for different education options, we have a growing directory of innovative schools and educators in the area. We invite you to explore!

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