My daughter is 3 years old. She is so spirited, cannot stay at a place for more than a few seconds and is highly independent. I see her free spirit and wish I could keep her like this forever. However, she will have to start her formal schooling very soon. Which means, she would have to sit at a desk for hours, listen and respond to the teacher and do homework. All this seems too much for this tiny little girl. So I started looking for early education schools where she wouldn’t have to follow so many rules, and learn a little differently. And I was surprised to see that there are several amazing early education system and schools in the world, which provide unique learning and growth environments to preschoolers.
The alternate education methods are many but seem to have a common theme. All these approaches believe that play and learning are highly interconnected. These methods focus on child centric learning. They are individualized and led by the learner rather than the teacher. The objective of this education is to develop free, socially responsible and integrated individuals equipped with high levels of competence. Let us look at some of the alternate curriculums which exist in the world today.
Reggio Emilia approach developed by psychologist Loris Malagazzi in Italy is an innovative and inspiring approach to early childhood education. It is based on the fundamental principles that children are naturally curious and inquisitive; hence they are capable of constructing their own learning. They form an understanding of themselves and the world through their interactions with others. They learn from the environment around by investigating and exploring. Adults act as mentors and guides who join the children in their search for answers. Most importantly, this approach believes that children have a hundred languages to communicate like painting, sculpting, modeling, etc. These languages are cultivated and encouraged in order to show their understanding and express their thoughts and creativity. Much of the instruction in Reggio Emilia schools takes place in the form of projects where children have opportunities to explore, observe, hypothesize, question and discuss to clarify their understanding. An important feature here is that parents play a vital role. The principles of this approach are incorporated by the parents even at home.
Montessori is a popular early childhood education approach developed by Italian physician and education Maria Montessori. It is based on two basic principles – Children engage in self development by interacting with the environment, and that they have an innate path for psychological development. This approach believes that when children are at liberty to choose and act spontaneously, they will have optimal development. The classrooms here have children from a mixed age group, who choose activities from a prescribed range of options, work for uninterrupted blocks of time and learn concepts from playing with materials rather than direct instruction. The classrooms are equipped with specialized learning materials, and the children have the freedom to move around in the classroom. Children generally have the same teacher for multiple years, allowing close teacher – student relationships to develop.
Similar to the Montessori Method of education is the Play Way method, invented by Fredrich Froebel, a German Educator. This approach believes that the best way to learn for a child was through the medium of guided play in a friendly natural environment. This leads to learning becoming an eagerly sought after involvement on the part of the students. In the classrooms, they are taught difficult concepts through the use of specific tools which are often simple everyday objects that can be manipulated to create new objects.
Waldorf education developed by scientist and artist Rudolf Steiner is characterized by practical hands-on activities and creative play, providing children with a dependable routine, as well as mixed age classrooms with same teachers for multiple years. It is a blend of predictability and creativity for the children, because of an emphasis on learning through stories, reading, singing, acting, and so on. Interdisciplinary, experiential approach to learning for the children is fundamental here, like gardening, harvesting, cooking and selling their products to give a holistic idea about natural science, measurement, time and money. There is also an emphasis on cooperation, with the classroom setting being warm and friendly, like a home with wooden toys and natural materials. Where it differs from the other schooling methods is that it is completely non graded and non academic. That means – no homework, no desks, no tests and no use of modern media in any form. Hence there are no computers, videos, etc of any kind, instead the children spend most of their time outdoors and learn through the environment. The objective here is to equip children to learn how to think instead of being told what to think. This education system enables children to develop themselves as well rounded individuals with an innate curiosity and love for learning, so that they rely on their own inner compasses to help steer them on their individual journeys in future.
Sudbury School is a form of democratic education, where students have complete responsibility of their own education and they are treated equally with the staff with no one having an authority other than what is democratically chosen. This approach is based on the belief that children are extremely good at the main behaviors they need as adults such as creativity, imagination, alertness, curiosity, thoughtfulness, responsibility and judgment. What they lack is only experience which can be gained if guided by an adult in open ways. The underlying thought is simple – everyone is curious and the most efficient, long lasting and profound learning can take place only when started and pursued by learner. Also people are creative if allowed to express themselves, and hence freedom is essential for the development of personal responsibility. There is no fixed curriculum here, with learning guided by the interests of the students who study what they want to study. There are no classrooms, just rooms where children choose to congregate.
There are several other methods and approaches which provide education in a natural and holistic way. Other than schools, homeschooling and un-schooling are also becoming quite popular today, with many parents choosing to take on the responsibility of their children’s education themselves instead of sending them to traditional schools. In India, several options are available for parents looking at alternate schools, though not as many as is required I believe. Some of them can be found here:
I am truly inspired after learning about these alternate education systems. I hope more and more parents become aware of these curriculums so that they can choose the schooling system which would suit their children.
I would like to conclude with this thought – India has a long history of alternative schools. A few hundred years ago, Vedic and Gurukul systems of education emphasized on acquiring occupation skills, along with cultural and spiritual enlightenment. It was done in a home like environment, encouraging rational thinking and reasoning among students. It is time to get such sort of education back for our children.
About The Author:
Vidya, part time writer and dreamer, full time mother passionate about parenting and raising a happy child. Often volatile and expressive, I write my mind on my blog.