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What is Alternative Education?

Alternative education is simply education which differs from mainstream pedagogical approaches.


Mainstream schools have been described by international education advisor Sir Ken Robinson as ‘factory-style’ education: efficiently processing children in batches into labour units ready for employment, a means to an end.


Mainstream state schools deliver a curriculum with targets and expectations for children based on their age, regardless of their maturity and rate of development. It seems that the message parents get concerning the development of their babies is that they all learn to crawl, walk and talk etc. at their own pace, which is completely fine and shouldn't be hurried, yet as soon as they reach school age, children are screened and tested and labelled as failures if they are not found to be meeting 'age-related expectations'. Moreover, these assessments only focus on children's literacy and numeracy abilities, disregarding children's abilities in creative problem solving, artistic expression, social skills, tenacity, innovation, dexterity and physical aptitude. This narrow focus of school assessments forces teachers to narrow the focus of their curriculum, placing disproportionate value on literacy and numeracy. Alternative education seeks to address this imbalance.


Roughly half of all UK alternative schools are Steiner Waldorf schools. Others include Montessori schools, Forest schools and home education co-operatives.

Free Spirits Education & Childcare aims to encompass the best of all these approaches into a unique learning environment which has the capacity to evolve with the needs and wishes of its parents and pupils.

 
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What is Steiner Waldorf Education?

Steiner Waldorf education aims to provide an unhurried and creative learning environment in harmony with different phases of a child’s development. Children stay in Kindergarten until age 6 or 7.


It was founded by Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian philosopher and academic (1861-1925). Steiner's first school was for the children of the Waldorf-Astoria Company's employees, hence the term Steiner Waldorf schools.

Steiner believed that children should 'find the joy in learning and experience the richness of childhood’ based on their developmental stages, and that education should ‘strive to develop pupils’ intellectual, artistic and practical skills in an integrated and holistic manner’. He coined the term ‘anthroposophy’ which means ‘wisdom of the human’.

Key Features of Steiner Waldorf education:

  • Educating ‘hands, heart and head’

  • Respects and protects the essential nature of childhood

  • In harmony with different phases of a child’s development

  • An unhurried, unpressured environment

  • Children allowed time and space to initiate own activities

  • Peace, harmony and security

  • Children permitted to just ‘be’ without having to be busy with activities

  • Child-led creative play and self-motivated enquiry

  • No pressure to perform or compete

  • Children learn through imitation of adults’ good example

  • Learning experiences are embedded in the business of daily living

  • Domestic and creative activities are offered in an informal way

  • More similar to a home environment than a school

  • Nourishment of the senses

  • Equipped with simple, natural materials and open-ended resources

  • Rhythmical structure to the day

  • Opportunities to experience reverence, gratitude and wonder

  • Respect for each other and the environment

  • Regular stories, rhymes and songs

  • Social, emotional, cognitive, linguistic and physical skills of equal importance

  • Develops pupils’ intellectual, artistic and practical skills in an integrated, holistic and enjoyable manner

 
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What is Montessori Education?

Montessori education is based on self-directed activity, hands-on learning and collaborative play. 

It was founded by Maria Montessori, an Italian physician and educator (1870-1952) who believed that children are ‘naturally eager for knowledge and capable of initiating learning in a sufficiently supportive and well-prepared learning environment’ and should ‘develop natural interests and activities rather than use formal teaching methods’.

Unlike in a typical classroom, where teachers will have a clear plan and timetable for the day that all children are expected to follow, in Montessori schools, a range of activities is set up and children choose what they want to do, engaging with each for as little or as long as they want.

 
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What are Forest Schools?

Forest School is a child-centred learning process that offers opportunities for holistic growth through regular sessions in natural environments. Rather than an actual physical school, it is a long-term program that supports play, exploration and supported risk taking. It develops confidence and self-esteem through learner-inspired, hands-on experiences in a natural setting.

Originating from Scandinavia, the concept of ‘friluftsliv’ (free open-air life in Danish) was initially developed with under-7s. The benefits of their self-esteem, motivation and learning was soon recognised and it developed in the UK in the 1990s into what we know now as forest school. 

 

What is Home Education?

In England, the law states you must ensure your child receives a full-time education from the age of 5, but you do not have to send them to school to achieve this, or follow the national curriculum.

Families choose to home educate for a variety of reasons, including dissatisfaction with the educational options available, different religious or educational philosophies, wishing to provide more individual attention, allowing children to work at their own pace, flexibility, and to follow children's interests. Many feel that the emphasis on targets and formal learning in schools makes learning a negative, stressful experience.

Home education comes in a number of forms: homeschooling, flexischooling, worldschooling, unschooling, and education following the alternative principles mentioned above, plus the Charlotte Mason approach.

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