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"Alternative schools" refers to any school that offers a curriculum, learning environment, or philosophical predisposition that diverges markedly from the mainstream. Typical examples of alternative private schools and preschools include Montessori, Waldorf, Reggio Emilia, and Arrowsmith.
Alternative schools depart from the mainstream. They offer a teaching approach, curriculum, or learning environment that differs from what you’ll find in most schools.
Some, but not all, alternative schools are part of the progressive movement in education. This movement involves different and sometimes conflicting ideas. Normally, though, it focuses on experiential learning, integrated curricula, personalized and collaborative learning, critical thinking, and problem solving, among other things.
Focus on the whole child
Specialized curricular approach
Customized support programs
Focus on the arts and creativity
There are several different kinds of private alternative schools in Canada. These schools are especially popular at the preschool and elementary level. They’re also offered in middle and high school, though.
Montessori schools: This approach is especially popular in preschool and elementary school, though it’s offered at higher levels as well. Montessori schools have lots of self-directed learning. With guidance from the teachers, kids can often choose their own work and pursue their interests and passions.
Waldorf schools: Waldorf schools don’t have a standard curriculum, one for all students. Learning is customized to the special needs of each child. These schools also focus a great deal on art and creativity, and this is infused through the whole curriculum. The goal is to promote creativity, curiosity, and imaginative learning. Moreover, most Waldorf schools delay core academics until at least grade 1, when students are developmentally ready.
International Baccalaureate (IB) schools: The IB is an advanced, university-level program offered at many schools in Canada. It’s assignments and tests are administered by an international committee. IB schools are a great option for motivated and high-achieving students. They’re offered at the primary, middle, and high school level.
Alternative schools in Canada, like other kinds of private schools, have plenty of perks. For many kids, they can be a better fit than a traditional school. Depending on your child and the type of school you choose, alternative schools can have a number of benefits.
Parents send children to alternative schools for numerous reasons. Classroom structure, educational outlook, and essentially alternative ideas about childhood development are among the most common motivators for sending a child to such a school. Some of these schools test innovative teaching strategies and programs to help them identify how children develop most effectively.
For example, Montessori schools, unlike most other types of private schools, believe that students learn best in large classes where they can educate themselves (i.e., self-exploration) and become mentors for each other. This principle has always distinguished Montessori education from the customary model of teaching.
Arrowsmith Schools focus on helping students with learning disabilities, through intensive and graduated cognitive exercises. The program presupposes the plasticity of the human brain, a concept that has gained much wider acceptance in the broader scientific community and in the public sphere.
Waldorf schools and preschools focus on hands-on activities and the stimulation provided bya a more holistic approach that downplays seat work.
Arrowsmith and Montessori (as well as, to a lesser extent, Waldorf) are examples of alternative schools that have seen their curriculum influence public education and become more widely accepted. Both progenitors of these methods (Maria Montessori and Barbara Arrowsmith) used their personal observations to see flaws in and help mold a unique alternative to mainstream schooling. Alternative schools are an important breeding ground for new ideas and approaches, although not all alternatives are as successful as these two examples.
Parents who enroll their sons or daughters in alternative private schools also have more control than they would find elsewhere. Conventional schools have fairly standard curricula and teaching strategies. Being private, alternative schools offer more control.
If your son or daughter has a high aptitude or passion in a certain discipline, some alternative schools can recognize this and help him or her develop that aptitude. Plenty of alternative schools and preschools (and daycares) combine classroom education with a particular specialty. In countless cases, parents prefer alternative schools because they allow their children to unleash their creativity which may have been stifled in another environment.
Selecting a private school usually comes down to finding the right fit. As such, private schools with clear and identifiable educational visions can help you make a choice based on concrete reasons.
Prior to making this important decision, consider some, if not all, of these key questions:
For much more detailed information about some excellent alternative private schools, visit one of Our Kids’ annual expos, read our guide to private school questions, or click on any of the links below.