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Choosing a school for an independent learner

Exploring an independent learner's school fit


Kids vary widely in their learning preferences. Don’t underestimate the importance of your child’s learning preferences on school choice: it can significantly affect the kind of learning environment, and hence school, that’s right for them.

Independent learners often prefer to work on their own. They tend to enjoy individualized, student-focused learning, with lots of opportunities to explore their interests in class and out.

Below, we identify key points you should reflect on when considering 10 different school types for an independent learner. Note: our aim isn’t to tell you whether a school type is right or wrong for you, but to highlight some critical factors you should consider when making your decision.

To learn about how to choose the right school in general, read the Our Kids’ step-by-step advice guide and our expert tips. To get school-choice advice customized to your child's unique traits, create a child profile through your user account


Independent learners’ fit in 10 school types

On this page:


School size
  • Small school (150 students or less)
  • Big school (151+ students)

  • Gender
  • Coed school
  • Girls' school
  • Boys' school

  • Curriculum
  • Montessori school
  • International Baccalaureate school
  • Reggio Emilia school
  • Language immersion school

  • Living arrangements
  • Boarding school

  • School size

    Small school (150 students or less)

    Small schools often have smaller classes with plenty of individualized learning, which can give independent learners the freedom to pursue their interests and explore their passions. It’s also often easier for smaller schools to set up classes of special interest, such as evolutionary biology or musical theory.

    Small schools tend to have fewer extracurriculars and supplemental learning options than bigger schools. Ask what’s available, focusing specifically on your child’s areas of interest. For instance, if they’re eager to work on their painting skills, find out whether an after school or lunch program is offered and whether your child is eligible for it.

    Big school (151+ students)

    Make sure a big school offers your child plenty of independent learning opportunities. Ideally, it will have some smaller classes with individualized teaching and learning, giving your child more flexibility to pursue their interests and develop their skills. With more classes and student cohorts, big schools can often accommodate a wide range of learning styles, including independent learning. Some also offer greater access to guidance and resources to help students subject choices and independent pursuits.

    Since big schools have larger student populations, they often have more extracurriculars and after-school programs. Whether it’s art, STEM, or coding, your child will have more opportunities to continue their unique learning path outside of class.

    Finally, “If your independent learner is a competitive student who likes to measure themselves against their peers, they’re more likely to find this in a big school,” says Janyce Lastman, Director of The Tutor Group. “Since they have diverse student bodies, it will be easier for your child to find peers with high academic aspirations to compete with.”


    Gender

    Coed school

    Many coed schools have student-centered classrooms offering plenty of independent learning opportunities. This will vary, however, between schools and sometimes even among classes within the same school. Ask directors and staff about their curricular approaches to determine whether your child is likely to be a good fit.

    You should also look into a coed school’s extracurriculars and supplementals. These can be great ways for your child to explore their learning interests and develop their skills outside of class.

    Girls' school

    Girls’ schools vary in their emphasis on independent learning. Some have a student-focused learning model, which gives girls plenty of opportunities to pursue their specific interests. Others prioritize conventional teaching and learning, with more teacher-led instruction. Yet others offer a highly interactive, collaborative learning environment, with less independent learning.

    Most girls-only schools recognize that learning styles differ widely, even within a single gender.

    Ask a school how it meets the learning needs of girls, and how it will meet your daughter’s needs. Don’t be afraid to be specific: For instance, “I have a daughter with ADHD who likes to do things her way. What strategies will you use to teach her math?”

    Boys' school

    Boys’ schools vary in their emphasis on independent learning. Some prioritize student-focused learning, which gives boys plenty of opportunities to pursue their interests. Others offer a more conventional approach, with more teacher-led instruction and lots of textbook learning. Yet others feature experiential learning—which can be collaborative or independent. 

    Most boys-only schools recognize that learning styles differ widely, even within a single gender. Ask how a school meets the learning needs of boys, and how it will meet your son’s needs. Don’t be afraid to get specific: For instance, “I have a distractible son who enjoys language arts activities. How will you teach him creative writing?”


    Curriculum

    Montessori school

    Montessori schools offer highly individualized learning, allowing your child to move through the curriculum at their own pace and focus on areas of interest (with teacher guidance), which independent learners love. Also, during two-hour-plus uninterrupted work periods, they’ll work independently on their own tasks, which can boost their engagement and foster a love of learning. One more benefit: in a Montessori classroom, your child will sometimes work in small groups with kids of different ages, where they can learn from and teach their peers. This can help them become more confident, develop critical social skills, and, if they’re on the shy side, come out of their shell. 

    That said, “Ensure any prospective school doesn’t allow students to focus on specific subjects to the detriment of others—e.g., focusing on geography, say, disproportionately, while leaving other academic areas by the wayside,” says Una Malcolm, Director of Bright Light Learners.

    International Baccalaureate school

    IB programmes, from the primary years (PYP) to the high school years (DP), offer lots of group work, projects, and activities. This can be challenging at times for kids who prefer to work independently, completing tasks by themselves or in their own way. On the other hand, “Collaborative endeavours can be valuable learning experiences for kids who might otherwise avoid such tasks,” says Joanne Foster, education consultant and author of ABCs of Raising Smarter Kids. Since different IB schools are run in different ways, talk to school directors and staff to gauge whether your child is likely to be a good fit.

    Reggio Emilia school

    Reggio Emilia schools have a child-focused, individualized learning approach, which gives kids the freedom to pursue activities and tasks of interest. Also, “These schools strongly encourage students to express themselves and their ideas through a wide variety of media,” says Stacey Jacobs, Director of Clear Path Educational Consulting. This is a great way to cultivate independent thinking and learning.

    Since Reggio Emilia schools also prioritize group learning, ensure a school provides enough time for your child to work on their own. And more generally, make sure it offers them the right overall learning environment: for instance, if they’re likely to benefit from science enrichment opportunities, confirm these are provided.

    Language immersion school

    “Independent learners prefer more scope for working on their own than language immersion schools sometimes allow,” says Dona Matthews, education consultant and co-author (with Joanne Foster) of Beyond Intelligence. “For these kids, the best schools are often those that are flexible enough to give them the time and energy to pursue their interests both in and out of school. The added challenges provided by second-language learning can sometimes interfere with this goal and hinder a child’s academic development.”

    That said, independent learners who enjoy and are good at the language arts often welcome the challenge of learning in a different language. If they’re hard workers who enjoy academics, a language immersion school can sometimes be a good fit. “It can also sometimes lead to interesting and gratifying learning experiences where kids get to use and practice an acquired language in different contexts,” says Foster.


    Living arrangements

    Boarding school

    If you’re considering a boarding school for your independent learner, make sure they’ll have ample opportunity to explore their passions. Often, small- to medium-sized classes with plenty of individualized learning work well, since they give your child the freedom to pursue unique learning pathways. Ask a school about its class sizes, teaching approach, and curriculum, to ensure it’s the right fit.

    With larger student populations, boarding schools often have more extracurriculars and supplemental learning options. Find out what’s available, focusing especially on your child’s areas of interest: for instance, if they love robotics, ask whether the school offers such a program. 

    Also, “If your independent learner is a competitive student who likes to measure themselves against their peers, they’re more likely to find this in a boarding school,” says Janyce Lastman, Director of The Tutor Group. ““Since they have diverse student bodies, it will be easier for your child to find academically-focused peers to compete with.”

    Finally, “Boarding schools also promote self-reliance and resourcefulness since students live away from home, and these are valuable attributes for independent learners and other kids to have,” says Joanne Foster, education consultant and author of ABCs of Raising Smarter Kids.


    Independent learners’ school fit: key take-homes

    • Make sure big schools have some smaller classes with individualized teaching and learning, giving your child more flexibility to pursue their interests. Small schools often have smaller classes with plenty of individualized learning, which can give independent learners the freedom to explore their passions.
    • Coed and single-gender schools vary in how much independent learning they offer.
    • Montessori schools offer highly individualized learning, allowing your child to move through the curriculum at their own pace and focus on areas of interest (with teacher guidance), which independent learners love. 
    • Reggio Emilia schools have a child-focused, individualized learning approach, which gives kids the freedom to pursue activities and tasks of interest. Since they also prioritize group learning, ensure a school provides enough time for your child to work on their own.
    • IB programmes, from the primary years (PYP) to the high school years (DP), offer lots of group work, projects, and activities. This can be challenging at times for kids who prefer to work independently, completing tasks by themselves or in their own way.
    • “Independent learners prefer more scope for working on their own than language immersion schools sometimes allow,” says Dona Matthews, education consultant and co-author (with Joanne Foster) of Beyond Intelligence. “For these kids, the best schools are often those that are flexible enough to give them the time and energy to pursue their interests both in and out of school.
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