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Choosing a school for a less academically-focused child

Exploring a less academically-focused child's school fit


Kids vary widely in how academically-focused or oriented they are: while some are highly focused on school and academic achievement, others aren’t. Don’t underestimate the importance of your child’s academic focus on school choice: it can hugely impact the kind of school that’s right for them. 

Less academically-focused kids aren’t especially keen on learning or focused on school. Academic achievement isn’t a major goal for them: they’re not obsessed with grades or how they compare with their peers.

Below, we identify key points you should reflect on when considering 10 different school types for your less academically-focused child. 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


Less academically-focused kids’ 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
  • Reggio Emilia school
  • International Baccalaureate school
  • Language immersion school

  • Living arrangements
  • Boarding school

  • School size

    Small school (150 students or less)

    Smaller schools with small classrooms often provide more personalized attention and one-and-one support, which often helps less academically-focused kids engage with their work more fully. Since they’re conducive to group work, these classes tend to be more interactive and stimulating.

    Just make sure a school provides your child with plenty of opportunities to pursue their passions outside of class—something not all small schools offer. “Research shows that when students have something to look forward to after school, they’re often more motivated and focused during the day,” says Janyce Lastman, Director of The Tutor Group. “This can really help them renew their energy and recharge their batteries.”

    Also, keep in mind the law of diminishing returns regarding class size. While a class of 12 or 15 students can boost engagement, a class of 4 or 5 can reduce it, since there are too few voices and perspectives to generate much meaningful interaction and discussion.

    Big school (151+ students)

    If you’re considering a big school for a less academically-focused child, look into its classroom sizes and teaching and learning approach. Smaller classrooms with plenty of individualized learning and one-on-one support can help kids really engage with their school work, regardless of their level of academic interest.

    Bigger schools normally have a wide range of specialist subjects to choose from, which can help your child pursue an interest or develop a new one. Just make sure your child will be able to register for their desired courses in a big school, since sometimes logistical issues—such as scheduling and timetables—make it challenging for these schools to run some courses or for your child to enrol in them.


    Gender

    Coed school

    Coed schools require your child to negotiate the complexities of boy-girl interactions. While most kids manage this well, this can sometimes be a challenge, especially for less academically-focused kids. Ask a school about its student culture and social support systems to ensure your child is a good fit.

    Of course, by going to a coed school, your child will enjoy a wider range of social experiences: they’ll have the opportunity to learn from the perspectives of both boys and girls. As one parent told us: “My son really enjoyed spending time and making friends with boys and girls, which he rarely did outside of class. He also learned a lot about how girls and boys sometimes react differently in certain situations.”

    Girls' school

    In a girls-only school, your daughter can focus on her studies without having to negotiate the complexities of a boy-girl environment. Since boy-girl relations can be a distraction, this can help your less academically-focused daughter focus more attentively on her school work. Also, “Confidence and self-esteem can be significant benefits of girls’ schools,” says Una Malcolm, Director of Bright Light Learners. “A girls’ school may promote a sense of security and comfort, which can allow girls to feel confident in their learning environment and more comfortable taking an academic risk.”

    Of course, since your daughter won’t be learning with boys, aim to give her many opportunities to interact with them outside of school, so she can gain a broader scope of social experiences, where she’ll learn from the perspective of girls and boys.

    Boys' school

    Since they often cater to active boys, boys’ schools tend to provide plenty of time for your son to stretch his legs, move around, and get physical. This can be a big perk for less academically-focused boys who have lots of energy. “In an all-boys environment, boys learn to harness their energy in appropriate social ways, which can serve them well in the schoolyard, classroom, and beyond,” say Ann and Karen Wolff of Wolff Educational Services. Also, many boys' schools have a special focus on group and experiential learning, which many boys find engaging and motivating. 

    To help determine whether a particular boys’ school is the right fit for your son, look into its approach to social and personal development and boys’ education. For instance, ask: how do you encourage boys to become more responsible and accountable? And, how do you help boys with their organizational skills?


    Curriculum

    Montessori school

    Montessori schools offer highly individualized learning, allowing your child to work at their own pace and choose tasks of interest, with teacher guidance. This can help motivate and inspire them, and cultivate a love of learning.

    That said, since some less academically-focused kids may find it difficult to work independently for two or more consecutive hours each day, during Montessori schools’ uninterrupted work periods, carefully weigh the pros and cons of this learning environment for your child.

    Finally, if you’re considering a Montessori school for a child with less interest in academics, make sure to look into the amount of unstructured social time it provides. Some Montessori schools don’t have recess, and may limit free time, which is often when kids get their most stimulation. This is especially important if your child is social, energetic, and enjoys physical activities.

    Reggio Emilia school

    In Reggio Emilia schools, teachers consider each child’s relationship with one another and aim to promote positive connections between them, which can help many kids engage with the curriculum, including less academically-focused ones. The warm, community feel of the Reggio classroom—which is set up to promote lots of interaction—can help your child feel invigorated, focus on their work, and develop a love of learning

    Just make sure any Reggio school isn’t too stimulating: know your child and how much stimulation they can handle. And more generally, make sure the school provides the right overall learning environment for your less academically-focused child: for instance, if they’re likely to benefit from plenty of individualized learning and one-on-one support, ensure this is provided.

    International Baccalaureate school

    The IB programme’s high-level academics and heavy workload can be a tall test for less academically-focused kids. Some of these kids may also need more individualized learning and one-on-one support than some IB schools offer. Of course, “Since different IB schools have different teaching and learning approaches,” says Dona Matthews, Toronto-based education consultant and co-author (with Joanne Foster) of Beyond Intelligence, “talk to IB school directors and staff to determine whether a particular school offers the right academic setting for your child.”

    That said, many kids, including less academically-focused ones, find the IB’s heavy focus on social and collaborative learning engaging. This can inspire a love of learning and sometimes begin to unleash a child's academic potential. 

    Language immersion school

    If you’re considering a language immersion school for your less academically-focused child, ensure it offers plenty of individualized learning and one-on-one support. Since they require students to learn all or most of their subjects in a second language, these schools can sometimes be burdensome for kids who are less interested in academics. This is especially true if they struggle with language learning.

    That said, if your child enjoys and excels at language learning, a language immersion school can help improve their academic focus and inspire a love of learning. Talk to school directors, education consultants, and others in the know to help gauge whether your child is likely to be a good fit.


    Living arrangements

    Boarding school

    Many less academically-focused kids enjoy the vibrant community of boarding schools. They’ll be able to interact with a large and diverse student body and participate in a wide range of extracurricular activities, which can help them become more well-rounded.

    Just make sure a school’s teaching and learning approach is suitable for your child. “For instance, say your child can benefit from extra individualized attention and one-on-one support,” say Ann and Karen Wolff of Wolff Educational Services. “You’ll want to make sure a school provides these things, and implements whatever other in-class practices suit their academic abilities and learning needs.”


    Less academically-focused kids’ school fit: key take-homes

    • Smaller schools with small classrooms offer plenty of individualized learning and one-on-one support, which can help less academically-focused kids really engage with their work. “Big schools”, though, “normally have a wider range of extracurriculars, which can help your child recharge their batteries and stay focused during the school day,” says Janyce Lastman, Toronto-based education consultant.

    • Coed schools offer less academically-focused kids a broader scope of social experiences, where they can learn from the perspectives of both genders. Single-sex schools, meanwhile, can allow your son or daughter to develop their identity, confidence, and self-esteem in a lower-stakes and less pressurized environment.

    • Montessori schools offer highly individualized learning, allowing your child to work at their own pace and choose tasks of interest, with teacher guidance. This can help motivate and inspire them, and cultivate a love of learning. 

    • The demanding curriculum of International Baccalaureate (IB) schools can be a tall test for kids less interested in academics, but “since different IB schools have different approaches and standards,” says Toronto-based education consultant Dona Matthews, “talk to school directors to gauge whether a particular school is likely to be the right fit for your child.” 

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