Alternatives to mainstream education

Montessori education

Maria Montessori (1870-1952) was an Italian physician. After working with retarded children in a psychiatric clinic attached to the University of Rome, she applied the ideas she had developed to children in a slum district in Rome. This was the first Casa dei Bambini ("children's house"). It opened in 1907. Two years later she set out her methods and principles in a book, which was translated as The Montessori Method in 1912. With the success of her method, Dr Montessori opened more schools in Italy, in Spain, South Asia and the Netherlands. Today, schools based on her methods can be found around the world.

The movement has been particularly successful in the United States. It would be hard to say how many Montessori schools there are (and the question of whether or not a school can be called a "Montessori" school is sometimes a difficult one, since there is no legal protection on the name, and any school may call itself "Montessori"), but Montessori Connections lists 4361 US schools and 1595 international schools in its database.

An essential part of the Montessori approach is that of the 'prepared environment'. A Montessori preschool or primary/elementary classroom is immediately identifiable by its equipment, and by the fact that everything is scaled for the children. Children are given the opportunity to learn; teachers (known as directors/directresses, because they direct the children's learning) are facilitators of learning, not dictators.

Although it is the essence of the approach that children learn when they are ready, the design of the environment and the program is such that Montessori students usually learn skills such as reading, writing, mathematics, at an earlier age than usual.

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For more about Montessori:

International Montessori Index

the official international Montessori site.

Montessori Connections

good site for content - a series of articles about the Montessori method; database of Montessori schools; resources for teachers and parents; discussion boards.

Montessori Online

LOTS of articles here.

American Montessori Society

the official site of the American Montessori Society. More for teachers and parents involved in setting up a Montessori school in the US.

Suzuki approach to music

Shin'ichi Suzuki (1898-1998) founded the Talent Education Institute in 1950. The son of a violin maker, and a violinist himself, his teaching methods were originally used to teach violin to children, and his name and method are still predominantly associated with the violin. However, the method has since been adapted to other instruments.

Although most people know the method by the name of the man who invented it, Suzuki himself called it Talent Education, and many of the institutions around the world bear this name. The term "Talent Education" reflects Suzuki's belief that

"Good talent always grows where good method and good efforts are present"

The Suzuki method has been extremely successful in teaching music to young children, and teachers can be found around the globe.

The Suzuki approach to music has some commonalities with the Montessori approach, and many Montessori parents are also Suzuki parents (like me!). For some comments on these, go to my article on Suzuki & Montessori

For more about Suzuki education:

Suzuki method

an article about the Suzuki method from the website of a Suzuki piano teacher

Suzuki Association of the Americas

mainly useful if you live in the American continent and wish to join the Association, but there is an article on the History of the Suzuki method which may be of interest.

European Suzuki Association

there are links here to individual European Suzuki associations

And here's an amazing thing: actual archival videos of the famous violin teacher Shinichi Suzuki giving lectures and master classes: http://digicoll.library.wisc.edu/Arts/subcollections/SuzukiAbout.html

 

Waldorf or Steiner schools

Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) opened the first "Steiner" school in 1919, in Stuttgart, Germany. This was a school for the children of employees of the Waldorf Astoria cigarette factory, hence the name "Waldorf" schools. According to the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America, there are now over 800 Waldorf schools in over 40 countries, and over 50 full-time Waldorf teacher-training institutes. (according to the Macmillan Encyclopedia 2001 there are "over 70" schools worldwide, but this seems to me a wild underestimate, since the AWSNA lists some 136 affiliated schools in the US alone).

Steiner was an Austrian philosopher. His career as a natural historian ended when he became involved with the theosophist movement. Eventually he broke with this movement and started his own school of "anthroposophy".

Theosophy ("divine wisdom") borrowed heavily from eastern religions, claiming man could only know God through direct experience, through mysticism, meditation, occult practices, etc.

Anthroposophy ("people wisdom") holds that the key to an understanding of the cosmos exists in man himself and that man's spiritual development has been held back by his too-deep focus on the material world.

Steiner schools aim to develop the child's whole personality. Like Montessori, Steiner education is "child-centered", but where Montessori places a deep emphasis on practical skills and concrete experience, Steiner emphasizes play and creative activity. The world of the imagination is very important in Steiner education, and stories, myth and folktales are an important part of the curriculum.

For more about Steiner education:

AWSNA

there's not a lot of content, but it does have links to affiliated schools in North America, and some brief articles about Waldorf education; I recommend going straight to the site map, navigation around the site isn't overly clear

Directory for Latin America

for a list of Waldorf schools in Latin America

Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship

for schools in the UK and Eire

Christchurch Rudolf Steiner School

has more detail on the Steiner program, as well as links to international directories, and a list of NZ Steiner schools

Steiner Schools in Australia

for more details on Steiner education (probably the best informational content of the Steiner websites I've seen), as well as a list of Steiner schools in Australia

An article about Waldorf education:

http://www.theatlantic.com/issues/99sep/9909waldorf.htm

"Alternative" schools

Montessori and Steiner are the two "alternative" educational philosophies that have achieved widespread success. Montessori in particular, has almost reached mainstream status in some countries. To look at some other "alternative" schools see the Indigo Schools site, and AERO (Alternative Education Resource Organization), which has links to a number of "alternative" schools.

Homeschooling

Growing numbers of parents all over the world are choosing to educate their children at home.

The National Home Education Research Institute is an American non-profit organization which exists to carry out and collect research into home education, and to educate the public about home schooling.

About Homeschooling is a good place to start, with lots of links.

For a perspective of why parents might choose to homeschool see this article in Father & Child

New Zealand

In NZ, some 5055 children (from 2854 families) were being educated at home in 1998, compared to some 206 children thirteen years earlier. The Education Review Office reviewed the quality of homeschool programs in 1998 and you can read their findings here. In general, their findings were favorable.