I’ve been going on and on about the evils associated with conventional schooling, but haven’t offered any concrete alternatives yet. How about I do that.
Oh, and if you think that conventional school is your ONLY option because you’re a single parent, short on time and resources, think again. I’ve been a single parent, so I have some special ideas for you – I’ve posted those at the end of this post.
Unschooling or very loose homeschooling at home:
Personally I’ve seen homeschooled kids that go through the same icky stuff that kids in conventional schools go through. If you homeschool with tests, set curriculum and forced learning, it’s really not any different than how the average school functions. That said, I’ve seen families who say they homeschool, but actually unschool. The title doesn’t matter, it’s what you do that matters.
As I said in a previous post, unschooling is a big old topic; way too involved for a post (or really too involved for even fifty posts) so if you’re interested you can visit Radical Unschooling. In the smallest nutshell I can offer, Mary Griffith, author of The Unschooling Handbook sums up unschooling as a, “Matter of attitude and approach that allows for everyone, adults and children alike to be in charge of their own education.”
Opinions vary about what unschooling means or should be, but most unschoolers I know have many of the same common beliefs and ideas, such as…
- Humans are born naturally curious and a healthy child who is given a rich environment and positive attention will use their curiosity to learn what they need to know.
- It’s unnecessary for children to learn certain things such as cursive or fractions at a specific age and in a set chronological order – this is an idea that society has simply arbitrarily constructed.
- All people are individuals and will learn when they are ready; such as some kids learn to read at four, some at eight, etc.
Cons of unschooling and homeschooling can include serious legal matters to sort through, family and friends thinking you’re nuts, and it can be hard to afford and find time for if you’re a single parent or if both parents work.
Free Schools or Free Democracy Schools:
The details of what a school is officially called matters little. What’s important is how the school functions. In general, a decent school of this sort functions under an unschool philosophy where they believe children deserve a voice, choices and autonomy.
My son’s Free School follows a system I’m comfortable with – I usually sum it up as unschooling, at an actual school. That’s my fast answer though. In depth, Cedar’s school doesn’t have grades, forced classes or major age separation. They offer space for kids aged 5-18 I believe, and there are three main rooms; a young child’s room, an older child’s room and a teen room, but kids pretty much mill about where they feel like being. There are not teachers in a conventional sense, but there are knowledgeable and helpful staff who guide, teach and hang out with the kids. Explaining a Free School takes a lot of time.
Cons of free schools include limited availability of free schools across the country, a higher cost to parents (although many free schools offset those costs if parents volunteer) and they’re not for everyone. You really need to believe that your child is entitled to choices, respect and responsibility or a free school won’t work for your family.
Cottage or co-op schools:
Like any school, cottage schools or school resource centers started by parents, vary. I personally know very little about starting a co-op school, and I’m sure some might follow too schoolish of a format for my taste, but if you get a like-minded group together, I can see how this might work well, especially for single parents.
Online schooling or mixed online/resource center schooling:
Online schooling is still school, but at least it gets rid of a lot of the little school annoyances like desks and bells. Many areas have online school programs for older kids, but I haven’t seen any for kids below the high school level. I have seen some mixed school deals though, such as your child does some school at home and some at school. I haven’t looked into any of these options much.
While I do consider distance programs a bit better than attending a real school, these options are still school, which we don’t do. You can learn more via the links at A to Z Home’s Cool Homeschooling.
Oddly, charter schools often pop up as an alternative to school. That’s a myth. In reality, a charter school simply has a focus, such as science, language or arts.
Charter schools are an alternative to other conventional schools, like public or private, but charters are still state-run. Kids still have standardized tests, a set curriculum and all the other nonsense that goes along with school.
For older kids:
Anyone can drop out of school at any age and they’ll be just fine. However, teens who are sick of school have some other options too, such as getting a GED, attending college or getting a job. Of course, you don’t have to do any of this. You could just live and learn for a while on your own terms.
Your own way:
You can mix and match what works best for you. For example, some unschoolers don’t consider my family unschoolers anymore because Cedar attends a Free School. I don’t really care what those unschoolers think though. In my opinion you can unschool and Free School mix. That works for us. You can call what you’re doing whatever you like. You can mix and match options above. You need to find what works for you.
The point is to eliminate all that icky stuff schools have in mind like label, tests, forced teaching of topics, mean teachers and so on, while guiding your children to learn and live creatively and happily.
A note for single parents:
Making sure your child gets to live and learn freely, without school can seen impossibly hard when you’re a single parent. Here are some helpful tips.
- Free Schools are a great option: When I lived with my son’s dad, we unschooled Cedar at home. As a single parent, unschooling FT was near impossible when mixed with my work schedule. I consider us very lucky to have found a school that works for us. A school that helps Cedar learn on his terms. With that in mind, a Free School is an excellent option for a single parent sick of school shenanigans. That said, Free Schools are few and far between. Check Google for “Free School [insert your area]” or “Free Democracy School [insert your area].” You may also be able to find a school at IDEA: The Institute for Democratic Education in America or at Alternative Education Resource Organization.
- If you’d like to unschool, you can share a dwelling with another unschooling family or parent. This helps cut costs and saves time – parents can share in hang time with the kids. You can try to work at home, although real work at home jobs are few and far between. You can also, although I don’t recommend it, try a weird work schedule, like working graveyard and hanging with your kid during the day. Sleep becomes a major issue though.
- If you have an older child, you can help them find a good safe schedule, such as an apprenticeship, some outside classes or just learning on their own, with your help when you’re not at work. So long as your child is old enough to be home alone, you don’t have to be there every second, if you pull him from school.
- You can work out a schedule with your child’s other parent. For example, for a while, I’d work long weekends and my son’s dad would work weekdays. We’d alternate who had Cedar according to the work schedules, thus keeping Cedar out of school.
It’s extremely hard to avoid school if you’re single, but with some creativity, it can be done. I’ve done it for years and I know many other parents who have too. It’s not ideal, but in my opinion, it’s better than conventional school.
Do you have any other suggestions for alternatives to conventional schooling?