Opportunities for learning outside of the traditional classroom are increasing and giving rise to various alternative approaches to education.

For a start, home education (read more here) continues to grow in popularity and numbers expand daily.

But for families who prefer to use a school there are other alternatives to the traditional schools we’re most familiar with. These range from Montessori and Steiner schools which have been around for some time, to the more recent development of various small schools like Forest Schools, the latest addition to which are Beach Schools.

Montessori education, usually for the early years and primary stages, is based around the theories of Maria Montessori who developed a child-led approach to learning where the learner is involved in making decisions and choices and learning takes place through play and active, hands-on involvement. Children are encouraged to develop interests and consequently practice independence through personal decision making, choice and guidance. Teachers watch out for learning readiness in the children and use these times to develop specific skills.

Steiner Schools or Waldorf Education as it’s also referred to, are based around the philosophies of Rudolf Steiner and aim to develop intellectual, creative and practical skills in a holistic way which recognises the whole child as important, rather than focussing on academic achievement. Other particular features are the absence of regular testing, plenty of creative and physical activities and the fact that children often stay with the same teacher for several years giving stability and continuity.

Useful article here.

Forest Schools, which are more about a learning process than a method, have developed a learning approach that takes lessons out of a classroom environment into a natural or woodland one. They aim to encourage learners to develop a whole range of skills, those associated with the National Curriculum included, in a holistic way that promotes personal growth and confidence, decision making, discovery and an enjoyment of learning through a connection to the world outside. Learn more from the Forest School Association.

Beach Schools are a recent addition to this method, practicing the same outdoor learning principles in a marine environment rather than a woodland one. More here.

Both these latter approaches put into practice methods which acknowledge that when children are taken outside to learn, particularly in a natural environment, they become more engaged, receptive, confident, happy and fulfilled, losing the frustrations and tensions that often build up from being in an indoor classroom environment all day, day after day. As children lead increasingly indoor lives, the experience of being outside especially in a natural environment can be relatively new to many. It’s reported that after these outdoor experiences, when returning to indoor learning, the learners are more focussed, cooperative, calmer and attentive.

Many parents are turning to these alternatives with much success when traditional schooling fails to provide for their child’s needs, both educationally and personally.


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