Do you or your child wake up every weekday morning dreading the school day? Are you experiencing nightly homework battles? Does the relief that the weekend brings end all too quickly?
There are many reasons that your child might be experiencing a toxic relationship with “school!” Which of the following school struggles are negatively impacting your family?
- Bullying from peers
- Lack of social connection at school
- Problems with teacher(s)
- Material too easy, too challenging, or too boring
- Teaching methodology poorly aligned with learning style
- School day starts too early and/or is too long
- Too much homework or homework takes too long
- Learning disabilities are not being properly supported or addressed
Any and all of these possibilities can make school, which consumes a great deal of most children’s lives for 13 years, miserable for both parents and kids. It’s a sad state of affairs that, after the early years, more and more kids claim to “hate” school each year of their education. Think of the percentage of kindergarteners who will say they hate school compared to the percentage of eighth graders! Why is school getting less and less engaging, and more and more stressful for children as years go by? More importantly, why are we forcing them into this miserable experience for so much of their lives?
For many parents, we are simply programmed to think that traditional school is the ONLY way to do things. But this is so far from the truth! As parents everywhere have discovered, non-traditional learning environments can do wonders for your children’s relationship with their education. Right now, your child may be in the midst of a toxic relationship with school and, unfortunately, this may spill over to feelings of frustration with anything even remotely related to education or learning! But there are many alternatives available.
One of the first steps parents take when they see that their children are miserable in school is to try to work within the system. They talk to the teacher, they try to facilitate relationships with peers, they try to get some sort of intervention from the administration. This puts a lot of pressure on parents, who must step in and advocate for their kids each time a problem arises, and it may work in the short term. This parental intervention may even be fully sufficient for those students who are able to thrive within the traditional system with just a few minor tweaks. This will not be sufficient for those children who do not thrive within this system of education or for those children whose parents see a broken system and are unwilling to damage their kids in order to force fit them into such a system!
But, if you, as a parent, are ready to be done with this system, what are your options?
Alternative Public Schools
Many alternative public schools, such as magnet and charter schools, will follow a similar format to traditional public and private schools. There will likely be specific subjects during specific times of day, multiple teachers with different rules and expectations, required classes, state testing, and lots of homework. However, there are some reasons why an alternative public school might be a good option for a family that has become disenchanted with the traditional public or private school system. These alternative public schools often have more flexibility in their focus and their offerings. Parents might find a school with a mission or values that align closely with their own. They may also find a magnet or charter school with a focus that closely aligns with their child’s interests such as STEM, performing arts, agriculture, computer engineering, or athletics. A shift to an environment that provides stimulating classes and proximity to like-minded peers may be just the change needed to mend your child’s relationship with their education!
Alternative Private Schools
Many traditional private schools can offer positive changes from a traditional public school setting in that there is often a lower student to teacher ratio. This can be helpful in situations where a parent feels their child’s needs more individualized attention than can be found in a large classroom setting. As with alternative public schools, parents can look at enrolling their children in private schools that align with their values or include course offerings and extracurricular activities that match their child’s interests. However, again, in these situations many of the same expectations that can be found in traditional public schools will be present, such as homework, testing, and different teachers with different beliefs, methods, and approaches to learning. Even more discouraging, a lower student to teacher ratio alone is not going to be the best solution for a family or a student who is dealing with a learning challenge. Teachers in private schools may often be even less prepared to accommodate and address learning disabilities than their public school counterparts. Where a real difference shows up is in alternative private schools such as Montessori schools or Waldorf schools.
These types of private schools usually approach education from a very unique standpoint, and classrooms in these schools often look very different in ways that can be quite appealing- child-sized furniture, tools and materials meant to teach life skills, no desks, no homework, and a natural flow between activities. This environment might offer just the type of change a parent is looking for when they are ready to build a better relationship between their child and their education!
Parents should be cautious, however, and be aware of the fact that there is little oversight when it comes to a school calling itself a Montessori or a Waldorf school. Therefore they should look closely at each individual school to determine the extent to which it aligns with the philosophy and methodology that they are seeking. Furthermore, as in traditional private schools, teachers in many alternative private schools are often ill-equipped to identify and address learning disabilities, and they may not provide enough structure for children who need behavioral or emotional support.
For parents who want an alternative learning environment for their children that cannot be found through either of the previous means, hiring a private instructor may be the way to go. This choice is probably best for families who have the means and do not have the desire, or do not feel equipped, to homeschool. Outside of homeschooling, this option offers families the most control over the type of education that their child is getting. Private instruction may take the form of a small, coordinated learning pod led by one or more educators, or it may take the form of a private tutor or teacher engaged specifically for your family to teach one or more children in your registered “homeschool.” In a situation such as this, parents are likely to have the most confidence that their desires will be incorporated, their concerns will be heard, and their child’s learning needs will be addressed. The challenge, of course, is finding the right instructor or instructors for your children, but if you have the time, space, and the resources to invest in private instruction, the payoff can be significant!
Finally, many parents who see the challenges that their children are facing in traditional school environments simply opt to homeschool. While the rewards of homeschooling can be great, it can take a significant investment of time as you, the parent or guardian, sets goals, learns about your child’s needs, chooses learning activities, and supports the academic, emotional, and behavioral growth of your child.
Homeschooling can take many different forms, including learning through travel while roadschooling or worldschooling! At one end of the spectrum, unschooling is entirely child directed in terms of daily schedule and activities, and at the other end, school-at-home looks a lot like school-at-school, but with a parent as the teacher. If a child has just left a toxic learning environment where they were bullied, stressed, overwhelmed, or bored to tears, many parents want to stay away from the school-at-home route and do something entirely new. Some parents choose to “deschool” for a period of time as a means of separating the unpleasant experience of school from the enjoyable act of learning!
Once the reset button has been pressed, however, there are numerous wonderful options for homeschooling and lots of support for homeschoolers, whether they learn in their homes and communities, on the road, or around the world! Which of the following benefits of homeschooling excite you?
- Experiencing more time together as a family
- Increasing family closeness
- Sharing your values with your children
- Increasing opportunities to learn together
- Engaging and challenging your children at the right levels
- Participating in your community
- Gaining flexibility in your daily schedule
- Decreasing school-related, family stress
- Increasing travel opportunities
- Supporting the development of your children’s life skills
For parents who know they need to make a change and help their children build better relationships with their education, we can help you identify your family’s needs and provide support and guidance as you forge a new path.