• Child Development

Understanding the alternatives to the “traditional” education pathway

More and more these days, parents are seeking alternative education pathways for their children. This can be for numerous reasons including having a child with special needs, disenchantment with traditional systems, philosophical beliefs and leanings, lifestyle, fear of social influence and more. More and more as a therapist, I see children who do not fit the “mould” of the traditional setting OR children whose special talents are not catered for by this system. In recent years, there have been some changes to the current structure of public and private education facilities in NSW and Australia as a whole. However, parents are still looking for something “different” or something that meets the needs of their child and family as a whole.


So, what are the alternatives? This blog will explore 4 of the alternatives available within Australian (State) Laws. It is the law that each Australian child attend school until a specific age/grade equivalent (different laws for different states), but how this can be achieved varies.


1. Montessori Education – The Montessori philosophy was developed by Italian Paediatrician, Dr Maria Montessori. Her approach is fundamentally based on the belief that all humans are curious and seekers of knowledge, and each will be drawn to specific activities based on unique talents. Dr Montessori firmly viewed education as developing the “whole child” from knowledge, to methods of research, to ethics, creativity and courtesy. Many have the false belief that Montessori classrooms are unstructured and that children can simply “do what they want”. As a Montessori Parent I can assure you that this is not the case – each child is seen as the architect of their learning BUT they are required to develop skills in the key areas stipulated by the State/Territory’s educational requirements. A note of warning - there has recently been an increase in preschools and day cares promoting themselves as “Montessori” – their classrooms loosely following some of the Montessori philosophies with some of the materials available. If you are looking for a true Montessori education for your child, please ask the centre if they are a registered Montessori provider.


2. Steiner Education – Rudolf Steiner’s approach to education was somewhat similar to Dr Montessori’s, in that he saw the child as more than the “sum of their parts”, and his approach to education was more wholistic than just teaching the 3 R’s. Fostering a love of knowledge and developing creativity and community is core to a Steiner Education. Each morning commences with group learning during the “big lesson” with afternoon’s focussing on specific skill development. Again, in Australia, you can be sure that the Steiner Education being delivered is in line with the requirements of the state regulatory body.


3. Distance Education – This form of education is often confused for “Home Schooling”. Distance education is designed to be more of a short-term approach to support children who may not be able to attend school for various reasons – from illness, to family travel. Within this form of education, families are registered with the Board of Studies for their state and provided workbooks in line with the curriculum suited for their child (by grade). Parents can access support, and attend “hubs” where students and parents can be afforded clarification, support and some tuition. This is a great option for families who might want to take some time to travel, a child who is ill receiving treatment, or for children with behavioural or mental health issues who are finding school attendance challenging. The overarching goal of this form of education is a return to the mainstream, and families will typically require the support of their school to achieve approval for Distance Education.


4. Home Schooling – Some may say “not for the faint hearted” – whilst some parents and families thrive and revel in the Home-Schooling community! Home schooling relies completely on the parent to prepare lessons in line with the curriculum prepared by the state education system. It is important to know that if you choose Home School during secondary years (in NSW), your child cannot obtain the HSC. For those in other states, I would advise checking with your state/territory legislation.


The above information is designed to provide a simple overview of 4 of the main alternatives to a “traditional education” pathway. If you are considering your options in relation to what style best suits your child and family, I encourage you to do some further research, site visits and talk with other parents about their experiences as well.


Yours in Parenting,


Emma Spencer.



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