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Non-traditional learning settings: can some children benefit?

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It seems that recently more attention has been focused on alternatives to the “typical” classroom learning setting for children; Two of these options are online learning where some or all of the child’s learning is done online, and the other is homeschooling where learning is done in a home setting. So why are so many families opting for these alternative learning settings as opposed to the traditional public or private school option? For the child with learning and/or developmental differences (including but not limited to Autism, ADD, ADHD, or Dyslexia) the non-traditional school settings may be a helpful alternative because these children tend to need additional accommodations such as extra time to complete assignments, more help processing directions from a teacher and/or the freedom to move their bodies during teacher instruction. The traditional school classroom is often not set up to focus on only a handful of students that may need additinal assistance from the teacher since there tends to be many children to a classroom. For a child who learns differently, this alternative learning style may be a better fit. In addition, for the child who learns at a higher grade level than her peers or becomes bored with the curiculum for her age or grade, may benefit from this less structured school environment where she can move at a faster pace if needed.

Chances are you have seen the recent commercials on television that advertise the Connections Academy, a free online public school. The commercials, two in particular, show two children enrolled in this online school who are not your “typical” students. They tell their story and explain why that type of learning setting works for them. One is a child who is pursuing a future in acting and singing and wants the freedom to go on auditions and rehearse as much as possible. The other child was struggling in a “typical” classroom setting where he felt like his teachers “didn’t understand him.” When he began attending the online school he felt that he had found the right match. In the commercials for the this online school, they stress that the parents and teachers work closely to ensure that each student gets what she needs. Each child needs a different level of support from their parents and teachers in order to be successful in their learning environment. These are just two examples of the type of students may benefit from non-traditional learning.

Homeschooling as a teaching method for children has been a topic in which people have very strong opinions, many of them negative. Often they think negatively about it because they simply do not understand this option and why it may be best for a particular child. They may question why a parent would not want to send their child to a “regular” school? Much like the online learning option, a homeschool setting may be a good fit for kids who have difficulty learning in a "traditional" setting, kids who may be pursuing a career path that is non-traditional. Many people think that kids who are homeschooled are sheltered and isolated with limited opportunities to make friends and associate with children their age. In reality, many families that home school their children team up with other families to teach and much like "regular" schools they go on field trips and participate in social activities.

Every child has a unique learning style in which they most effectively take in information presented to them. While there are many ways that a child can learn, three learning styles that apply to many children are visual (learning information by seeing it), auditory (learning information by hearing it) and kinesthetic (learning information by physically doing it. The kinesthetic learner often needs a lot of movement in general in order to feel calm and regulated). As a parent, it is helpful to figure out how your child best learns information, especially if your child is struggling in his current learning setting. We want to set our children up to be successful in their learning environment so they become confident, happy and successful later in life.

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