Inspiration for working with children comes from all around. Here are some models that have stood out and some things I have taken away from each. I am not an expert on most of these, but have some experience living, working, observing, or reading about them:

Family Farms – Adults and Children working and living together, ready access to nature, self-sufficiency, appreciation for how things are made and the work involved, physical and intellectual work combined, learning passed from generation to generation as well as from study and observation. Children have real work to do and see the work adults do firsthand.

Small Villages – Children and adults come in contact with people in many roles, of all ages and professions and abilities. Learning about what makes a community, what each contributes. Freedom for children to move around and to know many people without adult supervision.

One Room Schoolhouse – Children of all ages learn together, helping one another. School learning happens in small groups, academics in the building, active pursuits outdoors. School serves small community, kids can often walk to school with siblings and neighbors. Siblings in class together, with one another over several years. Learning must be individualized to some extent.

Neighborhoods of the Mid-20th Century – Children free to roam, supervised loosely by at home adults, and few structured activities and little media influence on children. Lots of play and outdoor time, self-direction, mixed age groups.

Extended Families

Open Classrooms – Classroom set up for independent access for children to materials, freer flow of movement, often mixed ages. Much learning hands on, value placed on self-directed learning, individual, small, and large group formats. New way of doing things that emerged in response to conventional teacher directed, pencil and paper, desks in rows models.

Waldorf Education – Children stay together for many years with same teacher. Focus on nature, storytelling, art, creating things using basic processes and materials such as woodworking, sewing, cooking, weaving. Incorporates considerable music, drama, physical activity. Focus on natural materials, limiting of commercial or media influence. Growing movement gaining popularity inspires me to think people are seeking alternative methods of schooling. Also, reading instruction starts later than in conventional schools. Oral storytelling preferred over books for early years.

Montessori Education – Developed by Maria Montessori, a physician, in response to a need she perceived for care and education of children in inner city neighborhoods in Italy. Focus on individual activities, use of specially designed materials, aesthetics very important. Very simply decorated classrooms, highly organized space and materials, first use of child sized furniture, systematic teaching of care for self and environment intended to allow for children’s independence and real contributions.

Family Day Care – Focus on care, creating a nurturing, home environment. Mixed age groups, including school age children, with interactions with family members of all ages. If in densely populated area, often have considerable interactions with neighbors and neighborhoods, including daily walks, and visits to parks, libraries, shops, and gardens. Opportunity for older children to have some unsupervised time in yards and neighborhood. Experience raising, caring for children important qualification for caregivers, as well as, and in some ways more so than formal education.

Alternative Public and Independent Schools – Often started by teachers and parents and retaining a mechanism for shared decision making. Experimental approaches valued, recognition that different teachers and different kids may teach and learn best in different ways. Respect for importance of family, community, individual growth patterns. Sometimes geared toward kids who have not done well in conventional settings, including high school drop outs, kids with special needs, gifted kids. Sometimes with special themes, such as arts, sciences, tech.

Camps – Focus on kids recreation and hopefully play and relationships. Kids often in wider age mixes, though not always. Often emphasis on physical development, arts, time outside, developing friendships, interests, skills. Hands on learning from adults who are not teachers, but counselors, coaches, or staff. Often considerable time spent outdoors, sometimes in nature, sometimes on field trips. Kids may have opportunity for down time, unsupervised time, more social emphasis than school.

Settlement Houses – Developed in urban neighborhoods to meet needs of often poorer communities. Focus on community development, care, health, as well as education and community service.  Meeting the needs of child, teen, adult, family, community, neighborhood. First formal child care in US may have developed out of settlement houses. Many still operate, including Elizabeth Peabody House (I think)  in Somerville and others in Boston area.

Home Schooling, including Cooperatives or Learning Centers – Homeschooling is growing in US and worldwide. Cooperatives are formed by families sharing responsibility for homeschooling kids. Learning Centers may be formed to help homeschooling families access classes, materials, resources, and support. In some cases, community institutions such as Audubon Centers or Science Museums are developing programs to serve homeschoolers. Focus on choosing own learning environment, subjects that interest children, often regardless of age, mixed age groups, teaching by many adults, sometimes with particular passions or expertise, grassroots organization.

Free Schools – Developed often in response to Summerhill, a school founded by A.S. Neill in England. Basic right of children to freedom is at core of free schools. Some have more democratic structures than others. Many have been started around the world, including a well-established program in NY, the Albany Free School, and two newly established free schools in NYC, the Brooklyn Free School and the Manhattan Free School.  Emphasize mixed ages, child-centered learning, responsive communities.

More when I have more time to write….

Sudbury Valley Schools — not a written explanation, but here’s a link to the Sudbury School website, featuring a great video description of the school’s approach.

Democratic Schools

Reggio Emilia Programs

Alternative Living Communities, such as cohousing, communal living, and Israeli Kibbutz

Outdoor Education Programs

Workshops and Artist Studios

Adventure Playgrounds

Forests, Beaches, Vacant Lots

5 Responses to “Inspiring Models for Raising and Educating Children”

  1. Great summary !!! Thank you!

    1. mariawest Says:

      I need to update glad you found it helpful. Maria

  2. Where are you located? I’m in the S.F. Bay Area doing similar work to yours My website is We are gathering monthly and plan to create a learning place for next year. It’s great to be in touch!

    1. mariawest Says:

      We’re in Somerville, MA. Very exciting to meet others around the world working on alternative education. I’m running a mixed age family child care program and working on starting a charter school. What sort of place are you creating?

      I looked a bit at your site. It is beautiful.


  3. We are planning an elementary and middle school, based on self-directed and hand-on learning. We hope to be ready by fall 2012. I am also a consultant for teachers and parents interested in child-centered education.

    We have a facebook group “New Learning Culture”, if you would like to join in our discussion.

    Best wishes for your project!!! It’s great to be in touch!

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