Choosing a school for your child is a pivotal moment in all parents lives. Apart from home, school is the single most important place in the lives of most children. Their experience of school will play a vital part in their lives and will determine their academic, social and, probably, their occupational future. A growing number of families are choosing non-traditional schools in Spain for their children.
Most parents experienced a traditional school education. Traditional schools offer structure and the main focus is on teaching an exam-driven timetabled curriculum. There are children who thrive in a structured learning environment that offers a rich, broad-based education. But there are students that do not thrive, in fact it’s quite the opposite. They are left feeling inadequate if they do not do well in exam situations and when results are seen as the priority, some schools instill the fear of failure from an early age. As we age, the fear of choosing the ‘wrong’ answer intensifies and conformity moves creativity to the back seat.
In his TED talk “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” education expert Sir Ken Robinson outlined how the traditional school with which we’re familiar destroys creativity. He strongly believed that creativity should be on par with literacy. It’s no great surprise that Sir Ken Robinson is a hero to many in the non-traditional education community.
Non-traditional schools offer an alternative style of education:
- Belief: There is more than one way to educate children and that education should match a person’s learning style, instead of trying to force them into learning through an adopted style.
- Approach: Encourage children to work on their own and at their own pace.
- Text books: Montessori and Waldorf schools follow education methods based on their founder’s teaching philosophy.
- Class tutor: Your child will probably have the same teacher for two or three years (Waldorf schools generally have the same teacher for six years).
- Role of teacher:
- In a Montessori classroom the teacher is a facilitator; a companion in each child’s own learning process who quietly observes her students, watching them learn.
- All Waldorf educators must be artists; that all their teaching activity, regardless of subject taught, is filled with living artistry.
- Class size: They tend to be relatively small, with generous pupil teacher ratios.
- Less structured curriculum: The learning journey tends to be less about passing exams and more about the process of learning through experience, problem solving and teamwork.
- Concept of time: Younger children are given unlimited time to play and explore each morning, there are bells to announce the end of class.
- Outdoor play: Children spend a large part of the day playing outdoors and away from toys, fostering their creative imagination.
Some regard Finland as the leader in the world education system. Children do not start school until they are seven and even then, their day is quite short, 8am-12pm. Before the age of seven no child is expected to know how to read or write. Instead, their entire primary education system is built around creativity. You can see on the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) graph below that this has not produced poor results, quite the opposite. Another interesting point is that private schools do not exist in Finland, instead education is considered as an instrument to balance out social inequality.
If we can’t all move to Finland, then what are the options for non-traditional schools in Madrid?
The more widely recognized alternative styles of learning of Montessori, Reggio Emelia and Waldorf have become so popular they have formally evolved into non-traditional schools that can be found all over the world and here in Madrid there are many to choose from.
- Montessori schools often allow students to choose their own tasks or activities. These are often concrete tasks that are self-correcting, and can be completed on one’s own or in small groups.
- There is emphasis on work that’s concrete, hands-on, challenging, and developmentally appropriate. This is meant to promote independence, self-confidence, curiosity, and a love of learning.
- Montessori teachers act as guides, setting up the initial conditions (preparing the environment, introducing children to materials) and then challenging students with progressively more difficult material, when appropriate.
- The Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education views young children as individuals who are curious about their world and have the powerful potential to learn from all that surrounds them.
- Educational, psychological, and sociological influences are important factors to consider in understanding children and working to stimulate learning in appropriate ways.
- Reggio teachers employ strategies such as exposing children to a wide variety of educational opportunities that encourage self-expression, communication, logical thinking, and problem-solving.
- The approach aims to develop curiosity and problem-solving skills through projects designed to capitalize on children’s interests. To be successful, the approach requires lots of parental involvement—with projects, curriculum and more—something that’s ongoing throughout the school year.
- Art is emphasized and incorporated in many projects and activities. Students use lots of different kinds of artistic media throughout the school year.
- The first (and largest) Waldorf School emerged in Spain in1990, it is now known as called Escuela Libre Micael and is located in the district of Las Rozas, Madrid. Since then several more have sprung up in Madrid and across Spain.
- Rudolf Steiner, the founder of the Waldorf philosophy, believed the educator’s first task is to help students develop an aesthetic appreciation for life and learning.
- Waldorf schools focus on developing the whole child—emphasizing collaborative, hands-on learning, along with the arts and music, which are integrated into other areas of study.
- A Waldorf environment will often feel more like a home than a traditional classroom, designed to instill comfort, familiarity, and a sense of predictability in the students’ day.
If you are interested in learning more about non-traditional schools for your child in Madrid, please do get in touch. We have visited most and are familiar with their teaching styles. We would love to give you our honest and unbiased opinion and guide you in making this decision.
Sinéad Galvin is an educational consultant and founded Steps into Spain (a boutique educational and relocation consultancy located in Madrid) to help families find the right school for their child in Madrid. She uses her professional and personal experience of Spanish schools, the Spanish education system and the Spanish way of life to ensure that parents are knowledgeable and informed about what to expect and can secure the best school for their child.
Steps into Spain will take stock of your children’s educational needs and overall family requirements (housing, paperwork and general settling in). Our trusted and expert service is provided to families who are moving to Madrid from abroad. And also, to families that already live here and need some extra guidance and support.