You might be familiar with on-the-way-to-school temper tantrums.
You know, the red-faced, snot-nosed, neck-vein-popping episodes of screaming that feel like you’re dragging your kid through a horror movie rather than taking them to school.
Or maybe you’re familiar with the homework-before-dinner tantrums.
The frustrated I don’t understand! tears; the enraged this is stupid! pencil throw; the classic you can’t make me do it! door slam. And there you are, in the midst of the mayhem, scrambling to teach your kid multiplication, change their entire perspective on learning (“it’s supposed to be fun, I promise!”), and not burn the chicken that’s sizzling violently on the stovetop.
The realization hits hard. There’s got to be a better way.
For decades, parents have been having this same realization, but only recently has it actually become easy to find other options. In the past couple of years, millions of students have been pulled out of public school. Alternative schooling models are building momentum. Parents are seeing that there absolutely is a better way.
But how do you find what’s best for you and your kids? Where do you start?
The ideal option is determined by your financial resources, your logistical constraints, your educational values, and your kids’ unique needs – and here’s the list of questions that can help you hone in.
1. What am I willing to spend?
Education is the most accessible it’s ever been.
Elite institutions like MIT and Harvard offer their classes online, for free. Top-tier educators publish lectures online, and build entire online learning platforms (like Khan Academy). You can build a world-class education for your kids entirely for free.
No matter what your budget, there are options available to you.
Finding Your Affordable Education
Realistically, what can you afford? Once you know your range, you can look for options that fall within it.
If unschooling, your costs can be quite low. The cost of unschooling averages around $700 – $1,800 per student, per year. Your expenses are minimal (with room to adjust depending on your resources): curricula, materials, field trips, extracurriculars, and, of course, the all-important snacks. You can play around with different curricular options to stay inside your budget.
If microschooling, you face a broader range of costs. More expensive options (Portfolio School, Red Bridge School, Hudson Lab School) can cost around $25,000 per school year. However, most microschools cost far less. Because they don’t require large buildings or staff, average microschool tuition ranges anywhere from $4,000 -– $10,000 per school year.
Unschooling and microschooling are just two of the available options– there are plenty of others. If you’re looking to get the lay of the land, we recommend refreshing your cup of coffee and diving into our 11 favorite alternative schooling methods.
2. Do I want to be the primary educator of my kid?
You’re comfortable as “mom” or “dad,” but “teacher” may feel intimidating.
No matter what fears you have, no one is more qualified to teach your kid than you. If you still struggle to think of yourself as their “teacher,” try thinking of yourself as their “facilitator.” Especially in the era of the internet (where resources are both free and accessible), you don’t have to be a subject matter expert. You can outsource the actual teaching to experts like the professors at The Great Courses or online instructors like Salman Khan.
If you’re educating your kids at home, your biggest job is to set the direction and make sure your kids have everything they need. Our founder, Hannah Frankman, discusses this concept of facilitation in this podcast episode (starting at 28:28).
But this doesn’t mean you necessarily want to be your kid’s primary teacher, nor that you have the time for it – and that’s okay. There are options available for all levels of involvement with your kids. Choose whatever is best for your family.
Parents as Teachers: Can You Do Both?
Map out the parameters of your logistics. What can you actually take on?
If you do want to be your kid’s full-time facilitator…
- Am I working from home?
- If yes, can I juggle remote work with my kid’s education?
- If no, can I move my work remote?
- Am I working from home?
- Do I have the means to quit my job?
- What’s more important: keeping my income, or taking the primary role in my kid’s education? (No judgment on your answer, but it’s important to ask!)
- Is my kid well-suited to learn fully remote, or do they need/want a hybrid model?
- How can I immerse them in community if learning happens at home?
If you don’t want to be your kid’s full-time facilitator…
- Do I work during the day?
- Remote, or in-person?
- Do I have time to drop them off/pick them up from school?
- How far from home can a school be?
- What alternative schooling options are within range? (There are tools you can use to locate options in your area, such as this self-directed education tool, an agile learning center map, and this regional guide.)
Journal these answers out. More questions will arise as you go, and that’s okay. There aren’t any right answers here. The goal is to identify what constraints actually exist, both logistically and emotionally. Once you’ve determined what’s important to you, you can find the education options that fit your family’s individual needs.
It can also be an educational experience to include your kids in these explorations. You can narrate them through the decision-making process and teach them about things like prioritization and pros/cons lists.
If you’re interested in seeing an example of this in action, check out this Paul Millerd podcast episode (at 9:06), where Hannah Frankman gives her own personal pros/cons list when her parents decided to homeschool her.
3. What does my kid need/want?
Traditional education is failing us because it’s geared towards the “average child” – which no parent actually has.
Traditional schooling is impersonal and ill-suited to light the flames of our kids’ individual passions and unique curiosities. To figure out the best schooling option for your kid, you first have to figure out what they desire. What interests them? What stimuli (internal and external) do they respond to? What types of environments light them up? Will hands-on learning suit them best? Are you comfortable with multiple hours facing a screen? Are other kids nearby a distraction or a motivator?
There are lots of different types of schools out there, and they cater to lots of different types of kids. Your job is to find the one best suited to your unique child.
Every Child Learns Differently: What Does Yours Need?
Ask yourself: What does my kid need to thrive?
A quiet space with room to think, or bustling group conversations? Information-packed lectures, or hands-on activities? More freedom, or more structure?
You also want to ask your kid.
Even if their answers are short-sighted (as kids often are), we have a lot to learn from their perceptions of how they learn. Lean into this process. Encourage the conversation. Take notes. Let it flow.
How To Get Started
Although it may feel old school (ha), we think journaling the questions below on pen and paper is the first steps in choosing a school that’s right for you and your kid:
- How much am I willing to spend?
- What works for my family?
- What fits into our lifestyle?
- What environment and conditions will best awaken my child’s potential?
- How do I think they learn best?
- How do they think they learn best?
The good news is that neither you nor your kid are subjected to an inevitable fate of forever temper tantrums about school. Kids are curious, vivacious, ever-evolving little humans that have an innate desire to learn and an intense curiosity about the world around them. These temper tantrums don’t mean your kid hates learning – it may mean they hate schooling as they’ve experienced it so far.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it just means it might be time to pivot. And in a time where alternative schooling options are expanding, evolving, and becoming more accessible than ever, you have an abundance of options.