Article & Photography by Julia Whiteford | Owl Staff

It’s noon on a weekday, and Sarah and Allison Dietz are in the kitchen making lunch. They studiously inspect the nutrition information on the food package, explaining that it is part of their home-economics course to do so.

In the background, their brother William carefully completes his spelling test. Outside, their siblings Benjamin and Lillian are riding their bikes, having already finished school for the day.

Like many others, the Dietz family have decided to take an active approach when it came to their children’s education. They decided that using an unconventional method would be the best course of action.

According to the Department of Education, 91% of students in the United States currently attend public school. So what about the rest? Why would someone decide that a public school education was not for them? What other kinds of education are there? No two students are alike, and these education methods are designed to be just as unique.

Unschooling is a new, up and coming form of fluid and adaptable education. According to an article about unschooling on PBS Parents’ website, unschooling is “a branch of homeschooling that promotes nonstructured, child-led learning. There’s no set curriculum or schedule.”

The idea of unschooling is that children, by nature, strive to learn. If something interests them, they will pursue it in their own time until they know more about it. A student who is unschooled doesn’t have a set schedule. They take charge of their own education and learn what they want to learn. Left to their own devices, many unschoolers have found their passions, and pursued them to college.

Unschooling can be tricky to pull off without knowing the rules first. In Maryland, a parent is required to have a portfolio of student work to show a reviewer who can pass the student. This may seem contradictory to the unschooling curriculum, but many parents have found ways to prove that their student is truly learning.

Unschooling parents have found that documenting bits of student’s readings, writings, drawings, or activities for the review is a sufficient way to prove that the student is meeting the subject requirements. They can also come up with projects that the student might enjoy for them to complete.

“According to an article about unschooling on PBS Parents’ website, unschooling is ‘a branch of homeschooling that promotes nonstructured, child-led learning. There’s no set curriculum or schedule.'”

Each piece of work includes a description of how it met the subject area’s requirements.

Many unschooling parents have also found that, through the use of a homeschool umbrella that shares their views, they can have an easier time keeping track of what is required of them and their student.

Umbrellas like Many Paths of Natural Learning Philosophy in Jessup, Maryland do not require any sort of specific curriculum, and it is a popular choice among Maryland unschoolers. Montessori schools are another alternative form of education where students take charge of their own curriculum and their own environment. It’s a very hands-on approach to learning and, like unschooling, Montessori teachers believe that every child has a yearning
to learn.

Gaye Novak, director of Human Resources at Bridges Montessori School in Bel Air and Towson, explains that Montessori schools are very community-centered as well. Students who attend Bridges Montessori often go out into their community and interact with the environment, including the chickens they take care of each day.

“It’s not teacher directed, it’s child centered,” she explains. While public education is very
much focused on learning for tests, Montessori education looks at the whole child. The curriculum is set up sequentially in that a child cannot go on to the second lesson until they complete the first one.

At Bridges Montessori, the classrooms consists of mixed aged groupings. Novak adds, “The younger children learn from the older children, and the older children become peer teachers and mentors, and that takes on a whole other level of responsibility, and pride.”

Students who want a more customizable calendar may consider homeschooling instead.

Homeschooling is a great option for students whose needs aren’t being met in public school. Whether that is a hands-on approach when it comes to learning, heavy literature courses to keep them engaged, or even the flexibility and freedom to take a family vacation in September, homeschooling gives students the freedom to reach their full potential.

Benjamin Dietz, a homeschool student, likes homeschooling because “[He doesn’t] have to stay in school for nine periods, eight hours a day.”

Students can completely forego a parent’s instruction through the use of accredited online education programs, or can have a mixture of co-op instruction and curriculum-based education with their parent’s guidance.

According to the National Home Education Research Institute, students who are homeschooled typically score15-30 percentile points above public schoolers on standardized tests like the SAT and ACT, and more often graduate earlier.

The Dietz family found that going year-round while homeschooling was the best approach for them. Students who follow the year-round calendar are less likely to lose what they’ve learned. As Amy Dietz, a homeschool mother of 10, puts it, “Going year-round, it’s consistent, it’s thorough.” Maybe the student needs a more regimented schedule, but not quite the approach that public school takes. If that’s the case, private school might be best.

When thinking of private school, some think of disciplined nuns with rulers. However, it might just be the best choice for a student who is having a hard time in public school. When it comes to standardized testing, such as the SAT, private schoolers tend to do better.

In a study conducted by the Center on Education Policy, which was carefully controlled for socioeconomic status, it was concluded that private schools do more to develop students’ test taking skills.

Harford Day School, Friends School of Harford, and The Highlands School are some secular private schools offered in Harford County. A small example of religiously affiliated private schools in the county are The John Carroll School, Trinity Lutheran, and New Covenant.

Public school is not one-size-fits-all. Everyone is different, and everyone has an intrinsic yearning to learn. It’s important to know one’s learning style and to cater to that natural curiosity and passion.

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