Nurturing the Curiosity Spark

By MJ Ali

Children have this wellspring of curiosity and imagination that runs wild and unrestrained at younger ages. Guiding and supporting children’s exploration of their imaginations is a crucial part of their development, and will have a profound influence on the rest of their lives. It also requires time and energy, and invariably demands efforts and activities in addition to school. Choosing a school that is designed to encourage creative exploration can be a life changer, but even the best school can’t compare to extracurricular, personal attention to your child’s unique learning style and imagination.

So, what’s a two-income or single-parent, short-on-time-and-resources family to do? Let’s take a look at some options.

PUBLIC SCHOOL

Open and accessible to everyone who lives in a school district (many people choose where they live based on school district), public schools offer accessibility and diversity few other systems can. Certifications and other qualifications for public school teachers are often higher than any other type of school, and there’s no short of advocacy, especially from teachers and students, when it comes to pointing out the advantages as seen in this article: 10 Advantages to Public Education

Public schools, like any school, can differ greatly in quality of education. If you want your child to have a good education, advocacy and active involvement are essential regardless of what type of school they attend.

And, as with any school, extracurricular activities, community involvement and family activities are vital supplements to — and definitely part of — education.

ONLINE PUBLIC SCHOOL

Fully accredited, often more flexible curricula with individualized learning plans, these K12 online schools often offer learning centers and of course have fully certified teachers. This option can be a really great one either for students who are moving at a faster pace than public school can accommodate, or for those students whose learning style is not nurtured in public school and would benefit from an individualized approach.

TUITION-FREE MAGNET AND CHARTER SCHOOLS

Magnet and Charter schools are independent public schools that have a specific set of criteria that must be met to maintain their status, and they often offer far more than the average public school is capable of providing.

Magnet Schools originated in the 1970s to encourage and support desegregation efforts. Now, they’ve evolved to serve as subject-specific specialty schools offering STEM, Montessori, Dual-Language, Gifted/Talented, and Arts curricula.

Charter Schools, as defined by uncommonschools.org, is: “…an independently run public school granted greater flexibility in its operations, in return for greater accountability for performance. The ‘charter’ establishing each school is a performance contract detailing the school’s mission, program, students served, performance goals, and methods of assessment.”

The statistics for these independent public schools are impressive, and can be a life-saving option for a child passionate about learning, exploration and stretching their imagination.

ONLINE PRIVATE SCHOOL

Online private schools are fully accredited, and many have the flexibility to build curricula based on a student’s areas of interest. Some are also tuition-free.

When I try to imagine who’d be a great fit for this model, I think of families who move around a lot but are very engaged with their children; students who have immune or physical challenges that make attendance at a physical school more of an obstacle; students who work at a different pace and need the independence to finish courses in their own time (many private online schools offer AP-level courses); and students who need to attend part-time for short or long periods.

Online private schools also include single course enrollment and any-time-of-year enrollment options.

K-12 International Academy, for example, offers program flexibility and the opportunity to socialize with students from around the world through both online clubs and field trips.

All of the institutions I looked at provide comprehensive academic guidance and support by qualified professionals that carries through past graduation. I don’t know about you, but my high school definitely didn’t offer that.

PRIVATE SCHOOL

Private school for the vast majority of people is not financially feasible, and guess what? There is no evidence that points to private school as substantially better than any other learning system, with certainly no guarantee of better teachers (did you know that private school teachers ironically earn on average far less than public school teachers, and many private schools have more relaxed education, experience and certification requirements?).

There’s also no assurance of a better curriculum or more individualized exploration of learning styles. And while it’s likely the teacher-to-student ratio is better than it is in public schools, there’s also far less diversity with regard to ethnicity, socio-economic status, and varying viewpoints, since many private schools target specific populations for enrollment.

HOMESCHOOLING

Statistics on homeschooling are a bit conflicting, probably because there are far more variables than in traditional/professional education environments. Homeschooling takes tremendous commitment, and unlike schools where teachers all have their own areas of expertise, parents must be experts in all, without certification or regulation to ensure that’s actually the case. The other side of this argument is that homeschooling has the potential to be the ultimate individually-tailored program for one’s child.

Here’s a quote from one of our own staff members who was homeschooled:

“Being homeschooled offered me all of the challenges a public education would have — topics that didn’t interest me, topics that were hard — but it was flexible enough to create a schedule that allowed me more opportunities to pursue and grow in the things that interested me/where I showed potential. It was good to have time with my family instead of spending the majority of my days with teachers who couldn’t have given me the attention and time and help that my parents could.” ~Abigail Edwards, Co-Op Web Intern

EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITY

Regardless of which educational option you choose, there are usually going to be activities available outside of school that will provide the environment necessary to encourage and foster creative expression and exploration. This is a great supplement to any school environment, as it offers a different perspective, another physical location, and exposure to people and environments outside of school and home.

Family activities also fall into this category, and provide opportunities for parents to express their creative imagination with their kids. And that’s good for parents, too!

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