Often parents are faced with a tough decision when it comes to moving their children out of alternative education, like Montessori, Waldorf or Rudolph Steiner Schools, and moving them into mainstream schools. Sometimes they want to while other times the alternative schooling only goes up to a certain age and they are forced to make the decision. There has always been a big debate about whether children from these alternative types of schools can really go into mainstream and whether they’ll cope in the different environment.
What is often forgotten is the skills that children often learn in alternative schooling environments, for example there is often a large amount of emphasis placed on independence, working cooperatively, negotiating with peers, self-reliance, dependability, decision making skills as well as leadership skills. These are important life-skills that are invaluable not only for their future schooling but once they go beyond school and head into the work environment.
There are disadvantages as well when it comes to moving your child from an alternative school to a mainstream school. One of the values placed on alternative schooling is the fact that they are more in line with preparing kids for an uncertain future, whereas traditional or mainstream schools place more value on conformity, learning by memorising and an adherence to authority. However, what the world needs is highly creative, innovative and technologically advanced problem solvers, which most alternative schools prepare kids for. They also believe that children should have a voice, be able to express themselves without fear and values individuality. There is also a great deal of emphasis placed on learning by doing, not learning by memorising, as alternative schools focus on kids manipulating their environment for key concepts to be understood, not just memorised.
If you are faced with the fact that you have to move your child out of an alternative school environment, there could be some struggles ahead of them. One of those things is speaking out and asking questions, having that voice that we spoke about. This is not widely accepted at most mainstream schools as the focus is on conformity. They will also find it hard to work in large groups, memorising what they are taught and not manipulating their environment for true understanding. It’s a tough decision as there are so many advantages to alternative schooling; however you might just be put in the situation where you have no choice.
If you are put in that position, there is hope.
The good news is that you can transition your child into mainstream if you want. There is no doubt that it can be challenging, however, it is not insurmountable and if you follow our top tips to mainstreaming your child after alternative education, they’ll settle in fairly quickly.
1. Choose a ‘graduating’ year
If your child currently attends an educational programme like Montessori or Waldorf, you are quite probably used to mixed-age classrooms or teachers who progress with your child. This is far less common in the mainstream schooling system.
As a student at a mainstream school, your child will more than likely change teachers each year as well as learn alongside only children who are in their grade. One way to help with this adjustment is to choose a natural transitional year. For example, many kids attend an alternative school in preschool. You can make the decision that they can mainstream when they’re about to go into the first grade, or if they’re going from elementary to middle school, or even if they’re going from middle school to high school. These are natural transitional years, and they are excellent times to make that transition. Why you might ask? If you choose a natural transitional year, then many children will be facing the same or similar issues as your child could be facing, and this instinctive camaraderie can be invaluable to them in terms of making new friends and fitting into the system.
2. Engage in open, ongoing conversation
Uncertainty about what’s coming can cause a great deal of anxiety and fear. Even if your child is young, start discussing the schooling transition well in advance of their first day at the new school. It’s important to tell them what’s happening and why it will be different. Discuss with them what will be expected of them in the new system as well. You can have these conversations with kids of all ages; you just need to make it age-appropriate. For kids in preschool through to about the third grade, driving by the mainstream school or playing on its playground after school hours (if permitted) can be a great way to familiarise them with the unknown. Getting rid of the unknown will reduce their fears and anxiety. If your child is older, consider taking them to any meetings with the mainstream school or encourage them to browse the new school’s website. Answer any questions that they ask, and if you don’t know the answer promise that you will find out for them. Changing schools will be much easier if they don’t feel alone, but rather feel supported by you.
3. Meet and greet
As soon as you know that your child is changing schools, take them to visit the new school. Let them meet the teacher if possible, meet some of the kids and meet the head of the school. They can get accustomed to what the classes look like, what the kids are like, which will also reduce their anxiety around changing schools. Children need to feel comfortable within their environment, and by exposing your child to it before they start can put their minds at ease.
Before your child starts at the new school try and find out if there are any social activities that either you and your child, or just your child can attend, like camps, orientation programmes or even social events that the school is holding. It will be great for your child to meet new people, as well as you. This is a really important step that you should try and be proactive about, and really focus on this as an idea. Talk to the head of the school and see what’s available at the time. This will make the transition a whole lot easier.
5. Find friends
One of the big things for a child about leaving one school and going to the next is leaving their friends behind. First of all explain to them that they won’t be replacing their old friends, they’ll just be getting new friends. If you can, try and find out if there are any kids who live in your immediate neighbourhood that you can try and arrange play dates with. Don’t force the kids to get on, but at least they can try and play with kids before they start and perhaps see a familiar face on their first day of school which makes it just that little bit easier. Try and arrange as many play dates as possible as they might just find their new best friend in this way.
6. Keep talking
As you get closer and closer to the big day, keep talking to your child about how they feel. If they won’t open up to you immediately leave them, and they will soon start to express themselves. Once they’ve started at the new school, keep doing this too, and try and pick up any minor hiccups quickly before they become big issues. Deal with them immediately.
7. Be positive
You’re probably going to be scared and nervous too, hoping that the transition will be easy and that your child will be okay. You need to remain positive about the move, about the school and show them your enthusiasm and positivity. This will rub off on them, and they’ll be more positive about the move. Remember that kids can pick up on your vibes very quickly, so make sure you are really positive about the move, and you should be if you really believe in the mainstream school that you’ve chosen.
8. Be patient
Success doesn’t come overnight, and remember your child has been used to a completely different type of schooling than what they’re going to be experiencing now. You have to be patient and give it time. If they are unhappy deal with it and provide positive solutions for them, or talk to the school and see what can be done.
9. Be encouraging
There will be bumps in the road, but keep encouraging them and giving them that much needed boost of confidence and self-esteem. As they become more confident within themselves, the transition will start to take care of itself.
10. The school is your friend
It’s absolutely critical to keep in touch with the school and especially the teacher. Find out how things are going and come up with solutions together of how things can be improved. Is there stuff that can be done at school to make it easier? Is there stuff you can do at home to make it easier? Work with the school and not against them and you’ll start to see your child blossom as the new school realises how big a change it is for your child. Find out from them what the best way is for you to communicate with each other on a regular basis…would meetings suit them, or would they prefer talking to you on the phone once a week? Be flexible, but just make sure you keep in touch and monitor your child’s progress on a regular basis.
11. Push them out of their comfort zone
Gently work towards pushing your child out of their comfort zone, but very importantly you need to let this happen naturally…just a gentle nudge will do. You know your child best and understand what motivates them, so use this to your advantage. Be patient but don’t be passive.
12. It’s not just you
Reassure your child that there are other kids out there who are going through the exact same thing and that they’re not alone on their journey. Try and find out if there are other kids in their grade that have attended an alternative school and try and introduce them or at least introduce yourself to the parents and point out the child to your child. If they know that there are other kids going through this too, it will make them feel more at ease. If there are children that have attended alternative schools, then make a concerted effort to get in touch with them. You will have a lot in common with the parents, and the kids will probably have a lot in common too.
Try and volunteer for a school trip or for any school events that are happening. This will give you the opportunity to meet other parents, but also to keep good relationships up with the teachers and staff at the school, which can really work to your advantage.
14. Extra-Curricular activities
Try and encourage your child to get involved in school based extra-curricular activities as this is a great way for them to meet friends and build lasting bonds. The more opportunities they have to make friends, the better it will be for them and help with the big transition.
As we said, it may feel like a big thing moving your child from alternative schooling to a mainstream school, and it is, however, if you follow these tips, it can help make the transition a lot smoother.
It will be hard and tough at times for both of you, but stick with it, keep that positivity flowing and always make sure that your child understands that you are there for them no matter what. Deal with issues quickly and effectively before they become a major stumbling block and always keep the teachers on your side. No teacher likes a parent who constantly moans and complains about them. If you work with them, you’ll be amazed at how much you can get done together as a team.
Good luck in your move!