Options to consider when charting a learning path.

You’ve helped your child learn from the day they were born. You taught them to eat, sleep, sit, crawl, and speak, crossing countless milestones as you’ve navigated the challenges of life together. You’ve felt your priorities shift, and you’ve learned more about yourself as you’ve equipped them to master their own lives. 

Simple in theory, but tiring in practice. The education you provide is a never-ending task born out of love and an undying desire for their happiness. You’ve helped your child learn from the day they came into the world because they’ve changed yours forever, and their education is paramount to success.

With your child’s needs at the forefront, knowing all of the options when considering formal schooling is key to your decision-making process. To help you explore the vast array of teaching models available to your family, we are diving into local education opportunities (in addition to the public school system) with Montessori, private, home-based and charter options. 

Methodologies of Montessori 

Student-led and self-paced, the Montessori method (named after its founder, Maria Montessori, an Italian physician dedicated to child development) provides a nurturing environment for children to direct their education under the guidance, assessment, and enrichment of knowledgeable and caring teachers.

“Montessori schools offer students a significant level of independence,” says Jason Richards, director of Growing Hearts Montessori School. “At GHMS, our classrooms cover the five areas of Montessori education: language arts, math, practical life, cultural studies, and sensorial learning. During the school day, students can cross educational genres at will, depending on what interests them the most at any given time — they don’t have to wait for the teacher’s daily lesson.”

Within the community of a multi-age classroom, which is designed to create natural opportunities for independence, citizenship, and accountability, children are supposed to embrace multisensory learning. By cultivating the natural passion inherent in self-discovery, students follow their own curiosity at their own pace, taking the time to understand each concept and meet individualized learning goals fully.

“Nurturing their innate love for learning is my goal in the lessons I give.”

— Lorie Steele

“I love to see the spark in the children’s eyes as they learn. Nurturing their innate love for learning is my goal in the lessons I give,” says Lorie Steele, director of Moreau Montessori. “Teaching is the greatest opportunity I could have ever hoped for. I have worked with children for over 40 years and have found no two children are alike. I learn something new from them every day.”

Given the freedom and support to explore subject matter deeply and make connections, the Montessori method aims to shape students into confident, enthusiastic, and self-directed learners and citizens who are accountable to both themselves and their community.

Learning Through Faith 

While Montessori methods position individuality as the cornerstone of education, faith-based institutions hold religion as a foundation for well-rounded learning. Embracing spirituality along with traditional curricula, faith-based schools regard faith formation as an integral value in the overall education of a student. Faith-based education reflects and fosters the values inherent in the religious organization they are predicated on.

“Helias Catholic High School welcomes all students and offers a large variety of classes, activities, and athletics so every student can get plugged in and find a place where they feel like family,” says Sandy Hentges, director of communications and admissions at Helias. “Our vision is to build a community of saints and scholars for Christ. Therefore, faith, service to others, strong academics, and preparation for life after high school for all types of learners are emphasized.

Catholic school teachers are dedicated to building relationships with students and reinforcing the value of critical thinking, continues Hentges, emphasizing the incorporation of the love of Christ into daily classroom activities and teaching practices. Helias students are also required to complete 50 hours of service with a nonprofit before graduation.

“We work hard at developing all areas of a child’s mind by developing skills that are essential in helping them reach their God-given potential.”

— Lisa Smith

Echoing Hentges, River Oak Christian Academy administrator Lisa Smith says: “Our staff is equipped to address the academic, social, emotional, and spiritual needs of each developing child while putting God at the center. We take this responsibility seriously and work hard at developing all areas of a child’s mind by developing skills that are essential in helping them reach their God-given potential.”

Students at River Oak learn how to impact the world with Christ’s work driving their intention. Children are encouraged to be the light within their classrooms, churches, and community, and they share God’s love by participating in local and global mission work. Students champion several local food drives and carry out service projects to reflect their mission-driven education. Last year alone, students brought in over 5,000 food items to start a food pantry on Lincoln University’s campus.

In faith-based education, prayer is an essential part of the curriculum, and students are given time each day to share prayer requests and pray for the needs of others. God’s word is shared daily through the teaching of the Bible and learning of scripture with the goal of giving students strong roots of faith cultivated by the word of God and nurtured by their families, church, and school. 

“The hearts of our children are beautiful, and their willingness to be the hands and feet of Jesus is a gift to watch,” says Smith. 

Hitting the Books at Home

Broadly defined as learning outside of the public or private school environment, homeschooling involves learning from resources available in the community like LabSpace Robotics and the Runge Center, and through communication and interactions with other families who homeschool.

“With my family’s goals in mind, the first thing I did when thinking about alternatives to public education was check to see what was offered in my local community,” says stay-at-home mother of four Tamika Valentine. “I was already drawn to homeschooling, so I wanted to see what groups and programs were available that could be used to supplement home education.” 

Homeschooling offers a chance for highly personalized learning in an environment that differs from the normal “school” experience. Students can learn more about what they truly care about, social cliques and bullying are diminished, socialization with other students is made possible through social media, and the educational space is expanded outside of the classroom through public libraries and museums. 

“Colleges readily welcome homeschooled students and have found that they’re self-disciplined and highly motivated to complete their programs.”  

— Tamika Valentine

“People think it will be hard for homeschooled children to get into college. But many homeschooled students are able to complete their education in significantly less time than if they were in public school,” Tamika says. “Some even finish high school in less than four years. Others are able to earn college credit while in high school through community colleges or other distance learning programs. Colleges readily welcome homeschooled students and have found that they’re self-disciplined and highly motivated to complete their programs. It’s helpful for homeschooling families to know specific college requirements so they can be effective in preparing their child for the entrance process.”

Typically, the curriculum is conducted by the parent and carried out by the child, often at a self-directed pace. The state of Missouri requires parents to provide 1,000 hours of instruction per year with at least 600 hours of that including reading, math, social studies, language arts, and science. In addition to homeschooled students having the availability to get lots of hands-on experience in these subjects, workbooks and quizzes are made available online.  

There are several different methods for homeschooling. However, each gives parents the opportunity to try different teaching approaches with their children. Parents interested in learning more about these methods and homeschooling can visit homeschooling.com

Uncharted Paths

In addition to alternative methods of education offered through Montessori, faith-based, and home education, charter schools provide another avenue for learning. Although Jefferson City doesn’t currently offer charter schools as an option, these institutions are publicly funded but operated by independent groups. The name originates from the contract, or “charter,” that governs how a group gets to operate a school. 

While both public and charter schools are funded by taxes, there are a number of differences in how the schools are designed and the curriculum is delivered. While traditional public schools are governed by a school district and its accompanying board, charter schools are operated by independent interest groups, and students are admitted via lottery, as opposed to residency. Unlike traditional public schools, charter schools aren’t subject to rules, regulations, or union contracts, but rather bound by their ability to illustrate effective learning and financial stability. With more freedom in the educational experience, charter schools can build a curriculum based around a specific focus, such as STEM or music education.

Charter schools have been admonished for higher expulsion rates, but some argue expulsion is at the core of their effectiveness. By aligning their student population with the policies of the school, they are able to foster education among students who want to learn and whose parents support strict discipline policies. Charter schools are often found within high-poverty school districts, following curriculum tailored toward disadvantaged students with the intent of delivering focused education more apt to deliver better test results and grades.

Both charter schools and traditional public schools receive money for each student that enrolls, meaning that if a student leaves their public school for a charter, the money allocated for the student will follow them to the charter schools.

Today, parents and children have more educational resources than ever before. As we head into a new school year, take a look and consider your options. As each child is unique, so are the educational paths available to us. Whether you value individual learning, a faith-centered approach, or self-direction, your children can have a bright future ahead of them.