Top Alternative Schools That Take A Unique Approach To Education

Over the years, the approach to education has witnessed a change. Parents are ready to experiment with the way their children learn and imbibe knowledge. The concept of alternative schools has emerged as a game-changer in this context. These institutions challenge the traditional pedagogical norms with innovative approaches. Additionally, they reimagine education, nurture unconventional talents, and foster a lifelong love for learning among students.

Not surprisingly, parents across the globe are keen to explore their options. While alternative schools are limited in number right now, more institutions are entering a realm. As a parent, you can expect more options in the future. Meanwhile, you can dig deep into the concept of alternative schooling and understand how it works. We also have a list of top schools that take a unique approach to education. This comprehensive guide will walk you through the concept and options worth exploring.

What Makes Alternative Schools Unique?

Before considering an alternative school for your child, you should know what makes these institutions unique. These out-of-the-box features are the reason parents pick these schools for their kids. Here are a few of them:

Personalised Learning

Your child gets a shot at personalised learning as these schools prioritise individualised education. They understand each student's unique learning style, interests, and pace, and tailor teaching methods to match them. A customised approach enhances engagement and promotes an in-depth understanding of subjects.

Student-Centric Approaches

Another reason alternative schools are different from the conventional ones is their student-centric approach. Students get a chance to actively participate in their education through independent problem-solving, critical thinking, and self-direction. The system fosters a sense of responsibility and autonomy in learners, preparing them for real-world challenges.

Holistic Development

Alternative education prioritises holistic development, nurturing more than academic excellence. Unlike conventional schools, these institutions encourage emotional, social, and creative growth. They integrate music, art, and physical activities into their curriculum, leading to a well-rounded development.

Small Class Sizes

Smaller class sizes are another plus for alternative schools. With a smaller number of pupils in the class, children gain more individual attention from teachers. Moreover, small schools have tight-knit communities where students, parents, and teachers collaborate closely. It creates a supportive environment for personal growth and learning.

Flexible Assessment Methods

Traditional grading systems are stressful for students, but they are not a part of alternative education. These schools use innovative methods such as portfolios, narrative evaluations, and project-based assessments to evaluate students. These methods ensure a deeper understanding of subjects and encourage critical thinking over rote memorisation.

Top Alternative Schools In The World

Now that you understand the concept of alternative schooling, you will surely want to explore your options. Fortunately, there are several institutions following this core concept of education in global locations. Let us highlight a few.

The Waldorf School

Founded in Germany in 1919, the school serves as the foundation for the Waldorf education system, developed by Rudolf Steiner. As of now, Waldorf schools are found worldwide in major cities, suburbs, and even rural areas. The education system of these schools focuses on a holistic approach to learning for every student.

Admission Criteria

Admission criteria for Waldorf schools are based on the compatibility of the child and their family with the Waldorf philosophy. Specific requirements can vary from school to school, but they pick students from families that understand and accept the Waldorf teaching methods and principles. Institutions may interview parents and observe the child's behaviour to pick perfect matches aligning with their values.

Teaching Approach

  • Holistic development addressing the intellectual, artistic, and practical aspects through music, art, movement, and practical skills
  • Age-appropriate curriculum enabling children to develop their language skills and motor abilities at a comfortable class='table table-striped' pace
  • Extended periods dedicated to enable students to develop a profound understanding of topics and subjects
  • Emphasis on play in the early years to help students learn in a natural and unpressured environment

Dalton School

Dalton School in New York was founded in 1919. Over these years, the school has run on the Dalton Plan, which leverages a mix of teacher-led instruction and student-initiated projects. Every student can pursue projects of interest, fostering a sense of freedom and self-motivated learning. Teachers act as consultants and periodic examiners.

Admission Criteria

Like other private schools, the Dalton School has a competitive admissions process. It considers factors such as academic records, test scores, and teacher recommendations. Students and parents are interviewed personally to check their inclination toward extracurricular activities and community involvement besides a robust academic record.

Teaching Approach

  • Progressive education philosophy with emphasis on student-driven exploration, active learning, and critical thinking
  • Interdisciplinary learning with subjects spanning different fields of study for a more holistic understanding and knowledge
  • Experiential learning with real-world applications and hands-on experiences incorporated into lesson
  • Small class sizes, ensuring personalised attention and adaptive approaches to individual learning styles

Summerhill School

Summerhill School in Leiston, Suffolk, England, takes an unconventional approach to education with an emphasis on individual freedom and self-expression. The school was originally founded in Dresden (Germany) in 1921, while the Suffolk branch was opened in 1927. Children here are allowed to miss classes and horse around, making it a place where they can grow freely without restrictions.

Admission Criteria

Like other alternative schools, Summerhill School prioritises students and parents willing to embrace its approach to education. Prospective families seeking admission visit the institution to gain an understanding of its philosophy and ensure alignment with their educational beliefs. Summerhill emphasises the compatibility of the family with its ethos as much as the academic capabilities of students.

Teaching Approach

  • Self-directed learning with students given the freedom to choose activities during school hours and pursue their interests and passions
  • Democratic governance with staff and students participating in decision-making processes such as forming rules and regulations
  • Mixed-age environment comprising students of different ages interacting and learning together
  • Focus on social, emotional, and physical development with activities like arts, music, sports, and outdoor exploration

THINK Global School

A traveling high school, THINK Global is the epitome of alternative schooling. Students travel to different parts of the world throughout the academic year. Although the school was established in the US in 2010, it does not have a fixed location today. Instead, it has classrooms in different countries around the world, giving learners impeccable international exposure.

Admission Criteria

The admission process is competitive, as the school seeks curious and adaptable class='table table-striped' learners who are open to diverse cultures. Applicants are assessed according to academic achievements, extracurricular activities, and personal qualities. The school also considers its ability to contribute positively to its community. Applicants may have to attend interviews, provide recommendations, and submit essays as part of the application process.

Teaching Approach

  • Learning through real-world experiences where students immerse themselves in the cultures, histories, and environments of diverse countries
  • Project-based learning with collaborative projects that require research, problem-solving, and critical thinking skills
  • Language immersion during global travel experiences, fostering multilingualism and strong communication skills
  • Emphasis on global citizenship qualities such as adaptability, empathy, and cross-cultural understanding

ALPHA Alternative School

Founded in 1972, ALPHA Alternative School in Toronto follows the ALPHA philosophy that considers every child to be unique. The classes here have children of different ages, with peers adopting practices from one another and elder students learning to take care of younger ones. The school embraces a progressive education philosophy, emphasising active, student-driven learning and an inclusive school community.

Admission Criteria

ALPHA Alternative School operates within the public school system, following admission guidelines provided by the local education authority. The factors taken into consideration for admission include available space, proximity to the school, and adherence to the school's philosophy. Parents looking to enroll their students here should check the detailed admission criteria from the school.

Teaching Approach

  • A child-centered approach with a focus on the unique needs and interests of each student according to their learning style and pace
  • Hands-on experiences and interactive projects and activities to encourage critical thinking and problem-solving skills
  • Involvement of the local community in educational programs through field trips community service projects, and collaborations with local organizations
  • Valuing creativity and self-expression and nurturing to nurture students' artistic talents and imagination

Ørestad Gymnasium

Ørestad Gymnasium in Copenhagen, Denmark was established in 2005. The school is recognised for its architecture and sustainable design. It also takes a unique approach to education, covering innovative courses on biotechnologies, globalization, digital design, and different kinds of journalism.

Admission Criteria

The admission criteria for Ørestad Gymnasium mainly include the final grade from the ninth score of primary school. The process is competitive, so students need to work hard to stand out and secure a place. The requirements might vary from year to year, depending on the overall performance of applicants and the number of available spots.

Teaching Approach

  • Focus on technology and digital tools with their use in research, presentations, and creative projects
  • An international perspective, involving studies of global issues, international collaborations, and understanding of different cultures
  • Interdisciplinary projects connecting different subjects to develop broader knowledge of concepts
  • Encouraging student engagement and participation where teachers act as facilitators

Green School Bali

Green School Bali is situated in the beautiful locales of Sibang Kaja, Badung, Bali, Indonesia. It is surrounded by lush tropical forests and is acclaimed for its sustainable campus design. The school is truly an alternative in terms of its location, philosophy, and teaching concepts.

Admission Criteria

Admission to Green School Bali is done on the basis of a holistic assessment to assess the candidate’s fit with the school's values and ethos. The school looks for creative, open-minded, and environmentally conscious students. Families interested in enrolling their children in Green School should visit the school and participate in orientation sessions. Since the school has a unique approach and limited spots, admissions can be competitive.

Teaching Approach

  • Focus on environmental sustainability and ecological awareness with student engagement in sustainable living projects
  • Emphasis on hands-on, experiential learning with outdoor activities, practical projects, and ecological concepts
  • A nature-inspired campus with open-air structures and a natural environment integrated into the learning experience
  • Community service projects and collaboration with local organisations to address environmental issues


Enrolling your child in an alternative school is a life-changing decision as it opens them to unique forms of learning. You can explore these schools by visiting their websites or in person to understand how they work and pick the best one that aligns with your child’s learning style, pace, and goals. The prospect is worth considering.

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