Alternatives to Traditional Classroom Learning

Written by Sally Bunce, a Clonlara School guest blogger, (***Clonlara School does not endorse or recommend any product/service in connection with this author***).


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Although still swimming against the mainstream, alternative schooling has been present in America since colonial times. Education varied depending on wealth and location and could have been conducted at home by private tutors or in groups under religious guidance, for example. In fact, there seems to have been many more accepted options back then, which have been filtered and ‘refined’ into the main educational systems that the majority follow today.

These systems can be pretty restrictive, though, considering how unique each child on the planet is. And the systems don’t really seem to have developed or adapted much in line with the changing world. Coercive schooling can be difficult for children. Natural instincts to explore, question and play are muffled in favor of strict curriculums enforced through the logic of reward and punishment. By nature, children are designed to control their own learning. You can see this working up until the schooling age. At this point, though, learning becomes a chore.

Alternative learning is about creating the worlds required for children to continue to flourish — environments that encourage curiosity, exploration and diversity. Suppressing these vital instincts can be crushing and promote feelings of anxiety and helplessness that may become lodged in the mind. These feelings continue throughout the schooling system and a legacy of fear and inadequacy often rules. You don’t have to look far to see this at work. Placing a child within a school that will nurture their spirit as well as their academic spark seems to be the obvious choice when it comes to education.

Imagine a school where children could continue to learn in ways that make them feel happy and calm, where parents can contribute to their child’s particular learning scheme so that the right approach is taken for the individual and where children have choices. There are a variety of alternative learning options available and it’s worth exploring all avenues if you have an interest. Benefits of alternative schooling include the following.

Tailored Programs

Teachers, specialists and parents work together to design a plan of education that suits the needs of the child. This always involves looking at a wide range of learning approaches and materials. Although it takes time, the plan will evolve with the student and the results are extraordinary.

Holistic Approach

Most schools focus purely on the academic at the cost of individuality and creativity. Alternative methods look at what’s beneficial for the child’s happiness and health because these things have a direct effect upon development and achievement.


Students can take charge and have a say in their education. There’s not a blanket curriculum, so there is flexibility in how students choose to study. No matter how old a child is, feeling independent at the same time as knowing you are safe is an important but sadly overlooked necessity.


No matter where you come from or what decision has led you to alternative education, these schools have an inclusive, nurturing philosophy that embraces all types of learners.

Sally is a serial networker and writes for Richmond University. She enjoys traveling around the country, advising students on how to make the most out of their studies, encouraging people to explore all of the options available to them.


Common Misconceptions About Autism

Written by Amy Elliott a Clonlara School guest blogger  (***Clonlara School does not endorse or recommend any product/service in connection with this author***).

In 2012, the CDC announced that one in eighty-eight children would be diagnosed with Autism. The actual number of diagnoses would appear to be higher – the CDC released new figures which showed the number is actually closer to one in fifty. Despite the increased prevalence, many people still harbor misconceptions about autism, a few of which are described in greater detail below.

  • Everyone on the spectrum is a genius. The truth is, less than 10% of people with ASD have savant characteristics (think of Dustin Hoffman’s character in the “Rain Man” movie). People with skills such as those are fascinating, and they gain huge publicity. However, the reality is that the majority of those with autism have normal intellect and ability.
  • Every person with autism also has a mental disability. Researchers have, for a long time, considered most people with ASD to have a below average mental capacity. Based on what we know now about autism, those numbers could stem from the fact that many autistic people don’t pay much attention to the tests used to measure intelligence.
  • Autism happens as a result of poor parenting. This is one of the more unfortunate misconceptions, and it caused a generation of women to be blamed for their children’s autism diagnoses. It’s not fully known what causes ASD, or if there is but one cause.
  • People with autism cannot talk. While some do not communicate orally, many do; even those who can’t talk can communicate in other ways—computers, pictures and even sign language. In some cases, people can imitate others’ speech, but can’t directly communicate when they need or want something.
  • Autism = eccentricity. Many on the spectrum are eccentric, original and creative, but so are many other people who don’t have autism! Autism is NOT a way of life. Some who claim to be on the spectrum believe that autism is merely possessing a “different” view of the world, and that parents who want to help their children learn daily skills such as dressing themselves are being restrictive. People are unique, and those with autism are no exception.
  • People with ASD don’t feel affection or empathy. Nothing could be further from the truth! Those with autism sometimes have difficulty expressing those emotions, but they feel the same emotions as every other human being.
  • There are autism-curing treatments available. As of now, there’s no cure for ASD, only ways to manage the symptoms. ABA (applied behavioral analysis) is touted as the gold standard in treatment, but it isn’t right for every case. The same holds true for other therapies, such as Floortime and even prescription medications.
  • Science knows the underlying cause of autism. Sure it does—and every week, it releases a new study saying that there’s yet another cause.

People with autism spectrum disorders are special and unique, with their own dreams, hopes and goals. The next time you encounter someone with ASD, remember the facts given here, and not the misconceptions—and take time to get to know the person, not their condition.
Bio: Amy Elliott is a writer with a passion for autism awareness. She occasionally writes for Voyage Care, specialists in supported living and autism care.

A World of Education

This infographic was supplied by Gerri, a Clonlara School guest blogger (***Clonlara School does not endorse or recommend any product/service in connection with this author***).  Gerri is affiliated to with Best Masters in Education.


Managing Brilliance: Prepping a Gifted Child for College Admissions

Written by Jason Lum, a Clonlara School guest blogger (***Clonlara School does not endorse or recommend any product/service in connection with this author***)

When reading what this author has to offer, plese remember that MANY of these things can be incorporated/accomplished right here in our Clonlara programs.  Our ability to individualize each student’s program allows us to support gifted learner’s needs and create a program that embraces their differences and their specialized needs.  We can do this inside the classroom, grant credit for ‘credit worthy work’ outside the classroom and summer programs, and even incorporate the work your student would do with a college consultant for a credit earning opportunity.  Please read on……..

As someone who has worked with gifted children for over 12 years, I can say without reservation that parenting a gifted child is a challenge in the best possible way. You have a young man or young woman bursting with intelligence and creativity, and the challenge now becomes how to harness that energy into a way that gets that talented child into a top college.

One thing to keep in mind is that unlike 10 years ago, a gifted child with exceptionally strong grades and standardized test scores is no longer a shoo-in for places like Stanford, Harvard, and Yale. Stanford and Harvard Universities, for example, routinely accept less than 5% of all applicants. Therefore, being a gifted kid will almost certainly get that child into 98% of the colleges in the United States, but in my experience those are the kind of students that are desperately trying to get into the top 2% of colleges and universities. That means Harvard, Stanford, Yale, and others.

Here are some steps that parents and students can take to help increase their chances of getting into a top-notch college.

Lesson One: accept the fast track. From a very early age your child is likely to be separated from lesser-achieving students. Some parents see this as a problem because they feel as though their child is being segregated from the general student population. My feeling is whether or not a parent likes it, it is a fact of life. Your student is going to be surrounded by people who are nearly as intelligent as they are, and soon your child will be taking almost all AP classes or IB courses. In fact, by the time they are juniors or seniors they may be totally off-campus taking courses at the local college through PSEO. From the moment you realize your child is a gifted student, they will no longer be just an average person at the high school. In fact, if your child were in classes with average students, both your child and his or her classmates would suffer (your kid will be bored by the slow progression, and the other kids won’t have a chance to compete with your gifted child).

Lesson Two: create a dream team. Most of the high-caliber students I work with have literally created a team of professionals that help them in all areas from academic development to college preparation. They will invariably take Kumon classes, do Suzuki music instruction, will have personal coaches in sports, music, or the arts, and of course the family will hire an independent education consultant like myself to work with them as early as grade 7 to help prepare their course selections, summer planning, and extracurricular activities.

This is obviously not cheap, however the parents I work with that invest in these “dream teams” see it as an investment in their children’s future. As a parent, I agree with this approach. The fact of the matter is that most high schools are woefully underequipped to work with gifted children, and have neither the resources nor the money to invest in extremely intelligent kids regarding getting into top-notch colleges.

Lesson Three: pinpoint opportunities. There are some incredibly important markers that high-achieving students should be looking at very early on. The Intel Science Competition is very important, as is the National Merit Scholarship Program. The Coca-Cola Scholarship Program is also a marker of high distinction, as well as things that are common but still are signals to college committees that the student has achieved something. The National Honor Society, for example, is an organization that in many high schools is a formality and is given to students who achieve a certain GPA. However, in my years of experience there are some high schools that treat membership in NHS as a highly political game, so it’s important for parents to understand how that game operates to ensure that the gifted child does what is necessary to make a positive impact upon people who have the ability to make decisions for admission to NHS.

Finally, Lesson Four: summers are critical. You can forget about summers being wasted with your son or daughter doing nothing except reading comics and playing video games. The students I’m working with currently are not only spending their summers strategically but are also doing internships, traveling to interesting countries, or doing incredible volunteer work, AND they’re also splitting their summers. It’s not uncommon for my students to spend 2 to 4 weeks at an intensive summer program at a place like Northwestern or Harvard, and to come back to their hometown and do intensive volunteer work or perhaps intern at a local hospital. Summers should be seen as an opportunity to fill in the blanks, and to address any weak points in your application. These also terrific ways to expose gifted students to the many opportunities of thriving in a college setting.

If you’re the parent of a gifted student, you are a truly lucky individual. You have a student who has the intellectual firepower to make an incredible difference in the world around us. By just having a short and long-term strategy, you can maximize your son or daughter’s opportunities to get your child into one of this nation’s top universities, and to launch a career that is worthy of your child’s intelligence.

About The AuthorJason Lum is the founder and college consultant at ScholarEdge.  Jason has won over $250,000 scholarships and graduated debt free.  Jason has helped students gain admission to some of the top universities in the country including Harvard, Yale and Stanford.  Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

Should Entrepreneur Development Programs Be Included In Student’s Secondary Education?

Written by Cormac Reynolds, a Clonlara School guest blogger (***Clonlara School does not endorse or recommend any product/service in connection with this author***)

They say entrepreneurs are born and not taught, they also say that about athletes, mathematicians and any other person with a specialist application you can think of. However, like any of the aforementioned, if a person is not given an opportunity to learn, receive support or are mentored it greatly limits the chances of them fulfilling their promise.

Entrepreneurship education gives students a theoretical and also a practical basis to become entrepreneurs. One of the best ways to learn to be an entrepreneur is to listen to the stories of previous entrepreneurs. They’re failures; successes and how they got there are all part and parcel of learning the skills it takes to be an entrepreneur.

Even if people are born to be entrepreneurs, there is no innate way that they can write a business plan for start-up finance or calculate risks. Entrepreneurship education provides this academic area and gives children the skills to increase their chances of becoming successful entrepreneurs. These skills are a necessity and entrepreneurship education helps.

Creates Student Interest

Enterprise also has a different side to it. There is a certain amount of street smarts or even wheeling and dealing with being an entrepreneur. Many children who lose interest in mainstream subjects find that this element of street smarts and dare we say even edginess is of interest. It encourages children to get excited, to take an interest and also shows them the value of other subjects. Children soon learn that if they want to succeed as entrepreneurs they need to pay attention and that their whole education is of worth. They understand they need to read, write and do arithmetic to give themselves the best opportunity as entrepreneurs.

Poorer Backgrounds

For children from poorer backgrounds, entrepreneurship shows them a way out of poverty and allows them to take control of their own destiny in a lot of ways.  This can turn the most academically disinterested child into one with a sense of purpose. It allows children a sense of ownership and allows them to make sensible decisions about their future.
This awareness of career and entrepreneurial options and ‘skilling up’ creates entrepreneurs and in turn it helps society. With over 50% of the UK employment and UK businesses being of the small and medium enterprise nature, more successful entrepreneurs makes for more successful businesses, more jobs and a wealthier country.

The Wealth Gap

It also helps to bridge the wealth gap and income inequality. There is no denying that this disparity in wealth historically has caused riots, civil unrest and revolution. With President Barack Obama saying income inequality is the ‘defining issue of our time’, teaching entrepreneurship education at school is a way to level the playing field and close the gap in income.

One of the other big issues we currently face because of the financial crisis is the level of youth unemployment in the Western World. Youth unemployment is anything from 10% in some countries to 50% in countries such as Spain. This has short term and long term implications for people who not only have a lack of money, but in turn are shown to have a lack of worth. There are also a whole range of other negative societal factors that are attributed to joblessness.

Through teaching enterprise at school and offering entrepreneurship education, countries place the skills on people’s hands. Instead of leaving university into a degree saturated market, where you rely on others for a job, young people will have the skills to start their own.

Of course, if there is no option for learning enterprise at schools there are alternatives in the shape form of internships – something to keep older children occupied in the summer time or during longer breaks.

Alternatively, summer schools can benefit children and there are all sorts of schools that offer this education. London, Cambridge and Oxford summer school are very popular in the UK for this reason, with many students taking classes before university or even in earlier years.

However, whether enterprise should be thought as part of education remains to be seen.

Cormac Reynolds writes for UK company and has written on a number of education blogs across the web.

Helpful Educational Strategies

Written by Jackie Ufer, advisor for the home based education program of Clonlara School.  While this article was written for the homeschooling parent, we believe it is also true of families who are seeking educational choices for their children is campus based programs as well.

Many parents are home educating children who have a disability. Children with learning disabilities and ADHD are the two largest subgroups who receive accommodations through disability legislation (Parker et al, 2011). At times these parents may feel their children’s needs are not being met in the public school system, but also feel anxious or unsure how to effectively address their children’s learning needs on their own at home. Parents often ask their Clonlara Advisor for a product or curriculum that is designed for a child with a special learning need. Although there are several wonderful products and curricula for sale, effective learning best occurs with the use of curriculum material combined with effective strategies. This article is meant to provide and describe research-based strategies that can be incorporated with any learning activity at any age level. The strategies described below have been proven to increase the transfer of information from short-term to long-term memory as well as increase retrieval of previously learned information from long term memory.

Build Self-Efficacy: Self- efficacy is the ability level or confidence a person feels they have in a particular skill area. When a student has a high level of self-efficacy in a particular area they tend to employ higher-order thinking and persevere longer in challenging activities. A sense of self-efficacy is very important for any student, but especially for students who have been told they have a “disability” and may feel inadequate because they cannot learn in the same ways as their peers. It is important to teach these students that they CAN learn and are just as smart and talented as their peers. They just learn in a different way. Help them discover what their talents are and the best ways for them to be successful learning new information.

Goal Setting: Make goals clear at the beginning of a learning activity. Let the student set personal and academic goals. Two useful activities for this are “3-2-1.” The student describes 3 things they already know or think they know- 2 things they would like to learn more about- and 1 thing they find interesting about the topic. And “K-W-L” – what do you Know – what do you Want to learn – and what did you Learn?

Plans for Achieving Goals: Depending on the age level, make a plan for how the goal will be accomplished. Brainstorm activities that sound interesting and productive with the student. With older students, this will give them a sense of control over their own education. Younger students often enjoy monitoring their progress towards a goal. Discuss progress toward the goal and make a visual.

Build background knowledge: Be aware of previous knowledge a student needs to know in order to learn a new skill. Also, be aware of whether the student possesses this knowledge and teach it if necessary.

Short instruction time: Keep instruction time short and engaging. The average attention span is about 7 minutes and the brain usually decides whether the information is pertinent within the first 1 – 3 seconds. If the brain decides the information being presented is important, it will continue to take in the rest of the information and hold in short-term memory for 20- 30 seconds. After that, it will transfer to long-term memory based on follow-up activities using new information. Give short breaks during longer activities and then review when the break is over to get the brain “back on track.”

Chunking: Breaking information into small, manageable parts. When covering a large amount of information, it is best to break it into chunks containing about 7 (+ or -) pieces. Also, try to group information with other related information. If the learner can make a connection to new information, he or she is more likely to retain it.

Scaffolding: When a new concept is introduced, it’s ok to guide learning and “jog” a student’s memory. Giving hints that assist in information processing or retrieval is part of a process called scaffolding. When we scaffold, we give hints and slowly take the hints away as a student becomes more confident with new information or skills.

Multiple modalities: Use multiple modalities for learning so different parts of the brain are activated. Different learners have different processing strengths neurologically. Modalities include visual, auditory, tactile, and kinesthetic (movement).

Errorless Learning: Monitor the learning of new information closely. Once a pathway in the brain of a child with a learning disability has been formed, it is much harder to form a new correct pathway as compared to the brain of a student without a processing disorder.

Modeling: Have a peer or mentor the student respects model a new skill. Often when we see someone we view as similar to ourselves accomplish a task, we will then feel as if we can do it too. When people feel confidence entering into a challenge (self-efficacy as described above), they tend to have higher perseverance, use problem-solving skills, and employ more higher-order thinking to learning activities.

Real life application and Problem Solving: Present students with problems to solve independently that will require them to apply new and old knowledge. Allow students multiple ways to solve a problem.

Constant review: Students with processing disorders need more repetition and structure.

Jackie Ufer is an advisor for the home based education program at Clonlara School.  She wrote this article for The Learning Edge newsletter and kindly let us re-use it.  

How Accurate was Your Education?

This infographic was supplied by Gerri, a Clonlara School guest blogger (***Clonlara School does not endorse or recommend any product/service in connection with this author***)

Here at school we often hear, “why do we have to take this class?” or “I’m never going to use this,”  but Gerri shows us that may not be true.  A fun way to show your children/students that there may be a reason they haven’t thought of – you really do use this stuff.