Are Non-Traditional Schooling Options For You?

February 18, 2023

I have had a lot of conversations with other parents lately and have been researching for our own family about schooling for our kiddo. Many of us are wondering about options. For so long, we could only choose between public school and private school, with little to no influence over things, even if we were actively involved in the PTA or the school.

But there is so much more out there, if you dig, know what questions to ask, and ask enough questions to find answers. I am by no means an expert, I’m barely above a novice outside of public school. But I wanted to give you a starting point on resources and options. This information is entirely based on my home state of Florida. If you live in a different state, please research your own state as these can vary greatly.

If you choose an option outside of public or private school, in Florida, you can still have your child involved in extracurricular activities at the local school, so don’t think that they won’t have access, they can!

If you are military, know these options do exist for you, as well, based on your home of record, so the on base DOD school isn’t your only option either.

If you are a nomadic or full-time RV family, but have a home as a home base, you may also be able to use these options, but it will depend on your situation–you will need a physical home in the school district and a utility bill or lease agreement with whomever you stay with when at home.

PUBLIC SCHOOL This is the most common option. For many, this is the best choice since it is free and provides supervision for your child during the day while you are working. Students will need to complete learning within predetermined time limits based on the school calendar, academic learning maps from the school district, and other state mandated lessons (health, bullying, smoking, etc.) that are worked into the curriculum. Class sizes and school assignment will be based on state guidelines. Students will participate in state standardized testing and will be placed in class levels based on these scores. While you do have the option to opt out, it can be difficult to do so and there can be challenges, such as limited opportunity to advanced classes. If this is something you are interested in doing, research your state, find the opt out coalition and talk to them, and openly communicate with your teacher and guidance counselor so proper documentation can be kept for promotion.

PRIVATE SCHOOL This option is often the alternative families choose when they don’t want to opt for public school. Many private schools are based on religion, so faith-based education is incorporated into their daily learning. There is often a tuition involved with this option. However, some private schools do also accept government funding for education for incorporating certain aspects, such as state standardized testing, scholarships for students that can’t afford tuition, and other public school requirements. When choosing a school, be sure to ask questions about their funding and state compliances so you know if this is something you will need to consider. From some friends I know that chose private schools that did these things, they often felt like it was just like public school, except they could have religion and were paying tuition for it.

VIRTUAL SCHOOL This option means your child will do all of their education via online classes. In our state, there are both full time and flex options, and there are school district virtual schools as well as a separate school district that is entirely virtual. In full time, they will have structured times, days and classes to take and follow a school calendar with deadlines–it is a public school so will follow similar aspects of private school, including state testing and mandated lessons. The flex options allow you to choose which classes, how many at a time, and when your child will work, reaching out for support from their teacher as needed, or to comply with communication requirements. So long as you meet the grade level requirements to complete/graduate from that level you have control. There will be course records and transcripts and state standards for you to keep on file and show documentation of complying with requirements. You can also decide on state testing options as well, but be sure to communicate with the virtual guidance counselor and your school district’s home school options to be clear.

HOMESCHOOLING If you are able to keep your child at home with you or a family member, this is the option that many choose. You are able to teach your children the content you’d like, in the time span you’d like, in a method that works with their learning style. There are a variety of curriculums to use, most require purchase, or you can create your own. This method often requires annual certification to be signed off on by a certified teacher or a homeschool liaison.

UNSCHOOLING (FLORIDA) This is a fairly new option and is gaining in popularity. This option is set up as a private school to which your provide minimal documentation to register, then you can enroll in a virtual school’s flex program. Because it is a private school, state standardized testing isn’t required and you only have to meet the minimum academic requirements. As of the date of this article, there is no fee for this, although donations are accepted since it is a small operation. As it gains in popularity, this could change.

RECORD KEEPING I recommend keeping excellent records, no matter which form of education you choose. The term used in the education system will be “portfolio”. Documentation of learning, grades, communications, etc. This is especially important if you are choosing one of the non-traditional methods other than public or private school. This can be a simple binder showing what was learned and when, scores, and work samples, at a minimum. Keeping a paper and digital copy is also recommended, so if you need to provide emailed documentation or there is a digital storage failure, you are prepared in both cases.

Whichever option you choose, be sure to withdraw your student from their current academic setting and enroll in the new option, or provide a letter of intent to the local district. Should you relocate to a new state or district as your permanent home of record, be sure to also update both the old and new districts with the information. This will save you time and headaches in the future.

Start Early!! I can’t stress this enough. Schools are always planning a semester ahead, this is a good idea for you, as well. If you are looking for changes the next fall, start exploring and getting set up in the spring before school is out for summer–this will make contacting people easier and save you the beginning of year crowds for those that do wait, or had to wait.

For the sake of length, I kept this pretty brief and focus on a preview of major options. Be sure to do your own independent research on enrollment for your county, graduation requirements, testing coordination and opting out, as well as specifics to your child’s grade level and any special needs they have. My first draft, I tried to include it all and it was just too much for one post.

None of this information is privileged and it is all available by public record and able to locate by a simple internet search, if you ask the right questions. This is by no means a comprehensive reference, but more a starting point to help you have more meaningful conversations with your family or your child’s school as you explore options. As with any information, things can change from year to year. Be sure to research further with your school district and the Department of Education so you have a complete picture.

Like or comment below, and share with others to support the blog. I post weekly about teaching, traveling and family. Until next time, you can find us on Facebook @BarnesOnMove, Tiktok & Instagram @BarnesOnMove OR @BarnesOnMove2, or our website

My Simplified Approach to an eLearning Station

Our eLearning station takes up a small wall in the dining room, just off of the kitchen and family room. Centrally located if he needs us, but in a low traffic area during the day.

August 2020

Since we decided to keep our son home for eLearning for the first term of 4th grade, I’ve been racking my brain and the internet for how to set up a learning area for him. I work from home already, but we quickly learned during the pandemic closure and 4th quarter of last school year that it is impractical for us to share my office.  Between my phone calls and zoom meetings and his zoom meetings and lessons, we were a constant interruption to each other.  We needed someplace for him. But where? And how? And his school has the students following their school day schedule, meaning he will need to be logged in to a certain place at a certain time for his lessons and for attendance, so we needed it to work with little effort or supervision on our part.

I realized quickly I was not going to be one of those Pinterest or YouTube moms that went all out.  No offense to them, it looks amazing, but that isn’t his learning style, our family’s living style, nor did it fit our budget for what we hope will be a short-term situation.  We needed simple and easy.  I also didn’t want to use the dining room table since that would mean having to put it somewhere when it was mealtime, and he would have to get up to get things when he needed them—way too inefficient for my taste.

I also made sure to include him in the decision-making process—what he wanted and didn’t want in the space, where he wanted to be in the house, decorations, etc.  With his input and my experience as both his mom and a teacher, we were able to come up with a plan.

What resulted was a compact area on a small wall in the dining room that has everything he needs in one location and is organized in a simple to use fashion that already embraced the toy system we use—cubbies that are taken out, used, cleaned up, and put away when finished.  It was also low on budget—including the school supplies he needed, we spent under $100.

Here’s a breakdown of our e-learning center.

DRY ERASE MESSAGE BOARD This will be used to post the date/day of the week, as well as daily quotes and inspirations for him each day. There are all sorts of websites with quotes for kids and we can tailor them to him or to what he has going on for this day. Having the day and date will also replicate the classroom and help him in finding what the online resources and dates are.

DAILY SCHEDULE This schedule came from his school with what time the classes are and where he should be.  It is color-coded to match the bins since he has two academic teachers this year so it will help him keep up with who is when. Our school gave us a general version and the teachers were really awesome and had one ready, so all I really had to do was adapt to fit on a clipboard (their version was landscape layout, I preferred portrait so that it would hang on the clipboard for easy reference.

COMPUTER He is going to be sharing my personal laptop with me, but we created his own profile and have been working with him, so he knows how to access his school’s site and the sites needed for his lessons.

IPAD & STAND The iPad is programmed with alarms for each of the start times for his schedule just in case he gets distracted—he is nine after all!  The stand we already had, but it gives it a home to sit on his workstation and be out of the way, and he has a clock and timer ready, if he needs it.

SUPPLIES CUBBY This is a top shelf for easy access.  He has a cup with pencils, highlighters, and scissors in the bin, as well as his paints, markers, crayons, color pencils, ruler, and whatever other supplies he may end up needing.  We also have a binder with notebook and plain paper for whatever they may need.

CLASS CUBBIES He has one for electives, one for his morning classes and one for his afternoon classes.  The textbooks and other materials will stay in here so he can find it quickly and easily or pull out all materials from it.  We have his notebook and folder for each subject that will be during that part of the day, as well.

LUNCH MENU He will have the same amount of lunch time as the students at school, so we needed a way to eat quickly that would allow him time to relax.  He and I sat down together and decided to create hot and cold options for Monday through Friday, make them slips, and he can fill them out on Fridays so we can grocery shop and restock. Every option can either be prepared in the morning before school or they are thing he has experience making or preparing independently, just in case our work schedules don’t allow us to break away at the same time, although we hope to be able to eat with him and socialize each day.

UNIFORM Yes, we are going to be those parents that make him wear a uniform each day—at least his school shirt.  We want him to keep the routine and have a “work mindset” by being dressed for the role he will be in.  As someone who works from home, I know that this routine and getting ready element helps me to mentally prepare for a workday instead of a personal day, and it makes a difference.

PRIZE BOX This was a must—he is in elementary school, and our school is a part of the PBS (positive behavior system) so we wanted to continue promoting that at home, again trying to maintain and simulate the routine for him. He isn’t much on toys, but he can get a piece of candy or a Molly Moo-lah at the end of a good day.

our Store inventory

MOLLY MOO-LAH This is our version of school bucks that our school also uses for PBS.  The students can earn them for various actions of responsibility and good behavior.  Our dog’s name is Molly, nicknamed Molly MooMoo, so she became our mascot.  We then created a list of items he can redeem them for.  At school, they can use them at the Bucks Store for various items or even dress down days.  We created ours to include dress down days, as well as prizes we can easily give including ice cream dates, dinner and a movie night, an extra week of allowance (he is saving for some bigger items) or an extra piece of candy from his daily prize box (we don’t do a lot of candy in our home, so this is a treat).

our Molly Moo-Lah!

It isn’t a perfect plan, and it may adapt as we go and find flaws or at least adaptations.  But he is set up to be independently successful in his day. If I happen to be busy and can’t break away or dad is working outside of the house that day, he is set up for self-guided success.  He may miss something or be late sometimes, and we will figure out why and it will be okay.  Our goal is for him to learn to take responsibility for his learning and to be a part of his routine and actively contributing to his own success.

I hope this helped inspire you for your e-learning station and helped you realize it doesn’t have to be fancy or take up a huge amount of space. Good luck in your project!

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