Our team gets that question often. Since beginning our work, we’ve struggled to nail down a straightforward definition for microschools. They are adaptable by design; made to fit a context. So, there isn’t a simple answer. Here are a few attempts to explain microschooling.
Most microschools are small. (Although, it doesn’t take long to find examples of successful schools with multiple sites, bursting at the seams with long waitlists!) The best explanation might be simply listing the characteristics common to most microschools.
Microschools = multi-age learning. Classrooms, sometimes called studios, are organized to include several ages together in grade-bands. It’s also common to “loop” with the same teacher over several years. Think: modern, one-room schoolhouse, and you’re not far off! Families report that in this environment their student feels known and can fluidly (and independently—that’s key!) shift up or down in their studies to suit individual needs.
Microschools = atypical weekly schedule. These learning communities cater to families that are open to a different schedule. One example is meeting in-person 3 or 4 days each week and completing a day or two of work independently at home. Alternatively, students might attend school in the morning and enjoy flexible afternoons for extra-curricular activities or
additional online learning. Some schools also prioritize more frequent, longer breaks from school for family travel or to engage short-term interests.
Microschools = non-traditional spaces. These learning communities can exist anywhere! Churches with empty buildings during the week are an ideal place to set up a school. Other groups meet in fitness centers, private homes, and coffee shops. The biggest considerations are making sure the space is safe for kids and teens and meets the area zoning regulations. Within those parameters, the options are almost endless.
Finally, microschools = shifting roles. These schools are designed to foster student-directed learning. It takes some adjustment, but children learn to prioritize tasks and articulate their learning independently. Similarly, teachers find themselves serving more as guides and learning alongside their students. Even the role of schools themselves is shifting. Microschool founders want to leverage relationships with and resources in their local community—the school’s role is to handle a portion of a child’s education and encourage them to connect in other areas too.
The excitement surrounding microschools centers around the fact that, while they share some common traits, they all look and feel a little different.
Versatile by design. Flexible to fit various circumstances.
In our work, we’ve found that microschools tend to fall into one of three main categories, and these run along a continuum. They are resource centers, hybrid-schools, or tiny private schools. Even within these three types there is room for variation to create something that
works well for a particular community. School operators flex and adjust to build the ideal model for their context.
Resource centers provide space. These learning spaces cater to homeschooled children and online learners and offer a separate space for schoolwork that includes social interaction and potentially educational support. While not exactly a school, these centers often include extra-curricular activities to supplement the chosen curriculum. Churches might host religion classes or offer leadership opportunities in conjunction with opening a study space for children in their neighborhood. Fitness centers could include strength training or swimming lessons. Core subject materials are chosen and provided by parents.
Hybrid-schools are a mash-up. These school expressions fit somewhere between home school/learning pods and normal school. Typically, students attend in-person for several days and complete other parts of their learning at home independently. Some models meet all week, but only part of each day—this configuration works well for families who are heavily involved in extracurricular activities or seeking more family time.
Tiny Private schools are small on purpose. This is a great model for a school start-up and presents a model that can adjust as enrollment changes. Some entrepreneurs are excited about creating a boutique learning experience and have no desire to grow their school. Other groups love this model for getting a school community started and hope to scale up as more families join. It’s flexible—start one way and adjust in years to come.
So, those are all microschools, and no two are alike! And that’s the point! Schools offer what works in their context and students get a tailored education.