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The Most Popular Alternative Education Philosophies

Every child is different, and often a mainstream education philosophy isn’t always suited as a ‘one size fits all’. There are many different alternative education philosophies, with varying degrees of popularity and uptake in different cultures across the world.


To understand the demand for some of these alternative education styles, the team at Witherow Brooke have looked into seven alternative education methods, and how their popularity varies across the world.


The philosophies considered were:


Montessori

Developed by Maria Montessori, this approach emphasizes self-directed activity, hands-on learning, and collaborative play. Montessori classrooms are carefully prepared environments designed to foster independence, exploration, and a love for learning. Parents may choose this method for its focus on individualized learning, respect for the child's pace, and the holistic development of children's intellectual, social, emotional, and physical skills.


Steiner & Waldorf

Also known as Waldorf education, it was founded by Rudolf Steiner. Steiner education emphasizes holistic development, creativity, and the arts alongside academics. It focuses on nurturing children's imagination, fostering a deep connection with nature, and integrating practical skills into the curriculum. Parents may choose this method for its emphasis on creativity, its holistic approach to education, and its focus on supporting children's emotional and social development.


Reggio Emilia 

Originating in Italy, the Reggio Emilia approach views children as active participants in their own learning process. It emphasizes child-led exploration, collaboration, and the arts. Reggio Emilia classrooms are designed to be aesthetically pleasing and offer numerous opportunities for children to express themselves through various mediums. Parents may choose this method for its focus on child-directed learning, its emphasis on creativity and collaboration, and its belief in the importance of the environment as the "third teacher."


Homeschooling

In homeschooling, parents take responsibility for their child's education, often tailoring the curriculum to their child's individual needs, interests, and learning styles. Homeschooling allows for flexibility in scheduling, personalized instruction, and the ability to provide a safe and supportive learning environment. Parents may choose homeschooling for reasons such as dissatisfaction with traditional schooling, religious or philosophical beliefs, or the desire for greater flexibility and individualized attention for their child.


Unschooling

Unschooling is a child-led approach to education where learning is driven by the child's interests, curiosity, and natural inclination to explore the world. Instead of following a structured curriculum, unschoolers learn through real-life experiences, self-directed exploration, and immersion in their interests. Parents may choose unschooling for its emphasis on autonomy, trust in children's innate desire to learn, and the belief that learning happens organically when children are free to pursue their passions. As with any educational philosophy which diverges from more established curricula, care should be taken in ensuring there is form, structure and progression to the child’s learning and development.


Democratic schools

Democratic schools are based on actively engaging the students with the principles of self-governance, freedom, and respect for individual rights. In these schools, students have a say in decision-making processes, including curriculum development, rules, and conflict resolution. Democratic schools prioritize student autonomy, critical thinking, and collaboration. Parents may opt for this approach for its emphasis on democracy, its focus on developing responsible and engaged citizens, and its belief in fostering intrinsic motivation and self-direction in students.


Charter schools

Charter schools are publicly funded schools that operate independently of traditional school districts. They often have more flexibility in their curriculum, teaching methods, and school policies compared to traditional public schools. Charter schools may specialize in specific areas such as STEM education, the arts, or alternative teaching methods. Parents may choose charter schools for reasons such as dissatisfaction with traditional public schools, the desire for more options and flexibility in education, or the appeal of a specialized curriculum or teaching approach offered by a particular charter school.


Search demand for each philosophy was analyzed for the UK, USA, Australia, Canada and the United Arab Emirates, as well as on a state-by-state basis across the USA. The demand was then calculated in relation to the country or state’s population, to get a relative view of how popular each education method was.


Montessori & Waldorf dominate the English speaking world


In the US, the most popular alternative education philosophy was Montessori with more than 1.1 million searches for information and schools between February 2023 and February 2024. In relation to its population, that’s around 32.8 searches per 1000 people. The Montessori method is popular as a philosophy in itself and at institutional level, with the Montessori Society now reporting over 3000 schools in the US that adopt this philosophy into their curriculum.


The second most in demand was Waldorf, and Charter schools came third. Searches and queries around the Waldorf education method totaled 1.04 million searches across America, with an average of 31.01 searches per 1000 of population.


Charter schools, a form of publicly funded independent school, was the third most popular - with around 897,000 searches on average per year. 


Homeschooling remains incredibly popular in the US, but only took fourth place as the most popular philosophy overall for the US. However, many alternative education methods such as Montessori can be practiced in either a traditional school or homeschooling setting.


Despite having risen in popularity, Unschooling and Reggio Emilia philosophies still made up a small proportion of education demand in the US.


Unschooling, the concept of teaching children through their own direction without a defined curriculum, has seen a spike in content on platforms such as TikTok in recent months, but this was not representative of the US as a whole - with only 1.2 searches per 1000 people.


Waldorf Popularity Surges in the UK

Whilst the US favor Montessori, it’s Waldorf & Steiner philosophies that are the most popular in the UK. Waldorf UK now has more than 20 registered learning establishments as full or associate members, it’s becoming a more accessible option for parents and caregivers as well as surging in demand for those debating an alternative education method for their children. There were 36.2 searches for every 1000 Brits around Waldorf education in the past 12 months, higher than any other philosophy.


Montessori came in second with 21.3 searches per 1000 people, and homeschooling came in third with 14.28. Culturally, homeschooling was less prevalent in the UK than other English-speaking countries, but its popularity has retained a steady surge in the wake of post-pandemic life in the UK as parents consider non-mainstream educational options.



United Arab Emirates & Australia Favor Alternative Education

In terms of the demand for alternative education methods overall, the United Arab Emirates came top when looking at the % of population searches for Waldorf methods, Democratic school and Charter schools, with more searches per 1000 of population than other countries in the study. With a higher population of ex-patriots compared to Emiratis, demand for a mixture of education styles was more prominent in the UAE than other countries.


Australians were also searching for the Reggio Emilia philosophy more so than other English speaking countries, with an average of 9.02 searches per 1000 people. The Reggio Emilia philosophy in general was less popular amongst the US, UK, Canada, Australia and UAE than other methods - but was far more popular in Australian culture than its counterparts.


In Canada, Montessori was the most popular philosophy - with 47.12 searches around the topic per 1000 Canadians in the past year. The proportion of Canadians searching for homeschooling came in third place, but was not as high as the proportional searches from the USA, UK or Australia, showing a demand for alternative philosophies but less so for homeschooling solutions.



The Most Popular Alternative Education by US State


In the US alone, demand for alternative education varies drastically state-by-state. Witherow Brooke also analyzed Google search demand across all 50 US states to see which philosophies were most popular in proportion to state population.



Montessori, Homeschooling, Charter Schools, Waldorf & Steiner
State map of the US, 54% dark green to represent Montessori as the most popular philosophy, 20% is homeschooling, 18% Charter schools and 8% Waldorf & Steiner.

Homeschooling remains popular at a state-by-state level

Whilst looking at the US population as a whole didn’t rank homeschooling as a top three philosophy, it’s clear that cultural differences and educational circumstances mean particular states favor a homeschooling approach over others. 


Of the 50 states analyzed, Montessori methods were the most popular in 27 (54%) including California, Iowa, Oregon and Texas, Homeschooling was the most popular in 10 states (20%) and Charter schools most popular in 9 (18%). The remaining 4 states (8%) had the Waldorf & Steiner methods as the most popular.


Trends were apparent with rural and Southern US states having homeschooling as the most popular philosophy, whereas more populous and coastal States favored Montessori or Charter schools.


Charter schools were the most popular search for New Yorkers overall, with 39.5 searches per 1000 people in the state, and also the most popular in New Mexico, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Rhode Island.


For less popular philosophies such as Democratic schools, Reggio Emilia and Unschooling there was still keen interest from specific states.


For Reggio Emilia, Florida, Illinois and Massachusetts all had close to 100,000 searches around the subject over the past 12 months, compared to less than 2000 in Kansas, Louisiana and Alabama.


Unschooling, the trend that’s considered controversial by some on platforms such as TikTok, was more popular in Florida of all US states, with the fewest searches overall in North Dakota.


All 50 states, and their most popular three philosophies are below:


State

Most popular philosophy

2nd most popular

3rd most popular

Alabama

Homeschooling

Montessori

Steiner

Alaska

Homeschooling

Montessori

Steiner

Arizona

Montessori

Charter schools

Waldorf

Arkansas

Homeschooling

Montessori

Charter schools

California

Montessori

Charter schools

Waldorf

Colorado

Montessori

Charter schools

Waldorf

Connecticut

Montessori

Waldorf

Steiner

Delaware

Charter schools

Montessori

Homeschooling

Florida

Charter schools

Montessori

Waldorf

Georgia

Montessori

Waldorf

Homeschooling

Hawaii

Waldorf

Montessori

Charter schools

Idaho

Charter schools

Homeschooling

Montessori

Illinois

Montessori

Waldorf

Steiner

Indiana

Montessori

Homeschooling

Steiner

Iowa

Montessori

Steiner

Waldorf

Kansas

Montessori

Homeschooling

Steiner

Kentucky

Homeschooling

Steiner

Montessori

Louisiana

Charter schools

Homeschooling

Montessori

Maine

Montessori

Homeschooling

Waldorf

Maryland

Montessori

Charter schools

Homeschooling

Massachusetts

Montessori

Charter schools

Waldorf

Michigan

Montessori

Homeschooling

Waldorf

Minnesota

Montessori

Waldorf

Charter schools

Mississippi

Homeschooling

Montessori

Charter schools

Missouri

Montessori

Homeschooling

Steiner

Montana

Montessori

Homeschooling

Steiner

Nebraska

Montessori

Steiner

Homeschooling

Nevada

Waldorf

Charter schools

Montessori

New Hampshire

Montessori

Charter schools

Waldorf

New Jersey

Montessori

Charter schools

Waldorf

New Mexico

Charter schools

Montessori

Homeschooling

New York

Charter schools

Waldorf

Montessori

North Carolina

Homeschooling

Charter schools

Montessori

North Dakota

Steiner

Homeschooling

Montessori

Ohio

Montessori

Homeschooling

Waldorf

Oklahoma

Charter schools

Homeschooling

Montessori

Oregon

Montessori

Waldorf

Charter schools

Pennsylvania

Montessori

Charter schools

Waldorf

Rhode Island

Charter schools

Montessori

Waldorf

South Carolina

Charter schools

Montessori

Homeschooling

South Dakota

Homeschooling

Waldorf

Montessori

Tennessee

Homeschooling

Montessori

Waldorf

Texas

Montessori

Charter schools

Homeschooling

Utah

Montessori

Charter schools

Homeschooling

Vermont

Montessori

Homeschooling

Waldorf

Virginia

Waldorf

Montessori

Homeschooling

Washington

Montessori

Waldorf

Homeschooling

West Virginia

Homeschooling

Montessori

Steiner

Wisconsin

Montessori

Steiner

Homeschooling

Wyoming

Homeschooling

Steiner

Charter schools

Roland Witherow, education expert and co-founder of Witherow Brooke commented: 


“In navigating the diverse landscape of alternative education philosophies, it's crucial for parents, teachers, and caregivers to recognize the individuality of each child and the unique approach that best fosters their growth and development. 
While Montessori and Waldorf methods dominate in various English-speaking regions, the popularity of each philosophy varies significantly across different cultures and regions, highlighting the importance of understanding local preferences and educational values.
When selecting the right educational philosophy for a child, it's essential to consider not only the philosophy itself but also the compatibility with the child's learning style, interests, and personality. 
Whichever approach, or combination of approaches, is taken towards a child’s education, the key lies in aligning the educational environment with the child's individual needs and aspirations. Ensuring there is a form to whichever curriculum your child learns is key, including measurable progression and development, even when that curriculum has room for spontaneity and improvisation.
Staying informed about emerging trends and philosophies can empower parents and educators to make informed decisions that prioritize the development and happiness of the child so that they can make the most of the present and best prepare for the future.”

If you’re interested in exploring tutoring and schooling options, Witherow Brooke can help with all manner of private and elite tutoring recruitment for your child’s needs. 




Methodology


Google search volumes were taken from keywordtool.io at a country level for the 8 education philosophies/styles used. The countries were the UK, USA, UAE, Australia and Canada. the monthly search volumes were multiplied by 12 to get an annual average, and then the ratio was calculated for each country per 1000 of the population, to ensure fairness in scoring in relation to the demand per 1000 of each country's population. 


The same methodology was used at a US state level in order to determine the most popular philosophy in each US state. Finally, each state's top philosophy was counted in order to work out the % of the 50 US states. The search volume used was the average of the key term stated, the only exception was 'Waldorf' in Maryland. This was due to the settlement of Waldorf, Maryland skewing search results - so specific search terms were analyzed to exclude this. 


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