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Formal vs. Informal Education

Formal education is classroom-based, provided by certified teachers. Informal education happens outside the classroom, in after-school programs, child care centers, community-based organizations, museums, libraries, and at home. Pre-K education can fall anywhere between the two, although Head Start centers and many preschools are defining their learning outcomes more rigorously and requiring more professional training for teachers.

What are the main differences between formal and informal education?

  • In general, classrooms have the same kids and teachers every day. After-school programs are often drop-in, so attendance is inconsistent and the staff may change from day to day.
  • Classroom activities can last several days. After-school programs need to complete an activity within a day because a different group of kids could be in attendance tomorrow.
  • You can assume that classroom-based teachers have a certain level of training in educational philosophy, effective teaching strategies, classroom management, and content. After-school providers and child care providers, by contrast, vary in experience and knowledge of teaching techniques, content expertise, and group management. Typically, materials for after-school programs and many child care settings include a lot more structure.
  • School-based teachers need to meet educational standards and stick to a specified curriculum, which can make it difficult for them to incorporate nontraditional content. After-school programs, on the other hand, can be more flexible with their content, as can child care centers.

Both formal and informal educational settings offer different strengths to your educational outreach project. If your project fits in the classroom, it can have a very long life; teachers will use trusted resources for years. After-school programs offer a different kind of environment, where your activities don't need to be as formal and where you can reach a different audience.

While both schools and after-school programs serve students, many kids who feel disenfranchised at school blossom in after-school settings. Real learning can happen in a setting where kids feel less intimidated or more comfortable than they do in a formal classroom. The ultimate goal is that a child's success in an informal setting can lead to greater confidence in the formal classroom.

An additional benefit of developing materials for informal educational settings is that these materials may be useful to parents at home with their kids or in any number of settings, among them after-school centers, museum education programs, and libraries.



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