For two years now, the educational landscape has been changing in. Non-formal education is being invited into early childhood structures, supported by the authorities, to improve the quality of childcare. Elsewhere, it is also evolving, making itself known through UNESCO in particular, to promote equal opportunities.

Non-formal education, we transmit it in the framework of several of our trainings. Still too little known, I want to talk about it on the blog and give you the essential keys to promote this type of education. This article is an introduction, it will be followed by others more in-depth, listed on this page.

Formal, non-formal, informal education: what’s the difference?

Formal education is the type of education that children experience in the so-called “traditional” school, but also in some childcare facilities: the adult decides on the program, the timetable and changes in activities. The child follows what the educator or teacher tells him or her to do.

All children do the same thing at the same time, within a set time frame. This can also be the case with “directed” activities: a group of children sitting at a table with the same activity (in winter, all will paint penguins with grey paint during the theme “the animals of the ice floe”).

The limitation of formal education is that it does not follow the interests, rhythm and needs of the child, who remains quite passive in the development process.

Non-formal education is a more open type of education: the principle is to enrich the environment with various activities, to let each child go towards what interests him or her, and not to impose any particular activity or timing.

Thus, one child can play Legos, while the other does painting, and a third reads a book. The activities are individual, autonomous and the adult is there to accompany the children at their own pace. Montessori pedagogy, for example, is part of the non-formal pedagogy: each child goes about his or her business in a prepared environment.

Informal education is the fact of finding learning in everyday life, in a decompartmentalized and lively way: baking allows, for example, to learn fractions, properties of elements, emulsion, transformation, language, autonomy…

Informal education is traditionally practiced at home, with grandparents, in the playground… but it can be used in childcare facilities as well as in schools: it is the principle of democratic schools. Most non-formal pedagogies can also have large informal aspects. Here too, the enrichment of the environment is essential.

Why should we increase our efforts on non-formal and informal education?

Non-formal and informal education are deeply connected to the needs and interests of children. By allowing them to make choices and by respecting those choices, we help them to grow up serenely. In the same way, by not prioritizing learning, we allow the decompartmentalization necessary for children to integrate skills more fluidly. The children learn as well, or even better!

Making the transition to non-formal education is not always easy for the professional in particular, which is why I have decided to propose articles in this sense.

How to make the transition?

Before the publication which will be oriented on specific issues, here are the general advices that I give to my trainee teacher assistants, and which are valid in a childcare center as well as in school:

  • Offer choice: instead of offering only one activity at a time, make sure that the child has the choice between several activities simultaneously.
  • When offering activities to children, make sure that they have the choice to participate or not (this is the voluntary basis, one of the essential characteristics of non-formal education).
  • Install activities in small baskets or on trays on your shelves to create autonomous workshops: collage, cutting, modelling clay, books, decanting… in short, create alternatives to directed activities (and reduce or even eliminate these directed activities).
  • Trust the child, he is competent and knows what is good for him.

At first, offering choice can be scary: how are you going to cope with a whole group? In fact, what needs to be understood is that non-formal education and free choice in the rich environment it offers, helps professionals to manage the group, but in a different way: children quickly gain autonomy.

What changes will be observed?

Quite quickly, you will be able to see that the children become more independent, that the day goes more smoothly because the children are less in opposition (because they choose what they want to do).

Daniel Aguirre