Investing in the Right Education for Your Kid 

Pioneer School in Spokane Valley offers a unique elementary education experience that teaches kids to love learning. 

By Shallan Knowles 

Cover photo courtesy Shallan Knowles

We are fortunate to have some amazing public schools and excellent teachers around the Spokane region, but some children will struggle more than others at their local public school for a variety of reasons, leaving those parents looking for alternatives.  

Elementary school should be about learning the basics, but also—and arguably, more importantly—learning to love learning. It’s a core life skill that can be difficult to teach students with individual learning needs and challenges, especially in a large classroom with standardized curriculum.  

Photo Courtesy Shallan Knowles

For kids who might not fit well in a traditional school environment like that, there are a growing number of charter schools and experienced-based public schools out there that provide varied learning environments, although many fill up quickly.  

There are also many excellent private school options. The smaller class sizes and specialized learning approach at some of these schools can be appealing but also cost prohibitive for many parents. Of course we want what’s best for our kids, and there’s nothing more worthy of investing in than their futures. That thinking played a huge role in our decision to find a school that was right for our son, especially since he takes after his father who struggled with desk-bound school work as an elementary school student. 

 “We don’t know where Derrick is a lot of the time,” his third-grade teacher told my mother-in-law about my now-husband during a parent-teacher conference. This antidote came up frequently when we began looking at daycares and then schools that might a good fit for our son. All of those years ago, Derrick was physically there at his desk, of course, but not really there. He recalls staring longingly out the window, lost in an imaginative world, waiting for the school bell to ring and then coming to life with delight on the rare days when learning meant watching a film, participating in arts experiences, getting out of the classroom on a field trip, or taking part in some cultural experience at an assembly. Once off to college, he finally learned to love learning. It was this history of struggling in a traditional classroom setting, and a realization that our son takes after his father in this regard, that informed our search for an elementary education that would work better for our imaginative, high-energy kid.  

Courtesy Shallan Knowles

Enter Pioneer School, a pre-k through 5th grade elementary school in Spokane Valley that caters to highly capable students. This small, unpretentious private school with small class sizes is one of the few secular private schools around, leaving various religious or spiritual beliefs to the parents. The focus, instead, is centered around experiential and theme-based learning. Kids take on more interactive projects that make them active participants in their learning and spend less time working on packets at their desks. They go on more hands-on learning expeditions out in nature and in the community than sitting still staring at chalkboards. The desk work that is done is related thematically to the projects and learning expeditions based on quarterly themes or topics that tie it all together and make learning meaningful, personal, and active. The learning topics range broadly from nature to history, current events, culture, music and art. 

When our son started kindergarten at Pioneer, the topic was inventing, which according to him was what he wanted to be when he grew up. He came home from school gushing with facts, small invention projects, and a passion for learning that has only grown stronger since then. 

The school is also dedicated to outdoor play in the school’s backyard play area in all types of weather, as well as in seasonal outdoor sports including alpine and Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, ice and roller skating, hiking, biking, camping, nature exploration, and other outdoor activities. Our son often comes home talking excitedly about the surprising things he learned that day, his clothes dirty and shoes full of sand from intense outdoor play, confirming for us that we made the right school choice. 

To learn more about Pioneer School and openings for the 2024/2025 school year, visit or email to set up a tour. 

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