It’s the word that no new homeschooler wants to hear: “deschooling”. Sometimes confused with “unschooling” and regarded with the same disdain and disgust to the newly transitioning… but this little word can change the trajectory of your homeschool experience.
New homeschoolers are eager to “start homeschooling” and I get it. Some of them are excited. Some of them are a little nervous about not knowing what to do or feeling the weight of the responsibility of their child’s education suddenly on their shoulders. There are a lot of reasons new homeschoolers want to dig right into things. The LAST thing they want to hear is “Relax! Don’t do anything for a while!”. For some, they might even worry about their state regulations and the idea of accounting for the time that they’re “not doing anything”. But there are ways to account for it; and we’re going to talk about why you need it.
First, let’s get the definitions clearer:
“Unschooling” is an educational philosophy that has a broad spectrum of implementations, but at it’s core: education is NEVER IMPOSED on the child. The child learns what and when they want. There are many flavors of unschooling and they can look very different–but unschoolers never force their children to learn something. They believe their children will learn what they need in life when they need it or when they are motivated by pure desire. That is different from “deschooling”.
“Deschooling” is an adjustment period after leaving a school environment when a child (and their parents) disengage from the “school” mindset and mentality and learn a completely new way of life that is not based on the culture, structure or expectations of school. It’s a time when “learning” is not imposed on the child–and I think this is why some parents mix up the concept with unschooling because for this short period of time–it mimics unschooling to some extent. But during this time, parents are not shopping for curricula or developing learning plans–they, too, need to disengage from the school mindset.
Many parents have their kids finish out a school year and use summer break to deschool. Summer break is not deschooling.
During the summer–ALL of the kids are out of school (unless you’re in a year-round district). It feels okay and “safe” to be out, doing nothing, having a good time. That’s what is “allowed” during that time of year. As a result, you (and your child) are still operating on a school-based mindset: summer is time to enjoy and relax. So by enjoying and relaxing in the summer, you are not disengaging from a school mindset. It’s only when school starts back up again that you are finally deschooling. It’s when you face all of the emotions that come with stepping outside of what you know and finding a new normal. It means waiting out those weeks, possibly months (the estimate is 1 month for every 1 year of school that was attended) where your child finally registers that “Hey–I’m really NOT going back. There really ISN’T someone that’s going to dictate my education to me. Hunh…”
There are definitely kids that will seek out the classroom at home. Any number of new homeschooling parents will put a worksheet in front of their child and watch the child gobble it up. The parent concludes that this is what the child wants. But this is what the child KNOWS, and change is scary. Kids want to do the right things and what they have known as “the right thing” has been to do the worksheets and do their best on them. Even if they didn’t actually engage in that activity at school, they know that’s the cultural norm of “being a good kid” in school and they might very willingly engage in it at home. Parent is happy because it looks like the child is learning at home. Child is happy because they feel like they’re doing the right things. But the day is likely going to come when deschooling is going to need to happen anyway. For us–with my son only having attended a Montessori preschool and then an eclectic mostly play-based preschool, we hit the wall a few weeks in.
The goal of deschooling is to remove all of those constructs and build new ones. Think about this: why are you homeschooling? Some people remove their children from the school because that environment isn’t really working for their child. They then move onward replicating that same environment for their kids. The curriculum might be different. The ability to sit in a different type of chair or take more breaks might be different. But the constructs are the same. This is what deschooling aims to break down. It’s asking you to throw out what you know and “find yourself”.
But this also gives these new homeschooling parents what they are often desperately seeking on the homeschool loops and in the groups: insights about curricula (for those that go that route). You see, in homeschooling–we drive the boat. There are SO. MANY. OPTIONS. when it comes to curricula. Where do you start? This is where deschooling pays off big. I mean that literally. Have you seen my library? Because this is what happens when you don’t deschool AND you try to educate them before they’re ready: you by All Of The Curricula. To the tune of what a new car would cost me. I didn’t have older and experienced homeschoolers back then and if I did, I might have given them a thousand reasons why my snowflake was special and therefore their advice didn’t apply to my situation. So I learned in dollars and aggravation. I had my long, sobbing cry from my association clubhouse parking lot about how I was going to have to put my oldest in public school because “He simply refused to learn from me”. I love my friend for not having laughed out loud at me as I sniffled my way through the conversation.
When your child is still operating on a school mindset, you aren’t seeing how they actually learn. When you leave them alone for a period of time, you start to see how they approach new things and take in new information. Don’t get me wrong: I’m a huge fan of kids getting outside of their comfort zone; but they are going to learn their core and critical concepts in the way that is easiest for them to acquire fluency. To do that, you need to really watch what they’re doing and understand how they are operating.
Most new homeschooling parents lose their patience waiting for this to happen.
When the kids (and parents) that need deschooling the most DON’T do it, they often struggle. They can’t find the right fit for curricula. The parents can’t get the kids to “do any work”. They complain that the kids don’t want to learn anything. Struggles escalate. Homeschooling is worse than school for some. The kids want to go back to school. The parents think they can’t homeschool. They tell themselves that it’s not for them or their special snowflakes that don’t need deschooling or did enough deschooling with that 2-3 weeks off of the 6th grader they just pulled out or summer break. So a lack of deschooling wasn’t the problem.
In the end, you are going to do what you want to do. But if you are interested in deschooling and simply have no idea what those days look like, let me give you some tips:
Create a set of routines to structure your day. They don’t need to be bound by a specific time–just a specific order. It doesn’t matter what time you wake up, but when you wake up you have to get dressed, brush your teeth and make your bed (or whatever routines your family wants to have in place). Same for bedtime. Maybe you have a set of routines that needs to be done before going out somewhere. If structure is your concern, I’ve written about that here. But be sure you are reconnecting your kids to their self-care routines and sense of communal living in the home by sharing some of the workload.
Think about screen time. Families have different takes on screen time–some limit and some don’t. My family limits but we have at least one kid for whom the screen has an addictive quality to it; and both kids behavior tanks if they get too much screen time in one sitting. Think about how you would feel if your kids had unlimited screen time and opted to use it to the exclusion of all other things. If that possibility doesn’t sit well with you, implement some guidelines now. In my house, screen time is generally at 4pm for an hour. There are days where they obviously see a screen more than that–but that’s their strictly play time on a screen.
Read. Read aloud to your kids–even if they’re teenagers. Or get audiobooks (which are great for the car). Read nonsense books. Read literature. Read poems. Stop reading midway through something if none of you are actually enjoying it. Read in a hammock or in the grass or in the swingset treehouse or in the big bed or on the floor with the dog. But read. And discover if any of you actually ENJOYS reading. Because not everyone does.
Go places. This doesn’t have to cost money. Just go places. Go to the park. Go on walks. Go to the library. Go to free days at the museums and zoos since you’re home during the day now. See what state or national parks are near you. If you’re up for it, take a day trip or a road trip. Go see all of the sites you would take an out of town visitor to. Get to know your local sites of interest.
Do the messy stuff. You have the time now. Get out the paints or the sidewalk chalk. Make mud pies. Build stuff with glue.
Find people. Use Meetup.com, Facebook, Yahoo groups and find homeschoolers in your area. Try them on for size and see who you connect with. Check to see if your skating rink or bowling alley or YMCA or museums/planetarium/aquarium or recreation/park district offers things for homeschoolers where you might also tap into the community and get the scoop on local resources.
Connect with your kids. When the pressure of learning is off, you can just enjoy your kids and talk to them about nothing with no agenda and just hear what’s going on in their heads. Try to give each kid a dedicated 10-20 minutes of one-on-one time each day where you do or talk about what THEY want to do or talk about. Even if it bores you to tears at first. Try to take a genuine interest in it because it’s important to them. And this one will likely cut down on some level of sibling rivalry and the constant nagging for your attention. Talk to them. Build that dialogue with them. Start understanding how they tick because you are engaging with them in a different way. They may surprise you (if only because they grow and change so quickly!)
This is a good time. It’s not what you expected and it’s not what you thought you’d be doing. It can be scary because you may want to jump into a more familiar territory. But this is worth it on so many levels. In the end, you might actually decide to do something at home that looks more like school–and that’s your choice. But you will have better guidance at choosing curricular materials, and likely a more compliant and ready to learn child at the end of this process.
And that could make the difference between having a good homeschooling experience and having a horrible experience that sends you back into the schools with the belief that it just can’t BE any better. But it can.