One of the most challenging times a homeschooling family faces is the period right after deciding to withdraw their child from traditional school. Regardless of whether the decision to homeschool was planned for a while or arose all of a sudden, there is always transition period that comes with switching from a traditional brick-and-mortar school to homeschooling during which families have to find their new groove.
If you find yourself in this transition period, taking the time to truly settle into what it means to be a homeschooling family is key. Before you jump in and buy all of the homeschool curriculum and workbooks you think you will need, consider embarking on an adjustment period known as “deschooling.”
What is Deschooling?
Sandra Dodd, a strong proponent of radical unschooling, urges parents, in her usual tongue-in-cheek manner, to change their mindset around what learning truly is. “Stop thinking schoolishly. Stop acting teacherishly. Stop talking about learning as though it’s separate from life,” Dodd advises parents. This is the premise of what it means to deschool.
For many parents, staying ‘on track’ is a significant concern, especially during the high school years. No parent wants their child to fall behind. Veteran homeschooling parents push back on this notion with the sentiment, “Behind whom?”
The key thing to remember is that once you’ve made the decision to homeschool, the idea of “being behind” is arbitrary. The notion of “staying on track” or “keeping up” is one that exists in a school setting only. As such, let these ideas go! There is a sense of freedom that comes with being a homeschooling family. Once you switch to homeschooling, your child is free to learn at their own pace – which may be “fast” in some areas and “slow” in others. And that’s perfectly okay! Homeschooling is individualized.
Deschooling Helps You Settle into Homeschooling
Deschooling is a way to slowly transition from a public or private school mindset to a home-based learning one. This means letting go of the preconceived notions of what learning should look like. You don’t have to wake up at 6 a.m. to be seated and working at the kitchen table by 7:30. You can, but it’s not the only way to learn. Your child doesn’t have to sit at a little desk set up in a homeschool room decorated with parts of speech posters on the wall. A lap desk set up on a comfy sofa surrounded by pillows works just as well, as does an audiobook during car rides.
Deschooling is a process by which you become more relaxed in how you approach learning. Many veteran homeschoolers actually suggest deschooling for as many months as the number of years your child was in a brick-and-mortar school setting. So if you are pulling your child out of school in the middle of 3rd grade, consider deschooling for at least three months. If you have a 6th grader, spend half of a calendar year in deschooling mode.
And no, deschooling isn’t just for your child. Parents, too, can benefit greatly from deschooling. If you attended a traditional brick-and-mortar school while growing up, you may benefit from the deschooling period as well, as it will show you just how much learning can occur outside of a school setting and without the use of formal curriculum. Deschooling allows families to take a step back and figure out what works best for their individual needs.
How Deschooling Can Benefit Both You and Your Child
Deschooling is a chance to take a deep breath, relax, and settle into your new role as a homeschooling family. This will look different for everyone. At its core, it’s a time to let go of what you think you know about learning. The key thing to remember is that humans never stop learning. Whether it’s from a book or out in the world, just being part of society provides plenty of opportunities to experience things, learn, and grow.
A few of the ways deschooling will benefit both you and your child include:
- It allows your child to slowly settle into this new learning environment. There will be less friction between parent and child as you each come to embrace this new dynamic between the two of you and navigate your new relationship as parent-teacher and child-student.
- You’ll keep yourself from spending money on curriculum that you may never use. The deschooling process will help you get to know your child better, which will help you make better curriculum choices if and when you are ready to begin more formal academics.
- Your child will have the free time to explore their interests and discover their passions.
- You will strengthen your relationship with your child by engaging in mutually enjoyable activities, and also by following your child’s lead and supporting them as they figure out how they like to spend their time.
- There will be more peace and calm in your home. Just think – no more morning chaos as you rush out the door and no more fights over homework in the evenings!
Do You and Your Child Need Deschooling?
If your child has never attended a brick-and-mortar school, deschooling may not be needed. But any child who has spent a significant amount of time in a traditional classroom will benefit from a period of deschooling.
Incorporate child-led learning into your home by taking a step back to watch your child. Let them explore their interests, play video games, paint, draw, or read books that they want to read. At first, deschooling is going to look a lot like “doing nothing,” but don’t let that scare you. You’ll soon come to see learning in just about everything your child does – yes, even Minecraft.
So, What Does Deschooling Look Like?
When deschooling, activities like the following can truly help you take an interest-led learning approach to education, which will better prepare you for moving forward as homeschoolers:
- Visit the library regularly, without an agenda, and let your child take the lead; note what types of books and topics they gravitate toward.
- Take nature walks. Getting outside is not only good for your physical and emotional health, it also facilitates connection with nature and can inspire so much wonderful learning about the natural world.
- Watch documentaries together. There are countless documentaries covering a variety of topics available online through services such as YouTube, Disney Plus, Netflix, and Amazon Prime; you’re bound to find something to pique your child’s interest.
- Get in the kitchen and prepare some food. Cooking and baking are great ways to teach life skills, as well as mathematics, reading, following directions, and patience.
- Play board games, which are not only fun, but can teach all sorts of life skills. For example, Monopoly teaches children to count money and playing Twister strengthens gross motor skills.
- Enjoy the arts! Take up knitting, sewing, jewelry making, painting, or working with clay.
While a parent should partner with their child during the deschooling journey, engaging with them and supporting them in their endeavors, children also need to spend time on their own with their own thoughts. For some children, especially children who are used to having their days highly scheduled and structured, they may flounder at first when tasked with finding their own daily routine and having to entertain themselves. But it’s okay if your child feels bored or doesn’t know what to do with themselves at first. This is all part of the process of your child taking back ownership of their own time, their own interests, and their own learning.
Your job is to let this process unfold and to observe your child closely. Get to know how they like to learn; are they a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learner? (This knowledge will come in handy when it comes time to selecting curriculum.)
Deschooling is not a race. There’s no final destination. It’s a journey of self-discovery and of reconnecting to the essence of who your child is. Relax and enjoy it.
Homeschooling is Simply an Extension of Parenting
For a successful transition from a brick-and-mortar school to homeschooling, deschooling is incredibly helpful. As you watch your child explore their interests and settle into their home environment as a place of learning, you’ll likely be amazed by the transformation. It will take time, patience, and consistency, but you’ll eventually start to see the pieces fit together as your child makes connections and discovers how the world works. This is one of the many joys of homeschooling because you can create an environment where learning occurs naturally.
As a homeschooling parent, your goal should be to create a rich educational environment where learning and growth are inevitable. If this sounds difficult, it’s not. After all, you’ve been doing this for your child since they were born. For the first several years of your child’s life, you were tasked with keeping them engaged and entertained, teaching them manners, and reading to them. You likely taught them colors and the names and sounds of animals and body parts.
Homeschooling is simply an extension of the parenting you were doing before your child went off to school. Deschooling will allow you to reprise that coveted role as your child’s first and most important teacher. You’ll once again become the facilitator of your child’s growth and well-being. A period of deschooling allows both you and your child the time and space necessary to settle in to this new and exciting lifestyle.
Enjoy the process and the discovery period as you see all the ways that learning happens just by everyday living. Then, and only then, should you consider bringing in more academic work.