Updated: Sep 22, 2020
According to a quick Google search, deschooling- can be summed up as the leaving of a government-directed or other-authorities directed system of schooling to a less rigid and more individualized environment. That may be the basic definition, but deschooling is so much more, and skipping this step is one of my biggest regrets in our transition to homeschool. Deschooling is a process that takes time, is initially uncomfortable and unfamiliar, but very much worth it.
Disclaimer: Deschooling is not de-educating. I don’t want to split hairs over semantics but school and education are technically very different.
Mark Twain said, “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”
To quote Einstein, “Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one learns in school.”
I say, (not that that holds a lot of weight) that school is the structured thing you have to do and prove that you’ve done through testing, whether you really want to or not, and on someone else’s schedule. Education is all those things you gravitate toward or investigate because you need and/or want to know about something. Education is where your creativity blossoms and your passions are stirred. Please don’t misunderstand me, I am not saying that education does not happen at school. It does. We all know plenty of stuff that we learned from school. And we’ve all forgotten most of it that we didn’t find helpful or useful.
Deschooling is a shift in thinking - an unlearning in one sense, but an awakening in another. You and your child will need to take time to unlearn the systems and structures of the school system while tapping into and exploring how your child learns (I don’t mean auditory, visual, kinesthetic as much as their learning preferences or habits - what would they do if it were all up to them) and how much he learns without formal or rigidly structured curricula. It’s a beautiful and necessary thing.
Full transparency, I am still working on it. Our homeschool year is morphing into something completely different the more I research deschooling and unschooling. Two totally different animals, by the way. We’ll talk more about unschooling when we talk about homeschooling styles.
Deschooling will be especially important if you plan to work full or part-time and educate your kids at home. Deschooling may be the difference between your school week taking a few hours per week or 30 plus hours per week which is a typical school week, not including homework. It really is that critical!
Here are some things to think through if you aren’t sure if you need to deschool (btw you do if you’ve ever been part of a public school system) :
Do I need to deschool?*
I have felt pressured to excel on school assignments and tests, standardized tests, and report cards, all without really evaluating why each task was important or necessary.
I have felt compelled to attend college and obtain a degree with a high GPA, all without truly knowing what I wanted my adult life to look like.
I have believed or do believe that without external credentials, like a high school diploma, college diploma, graduate degree, or trade certification, I will not be successful.
I began my career because it's what I felt I was “supposed to do”.
I plan my personal and family schedule strictly around the schedule others set for me.
I have made pivotal life-decisions (college, career, marriage, children) because it was expected as I reached a certain age or milestone.
I frequently seek “permission” before making a decision or doing something, or I often feel paralyzed to act without permission or prior approval?
I struggle with creativity and self-direction.
I often look to others to determine what behavior is appropriate or acceptable without carefully questioning motives or like-mindedness.
I struggle to identify my own likes, interests, or preferences.
If you answered “true” to even one of these questions (I am personally 10 for 10. In my defense I’ve been in some type of public school environment for nearly 30 years), then I highly, and with great urgency and seriousness, suggest you deschool. Deschool for as long as you need. It is a simple process and is 100% NOT a time where no learning happens.
Talk to your family about deschooling. Do a little research together (see, learning is happening). Explain that it is different than summer break and it's a special time to focus on things that aren’t just “school” work.
Focus on relationships and character before academics. Set clear boundaries for yourself, your children, and your family. Reassess your priorities. Really take a close look at the way your family operates as a unit, and as individuals. If you think your kid listens to her teacher better than she does to you, figure out why. If you find yourself, impatiently yelling at your kids over trivial things, figure out why. If your marriage is struggling, figure out why. If your kid has dealt with emotional trauma or your family has experienced a recent loss of major life change, focus on that for a time. It’s okay. I promise it will not be time wasted.
Establish a self-care routine and stick with it. Make it a non-negotiable. Put it on the calendar like you would a doctor’s appointment. Maybe you set a timer to read a certain amount each day without interruption, AND have a weekly home-spa day to yourself, AND have a monthly day to indulge in your favorite hobby or pastime or spend time with friends. Some homeschool moms go on a yearly weekend retreat to have some time alone to do whatever and use part of the time to plan out their homeschool goals for the year. Do what refreshes you without guilt and on the schedule that meets your needs. You cannot pour from an empty vessel.
Part of my self-care is our weekly family Shabbat (I’ll write more about that in another post. Check out Jefferson Bethke for more info in the meantime). Once a week from our evening meal to our following evening meal, we have a nice meal on real, not shatterproof or paper plates, with dessert, candles, background music, the works. Very limited tech is allowed, if any. Sometimes we do incorporate a family movie. We each have a time of uninterrupted solitude. We enjoy a family activity. We UNPLUG and stop with work and chores. We are still perfecting the art of Shabbat but I can certainly tell when we’ve neglected this time.
Options for getting beyond academics:
Read, read, read! Read to your kids. No matter how old they are. Or listen to audiobooks together.
This was weird for us at first because my kids were fluent and avid readers (why should “mommy” read to me when I can read to myself?) Now it’s our favorite time! Even for my 14 year-old. My son, who just turned 10, has recently asked for a special read-aloud time - just the two of us reading a book that Sister doesn’t have yet. Even my husband and I have a read-aloud time every night. He reads to me and he usually doesn’t read just for fun. Weird, right?!
Go places. All the places. Parks, museums, zoos, libraries, nature walks, plays, historical sites, anywhere and everywhere. And go in the middle of a weekday when everyone else is at school.
Find homeschoolers and plan field trips or get with local businesses and ask them to do a daytime homeschool day. We participate in skating, bowling, jump parks, library events, all kinds of things. Local businesses, that don’t have a lot of daytime business, will often give you a steep discount, especially if you’re inviting other homeschool families.
I called about $1 game $1 dollar shoes for homeschoolers at our local bowling alley. Then just put out the word on social media in my local group.
Get creative. Explore what your kids are interested in. Pick up a new hobby together. Subscription craft boxes are great for this. Build a fort or workbench or lego set, paint, draw, craft, cook… whatever your kids are curious about.
I really like https://www.raisingrealmen.com/product/craftsmancrate/ for this.
Get back in nature. Bird-watching, nature photography, identifying wildlife, catch bugs, hunt, gather, garden, learn survival skills, archery, build a bait farm. Anything outside.
Volunteer. This is great for learning compassion and service. Who knows, maybe your child will see a problem and find a creative solution.
Watch and discuss educational shows or historical movies. We love movies based on books that we’ve read together, either independently or as a read-aloud.
A note of caution: If TV or YouTube or whatever technology is always an option, it will almost always be preferred and chosen. Technology is a great tool but highly addictive. Staring at a screen all day is not healthy, beneficial, or deschooling. It is fine and wise to do a technology detox if that is needed in your home. I strongly urge everyone in the house to do it together. You wouldn’t ask an alcoholic to quit drinking while you pour yourself a drink. Do as I say and not as I do never really works.
Let them research a topic of interest, if they want to, and teach your family about it. Take note of not only their interests but how they presented it to you. No testing or correction - just observation here.
Cook and keep house together. Help them see that they are a vital part of what helps your house run effectively. Life skills are a lost art. Let them help meal plan or grocery shop. Plan a meal based on the culture of a character in a book you’ve shared. Don’t give a list of new chores but don’t be so caught up in doing all the housework by yourself that you miss what your child is learning during their deschooling time.
Set a new routine and new habits. Not a new school schedule. Just look for time drains and unhelpful habits and alter or replace them. This is a great reminder to check your tech and make sure everyone in the house has healthy habits in that department.
Ease into formal academics if you just absolutely cannot skip formal academics all together for a time. Keep it light, but if skipping structured academics altogether is overwhelmingly stressful (not uncomfortable - it’s okay to be uncomfortable), find something that doesn’t take very long to complete and feels totally different than “school work”. Even if you go this route (which is really all you’d need to do ever besides Math), don’t force a certain amount of time or work to be completed each day. I hope you don’t even do school work every day. I only put this toward the top of my list because I remember the heartburn that the thought of deschooling caused me. Curricula was something tangible that made me feel like I had some control. I wasted A LOT of money.
I really like the unit studies at https://gatherroundhomeschool.com/ .
How will I know when I am deschooled?
In my opinion, the best indicator that you have spent enough time deschooling is when you have a radically different idea about how you want your children to be educated. You have found, but not necessarily perfected, a family rhythm. You feel more at ease and less overwhelmed with being in charge of your child’s education. You might even start to feel like you have the coolest kids you know!
Please don’t hear me saying that deschooling is the magic bullet that makes you June Cleaver on steroids and that your every day will be sunshine and wildflowers (look her up if you need to and you’ll get the idea). It won’t magically transform you. I have been told by numerous veteran homeschoolers that up to your first three years of transitioning from public/private school to homeschool are the toughest. And not to make a decision on whether or not homeschooling is the right fit until you’ve given it at least that long. You’ve got to think big picture and not get bogged down in the tough days - even when they last for months at a time. I’ve been there. You can do this!
Check out these great resources that I have referenced above:
* Zachary Slayback et al., Deschool yourself: An Eight Part Audio Production on Healing the Fifteen Thousand Hour Infliction of Public School, January 1, 2020, http://deschoolyourself.com/dsy-installment-1/
** Jeanne Faulconer, “The Homeschool Mom,” How to Start Homeschooling: Tips for Deschooling, https://www.thehomeschoolmom.com/how-to-start-homeschooling-tips-for-deschooling-children/