What does it mean to ‘Deschool’?
To deschool your children and yourself refers to a process of retraining and refocusing. Many people come to homeschooling from public school. They are used to thinking of education in terms of grade levels, marks and testing, workbooks and worksheets, essays and projects, and other formal academics. Institutional schools teach us that for learning to happen, it needs to happen in a classroom, with a teacher lecturing students, between the hours of 9 and 4.
Deschooling debunks all of those myths. Learning can and does happen anywhere, and it doesn’t have to look like public school. It’s actually often more important for parents to deschool than for children, especially in the younger grades.
What does ‘de-schooling’ look like?
Deschooling will look different for every family. Generally, you’ll want to avoid anything that looks, smells or feels like ‘school’. Workbooks, worksheets, lectures, textbooks, tests, or scheduled school times should be avoided. You don’t want to enforce sitting down at a desk or table to do school.
Instead, read lots and lots and lots. Read fiction stories, read books on topics of interest, read articles and magazines, read comic books and graphic novels. Read signs and billboards and advertisements. Talk about what you read.
Do projects together. Don’t write reports about the project, but just enjoy the process. Get messy. Have fun. Be fascinated! Do crafts or science experiments. Pull out scrapbooks and memory albums. Grab the ol’ baking soda and vinegar and dish soap, and just have fun!
Go places!! Explore your community. Get to know your local library. Maybe make it a family goal to check out every historical plaque, museum or attraction your area has to offer. You may be surprised by what’s there. Go to the petting zoo or if you’re fortunate to live close, a big zoo. Attend concerts at the symphony, or free ones at the park. Go to the movies!
Get involved. Volunteer at your local animal shelter or soup kitchen. Read the newspaper and write a letter to the editor. Join a protest for a cause you support. Meet the local government representatives, or tour city hall. Ask questions! You’ll learn right alongside your children.
Take advantage of technology. Computer games, YouTube videos, documentaries, and just having fun with word processors or graphics programs can be incredible learning opportunities. Your kids won’t even know they’re learning!
What about preparation for ‘real school’?
One of the reasons many parents pull their children out of public school in favor of homeschooling is because they are concerned about academic achievement. Taking the time to deschool can be really uncomfortable and anxiety inducing. But don’t fear that deschooling is ‘wasted’ time.
During the period of deschooling, as a parent, you need to do a few things. Whether you choose to homeschool using more traditional methods, or choose a more relaxed approach, you do need to do some preparation for your future homeschooling.
First, observe your child(ren). Reconnect with them as a family. You want to learn what they like and don’t like. Is your son fascinated by nature? Is your daughter constantly asking for stories? How do they learn? Maybe one learns best by doing — so hands-on activities, building, creating and getting messy will definitely need to be included in your homeschool. Or maybe you have one that just soaks up the information they read and watch and hear. So traditional methods will work just fine with her. Or maybe you have one that needs to talk everything out to process — so you’ll need to have a lot more interaction with them. All of these learning styles will impact how you homeschool in the future.
You might also figure out that your family thrives when you “go with the flow” or that you all much prefer set times to do certain things, and like predictability and routine. You might discover that you really like reading as a family, so a literature based curriculum is best, or that you really really hate the mess of science experiments, so maybe online options are better, or that your day just works better when you’re at home so you’ll keep field trips to a minimum — or just the opposite.
How long do you need to ‘deschool’?
The rule of thumb is that you should take approximately 1 month to deschool for every year your child was in school. The focus isn’t so much on learning anything or meeting goals or “keeping up with their class”, but on reconnecting as a family and discovering the joy of learning. It may take less time for you — it may take more. But don’t skimp out because of a panic that “they aren’t learning anything”. They will learn. They will surprise you with what they learn.
So often new homeschoolers short-change themselves and their children in this process. They feel a sense of panic because it doesn’t look like their children are learning anything. It doesn’t look like ‘school’.
You may feel a sense of looming disaster. You may think that they are “falling behind”. But in reality, you aren’t somehow neglecting them and their education by not churning out workpages or reports. Learning doesn’t mean struggling with school work, like you are so used to doing. As long as you have that feeling, you still need to deschool.
For some reason, we, as a society, have separated “education” and “learning” from life and fun. Education is over here, and it’s supposed to be hard, and even a little boring. Society says you don’t learn anything if it’s not written down. Life is over there, completely separate, and you don’t learn anything in “real life”. But it’s that mentality that this process of deschooling is designed to break down. Like in childbirth, if you can push through the panic of this transition, you’ll have a brand new life and a lot of fun!
Change your thinking when you deschool.
It depends, I think, on what your purpose is in homeschooling. If you are approaching it from the idea that your child needs to know “xyz” information and skills by “x” age in order to be “educated” then yes, you’ll always be thinking “grade level” and “ahead” or “behind”. But if you can think in terms of parenting, not just academics, you can deschool a lot easier. Think about the information and skills of education as part of your parenting. Compare reading and arithmetic to walking and talking in your child’s development. There is only a “grade level” like there is “typical development”. It’s a range.
For example, most children learn to walk somewhere between 10 and 16 months. If they aren’t walking by 18 months, you take them to a doctor. In similar fashion, most children learn to read somewhere between age 4 and age 10. If they aren’t reading by age 12, you might want to get extra help.
It isn’t about an arbitrary “grade level”. Grade levels, by the way, are very specific to region — children are expected to be reading by age 6 in most states, but in other countries, not until age 8 or 9. So it’s about where your child fits on the typical development range. And just like typical development in infancy, there are signs along the way if there are problems. When you deschool, it makes it easier to see those signs!
What’s wrong with formal academics?
There is nothing wrong with formal academics. Formal academics, however, are not a goal. It is the means to a goal. Being a successful adult requires that a person can read and write fluently in at least one language, that they can add and subtract and manage money and think logically and critically. They have some familiarity with the whys and hows of our society, economy and technology. When our children learn this is not all that important. It only takes 30 days to teach the average-intelligence adult to read. And with the internet and smart phones today, most information is easily accessible. College may not be everyone’s best career plan, and there are other choices. Educate accordingly.