Have you ever heard of deschooling?
Chances are, if you’re new to homeschooling you may have never heard about deschooling. But, it’s an important part of the homeschooling journey that you definitely need to know about.
It will really, really help you as you start a new homeschooling journey. (I WISH I had known about it before I started!)
So, what is deschooling anyway?
Definition of Deschooling
Deschooling is simply a decompression period that helps kids transition from a traditional school setting into a homeschool setting. It allows time to leave the traditional school mindset behind and be open to a completely new way of learning.
The term “deschooling” actually came from Ivan Illich, a priest and philosopher who was vocal about his disagreement in some contemporary practices in education (and other areas like medicine, work, transportation and more).
In Illich’s book, Deschooling Society, he covers how “schooling” is not really “learning” and that people learn better independently. Illich believed that institutions are not really capable of providing the best learning opportunities for children.
From the book:
The pupil is thereby “schooled” to confuse teaching with learning, grade advancement with education, a diploma with competence, and fluency with the ability to say something new. His imagination is “schooled” to accept service in place of value.
Illich’s beliefs were criticized by many, especially since he was a proponent of disabling and dismanteling formal institutions in place (like schools).
Today, a broader definition of deschooling has been adopted by the homeschooling community as an alternative way of facilitating learning and supplementing and advancing home education.
Goal of Deschooling
The goal of deschooling is removing what you and your child know about schooling and replacing it with a completely different way of thinking.
If your child has been in any form of traditional school, he or she will need a period of deschooling–or “unlearning”–to transition from the traditional methods of learning to a more relaxed homeschooling style.
(By the way, you will need this time to “unlearn,” too! But, more on that later.)
Your child will need time to understand that they don’t have to raise their hands to ask questions or get permission to go to the bathroom or sit at a desk for an hour or two on end doing worksheets.
Deschooling simply means that you don’t have a fixed schedule or a set curriculum or things you need to learn (or do) for a period of time.
Basically, you just “be” and enjoy life without thinking about structured schooling.
Yes, your kids can even sleep late and lounge around some of the time!
(An important thing to remember is that kids will learn naturally during this period!)
Another Reason to Deschool: Transitioning from a traditional school setting to a homeschool setting can be super uncomfortable for you and your kids in the beginning.
Even if your child is looking forward to homeschooling, there may still be some uncomfortable moments as he or she untangles those feelings they have about transitioning and leaving behind the things they know.
Consider that you are taking your child from a familiar, scheduled setting (“school”) and having them do something that they are not familiar with and, often, don’t even have support from friends and family.
You are basically transitioning your family from a completely scheduled day to a more relaxed schedule.
It sounds terrifying, right?
But, don’t worry! It’s not as scary as it sounds!
Just be aware (and don’t be surprised or concerned) if your child (or even you) feel anxiety during this time of change.
It’s a learning process for all of you and you need to ease into it by having a completely relaxed schedule at the beginning.
“But, I’m not just going to let my kids do whatever they want for six months!”
Because we are all conditioned to be “doing something” at all times, deschooling may make you feel uncomfortable.
Like, shouldn’t my kids be doing . . . something that I planned?
If having a free schedule is more than your anxiety can handle and you want to “schedule” things during this period, you can put daily rules in place for each child to meet. For example, beds should be made each day by a certain time. Or, screen time is limited to one hour. Maybe the kids must spend a minimum of two hours outside each day. Or, you can create a structured bedtime routine each night.
You don’t have to put any rules or goals in place, but if you’re someone who feels uncomfortable with an unscheduled life, then these kind of goals or rules may be helpful during this transition.
However, after a couple of weeks, that feeling that you are doing “something wrong” or “wasting time” or “doing nothing” will pass and you will settle nicely into deschooling.
Is Deschooling for Your Family?
If your child (or you) has been in the traditional school setting in any way for any amount of time, then you need to deschool.
Taking your kids out of public school on Friday and then starting homeschool on Monday is setting you and your family up for failure.
I know, I know.
You’re excited to get started on your homeschooling journey!
But, skipping the deschooling step may actually create a setback in your homeschooling.
Why Parents Need Deschooling, Too
Just like your child needs time to “unlearn” traditional schooling methods, you need this time, too — especially if you grew up in a traditional school setting (like public or private school) and have never homeschooled before.
I have to be honest, when I first started homeschooling I had no idea about deschooling.
However, I wish I had known about deschooling because I planned our homeschooling based on what I knew from traditional school. I set the daily schedule. I got a school desk. And, I planned specific things to happen at specific times.
And, it was a disaster.
When our first homeschooling day fell apart just a couple of hours in and didn’t look anything like what I thought it was supposed to look like (from my traditional school experience), I hid in the pantry and cried.
So, don’t discount the importance of deschooling.
You will need the same amount of time to “unlearn” traditional methods and just “be” and not think about schooling in any way.
This means that during deschooling, you shouldn’t be planning your homeschool journey or searching for curricula or stressing about how you’re going to juggle home and homeschooling.
You shouldn’t be doing any kind of homeschool shopping or planning . . . at all.
READ THIS NEXT : UNSCHOOLING VS DESCHOOLING: WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?
Instead, use this period to spend time connecting with your kids and talking and strengthening the bond.
(When is the last time you did something with your kids that had no schedule or agenda? Exactly!)
This will be beneficial when you start homeschooling!
How Long Should I Deschool?
The great thing about deschooling is that it’s flexible. So, the amount of time you should deschool is up to you.
Most homeschool parents recommend from one to three months of deschooling. Some even recommend one month of deschooling for every one year the child was in a traditional school setting. (So if you have a kid who was in six years of public school, you might deschool for six months.)
However, the amount of time that you deschool is up to you! Just know that it should be more than one or two weeks.
Think about it this way: Have you ever gone on a two week vacation? The first or second day, you may have a hard time relaxing. You’re still “on schedule” and stressed about work or whatever you had going on before you left. You’re still waking up at 6 a.m. (the “regular” time you get up). As the week goes on, you may find yourself relaxing more. You may even be sleeping in a little later each day. Well into the second week, you may be getting up later and lounging more in a relaxed state.
That’s how it is with deschooling!
Your kid’s body and brain both need an extended amount of time to relax off of their regular schedule.
Deschooling Activities and Ideas
When you deschool, it doesn’t mean that your children won’t learn anything during this time period.
REPEAT AFTER ME: CHILDREN LEARN NATURALLY.
This is an important concept to remember because your brain and experience will lie to you and tell you that deschooling is a bad idea because your kids aren’t learning and they are falling behind.
If you are exposing your children to new and interesting opportunities during this period, they are still learning! It will just be uncomfortable because it probably doesn’t look like anything that you’ve seen or experienced before, but they are learning.
Here are some deschooling ideas and deschooling activities to get you started:
• Focus on life skills.
Life skills are things that may have fallen by the wayside because your child was so busy at school. The period of time during deschooling is a good time to brush up on things that will help them throughout life.
(And, life skills should be included in your homeschooling schedule once you get started!)
Life skills can include cooking, cleaning, laundry, taking care of pets, and any of the other things that keep your home (and life) running.
• Visit the library. OFTEN.
Deschooling is a great time to reintroduce books and help foster a love of reading. Unfortunately, during traditional school, kids are so often told what they can and cannot read. For many kids, this sadly turns them off of reading and it becomes a struggle to get your kids to read . . . anything.
During deschooling, take your kids to the library and don’t put constraints on what your child can check out (within reason, of course).
For example, my daughter wasn’t a big reader. Once I took her to the library and got her a library card, that all changed. And, I firmly believe that’s because I never told her what she could and couldn’t read.
The first couple of times, she checked out picture books that were well below her “level.” After a few times, I showed her graphic novels in a no-big-deal “Hey, thought these looked interesting!” way. Now, she loves reading and has graduated herself to more challenging books.
Also, don’t forget about reading aloud with your kids.
No matter the age, family story time is still a lot of fun!
• Get outside!
It’s so easy for kids now to stay inside and do fun things, but a big part of deschooling should be getting your kids outside (no matter the weather or season)!
Visit parks. Go on nature hikes (and learn more about nature journaling for your hikes!). Go to local fairs and festivals. Spend time playing old school games like tag or red rover in the backyard. Go to a baseball game. Have a picnic.
Just get outside for some fresh air that will do all of you some good!
Helping others is an important life skill for kids. During the deschooling period, find a place (or several places) to volunteer as a family. It’s one way that you can give back to your community while your kids also learn about helping others.
• Get artsy.
Head to your local dollar store and stock up on art items — paper, colored pencils, stencils, paint, crayons, construction paper, glue, yarn and anything else that would be fun to make something out of. Then, put them all in a big tote. Declare “art time” several times a week. And then, let them make what they want and create until their heart is content. If they need ideas, maybe one day they make something they saw on TV or in a book. Allow them to be creative with as little “instruction” as possible!
And, the best thing about this? It works for ALL ages!
• Be a tourist in your town.
You know all those places around your state or area that you always say, “Wow! We need to go there!”
Well, it’s time to do it.
Sit down with the family and make a bucket list of 20 things that you want to do. Put each item on a strip of paper and place them in a jar. Then, you can take turns drawing out of the jar what you’re going to do for the day or the week.
• Just . . . go!
Take scenic, backroad drives with no destination in mind. Stop at the old country stores, or antique malls, or roadside vegetable stands, or the world’s largest ball of yarn, or anything else that you see of interest! You’ll be surprised what you find, see, and learn along the way!
Deschooling vs Unschooling
One last thing I want to cover is deschooling versus unschooling because some people use these terms interchangeably.
Remember, deschooling is a decompression period between traditional school and homeschool.
Unschooling is child-led learning or natural learning. With unschooling, children take the lead in what they want to learn and how they want to learn it.
For example, instead of learning from textbooks and worksheets, an unschooling approach might incorporate a child’s interest of cooking as a way of learning science and math naturally from recipes.
Deschooling and unschooling often get confused because during the period of deschooling, your family may actually do some unschooling. And, they may look very similar.
The major difference is that deschooling is a decompression period for a period of time. Unschooling is a method or style of learning led by your child.