One of the biggest challenges homeschoolers fresh from public school face is this is NOTHING like school! The mental and emotional shift into homeschool is jarring, unfamiliar, and hard. Your kids, who have spent the past 1-10+ years in the structure and expectations of public school, appear to lose their minds, become unmanageable, disagreeable, and refuse to do their work. Your family rhythms and routines fall to pieces. Everyone hates each other. No one is learning. You are a failure. Clearly, homeschooling is not for you.
“Not so!” says your wise homeschool friend. “Did you deschool?”
For a moment, your sense of defeat is replaced by your confusion. Deschool?
Your wise homeschool friend smiles knowingly, hands you a cup of coffee, and says “Yeah, deschool.”
Is Deschooling Like Unschooling?
No, they’re different. Deschooling is not unschooling, a term you may have heard while exploring homeschooling. Unschooling is also called Child-Led Learning or Interest-Led Learning or Delight-Directed Learning. The philosophy of unschooling is that learning is never forced upon a child; the child learns what he wants, when he wants. There are many, many ways to unschool. However, unschooling is not deschooling, although deschooling looks a lot like unschooling for this short period of time. (To find out more about unschooling and other homeschool styles, check out our Homeschool Styles article!)
Deschooling is the time and process it takes to break the mental and emotional habits formed by public school regimens and schedules. That urge you feel to “do school” Monday to Friday, 8am to 3pm September to May, or “be on schedule” are mental habits formed by the routines public schools demand. While traditional school, by its nature, demands such regimented habits, homeschool, by its nature, does not. The time you intentionally take to disrupt those public school habits is deschooling. You put aside academics, rigid school schedules, and public school expectations. Instead, you slow down and do things you would not normally do during “school time.”
So, Deschooling Is Doing No School At All?
Well, not quite. You’re trying to change habits of mind and body, which is hard. Deschooling means NOT doing the public school schedule you’re going to feel inclined to do. Deschooling days can certainly be counted as school days for attendance purposes. As private, non-accredited schools, Indiana homeschoolers determine which activities and hours count as a school day. You can hold strictly to “academics only”, or expand your vision of education to include the innumerable moments of learning that occur every day:
- go hiking or biking all day
- play board games after breakfast
- read aloud in the backyard at 10am (yes, this includes your older kids! Click over to learn more about the amazing benefits of reading aloud for tweens and teens!)
- play math games instead of workbooks
- read stories just to read them (no comprehension quizzes!)
- spell nonsense words in a goofy spelling contest
- spend time tending a garden (and find out great ways to make your backyard a science center)
- watch history videos or read about a favorite historical era with a great fiction novel
- bake those yummy-looking cookies you saw on Pinterest last week
- fire up a baking soda and vinegar volcano just for fun (or do a whole day of nothing but fun science experiments “just to see what happens”)
- go for a nature walk
- write letters to Grandma for spelling, grammar, and handwriting practice
- go to the zoo, gardens, parks, and museums
- take a daytrip somewhere you’ve always wanted to visit
So, you’re doing school, but you’re not “doing school” like the kids are used to. No desks, no workbooks or textbooks. Above all, let the kids be bored. Boredom during normal school hours is one of the best deschooling tools! (Screens can be enticing at this point, but try not to feed screen habits too much. Family bonding is a priority, and screens don’t help that. Check out 50 Ideas To Beat Boredom.)
Can’t I Just Deschool Over Summer Break?
Everyone deschools over breaks. It’s normal. Everyone is outside at the pool, traveling, enjoying the season. Summer break is not deschooling—it’s still following the schedule and habits prescribed by public schools. The deschooling time comes in August and September (or after break ends), when everyone else goes back to school and you… don’t. Suddenly, you’ve stepped outside of normal. Reality sets in. You’re not going back. Deschooling begins now.
How Long Does Deschooling Take?
It’s suggested you should deschool for one month per year of public school. Every family is different, so this is only a suggestion. What you are aiming for is time. Lots of time. You are waiting out the clock on your and your children’s public school habits. This is where most parents will start to get anxious that their kids will “fall behind”, and this is where you put on the brakes and say, “That’s ok.”
Homework For Parents
There are two components to deschooling: 1) parents and 2) your kids. Let’s look at how deschooling works for each group.
1) Learn to live together again
This is a time of reconnection as a family. You must learn to live together again all day, not just from 4pm-6am. Don’t retreat to your corners all day. Observe your children closely as they explore their new freedom. Now that you get them during the best times of their days, not just at the start and end when they’re tired and grumpy, you may discover a whole new child. Slow things down and build up that family bond again.
2) Explore your homeschool community
Get involved with your local homeschool community. Are there park days or field trip groups? Art or music classes? Look for sports groups or local businesses that offer day-time classes. Local libraries are homeschoolers’ best friends. Look for support groups for you too, Mom and Dad. You guys need community just as much as your children. For help connecting to your community, contact your IAHE Regional Representative. Not much in your area, or can’t find something that works for your family? Build your own homeschool community -it’s not as hard as it sounds!
3) Start browsing homeschool styles and resources
This is where most new homeschoolers start. But this is the last thing on our list, not because it’s not important, but because during deschooling, it is not a priority. As you observe your kids, think about which homeschooling style they might enjoy, and which ones you enjoy. Use those new homeschool community connections and ask other homeschoolers to let you peek at their curriculum! (This is also a great way to make new friends in the community!)
This time of transition is hard for your kids too. Sometimes harder, because you understand what’s happening and why; they may not, or they may not agree with your decision.
1) Kids feel the lack of routine much more than adults
Kids thrive on routine (even if they deny it.) You’ve just pulled the rug out from under them. They may ask for “school” because that’s what feels normal. But be careful not to stick too many worksheets in front of them and think, “Oh, they loved it so they must want more!” Worksheets and workbooks are part of that public school habit. The child knows what is expected of her, and she is relishing the feeling of anything that resembles continuity to her previous life.
2) New rhythms and routines can help
You don’t have to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Routines and rhythms are good for everyone, whether public or homeschooled. Create new rhythms for your family to help replace the habits you’re breaking. Do you all go for a walk with your morning coffee? Read a book together twice a day? Make Tuesdays field trip days, and Wednesdays the kids help with laundry and household chores. Set non-academic expectations and routines. Deschooling isn’t a free-for-all for the kids.
3) Let your children take ownership of their education
While you’re browsing curricula and resources, bring the kids along! Let them look over your shoulder as you read Choosing Curriculum. Don’t keep your questions or choices secret. Let your children have input into your decisions. Historical time periods, styles of math instruction, literature to be read, science topics to study—online, offline, pen and paper, typed, or oral. We all know kids have opinions. Require your kids to be owners of their education, not just passive consumers of facts from a teacher.
Back to School
Once your deschooling time is over, and this will vary for each family, you may feel that old urge to “get back to school.” Don’t let the old urge push you back into 5 days a week right away. Start slowly with one or two subjects daily, then add in the rest over a week or two (and remember, you don’t have to do every subject every day. Quality trumps quantity.)
All those fun, relaxed habits you built during deschooling? Don’t lose them—make them permanent parts of your schedule. Family read-alouds, play time, game days, field trips, and exploring rabbit trails of ideas…these new priorities are your school now. Take things slow and adjust your habits, schedules, and resources as needed. Adjusting to homeschooling is not a weekend endeavor, and it will take far longer than just deschooling to truly “find your groove.”
“After all,” says your wise homeschool friend with a smile, “Homeschool isn’t ‘school at home.’ It’s just life, where we learn together.”