The first time I heard the term “deschooling,” I thought it referred to the laid back, un-directed teaching of “unschooling,” but they couldn’t be more different. If you’re unfamiliar with either of these terms, unschooling is an educational principle that gives the child full control of their education. They can choose what area of study to pursue or no area at all. This freedom doesn’t work for all kids, but for those that are self-motivated and goal oriented, this is a great option. For the parent though, this hands-off teaching style can be a difficult transition and for many, not an option.
Deschooling, on the other hand, is not an educational principle, but more like an intensive detox. Generally speaking, deschooling is breaking the habits and expectations that both the parent and the child have developed while the child was in a formal school. I’ve heard a variety of recommendations about length of time to devote to deschooling (or “retraining the brain”), but most of my research followed the “one month of deschooling for every year in formal school” guideline. The goal here is to leave the formal schooling style behind and find a teaching/learning style that works best for your child, creating an individualized education plan that meets both of your needs.
So, now that you know WHAT deschooling is…are you curious HOW to deschool?
In order to really retrain your mind, you need to remove all of the expectations you created while your child was in formal schooling. This means, no curriculum, not tests, no guided study of any kind. Let your child decompress from the overloaded environment they came from and start adapting to the relaxed atmosphere of homeschooling (or unschooling, depending on your choices). During this time of decompression, I recommend many trips to the library and local parks/museums/places of interest. Again, no expectations of structured learning here, just enjoyable field trips. Perhaps research your area for local homeschool groups that meet during the week for fun activities as well.
As you might expect, this process will look different for each family participating in deschooling. For some, it means allowing free and unhindered access to video games, television, and the internet. For others, like my family, it was a screen-free time to remove the distractions from our home. The ensuing boredom was quickly redirected to playing outside and finding their own entertainment. In my opinion, a screen-free or limited screen-time deschooling is more effective because it insists the child use their imagination and pursue interests as opposed to mind-numbing electronic entertainment.
Here’s my fair warning: It will be unbelievably difficult to hold yourself back and allow your child to enjoy these field trips and play times without the expectation of making this a “learning experience.” Let’s be honest, this deschooling is as much for the parents’ benefit as for the child’s (maybe even more so!). Think of deschooling as a liberation from the forced education mindset and a transition to the interest-led mindset. The purpose here is rekindle your child’s curiosity in life, the world around them, and love of learning.
Think about it…when your child was young, they were exuberant about learning new things! Every new challenge was undertaken with zeal and enthusiasm, new discoveries were celebrated, and their mind was filled with ideas and interests. The demanding schedule of school routines, bullying, and one-size-fits all curriculum can suck that love of learning right out of them. Thankfully, there are some resilient children that don’t lose that zest for life, but for many it’s an unfortunate side effect. It affected my special needs kids even more dramatically, leading to anxiety and depression. Homeschooling has been a tremendous boost in moral that they really needed.
So, if you’re making the leap to homeschooling or unschooling, consider taking the time to deschool. Deschooling will improve your child’s attitude toward learning and your own expectations of what learning will look like in your home. Do not feel compelled to replicate the classroom in your living room. Create an environment that both of you will feel comfortable learning in and trust your instincts! You know your child better than anyone and are the most qualified person to meet their educational, social, and emotional needs. My best advice is to keep it fun and interesting, learning should be a gift that your child gratefully and happily accepts in the beginning and become an ongoing thirst for knowledge in the end.