Everything You Need to Know About Deschooling Before Unschooling
You’ve heard of unschooling, and you are ready to choose it for your family. You might even have started calling yourselves unschoolers already.
But there’s this other word tripping you up.
Deschooling is the first step to unschooling. Sadly, it’s often overlooked. Without deschooling parents have a much harder time unschooling. They may believe they are unschooling when they are not.
What is deschooling? What is the purpose of deschooling? How do you deschool? When do you know that you’re done deschooling?
Keep reading for everything you ever wanted to know about deschooling. Then you’ll be on your best path to unschooling!
What Is Deschooling?
Deschooling is a process you will go through on the way to unschooling. If you have not yet sufficiently deschooled, you may not be unschooling.
You may still be letting school affect how you see your child’s learning. If that’s so, then you’ll never get to see the true, deep, powerful effects of unschooling.
Deschooling is a period of time where you make a commitment to avoiding all things school-ish. No classes, no teachers, no workbooks, no book work, no online courses, no homeschool co-ops.
Taking this time to avoid all hint of school creates an open space of possibility in your mind. You will being to unwind your previous beliefs about education. Unschooling insights can now flow, and you will find whole new awesome beliefs.
You will start to see what unhindered, unburdened, natural, free learning looks like.
It’s vital that you don’t skip the deschooling step. Your school-based beliefs about education will prevent you from truly unschooling. This step is crucial so that you don’t miss out on what’s possible on the other side.
What is the purpose of deschooling?
If your children attended school, deschooling is a detox period. They need time to get out of the school mindset. School has had a huge effect already on how they see themselves and how they understand learning.
Deschooling for parents is a time to unwind all the beliefs about learning you picked up from school. This unlearning is going to be hard for you.
For one thing, you’ve probably had 12+ years of schooling. Your indoctrination about school runs deep.
Even after you left school, you continued to live in a school-based world. School has influenced your whole life.
As you continue your unschooling life, school-based thoughts will pop up now and again. This will continue even after you think you are “done” deschooling.
There are some common times when you may find yourself struggling:
- When your child first reaches “school-age”.
- The entire time before your child learns to read.
- Every year at “back to school” time.
- The first many times a friend or relative questions your decision.
- When your child would have been entering middle school.
- When your child would have been entering high school.
- When your child nears graduation age.
Your child’s deschooling period can focus on relaxing and having fun.
But you need to be more active in your deschooling.
- You can explore your own childhood and experience with school. What assumptions and conflicts are lurking there?
- You can challenge school-related beliefs that arise in your mind.
- You can pay attention to what makes you uncomfortable about your child relaxing or playing.
Perhaps most importantly, you can spend a lot of time online reading about unschooling. However, you have to choose good sources! Unschooling has become a bit popular. That means there are people calling themselves unschoolers without being any such thing.
Pro tip: Listen for when a so-called unschooling parent calls someone else “holier than thou” or “rigid” or “takes it too far”. Then go follow THOSE people! You may not agree with everything they say. But you will learn more from people who are closely following unschooling principles.
How to start deschooling?
Deschooling is a commitment. You don’t fall into it accidentally. It’s purposeful and intentional.
Set an initial time frame. Say it out loud to yourself or write it down: “I will let go of all expectations and requirements about learning for X months.”
If your child is young enough that other kids their age haven’t started school then your child may never need to deschool. But you do! Don’t begin your time frame until after other kids your child’s age have started 1st grade, usually age 6 or 7. Then give yourself 6 months of deschooling time.
If your child has already been in school, start with one month for each year of schooling as a guideline for how long to let them deschool. If your child is leaving school due to school-related distress, they may need much longer.
- If your child is 2, 3, 4, or 5 keep playing and having fun as usual!
- When other kids your child’s age have gone to 1st grade, start the clock on your own deschooling time.
- If your kid attended school kindergarten through 4th grade, start with 5 months.
- For attendance from 1st through 7th, give them 7 months.
- If your child had any distress or trauma related to their school experience, double the number of months.
- Homeschooling counts! If your child was in school for 4 years and homeschooling for 2, your starting number is 6. Even if your homeschooling was very relaxed!
One more word of caution:
If you impose something school-based, your clock starts over. For example, say you freak out one week and start giving your kid math worksheets. Even if you come to your senses quickly you’ll need to start over.
That’s because deschooling is about learning to trust your child. You are building trust between you. When you impose school-like structures, your child can’t relax in the knowledge that those days are over. You’ll need to back up and give more time until they can trust that school is over.
Additional Reading: Trust Kids
What does deschooling look like?
When you’re diving in to something new, its natural to want to know what to expect. Of course everyone’s lives are going to look a bit different! But here are some guidelines for those first few months of deschooling towards unschooling.
What will you NOT do while deschooling?
- Ask “what have you learned today?” or “what do you want to learn today?” This kind of anxious “meta” question isn’t helpful.
- Try to “strew” interesting things for your child. If you haven’t fully deschooled, your strewing may have muddy motivations.
- Try to teach anything or try to make anything a “teachable moment”.
- Tell people you are unschooling if you know they’re going to give you grief about it.
- Talk too much AT your kid about your thoughts about unschooling.
- Try to schedule a million things – there’s no rush.
What WILL you do while deschooling?
First, you will commit to having fun with your lives! You already know how to do this when thoughts of school aren’t in the way:
- Pretend it’s summer vacation.
- Pretend it’s the weekend.
- Pretend it’s a holiday.
- Imagine you are explorers in the world.
- Imagine you have not a care in the world.
What that looks like depends on you, your kids, your budget, your interests, their interests, and your location. The possibilities are literally endless!
Go to amusement parks, go to water parks, watch TV, play video games, do art, build things, go to museums, go out to eat, sleep in, stay up late, go swimming, go hiking, go to a jump gym, garden, cook, read, play board games, play card games, tell jokes, make slime, invent things, break things, dig holes, play with Legos, walk the dogs, feed the fish, play with Barbies, make puppets, do impressions, play shadow tag, bake a cake, play poker, dance, meditate, make faces.
Watch your kids play. Play with them sometimes. Enjoy your time together.
Notice what lights up your kid’s face and makes their day.
Help them do more of that.
What are the school-based ideas you’re getting rid of?
Deschooling is a period of time for shedding the school-based thinking that you’re used to. What are some of those ideas you can expect to challenge?
I couldn’t possibly list ALL the school-based ideas that are out there. School is an institution that has permeated our entire culture. But I gave it a shot, with the help of my Everyday Unschooling Facebook group.
Here’s a list of beliefs and expectations you may have picked up from school:
- Some activities are learning and some are not.
- Some kids are good learners and some are not.
- People can be forced to learn.
- People can learn even when they are not interested in the subject matter.
- Learning happens on some days and not on other days (school days vs weekend/summer.)
- Some places are better for learning than others.
- Learning is orderly. It happens within a schedule or structure.
- Learning comes from teachers and from being taught.
- Learning can be or should be divided into subjects.
- Some subjects are more important than other subjects.
- Learning happens through setting arbitrary goals and timelines.
- It is possible to learn something too early or too late.
- Learning happens through rote repetition.
- Learning should be a bit miserable or uncomfortable.
- The right things to learn are based on a person’s age.
- Learning should be linear along a particular path.
- Learning needs to be evaluated and graded.
- Learning progress needs to be checked and monitored.
- Passing tests indicates that you’ve learned something.
- Failing tests means that you haven’t learned the material.
- Children’s learning needs to be known and understood by adults.
- Learning must accompany “proof” of its occurrence such as reports or physical projects.
- Personal value is defined through educational success.
- You can decide for someone else what they should learn.
- There is such a thing as a “complete” education.
- You have to be quiet and/or still to learn.
- Making mistakes is bad.
- Everyone should behave as similarly as possible.
And that’s only scratching the surface! You can see that deschooling will be tricky business!
What if you have problems while deschooling?
Problems might arise while you’re deschooling.
- You might have doubts that get in the way.
- You could be concerned about something you see your child doing.
- You may encounter push-back from family.
First, don’t panic! (Easier said than done, right?)
There are really only two things you need to help you get through any trouble spots.
First, you need a supportive community. Books and articles (affiliate link to Amazon) can give you a lot of great information. But only live people can give you feedback about your specific situation.
The internet is perfect for this! You may not know many unschoolers in person. But, there are many thriving online communities for unschoolers.
Of course, as I mentioned before, there are good and bad sources. Some groups have a definition of unschooling that is all over the map! Their advice will be confusing. Choose good sources that follow unschooling principles.
Three Facebook groups I recommend are:
- Radical Unschooling Q & A (great for asking specific questions)
- Everyday Unschooling (I love the Day In The Life threads!)
- Unschooling Mom2Mom (very friendly help!)
Be with your child
The only other thing you need to address problems while deschooling is to look at your child and be closer with your child.
For example, say your child has started doing nothing but watch YouTube all day. You’re concerned. So plop yourself down and watch YouTube with them!
Don’t ask a bunch of questions, don’t offer a lot of commentary – just watch! At first you may be bored, or confused, or horrified. But watch and wait. Make a commitment to see as your child sees until you begin to see differently.
Or perhaps you’re hearing doubts from relatives and it’s making you question everything. Remind yourself who really matters here!
Look at your child and ask yourself questions like:
- Are they happy?
- Are they having fun?
- Are they engaged with things they enjoy?
- Do they like their life?
You will find the answers to your doubts right there.
When does deschooling end?
Sometimes homeschoolers use the word deschooling, too. At the end of deschooling they will begin school at home, whatever that looks like for them.
However, with unschooling, deschooling never ends.
Kids will continue living their own lives. They are free of external pressure, arbitrary limits, and imposed standards.
For parents, your deschooling will be ongoing. As I mentioned above, you will have recurring moments of school-based thoughts. You’ll challenge these as they arise.
However, I can tell you some times where you can be certain that your deschooling is DEFINITELY not over!
Have you heard any of these before?
- “We unschool everything but math.”
- “They do an hour of lessons and then the rest is unschooling.”
- “We mostly unschool.”
- “We’re unschoolers but I sprinkle in some lessons.”
- “I ask them what they want to learn today and then that’s what we do.”
- “We unschool some days and do lessons other days.”
These are examples of parents who have NOT deschooled and who are NOT unschooling with their children. They are doing what is called relaxed homeschooling or eclectic homeschooling.
You may find yourself having thoughts like those. If so, commit to giving yourself some more deschooling time. If you keep going something more amazing is yet to come!
Throughout your deschooling, you’ll find many aha! moments as you learn how to see natural learning taking place. Little by little you’ll start to relax into a new way of seeing and being with your child.
Then, after you’ve been deschooling awhile (months!) you may find that you’re looking around and… life is awesome! Questions and doubts have fallen away. Struggling for control is over. Your original deschooling time frame has passed, and you haven’t thought about deschooling in ages.
You’ll have a magical realization that you’ve shed school-based thinking and it’s all carefree from here. You trust your kids. You’re having fun. They’re having fun. And an amazing amount of joyful learning is happening all the time.
That’s what I wish for you!
And that’s why you shouldn’t skip deschooling.
Issa is a wild and rebellious mama who wants to live a carefree life where that little anxious voice is put on mute. How about you? As a writer she feels successful if just one other person feels any comfort or inspiration from what she’s written.