What is deschooling and how to get started

What is deschooling?

Starting out on the home learning journey can be exciting and overwhelming all at the same time. For many of us, homeschooling may be a completely new territory that brings many changes to the way we do things or what we have come to know (or think we know!)

Some of the changes are welcome adjustments—like not having to rush every morning to catch the school bus, or spend hours pouring over homework each evening, or knowing that your child is in a safer environment. 

But the other changes can feel daunting. 

I often hear from parents that they feel anxiety and fear around homeschooling. They worry that their child may fall behind others in school. They worry that their child will not have enough, do enough, or question if they as the homeschool parent can provide enough. And, in order to compensate for the lack of confidence or the fear of the unknown, many parents do what any of us would when confronted with uncertainty and change: They replicate what they already know or what they were used to doing before they made the change.

Often, that means that when we start on our homeschool journeys, what we end up replicating school at home. 

We effectively try to turn our home into a classroom. We try to turn mom or dad into the teacher, and we see our children as “students” that need to fill in worksheets and spend hours doing school work. Our fear takes precedent over the reasons why we chose homeschooling in the first place, which is usually to create a learning life that is NOT school.

So what can we do to stop this default from taking over our homeschool?

It’s all in the deschooling

What do you usually do if you are planning to visit a new place or are discovering something new? Most often, we take time to find out more about the space that we are in or what we have found. We observe, we ask questions, we explore the similarities and differences. Homeschooling is no different. 

There is a period of adjustment from traditional school to homeschooling that is often referred to as deschooling. 

Deschooling is taking an intentional step away from trying to replicate school at home and giving space (for your whole family) to adjust to the change. The transition from school to learning at home can be an adjustment in understanding the freedom you now have—because that freedom can be intimidating. After many years of being told what to do and how to do it, most of us have been thoroughly “schooled.” Deschooling is overcoming the conditioning that says that learning has to be done a certain way (or has to look a certain way) when, in fact, it does not. 

Deschooling is an opportunity to play, explore, and connect with your child. It is a chance to heal, to find joy, and a chance to get to know who your children (and you) really are. Deschooling means possibilities. 

It is an important step in homeschooling because it means allowing your family the space to transition to a new way of life and learning. 

What does deschooling look like?

Just as we are each different people with our own unique experiences, the deschooling process will look different for each of us as well. There isn’t a 10-step process to correctly deschool, but I have heard it said that the time needed to deschool is one month for every year that you’ve been in school. That means that if you attended school from kindergarten to grade 12, you could need well over a year of deschooling. But I will share a personal experience: After nine years of home educating, our deschooling is far from over. 

Don’t be disheartened, though! Deschooling is not a negative process. It can be liberating because it allows us to really begin to have agency in our learning. So although we may never completely deschool, we can certainly come into it with more ease and learn how to use it to build our life learning foundations. 

Here are a few things that can help the process to go more smoothly:

  1. Relationships, relationships, relationships. Take the time to focus on building relationships with your child and family. Make relationships the core foundation over academics—because relationships always outlast test scores or worksheets. 
  2. Play. Then play again. Then play some more. No matter how old your child is, search for the things that bring you joy, not the drudgery. 
  3. Embrace the idea of doing nothing. This can be hard, I know, but trust me—it can be the most impactful mental shift. Are you filling in the time because you just don’t know what else to do? Try instead to reflect, observe, listen, explore, and just be. Creation and creativity flourishes in these spaces. You may find more value within those days than you ever imagined! 
  4. Define your values and guiding purpose. When we begin to get clear on what is really important to us in life and learning, decisions around homeschooling become that much easier. Define your choices by your why and what is important to us as opposed to the expectations of others and their ideas of what learning should be. 
  5. Be open to transforming the way you do things. Try a little, adjust, reflect, and try again. If you are homeschooling because the old system was not serving you, then it is time to try something new. 
  6. Cultivate the ability to wait. Deschooling can be a slow, nonlinear process. Take time to slow down. Slowing the process helps us to remain attentive, reminds us to connect to our values, and helps us to see the bigger picture.

I call the deschooling process “slow knowing.” Slow knowing means absorbing disturbances and taking time to ask, process, and reflect on what is happening around us. This allows space to draw out new patterns for our learning lives. And it’s those new patterns that we are really all here to build with our families.

Robyn Robertson, <em>Homeschool Consultant and Coach</em>
Robyn Robertson, Homeschool Consultant and Coach

Robyn Robertson is a homeschool consultant and coach as well as the creator and host of the podcast Honey! I’m Homeschooling The Kids.

Published by The Learn + Live Letter

The Learn + Live Letter is a play- and project-based homeschool curriculum for children ages 3-12.

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