So… you decided to homeschool this year. Hooray! Welcome to the club! On Fridays, we all wear our pajamas to school, but also most of the other days too! (I’m sticking with “decided” to homeschool even for those of you who are not so happy to be in the homeschool club right now… It’s my hope that you’ll accidentally find yourself making far more happy memories than you expected this school year.)
Time to get homeschool serious. How did that look for you? I’m guessing you pulled out a new journal, a hot cup of coffee, and set yourself up for a LONG day (or month) of Pinterest-ing.
After getting overwhelmed, giving up, and coming back a few times, you settled on a plan. You picked a curriculum to teach your kids. I’m sure most of you are still figuring that out bit by bit and working through curriculum rough patches. (ABCs are going great, but the art projects you picked require way too much prep, etc.)
But do any of you feel like homeschooling has been… all rough patches?
Deschooling: The Mental Adjustment Period That Can Save Your School
I’m incredibly passionate about homeschooling and the benefits it offers parents and their children. Many of us parents choose homeschooling to help grow our children into the smart, capable, amazing human beings we want them to be.
But if you didn’t expect to homeschool this year—or worse, you never wanted to homeschool at all—there’s an important transitional step you may have missed. If your child transitioned from a public or private school into homeschooling, deschooling is an essential step for getting your homeschool setup on track.
What is deschooling?
Deschooling is a mental adjustment period between traditional education and homeschooling. It’s a planned period where instead of running headfirst into a student-teacher dynamic, you and your child just spend time together at home focusing on your natural rhythms and values.
2020 has been a steep learning curve for all parents, new and old homeschoolers alike. And a switch to homeschooling is always going to be a big change for a child! Think of deschooling as a chance to rest and reset. Take a deep breath. And most importantly, shake off the shackles of old routines and expectations.
Deschooling: New Roles for a New Era
Some of you went from working outside of the home with friends and coworkers to working from home overnight. Many of you likely juggle working at the same time as homeschooling your children.
So why might you need deschooling to help ease your transition into homeschooling? How can deschooling help make homeschooling go a little bit more smoothly?
Before homeschooling… what did you do with your typical weekends? What did you do with your vacation days? I’m going to guess that you had a lot of family fun! Of course, we tossed some chores for the kids into the mix. But I bet that your goal was primarily to enjoy each other during your off time.
And that’s how your children still see you! Not as “What’s next on the to-do list? Sit down! Focus, focus, focus so we can catch up!” You might see yourself that way and feel completely comfortable in “get things done” mode. We parents all spend plenty of time in “get things done” mode, whether at work or at home… it’s just not who we’ve been to our kids. Not all day, every day.
And savoring all the fun weekend stuff with your kids while avoiding most of the weekday grind?
I think parents all over the world are realizing:
- teachers should be paid more than actors or professional athletes, and
- we were only seeing our children in a certain role, too.
Well, my friends, the (metaphorical) masks are off, and we all get each other all the time now! This doesn’t have to sound like a scary thing, even if for your family (like most), it’s been incredibly challenging. It just means everybody needs a chance to reset their expectations so that they can be open to a new experience.
Changing our roles in a family is like meeting each other again for the first time. Of course you’re butting heads if you all are expecting each other to play the same role as before! Deschooling gives everyone a break so that you can meet again and renegotiate expectations.
How Deschooling Can Influence Parent-Child Homeschooling Dynamics
When I’ve talked to homeschoolers who ended up deschooling, I always hear about the same story. They go in with measured expectations of how it will change their family dynamic—and end up sharing stories of magical results. I can almost guarantee you’ll end up closer to the creative, collaborative homeschool experience you’ve been picturing. (And throwing out the dreaded “Just sit down and focus! We have to finish the list!” homeschool dynamic!)
Change is hard, and we ALL need time to adjust. Deschooling lets you sit back and observe what interests your children and how they engage with those interests independently.
At first, deschooling might feel like vacation days at home. But think of it more like a new tv show on the Discovery Channel—your family, in its natural habitat. Your job as a growing homeschooler is study your children—what excites them, what instantly exhausts them out, how they think about a problem—and study yourself.
- What stereotypes have you picked up from traditional schooling about how learning is “supposed” to be done?
- Can you name what behaviors from your kids (or situations in general) instantly exhaust you and mean the day needs to end early?
- How do you solve problems? Is that different from how your kids try to solve problems?
- Do you think you’ve ever gotten frustrated with teaching them something because you were teaching it the way YOUR brain thinks instead of how THEIR brains think?
Examples of What You Might Notice in Your Deschooling Habitat
“Sonya (5) talks a mile a minute and hates being alone even for a couple minutes. When I try reading her a book, she kept stopping me so she could describe what was going on in one of the pictures or ask me a question about something in the story. At first, I was really frustrated because I just wanted to finish the story and she kept interrupting, and story time always took forever. But a week into deschooling, I started wondering if perhaps Sonya has an auditory learning style. The questions she was asking and the details she brought up about the pages were very thoughtful and showed how deeply she was paying attention… and that she wanted to know more! When we start homeschooling again, maybe I should think about ways to teach that are more discussion-based, like learning about science on long nature walks.”
“Riley (15) only cares about football. Lives, breathes, and dreams football. Even in traditional school, he wasn’t doing his homework, and his teachers couldn’t get him to participate in class discussions. When we were deschooling, he was passionately arguing with his dad about the ramifications of several coaches’ draft choices last season. I realized how well he could articulate himself about something that mattered to him. Two months ago, I tried and tried to get him to write a persuasive essay about cell phones in school, but he just didn’t care. Can he become a good writer if I just assign topics he’s interested in like ‘is football too dangerous for teens?’ Could I design a combined science/health unit on football injuries… with topics on optimal nutrition for bone health, the physics of football tackles, and anatomy and physiology for athletes? Is it “cheating” if I make school too fun?”
“My kids were always in public school before the shutdown. I lost my job, and they all hated Zoom classes, so now I’m homeschooling full-time. At first, I was so organized with setting up our little homeschool space, making a schedule for 8 am to 3 pm Monday through Friday, and printing out all the worksheets. But they were worse with me than they were on Zoom! When we started deschooling, it felt like we were just playing and messing around. Honestly, I felt guilty about wasting time. But then I noticed that my 3-year-old was naming a few of the letters while working on an ABC puzzle! (He kept running away from the table when I had tried to get him to circle all the As on a worksheet.) And my 10-year-old, who’s working on illustrations for a comic book he’s writing with a friend, was using his tablet to research (and practice over and over again) how to improve at drawing facial features all afternoon. Last week he couldn’t focus on a single subject and even seemed tired and distracted when we had art class. It’s weird that no one talks about this, but can kids just not be morning people, too? When we start homeschooling again, is it okay to let him just sleep in and start his lessons at 10 or 11 am?”
Applying Your New Observations
So you’ve taken some time to deschool and hopefully noticed some intriguing things about your children. (And maybe some things about yourself as a teacher!) What now?
Remember: the big goal of deschooling is resetting our expectations about what education is supposed to look like so we can transition into something completely new.
Now that you’re resetting your school, don’t forget to dream big.
Homeschooling gives us so many possibilities to customize education around the needs and personalities of our individual children, and we’ve been oblivious about these possibilities because they simply aren’t available in traditional schools.
If you have an idea that you think will make it easier for your kiddo to learn, but it sounds incredibly weird… TRY IT ANYWAY! You get to make the rules, and the only universal rule is that we do what’s best for our kids.
So what’s best for our homeschool kids?
Consider these ideas:
- Discovering your child’s learning style and planning out as many activities as possible around how they learn best.
- Adapting activities to fit your child’s interests. Math problems can be about farm animals, Minecraft, Dungeons & Dragons, soccer, Harry Potter, or anything else your kid loves at the moment. And yes, kids can learn about grammar, thesis statements, and strategies for persuasive writing even if they’re writing an essay on why they believe playing video games involves more active and creative thinking than watching television.
- Learning through play, especially for young children. Throw out the schedules and worksheets. Small children will pick things up much more easily if you just play with them. Sing songs. Make chalk hopscotch to learn numbers. Write ABCs on sticky notes, post them all over the walls of your house, and have a scavenger hunt. Make it fun. Make it active. Your kiddo will have a blast and never even realize they graduated from preschool.
- Ignoring strict schedules altogether. We’re not all morning people, kids and teens included. This year has been hard on all of us. So let’s give each other a break! While having a set schedule may seem like the most efficient way to get everything done, the alternative is simple—homeschool at times when your kid’s brain does its best work. That might mean your 4-year-old gets work done in the mornings and your teen starts in the afternoons (and sleeps in). On paper, it sounds complicated. But try it out! For a lot of families, it ends up being more efficient because there’s less pushback and teens can finish their work faster when they have more energy.
No matter where we are along the homeschool journey, we can always continue to grow as our children’s educators by taking some time to be mindful and check-in about our progress. Deschooling can be a wonderful adjustment period for you to slow down and understand your child’s natural rhythm. Homeschooling holds so much power when we personalize it to the individual child, and it takes time to discover your kiddo’s exact needs and talents.
While deschooling is typically recommended when initially transitioning from traditional school to homeschooling, let’s all keep dreaming big no matter how long we’ve been homeschooling. I formally set aside about one week every 6 months for “evaluation” and reflection. While I don’t do anything as rigid as formal grading, I do look over the goals I set 6 months before and write new ones. I journal about my son’s likes and dislikes, who he is as a person, my teaching philosophy and how it’s evolving… I write as much as possible! And of course, I read through everything I’ve written since the start and enjoy seeing how much my thinking has grown and changed!
I can’t wait to what new things you learn about your family from deschooling… and what changes you want to make to your curriculum based on what you learn! I would love to hear from you on social media or through email.