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Everything you need to know about deschooling

If you are making the switch from traditional public or private school to homeschool, there’s a really important step to take before you actually start school at home. It’s called deschooling. Going from a 7 hour completely structured day to homeschooling could be quite shocking without it.

My kids have never gone to school so they didn’t ever need this transition period. Instead, we had the awkward 1st week of kindergarten at home after doing preschool at home that made me wonder if we were doing enough or severely failing. I had to unlearn a few things about my idea of what school would look like at home!

I’ll explain everything you need to know about deschooling. Including what the term means, what’s a reasonable amount of time to do it, and why it’s so important for your kids (and for you) if you’re coming from any kind of traditional schooling.

If you’re new, you can also read how to start homeschooling: curriculum, schedules, socialization, and legal.

A ceramic mug on a table with a puzzle in progress during deschooling.

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What is deschooling?

Deschooling in a nutshell is pressing pause on any formal learning before you begin homeschooling. It’s a transition time after leaving a traditional school setting. It’s a time your kid can have space to rediscover their interests and discover their natural love of learning!

It’s also for you, their teacher and mom. You need some time to adjust, to research curriculum, to have no expectations put on you just yet.

It’s figuring out what it looks like to be home together ALL day.

You’ll study your kids, and observe how they seem to learn naturally.

Without deschooling, the temtation will be to replicate school at home, and to run into burnout.

What are the benefits of deschooling?

Time.

You’re making time to:

  • Adjust to being home together
  • Get to know your kid’s interests and dislikes
  • Research ALL. THE. THINGS. Whew, that’s more overwhelming that just teaching.
  • Learn about homeschool styles, different ways to structure your day, etc.
  • Sleep in, go fun places, play games, connect.
  • Guilt free enjoy/adjust to NOT being in traditional school!
  • Let kids have more control over their schedule and time (as opposed to all day structure)
  • You’re pressing the reset button, and this is time to adjust without academics being the focus.

What should you be doing when you deschool?

Deschooling removes the pressure for productivity for a period of time, and allows you to adjust to not being in school.

It gives you time to research. They have time to just be kids. It’s a bit like summer vacation, but mentally knowing you aren’t going back to school.

When you deschool, there are a few things you can do to slowly transition to homeschool life. Like:

Observe your kids

  • What do they enjoy doing for fun?
  • Do they like to sleep in?
  • Do they naturally read a lot or barely like to pick up books?
  • Do they request seeing friends a lot or seem content to stay home?
  • The more you can observe, the better!

Research homeschool styles, curriculum, and activities

There are so many resources for homeschoolers now, it’s overwhelming. Use this time to read about the different homeschool styles and see which one seems to stick with you.

Our style has been influenced by a few books, namely The Brave Learner by Julie Bogart and Teaching From Rest by Sarah Mackenzie.

Really think about your WHY for homeschooling…the reason to keep going when it gets dull or frustrating. This pros and cons list should help with that.

You can also join some homeschool Facebook groups. There’s always a group for a specific curriculum, styles of homeschooling, and local groups too. You’ll learn a lot and find like minded people.

Relax and enjoy each other

Since your kid’s routine used to revolve around school, they may seem like they are dying from boredom during this unstructured time. Or maybe they are loving sleeping in till 10 and playing all day like it’s summer break.

Either way, use this time to relax, let your kids do nothing if they want, and enjoy the benefits of being home more. You could get a few new board games, explore outdoors, try some watercolor bird tutorials, or catch up on house projects.

Just remember this is time set aside to decompress, go let go of any stressors from public school, and unlearn the idea that learning only happens at school during set times.

Question the norms at school, so you don’t put these expectations on your kids at home

Ask yourself:

  • What were they doing at school all day?
  • What might they miss from school?
  • How can you provide the things they miss, such as friendships made at school
  • What was the schedule for? (Hint, homeschool is not classroom management. So you can toss that detailed schedule).
  • Are there multiple ways to teach the same thing? (YES!)
  • Are worksheets the only way to assess learning? Or is that mainly helpful when managing 20+ kids?
  • How can homeschool kids finish school in so little time?

How long should you deschool?

There’s no real answer for this, but I’d take at least 1 month if you are coming out of traditional school. More is fine too! The goal is a happy, successful homeschool and if you skip this transition time…that could be a lot harder.

But won’t they get behind if they don’t start right away?

Probably not.

You’re way more likely to have a horrible time homeschooling if you dive right in, because everyone needs some time to adjust. 7 hours a day of structure is a lot to suddenly lose.

If you haven’t ever done any kind of schooling yet, and your just starting kindergarten, then you probably don’t need to deschool.

Learning is still happening in odd ways! Let your kid enjoy filling their time however they want, before adding in the books.

Deschooling vs Unschooling…what’s the difference?

Deschooling is not the same as unschooling.

Unschooling is actually a style of homeschooling where the child learns around their interests, naturally, without the dependence on curriculum.

The parent is there to help bring in resources the child is interested in. It’s not a rejection of school or a rejection of learning, but a different way to go about natural child led learning.

They have an interest, and the parent provides them with anything they can to help their child explore that topic. This often spans multiple subjects! Here’s an unschooling example:

What unschooling might look like

Imagine your child takes a fascination with bugs.

You provide them them with different types of books and field guides on bugs. Perhaps start a bug board collection, and label them on a pin board.

Maybe you look up a Bear Grylls episode where they eat bugs for survival in the wilderness.

You help them go down that rabit trail, and find out about other cultures that eat certain types of bugs as a delicacy. Your child may learn classification of some bugs, and even possibly learn about diseases spread by bugs.

Perhaps you play some Bug Bingo just for fun (one of my family’s favs).

You get the idea…

They learn A TON because they are interested, and they are leading. The parent is there to help find resources, but not forcing the material. The sibling in the room may or may not learn these things, because their interests are different!

Now can you see how deschooling and unschooling are different?

There may be some unschooling that naturally happens while deschooling. But deschooling is not a school style like unschooling is. It’s a period of transition time with little to no expectations on the child to let them get used to being at home.

Why I needed to deschool my schooled way of thinking

My kids never really had to deschool, because they never went to school. They’ve been with me all day every day from the start.

However, I went to school…so I had to spend some time really examining my own way of thinking.

As a first time homeschool mom, I was afraid of failing my kids. I was eager to see exactly what kids at their grade level were learning at our local school to see if I was doing “enough”.

What didn’t cross my mind at the time was this:

1. Who sets what kids are “supposed to” learn certain years?

It’s an important question that can completely free you in your homeschool.

One day I realized it’s perfectly fine for ME to decide what topics to cover when. We could start with world history or US history. I could cover certain science concepts in 3rd grade instead of 1st grade, without meaning I’m behind.

It simply means my kids won’t know that material in 1st grade. They’ll know other stuff, and that’s perfectly ok! The order isn’t the important part, it’s the learning and the exposure.

You’ll see this when picking curriculum too. While topics like math build on themselves, topics like history are often repeated in cycles, such as a 4 year or 6 year cycle.

So in theory, no matter what age your child is when they learn history, they’ll likely learn it more than once at different ages and level of understanding.

2. Each child will have a very different homeschool experience

This was hard for me to wrap my head around. Being schooled myself, I knew kids at our local school would all learn the same things in 1st grade together. The next year’s 1st grade class would learn those same things. Same with 2nd and 3rd grade and so on. Very standardized and predictable.

However, in homeschool, it doesn’t look like that. Maybe with math, where you start at the beginning with curriculum and move on. But not with other subjects. Here’s why:

  • Each child has different interests and homeschool gives kids time to follow those
  • Some kids want to read more than others
  • The books each kid will be drawn to are different, which affects what they learn. My science loving kid is going to learn a LOT more science on his own through personal reading than my kid who doesn’t love science. But you won’t catch him creating stories on his own for fun like you would my other child. Homeschooling means you can personalize education like this!
  • Not all your kids will use the same curriculum. It’s common and normal that homeschool families try things till they find something that works well for them. That means your younger kids might not get to try the same curriculums you ditched that your oldest tried.
  • Kids will be at different ages when exposed to the same family subjects. We do read alouds, history and science together. I’m not sure I’ll redo ALL the things again, so I’ve had to let go of the idea that all my kids will be exposed to the same books and activities at the same ages.

3. What counts as school?

The longer we’ve homeschooled (we’ll be entering our 4th year!), the more convinced I am that life is FULL of learning opportunities.

I used to think that was a cop-out excuse for not wanting to do work.

However, after homeschooling while pregnant with my 4th (and post baby too) I really struggled to find time and energy for homeschooling. We sort of picked the basics, and unschooled the rest.

Without forcing much, I saw my non reader begin to read more! She’d start trying to read text messages I was sending, or I’d catch her curled up reading to her younger brother.

Without assigning handwriting, I’d find notes around the house saying things like “Do not eat thes blakbarys”.

We didn’t do any formal science, but my 8 year old devoured any comic books I gave him, including science comics. He could tell me what he’d read, so I knew he was remembering.

He’d find science experiments in books and tell me what supplies we needed. Because this mama would never have initiated how to extract DNA from a strawberry….!

Do these things count as school? Yes! Just because they are not assigned and I didn’t plan for them to happen on a Thursday afternoon doesn’t mean school’s not in session.

4. Who says kids should be reading or writing by a certain grade level?

This is a sensitive subject, and I get the need to have kids reading and writing. Especially in a classroom setting where one on one attention isn’t possible and the skills are needed to move on.

But homeschooling gives you the luxury of meeting your kid wherever they are at (even a subject you think they are “behind” in). My personal goal is for them so slowly be progressing, and to actually enjoy learning.

Even better if they are learning and don’t think of it as “school time”.

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