The truth about deschooling that will blow your mind

It’s the word that no new homeschooler wants to hear: “deschooling”.  Sometimes confused with “unschooling” and regarded with the same disdain and disgust to the newly transitioning… but this little word can change the trajectory of your homeschool experience. 

New homeschoolers are eager to “start homeschooling” and I get it.  Some of them are excited.  Some of them are a little nervous about not knowing what to do or feeling the weight of the responsibility of their child’s education suddenly on their shoulders.  There are a lot of reasons new homeschoolers want to dig right into things.  The LAST thing they want to hear is “Relax!  Don’t do anything for a while!”.  For some, they might even worry about their state regulations and the idea of accounting for the time that they’re “not doing anything”.  But there are ways to account for it; and we’re going to talk about why you need it.

First, let’s get the definitions clearer:

“Unschooling” is an educational philosophy that has a broad spectrum of implementations, but at it’s core: education is NEVER IMPOSED on the child.  The child learns what and when they want.  There are many flavors of unschooling and they can look very different–but unschoolers never force their children to learn something.  They believe their children will learn what they need in life when they need it or when they are motivated by pure desire.  That is different from “deschooling”.

“Deschooling” is an adjustment period after leaving a school environment when a child (and their parents) disengage from the “school” mindset and mentality and learn a completely new way of life that is not based on the culture, structure or expectations of school.  It’s a time when “learning” is not imposed on the child–and I think this is why some parents mix up the concept with unschooling because for this short period of time–it mimics unschooling to some extent.  But during this time, parents are not shopping for curricula or developing learning plans–they, too, need to disengage from the school mindset.

Many parents have their kids finish out a school year and use summer break to deschool.  Summer break is not deschooling.

During the summer–ALL of the kids are out of school (unless you’re in a year-round district).  It feels okay and “safe” to be out, doing nothing, having a good time.  That’s what is “allowed” during that time of year.  As a result, you (and your child) are still operating on a school-based mindset: summer is time to enjoy and relax.  So by enjoying and relaxing in the summer, you are not disengaging from a school mindset.  It’s only when school starts back up again that you are finally deschooling.  It’s when you face all of the emotions that come with stepping outside of what you know and finding a new normal.  It means waiting out those weeks, possibly months (the estimate is 1 month for every 1 year of school that was attended) where your child finally registers that “Hey–I’m really NOT going back.  There really ISN’T someone that’s going to dictate my education to me.  Hunh…”

There are definitely kids that will seek out the classroom at home.  Any number of new homeschooling parents will put a worksheet in front of their child and watch the child gobble it up.  The parent concludes that this is what the child wants.  But this is what the child KNOWS, and change is scary.  Kids want to do the right things and what they have known as “the right thing” has been to do the worksheets and do their best on them.  Even if they didn’t actually engage in that activity at school, they know that’s the cultural norm of “being a good kid” in school and they might very willingly engage in it at home.  Parent is happy because it looks like the child is learning at home.  Child is happy because they feel like they’re doing the right things.  But the day is likely going to come when deschooling is going to need to happen anyway.  For us–with my son only having attended a Montessori preschool and then an eclectic mostly play-based preschool, we hit the wall a few weeks in.

The goal of deschooling is to remove all of those constructs and build new ones.  Think about this:  why are you homeschooling?  Some people remove their children from the school because that environment isn’t really working for their child.  They then move onward replicating that same environment for their kids.  The curriculum might be different.  The ability to sit in a different type of chair or take more breaks might be different.  But the constructs are the same.  This is what deschooling aims to break down.  It’s asking you to throw out what you know and “find yourself”.

But this also gives these new homeschooling parents what they are often desperately seeking on the homeschool loops and in the groups: insights about curricula (for those that go that route).  You see, in homeschooling–we drive the boat.  There are SO. MANY. OPTIONS. when it comes to curricula.  Where do you start?  This is where deschooling pays off big.  I mean that literally.  Have you seen my library?  Because this is what happens when you don’t deschool AND you try to educate them before they’re ready:  you by All Of The Curricula.  To the tune of what a new car would cost me.  I didn’t have older and experienced homeschoolers back then and if I did, I might have given them a thousand reasons why my snowflake was special and therefore their advice didn’t apply to my situation.  So I learned in dollars and aggravation.  I had my long, sobbing cry from my association clubhouse parking lot about how I was going to have to put my oldest in public school because “He simply refused to learn from me”.  I love my friend for not having laughed out loud at me as I sniffled my way through the conversation.

When your child is still operating on a school mindset, you aren’t seeing how they actually learn.  When you leave them alone for a period of time, you start to see how they approach new things and take in new information.  Don’t get me wrong: I’m a huge fan of kids getting outside of their comfort zone; but they are going to learn their core and critical concepts in the way that is easiest for them to acquire fluency.  To do that, you need to really watch what they’re doing and understand how they are operating.

Most new homeschooling parents lose their patience waiting for this to happen.

When the kids (and parents) that need deschooling the most DON’T do it, they often struggle.  They can’t find the right fit for curricula.  The parents can’t get the kids to “do any work”.  They complain that the kids don’t want to learn anything.  Struggles escalate.  Homeschooling is worse than school for some.  The kids want to go back to school.  The parents think they can’t homeschool.  They tell themselves that it’s not for them or their special snowflakes that don’t need deschooling or did enough deschooling with that 2-3 weeks off of the 6th grader they just pulled out or summer break.  So a lack of deschooling wasn’t the problem.

In the end, you are going to do what you want to do.  But if you are interested in deschooling and simply have no idea what those days look like, let me give you some tips:

  • Create a set of routines to structure your day.  They don’t need to be bound by a specific time–just a specific order.  It doesn’t matter what time you wake up, but when you wake up you have to get dressed, brush your teeth and make your bed (or whatever routines your family wants to have in place).  Same for bedtime.  Maybe you have a set of routines that needs to be done before going out somewhere.  If structure is your concern, I’ve written about that here.  But be sure you are reconnecting your kids to their self-care routines and sense of communal living in the home by sharing some of the workload.
  • Think about screen time.  Families have different takes on screen time–some limit and some don’t.  My family limits but we have at least one kid for whom the screen has an addictive quality to it; and both kids behavior tanks if they get too much screen time in one sitting.  Think about how you would feel if your kids had unlimited screen time and opted to use it to the exclusion of all other things.  If that possibility doesn’t sit well with you, implement some guidelines now.  In my house, screen time is generally at 4pm for an hour.  There are days where they obviously see a screen more than that–but that’s their strictly play time on a screen.
  • Read.  Read aloud to your kids–even if they’re teenagers.  Or get audiobooks (which are great for the car).  Read nonsense books.  Read literature. Read poems.  Stop reading midway through something if none of you are actually enjoying it.  Read in a hammock or in the grass or in the swingset treehouse or in the big bed or on the floor with the dog.  But read.  And discover if any of you actually ENJOYS reading.  Because not everyone does.
  • Go places.  This doesn’t have to cost money.  Just go places.  Go to the park.  Go on walks.  Go to the library.  Go to free days at the museums and zoos since you’re home during the day now.   See what state or national parks are near you.  If you’re up for it, take a day trip or a road trip.  Go see all of the sites you would take an out of town visitor to.  Get to know your local sites of interest.
  • Do the messy stuff.  You have the time now.  Get out the paints or the sidewalk chalk. Make mud pies.  Build stuff with glue.
  • Find people.  Use Meetup.com, Facebook, Yahoo groups and find homeschoolers in your area.  Try them on for size and see who you connect with.   Check to see if your skating rink or bowling alley or YMCA or museums/planetarium/aquarium or recreation/park district offers things for homeschoolers where you might also tap into the community and get the scoop on local resources.
  • Connect with your kids.  When the pressure of learning is off, you can just enjoy your kids and talk to them about nothing with no agenda and just hear what’s going on in their heads.  Try to give each kid a dedicated 10-20 minutes of one-on-one time each day where you do or talk about what THEY want to do or talk about.  Even if it bores you to tears at first.  Try to take a genuine interest in it because it’s important to them.  And this one will likely cut down on some level of sibling rivalry and the constant nagging for your attention.  Talk to them.  Build that dialogue with them.  Start understanding how they tick because you are engaging with them in a different way.  They may surprise you (if only because they grow and change so quickly!)

This is a good time.  It’s not what you expected and it’s not what you thought you’d be doing.  It can be scary because you may want to jump into a more familiar territory.  But this is worth it on so many levels.  In the end, you might actually decide to do something at home that looks more like school–and that’s your choice.  But you will have better guidance at choosing curricular materials, and likely a more compliant and ready to learn child at the end of this process.

And that could make the difference between having a good homeschooling experience and having a horrible experience that sends you back into the schools with the belief that it just can’t BE any better.

Much love to you on your journey,

Mama signature orange JPG

PS – I added a post to help you know when you are done deschooling.  😉

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34 thoughts on “The truth about deschooling that will blow your mind

    1. I know how you feel. .after 22yrs of homeschooling. .it really works .plant a garden. .try cooking shows. .get some chickens. .start a business together. .it’s fun. .after awhile they will lead you ..

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  1. Exceptional. What a beautifully written piece; I only wished I’d read this at the beginning of our journey. You really hit the nail on the head, we are working to implement many of these ideas. I know part of the process is trust that in time everyone will get what they need. Thank you!

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  2. Great post. I always recommend a time of “deschooling” to friends who are pulling their kids out of public school. It takes time to settle in and find what will work for your children. I also recommend NOT purchasing a box curriculum the first year out. You learn so many things about yourself and your children that often times what you think you will enjoy isn’t even in a “box”. Love your tips and will be passing this on to a few friends who would appreciate it.

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  3. What if you DIDN’T do this and now see that you should have? This is our first year (I have a 5th grader and an 8th grader) and jumped right into things after summer break – actually started part time even sooner because I wanted to see what it would be like/if it would work for us, and I liked the idea of year round school.

    Does it make sense to stop – right here in spring – and deschool until maybe the fall? (That scares me to even type!!) It WOULD be excellent timing since I have to get ready to put our house on the market in June and then we will be house shopping in a different state in the summer….which is stressing me out when I try to imagine how I can do that and homeschool. AND, my younger son went from cooperative the first several months to lots of struggles to get him to do most anything that looks like tradition schooling…so, I think this might really help.

    Thoughts or advice??

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    1. I think you witnessed exactly what happens for a lot of kids that are not deschooled and yes–you CAN stop and change direction at any time. Some thoughts: you may not be “done” come Labor Day. Also, as someone who went through house hunting out of state with two kids in tow, making the most of that time for deschool purposes means having stuff for them to DO. Mine liked the Dude-L (doodle) book and any doodle book for boys. Games that aren’t electronic but are fun and especially those that can be played alone–those rock. We’re big fans of Rory’s Story Cubes (double bonus for size). Audiobooks, and a fun spirit so that you can find a moment of “dance party” as needed help a lot. I also became a fan of the book “How To Be An Explorer of the World” which will give you some adventures as well as the “Nature Connection Workbook”. You might also grab the Geocaching app and make it a “thing” that you do wherever you go.

      Otherwise, that time isn’t going to be well spent in terms of “undoing a school mindset”. Hope this helps!! And GOOD LUCK with your move! We did it in July 2010 and it was a challenge!!

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      1. Thanks for the quick reply and the specific ideas of things to check out! There are several I’ve never heard of and look great! Amazon, here I come! : )

        But, I still have a ton of questions about this… Going to ask just one more here. : )

        How do I know when we are “DONE” and ready to get back to some academics? Check in with them to see if they (mainly my younger son here…older son is pretty agreeable to whatever I ask him to do 🙂 are receptive to it or something else?

        I’m going to have to keep re-reading your article as I think about all of this. I go back and forth on all of this stuff so much, my head is spinning!

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      2. When you’re “done”. Hmmmm… That’s a good question. You will want to be done before you ARE done and that uncomfortableness is the barrier we are trying to break through. Deschooling is truly for ALL of you. So part of that indicator has to do with you.

        One major thing that will change for you is that you are no longer worried that they’re falling behind or not learning enough, you’re almost done. I mean, these might always be fleeting thoughts for some, but they’re not going to drive you into a panic. And not that “I’m trying to convince myself” kind of thing–but you truly are okay with not breaking out the curricula or being out of step with the schools.

        As for the kids, they will be done when they no longer shun anything deemed educational. Even if they become willing, but begrudgingly–that’s not it.

        Yours are old enough to have some great conversations about their future. Whatever you do, don’t discourage their more ridiculous dreams. Encourage them–knowing that they will use those to motivate themselves to learn things that apply elsewhere; and hey–they’re kids: they will change their minds at some point. I am on career 3 and I’m not 50 yet. So there’s no harm in taking their goals and working them in the meantime. If that means they want to be a Minecraft programmer, so be it. That’s a lot of math right there. 😉

        It’s over when you are all so relaxed that the idea of learning is welcomed. So, you will look and feel relaxed before you are THAT relaxed. I suspect if you start now, that might take you through summer with your youngest but possibly through fall with your oldest. The estimate is 1 month for every year of traditional schooling. And that’s hard for a lot of parents. But in the end, it gives back far more than it takes out of you!

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      3. Ok, seriously, heartfelt thank yous. Your words are striking lots of cords with me. Right now, I can not imagine not worrying about my older son being behind…especially since he already is thanks to some learning issues AND he will “start highschool” next year and we aren’t even on schedule to finish his 8th grade math at this point… am I crazy to be worried about how to make the high school transcript work if we are “behind” and not starting algebra next year … or more likely, starting, but not finishing? Should I be more concerned with just the fact that he IS doing math all year… wait, he theoretically might not be if we don’t start back up in Sept.

        But, actually, I’m more concerned about my younger son needing more time… he’s the reason I decided to try HSing this year… lots of emotional stuff getting worse at school last year; self esteem issues, perfectionism challenges, lack of being able to control his emotions which results in melting down and then shutting down. (and even hiding under and in things, when he’s at home.)

        OR…. maybe I’M the one I need to be most worried about! I’m a former teacher, worrier, planner and major list writer and checklist checker. Do you have any suggestions for books to read for me to assist me with the paradigm shift that needs to happen to get to a place where I’m not so worried about being behind and all the other things I think we SHOULD be or NEED to be doing and be able to relax and focus on my kids and getting us all to a place where they understand the need to learn certain things and therefore are willing to put the work in to do so.

        I hope that last thing is even possible and realistic, because right now – if I’m being honest – it sounds like kind of a fantasy. 🙂 I’m not sure I ever participated in my education, prior to college anyway, because I wanted to…. but more because I knew I had to/needed to. I guess that’s better than because I was being forced to… knowing that I NEEDED to do it in order to get into college, in order to get the degree I wanted and then ultimately the job I wanted. I think there’s a difference there I’m just realizing….I may not have LOVED all my classwork, but I was still mostly self motivated… I COULD have chosen to put in no effort even when made to go to school. So…. following that logic, if my kids can get to a point where they see the value in the education I’m trying to provide them – the WHY it makes sense to learn it – even if they don’t always LOVE doing it, I think that would be a pretty good place. BUT, that comes – to a certain degree anyway – with maturity and that could take years. LOL

        And as for the Minecraft and gaming…if those things are #1 interests for my boys right now – often above all else when given the choice – would you suggest encouraging that, or trying to limit gaming to certain days or time in order to try and achieve more balance of types of activities in their lives? (my 11 yr old would NOT not happy, but I go back and forth and back and forth on this in my head, trying to figure out if it’s BETTER for him if I put some limits on.)

        Is this too long for a blog comment conversation? Please feel free to not approve this comment if I’m getting carried away. I’m just really struggling with these issues right now.

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      4. HA! Comment approved, but feel free to also e-mail me. First: YES YOU CAN break your own habits. My first career was technology project management before briefly becoming a public school teacher. Can you say “control issues”? It happens. Your love for your kids will override the rest. Your desire to see them productive but HAPPY will drive a lot of it. But it definitely takes the deschooling time to break YOU of these things, too.

        Realize that when kids have resolved some of the issues you mention with your youngest, they are way, way, way better equipped to tackle learning. And kids are able to absorb (especially math concepts) far more quickly and with far greater fluency when they’re ready to do so. It’s not uncommon to hear that kids with typical IQs bang out a year of math in a few months, but older than when their age-peers started learning those concepts. It only takes school kids so long because 1) they’re not motivated; and 2) they’re struggling to understand something taught to the masses vs. them as individuals (there are other challenges there, but many just don’t apply to the homeschooled kid).

        Last, screen time exposure is a pretty controversial issue but I’m an enormous fan of limitation. I have seen the research that says “Hey–this needs to be done in doses”. I also have kids that react to it in negative ways (one of which seems to be affected with an addiction-type response where he can’t manage to pull away from it). It’s a shift. My kids are not screen-free by any stretch, but they definitely have allocated screen times where it’s acceptable for different uses. Many believe that kids will self-regulate, but between my own kids and my job (where about half of my client base are families of kids with various challenges) I know first-hand that many kids simply CANNOT self-regulate with screens. It’s easier to increase than it is to step backward. But everyone has to do what works for their family. I just encourage you to do some research about screen exposure and brain development (actual studies rather than blog pieces–screenfree.org is biased towards “limit it” but they have the research to support their position if you’re looking for a starting point).

        I have no judgment on people’s decisions; but I really try to push for people to make INFORMED decisions. And that doesn’t mean I feel like they’re uninformed because they don’t agree with our path! 😉

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    2. I did.
      I knew I had to deschool, but after two months found myself thinking… they are getting behind, we must start schooling. And we did.

      School at home complete with a bell..

      Then, not a full year later, we suffered from burn-out.

      Then we deschooled for two years and unschooled from then on….

      So, yes, by all means, deschool right now.

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      1. Huisvrou,

        Very curious how deschooling looked different in your home compared to unschooling now. How old are your kiddos? How did you explain the decision to stop and deschool?

        Liked by 1 person

  4. As I sit here middle of the night praying and searching for help to confirm my reasons and hopes for homeschooling my daughter as a dad also running my own business I am grateful for this post. We need to do this deschooling now as we are still finding our way a month in and not sure I’m doing this HS thing well. Thank you for Hope.

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    1. I’m glad it gave you hope. Deep breaths. I will write a post on how we have managed a working parent plus a second parent running a business… somewhere in the near future. It can be done, it just takes a lot of adjusting.

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  5. Great post. I am thinking of starting home learning with our six year old, and I am feeling how this is going to be hard on me in many ways too. The kids I grew up with, we went through all the years together in public school, and part of me is sad that my son won’t have that. We live two blocks from the school, so we will see/hear the kids heading to school every day.

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    1. Well, I think that’s a misconception. We have lived in IL for the last 6 years and my kids have known a small group of the same homeschoolers and public schoolers all of that time despite having moved a few times in the area (so–my kids are no exactly accessible to the kids on the block we first landed on). And then there are the kids that we have known in passing for several years here and there. I say that living in an area now that has a much larger homeschool community than where we came from.

      Where we came from, we had a TINY homeschool community and you couldn’t help but know all of the same kids over and over. And then you still know the kids in your neighborhood.

      Your kids will get involved in things that involve public (and private) schooled kids from your city/town/area. As a result, they will run into the same kids over and over. On my block, my 7yo has 3 little girls that head off to school every day of the school year and they all play together when the girls are home.

      The reality is that you can create whatever situation you want for your kids with a little creativity and effort. Most of the kids I know that homeschool have a small, core set of good friends and then kids they see all the time that they have known for a while. In that respect, it’s not a lot different from what you’re talking about–complete with the kids that will simply never get along. :/

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  6. I’ve read an article similar to this before (if not this very same one) about a year ago. I didn’t understand it very well, and I suppose I thought it didn’t apply to me.
    I totally get it now!! I’ve homeschooled my 12yr old for 1 1/2 yrs. But now my 11 yr old has “agreed” to homeschool. lol

    We’ve taken the summer off, but the feeling of “okay, can I get them everything they need to do, and so on” is overwhelming. I’ve scoured and read different curricula. I’ve ordered the math. I’ve signed up for some free online classes. Now we’re in a holding pattern until “school starts”. (I also have a 2yr old and a 9 mo. old) The online classes are offered by the state, and it just doesn’t feel quite right.

    I need to deschool! Because of this post, I understand the feeling that’s been nagging me for 2 years. I need to reconnect with my older kids. I feel like I don’t really know who my little people are. I’ve always packaged them up and sent them off to school, where they grew to be people I don’t know.

    This far into homeschooling, I’m beginning to understand that I don’t have to follow the district’s guidelines of WHAT my kids need to learn in a specific year. There are so many things I’d like my kids to learn and experience- but the system never allowed for any of that.
    We didn’t plant the gardens, go for walks/hikes, trips to see matinees, zoos, museums, walks through the mall. I haven’t taken my kids to a library in 4 years!
    I feel like I just woke up from a heavy sleep.

    And the part about reading aloud to them, no matter the age…I love it. I used to read to my kids every single day. Then when they were old enough, I’d have them read to me. Then we just stopped. All of it. Thankfully my husband reads to them here and there. (The Series of Unfortunate Events. lol I hear the laughing coming from down the hall.)

    Thank you for this post. I’m thankful to have had another chance to read it.

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  7. Ok, so I wish NOW that I had read this before spending $500 on a curriculum that I don’t think my daughter is going to like! It’s very literature intensive and she doesn’t really like reading. Starting tomorrow I’m going to begin our deschooling process. I wish now that I would have gone through the deschooling process and then picked out a curriculum. This was a great article for someone who was starting to feel like I had made a mistake…and I’m only on Day 2!

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    1. Oh goodness! Hopefully you can either return the curricula for a full refund or hold onto it in case it becomes useful at some point! Hugs to you!

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  8. HI! I love the post! We started homeschooling in September of 2015. I work full time and my husband stays at home and monitors the schooling and small farm. My oldest was in 7th grade, middle in 3rd, and youngest just 2 years old. We left the public school system because we realized that our children were not learning. They were regurgitating half understood information so that they could pass a standardized test. My oldest has struggled in math forever. We had sought help from the elementary and middle schools, just to be told, that “it’s ok that your 12 year old can’t add single digit numbers without using her fingers to count” and “we don’t really rely on memorizing facts any more”. It was all basically nonsense that meant, “not our problem”. We started seeing that our girls were merely going through the motions. Our then 2nd grader wasn’t doing anything at all in school. Literally. Her 2nd grade teacher sent home 9 weeks worth of incomplete work, right after the Christmas break. She said my daughter just wouldn’t turn in work or complete class work. !!!!! 9 weeks worth of it! LOL. So, fast forward! We started out with Alpha Omega Monarch program. It was a daily struggle to get the girls to do anything related to school work. Yelling, grounding, taking things away. No matter what we said, it just didn’t, and still doesn’t work. We made it through the end of the year, finishing a month later than I had hoped. This year, we started off when public school started…again. And again we are struggling daily. I’m worried that my 8th grader, who is doing 4th grade math work will not be able to complete her high school credits. I’m worried that they just aren’t learning what they “need” to. I don’t want to send them back to public school, but it is a battle daily to get them to do their curriculum. I’m not concerned about state guidelines or regulations because we are in TN and registered through a private Christian school as independent study. I report attendance (state minimum is 4 hours/180 days).
    Is it too late to deschool. Will my kids think that I’ve given up and that school isn’t as important as I make it out to be? (Yeah, we’ve had those meltdown moments where I have to break down life and let them know they will get nowhere without an education.) Most importantly, how do I talk my ex military husband into this crazy idea???!!! Is there any education involved during this unschooling time? Would it be bad if I still worked with my 4th and 8th graders on learning the multiplication tables? Do I assign reading or do I just let them choose and make sure they do at least read?
    Thanks again!!!!

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    1. It’s not a crazy idea to start now where you should have last year. And your 8th grader might take the full year to fully distill. During this time, THEY DRIVE THE BOAT with what they want to do. I mean, certainly they will have household responsibilities and go wherever you take them. But the decision to learn or not learn something is really up to them during deschooling. Take this time to work on other things–like self-care, routines, and BONDING WITH YOUR KIDS! Also, the schools are right in that memorization of math facts is nothing more than memorization. The biggest problem in not knowing them is speed on a timed test (and yes, that may matter when they’re older). It shouldn’t prevent them from moving ahead into more complicated math work when they’re ready.

      If you can just read through this blog post again with a deep breath and look at the list of things to do and consider–you’ll be fine. If you’re going to dictate the reading material, I might make that an audiobook. You might not want to prescribe set numbers of minutes or pages because again–that would be imposing learning (and building resentment).

      This is a really brief window in their lives. You will see that when they are able to choose their course and they are actually WANTING to learn things–they will learn QUICK (and thoroughly). In the meantime, TALK with them. You cannot know what that can do not only for your relationship and their self-esteem, but for their critical thinking and communication skills. Start training YOURSELF to find the value in what they ARE doing. Deschooling is as much for the parent as for the children! ❤

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