How to know when you are done deschooling

So, my post on the importance of deschooling went mini-viral… but then people had questions.  Most notably: how do you know when you’re done…

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, but truly–the majority of the change is going to be with the parent in most cases.

You’ll be done when you stop worrying about when you will be done.  🙂

One major thing that will change for you is that you are no longer worried that they’re falling behind or not learning enough.  When you stop wondering if you’re ruining their lives, you’re almost done. I mean, these might always be fleeting thoughts for some people.  Geesh, even I will occasionally have a 3-minute panic that I’ve set my kid up to sleep on my couch for the rest of his life; but they’re not going to drive you into a panic that makes you TRULY start reconsidering homeschooling.  I’m not talking about 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.  A comment from a friend isn’t going to send you spinning and the idea of your child’s education being entirely in your hands doesn’t immediately make you bite your nails.

You’ll change.  You’ll see yourself shift from basing your decisions off of the rest of the world’s model.  When they’re doing nothing at all, you’ll be more INTERESTED in what they are enjoying about that moment than you will be CONCERNED about what they’re NOT doing.

As for the kids, they will be done when they no longer shun anything deemed educational.  When they can look at a trip to the zoo or the library or a museum as something enjoyable rather than “tolerable education”.  Even if they become willing, but begrudgingly–they’re not done.

Admittedly, if you’re going on a year and still having a problem, you should look deeper at what’s going on.  What did this child experience or what feelings to they hold about themselves and learning that has them still–after truly being deschooled and having all learning expectations and conversations go out the window (unless the conversation is initiated by the child)–makes them avoid anything educational like the plague.  Do they associate it with something traumatic from their schooled time?  Did they inadvertently develop some very deep and unhealthy ideas about themselves or their abilities?  It would be time to initiate that conversation, but not from a “because you need to start learning” perspective.  If that’s your take, YOU need more deschooling and your child’s lack of motivation is just part and parcel of that.  But if you’re greater concern is your child’s happiness and their thoughts right now–you’re ready.  And realize that you may need outside help for this one.

Everything will change in the absence of the confines of an education model.  It may even be a scary time–for all of you–because there are no established expectations.  We have been conditioned to simply meet the expectations and goals dictated to us.  Suddenly, you have a lot more control over your destiny and that can be really scary for people who have never driven a boat.  For both parents and children, that can produce a great deal of anxiety.  A good set of routines and rhythms to your days can really help (I write about that in this blog post)

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–possibly sought out. So, you will look and feel relaxed before you are THAT relaxed. The estimate is 1 month for every year of traditional schooling.  Yes–that’s right.  And if you went from school to school-at-home, you can add that school-at-home time.  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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17 thoughts on “How to know when you are done deschooling

  1. I think deschooling sounds like a good idea but how do you do that in states that require testing and attendance records and a Syllabus for the year?


    1. It’s harder, but it can be done. The unschoolers find ways around it. In my state, the law says I have to teach 6-7 specific subjects (and have to teach them in English). I use Homeschool Skedtrack, set up the subjects the state tells me to teach and then each week I pick through our activities and decide which subject each thing provided learning for. Helping cook meals is science and math. Any kind of discussions had about the body, puberty, implementing new hygiene routines, etc. is “health”. Park playdates count as phys ed. I’m sure that they might require a syllabus for the year, but as a former teacher–we all know that the projected syllabus may not equate to the executed lessons. As a result, the district I worked for was one that required us to submit our syllabus AFTER the lessons were taught so there was a record of reality.

      Believe it or not–there is a LOT of education-worthy stuff that goes on when kids are “doing nothing”… it just doesn’t look like what we consider “learning”. Climbing a tree requires a lot of balance–and how is it different than rope or rock wall climbing in gym class? Reading is, ummmm… reading. You could try to keep a reading log, but during this time period–YOU keep the log.

      Take pictures of everything and pick through things that are education-worthy for states with a portfolio requirement.

      As for testing… let them test. You’d be surprised what a relaxed kid can do and frankly, if yours was a good test taker before they will probably still perform well. If they were a horrible test taker before, it’s possible they will still bomb them. But if they slip a little in content this year, it’s not the end of the world. Especially this year–during the adjustment year. I don’t know of a state that reviews tests for minimum scores with the threat of forcing the kids back into school and that would’ve made the rounds in the homeschool groups when talking about relocation.

      You will get creative. You will also be forced to find learning in things you didn’t think of before. And that could be a great thing!


    2. In my state, TX, the homeschooling law removes the attendance record barrier and no syllabus or reporting is necessary. Most don’t keep records till high school age when they may be putting together transcripts for college etc. No testing required either because Texas views homeschoolers as unaccredited private schools. So that takes care of the testing issue. Many I know do general assessments every few years just to get a snapshot of the “traditional” areas valued in the ps system. but the scores don’t go anywhere and many others don’t test at all. Love love love how TX is so homeschool/unschool friendly. It can vary greatly by state but I am not the expert on the differences.


  2. I hadn’t thought about de-schooling my kids, but we homeschool only part time (which I know is controversial in and of itself) so the expectations are still there. It’s a breath of fresh air to think about no expectations though!


    1. I don’t find partial homeschooling controversial! It is still customizing your child’s education and using the resources that work for you!

      But in that situation, deschooling is different for sure. They still need to recognize that their time at home is different (with different expectations) than school. Depending on what percentage of time and learning is done in school–it can be difficult!


  3. We are going through the process of deschooling. I’m hoping we’ll start fitting things in naturally over the next few months. It’s hard to be feel completely relaxed about it yet though – clear sign we’re not there yet! Great piece 🙂


  4. We’ve been homeschooling for over five years. Tree went through a period like deschooling. I called it “detox.” Kids are 14, 13 and 11 now. Homeschooling is getting harder as they get older. Classes done online increase screen time. I’ve always wanted my kids to learn what they want, but they still seem directionless. After reading your article, I wonder if we need to deschool again. Do you have thoughts on that?


    1. If you have been directing their learning and want them to be self-directed, then yes–I think that’s a really good idea. When they have nobody telling them what to do and learn and they know it’s not just a break–that’s when things happen.

      Given their age, it might be wise to implement a weekly Family Meeting. That process might encourage them a little to come up with places to visit, etc. by way of having agenda items for “plans for later in the month” and “money that needs to be set aside”. It also opens up dialogue for collaborative problem solving. The combination of their age and the situation makes me wonder if giving them that new, consistent way to contribute their ideas and possibly talk about challenges could be a good thing.


    1. I’m not exactly sure what you’re asking about here. Do you mean “How long do you let this go on with an autistic child so they don’t regress?” I’m going to function on that assumption and go with it. I’m going to speak about our experiences.

      Our autistic son had already achieved some level of “recovery” when we went through this process. I was unaware of the concept of deschooling when we pulled him out and when I learned about deschooling, I didn’t equate his preschool experiences with “school” and therefore the need to “deschool”. Add to this the fear of skill and behavior regression and I wasn’t exactly under the impression that it was something that would be beneficial for my household.

      I was wrong. Certainly I saw some significant pushing of boundaries and things got difficult before they got better; but it was short-lived. When he knew he wouldn’t be going back to school, everything changed. Mine was young so that period was short. Mine was also not at the more severe end of the autism spectrum at this point so I got away with just a touch less structure.

      Most children in the spectrum are receiving therapies that they need and perhaps you think I mean that by “deschooling” you might drop their therapies? I don’t mean that at all. But being removed from the other demands of a school environment helps them process a lot of their therapy challenges without added stress and confusion. You can build structure at home as well as it can be done in a school if that is the need. I linked to a blog post on this further up in the article–about building structure without imposing academics. If you are concerned about a skills regression, then find ways to reinforce those skills as part of your daily routine.

      I write quite a bit about homeschooling children with autism on this blog. If you hit the keyword “autism” you will find articles related to the various aspects.


  5. I am so confused on this subject. I definitely see the value in the deschooling but he should be in 4th grade and already levels behind his “public school peers” how do we just put book work aside? I feel like he needs some instruction. Maybe it is me that needs instruction.


    1. Sheron–you really did nail it: it’s you. I KNOW how you feel. I KNOW it seems backward to stop demanding schoolwork of a child that’s already “behind”. But I promise that if you go back to the original post “The Truth About Deschooling That Will Blow Your Mind” you will see a list of things you stand to gain from this time without the demands of schoolwork. He may need STRUCTURE, but not academic INSTRUCTION. These are two different things and you can absolutely provide structure without imposing academic demands. If you put “structure” in the search box of this site, I have several posts on that including “No questions asked: kids need structure“.

      No doubt, you are feeling the mindset we have been brainwashed into: learning only happens when imposed in a structured setting. That has been proven patently false. You need this as much as he does. YOU need to be able to see him for how he naturally gravitates to learn things. YOU need to be able to understand what he is attracted to and what he avoids at a deeper level than “he likes books and video games” (or whatever). YOU need to be able to recognize hints of hidden gifts.

      And for a kid that is “already levels behind”, HE needs the chance to rediscover learning as a wonderful thing.

      Those of us with kids that aren’t fitting in the box can be especially anxious about so much “time off” from “school”. Learn to recognize the value of all of the things the schools aren’t teaching and aren’t able to do. Reconnect with your child where there is zero pressure to perform–and zero shame in not getting it.

      This is worth it. So much changes. You will come at your homeschooling adventure with so much more knowledge (and less wasted money–although that can still happen!). And please believe me that these kids make up a year, two, sometimes four in the span of a year when they are able to actually address the content when their brain has developed in that area. You just need to meet more of these families to feel more confident about it. Reread these two articles fully and take them in. Make sure there are still things required of him (household responsibilities) and check your tolerance for gaming/screens. Ask HIM what HE wants to do and strongly consider that when scheduling outings. Maybe make the library a once/week thing (although I ban mine from the library computers and literally have to babysit the computer bank while they’re there!). In a few months, it will all come together.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. yes, yes, YES!
    We are several months into our deschooling process and it keeps getting less and less scary. I still have momentary “ruining their lives” freak-outs, but they are steadily decreasing. I’ve come around to seeing that so much of the academics they are subjected to in school are repeated ad nauseam dozens of times over the years in the hopes of repetition-based learning whereas in homeschooling we are working to create atmosphere and experiences that support learning through connection and meaning.
    Like the first time my son needed to figure out an uncomfortable fraction when making lego-gummies with jello. Lots of measuring cups, some sketch paper and a desired end result => fractions, units of measure comparisons and conversions => converting other units of measure, predictions of volume, volume of 3D shapes => pi, string art and most importantly, delish lego-gummies.
    I’m also really getting into some ideas around appropriate developmental phases. My middle-schooler needed to get “out of his head” while in the biggest brain development period of his life. He needs to sleep, move, experience and problem solve in the physical world, so lots of building, climbing and free wilderness time. I’m calling this “body-learning” and he is SO much happier. And tell me he isn’t getting enough math from building a two-story tree house or whittling!!


  7. It’s an interesting world to navigate right now, especially when throwing newly homeschooling into the mix during Covid/quarantining. My kids have been home since March. They did do some variation of “remote school”; however, that was definitely not school, nor did I treat it as such.

    I set an initial start date of 9/1. My kids are 14 and 7 (9th & 2nd). I am researching curricula, homeschooling styles, planner/grade book options – i’m self teaching, because I know nothing about any of this. I’m a single mama, and I don’t have a support system, so there are a lot of stressors build in. My approach is very intentional, in that, I am discussing curriculum/lessons/activities/subjects/dreams/desires/goals/hopes/fears; really anything and everything I can think of with my kids. My goal is to let them help choose their tools/classes/curriculum etc. I want their buy-in, before I even attempt anything. I’m not sure if that works from a strategy perspective per se, but for my kiddos I feel like it is empowering.

    I didn’t consider using our every day life as a map of classes for now, so that we’re not out of compliance. That’s a genius idea. I will totally start filling out their days more with lessons that they don’t realize are lessons. Again, after they know that’s what I’ve been doing, I feel that will take some of the potential stress/concern out of the picture.

    I realize that’s not exactly what you’re recommending, but I am going to postpone our “official” start date, and give it more time. However, I do think I’m going to build in some unschooling/gameschooling type ‘lessons’ for the sake of documentation and to show them that school will not be traditional for us.

    I feel like this is the way for my two, and if it proves unsuccessful, i’ll change the plan and try something else with them.

    Thank you for both of these posts. I actually feel much better reading them, and going through my own thought process in response.


    1. Ah… but the beauty of homeschooling is that we do what works for our kids! I’m so glad that the posts serve you in some way. Thank you so much for reading and commenting!


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