We asked veteran unschoolers in our Christian unschooling groups to answer the typical “new to unschooling” questions. The following are their responses to the following question:
What is deschooling? Who needs it? How long does it last? How do you know you’ve deschooled enough?
Deschooling is the process of letting go of the institutional thought processes that go along with “school”, namely:
– that life and learning is divided into subjects
– that children must be forced in order to learn the things necessary for life
– that certain interests and academia are more important than others
– that college is a requirement
Deschooling for me is the process of healing from the strain of school and schoolish thinking – learning to accept that life is not made up of individual subjects, and that learning happens everywhere and out-of-school learning is just as important as in-school learning. Everyone who wants to go the unschooling route needs to deschool – children, their parents, other family members who are directly involved in the unschooled child’s day-to-day life… It can last for as little as a few weeks to as long as several years or more. For me, it took about four years to feel like I’ve really deschooled, and I left school halfway through tenth grade.
I think you know you’ve deschooled enough when you realise that you’re not longer worrying about your children “learning what they need to know,” or when the thought of school doesn’t send your stress levels spiraling up into the sky. For me, the moment I realised I was deschooled was when I admitted to myself that it might be nice to take some college courses, and the thought didn’t make me angry or make me want to cry.
Deschooling was a tough time for me, but it left me feeling confident in my own intelligence and eager to learn things that I’m interested in, and learn them in my own way. It took a long time, but the end result was worth it, so I guess my advice for new unschoolers who are still deschooling is just to have patience. Most children are going to need roughly a month for each year in school, but sensitive children might need twice that, or maybe even more. They’ll get there. You, as their parent, will get there, too. You have more than enough time, I promise.
For the kids deschooling meant getting out of the habit of being afraid of anything “educational”. At the beginning that meant a lot of “Is this SCHOOL?!?! Do I have to do it?” And refusing to do things that had any hint of educational value at all. Like kids in public school not wanting to watch anything that they had ever watched in school because that meant it was “educational”.
For my oldest, who had the most stress associated with “school” it took a lot longer than it did for the other two who had barely had anything “Schooly” (none of them ever went to public or private school).
For me, as a former teacher, it took longer to get away from thinking of things in educational terms- but I thought of EVERYTHING in educational terms and could easily rephrase things into educationese because I was trained to do that. Because of the type of upbringing I had it took longer for me to get my own fears out of the way, to stop worrying about other people’s expectations and focus on who my kids are RIGHT NOW. Not in the future but how our relationship is at this moment and how I can work on that relationship in the future, what can I do better, instead of worrying about what things looked like- which is really what most of the education stuff is- what it looks like to outsiders. Like worrying about whether the kids have bathed or not- we kind of think it has to do with health and cleanliness but really it is usually more about whether other people will think we are neglecting our children. Same goes for educational stuff- because when you look closely and really pay attention there is TONS of learning going on, everyday all the time, it just doesn’t LOOK like what others might expect it to. And THAT is the rub. So deschooling for me was not only getting rid of the school think- and since I had always thought outside the box there and was always learning anyway it was more getting rid of the language of education, but even more so it was for me to stop worrying about what outsiders think and trust God that these kids were learning what they NEEDED.~Heather Y
Deschooling is the process where the inherent need to create school at home, that “school” is the proper way to learn, and there is a certain amount of learning that “everybody” needs goes away. For me it’s more of a twisty road where we travel through Deschooling Land if we take a wrong turn to the bad side of town.
Around here the adults needed more Deschooling than the kids. They’ve never been in brick school so don’t really know “schooling”.
It looked a little like unParenting when we started but that was the “letting them find their bent” time for us. We’ve always worked on good character and helpfulness first as a family so they weren’t completely without limits. Mom and Dad still need alone time so they have to go to bed at some point.
More like pruning out the arbitrary rules than no rules.
Out of my 6, I only had to do deschooling with 3 of them because the other 3 have never been in formal school. We did absolutely nothing during this time but play and relax. I must say as well that we had to deschool from “homeschooling” to “unschooling” because it was very different from our homeschooling routine for the last 4 years. It is a complete mind shift for parents and kids! It was not easy for this systematic, type A personality but life is so much easier as I let go……..still working on it.
**What is deschooling?**
Deschooling is the process of changing your worldview. When you transition from separating everything into subjects and educational bits vs leisure/hobby/laziness and you start to look at learning in a new light, happening as a natural process of living.
**Who needs it?**
Parents need to deschool the most I think. Kids are born with an innate curiosity, a desire to construct knowledge from their environment. But adults have gone through the rigorous process of school, teaching, and what our culture dictates and their ideas about learning, living, and success are colored by that past experience. They need to re-evaluate what they value and what they want their kids to value. They need to discover how they really learn themselves. They need to find the joy and curiosity of learning again.
Kids need to deschool if they have previously been to school, or homeschooled with a curriculum. They need to discover joyful learning again. They need to “deprogram” from the ideas that you can only pick up certain skills or knowledge from “on high” – from an authority such as a teacher, book, or lesson. They need to find out what their strengths are, what their passions are, what their beliefs are. They need to have room to think, to question, to explore, to tinker, to quit, to start over, and to NOT do. They need downtime. Downtime is a big thing in deschooling and deprogramming – your mind needs times of lull as well as activity to process everything you are experiencing.
**How long does it last?**
I think only adults really worry about how long it will last – because we want to see some “progress” or output from the child that tells us – yes this unschooling this is productive. But you have to be careful that you are not evaluating that progress in the old “schoolish” terms. When you can look and see that your kids are happy, they are thriving (in what they are passionate about), that you hardly ever think about whether they are doing math or history, and when your kids feel free to explore topics and hobbies without you quantifying and qualifying those things in educational terms, I think it is safe to say you are well on your way.
That isn’t to say you can never sort your activities into subjects for a transcript or records for the state. The difference is you are seeing learning everywhere, and you are not trying to fit everything into an educational box.
“Stop thinking schoolishly. Stop acting teacherishly. Stop talking about learning as though it’s separate from life.” —Sandra Dodd
**How do you know you’ve deschooled enough?**
I don’t think anyone can determine this except you and your kids. Every family is different. And as you will see, unschoolers are always evaluating and questioning.
In our journey, I’ve had to deschool many times. Over time, the temptation to break out the workbooks lessons after each deschooling period. I see more benefits of living life without worrying about curriculum.
~ Aadel B.
I’ll expand a little on Vanessa’s post: Schooling is generally about conforming kids into categories, subsets of those categories, or as I like to call it putting every kid into a box. This doesn’t work for most kids because everyone is an individual and they all learn differently, experience the world differently, communicate differently etc.
De-schooling is about getting rid of this idea that everyone needs to fit in some sort of box. When we’re asking ourselves if our kids are learning their math by doing X we’re putting them in a box and expecting them to conform to some educational method, or arbitrary rule.
As adults I think we need to de-school more than our kids because many of us were raised in public schools or around the institutional mindset of conformity or “educational boxes”. This mindset gets ingrained in us and it can be very difficult to break this mindset and free ourselves to see how our children learn and experience their world.
One of the hardest things for me to grasp or to change in my mindset was this idea that my kids don’t have to learn things the way I did, or the way I want to teach them (I still struggle with this). One of the amazing things about unschooling is watching our kids take learning into their own hands and do things and learn things that we either don’t expect or in ways that we could never have imagined.
A good way to gauge your de-schooling is your perception of learning. When you stop thinking are they learning this or that, and just start seeing what they are learning and not trying to categorize it in a certain way…then you know you are well on your way to being completely de-schooled.
~ Adam P.
As for my answer I don’t think there’s much I can add to Aadel’s answer except this: you’re probably about done deschooling when you stop wondering when the deschooling will be over and the unschooling can start.
For our family I was the one who needed to de-school. My kids have never been to formal school and I’ve never “done” school at home. However, for the longest time I was fearful about so many things. Was there going to be something I failed to cover with them? What if I was just being lazy? Am I sure I really heard from the Lord about this? I hid what we were doing from others. I could see that my kids were learning in spite of me and everything I wasn’t doing but it didn’t make sense. So, I wouldn’t allow them to participate in public competitions of any kid that could measure their academic progress. I was fearful when others would ask my children questions to “test” them. Then one day I had the pleasure of sitting down to coffee with my dad. He was discussing my kids’ behavior compared to my siblings’ kids behaviors. My public schooled niece couldn’t think for herself and didn’t know how to carry on a conversation with anyone but kids her age. My nephews who were traditionally homeschooled were very socially awkward and were not any more academically superior to my own kids. They, bless their hearts, couldn’t think for themselves either. Then my dad spoke of how my kids would engage others in conversation and were not afraid to ask questions. They were outgoing and well-behaved. The thing that meant the most was that he said they were God-honoring and were very loving towards others! I knew I was on the right path. When I decide to not send my oldest to kindergarten I asked the Lord what He wanted me to teach her. That is the only time He ever said something specific. “Godly character.” So, after that conversation with my dad I just realized that God’s ways are higher than ours. Just because the “experts” say it has to be done a certain way doesn’t mean that it’s the only way. I still find myself questioning things from time to time. However, my confidence is now in the Lord and not myself or any teaching method.
I have these up on my tabs and want to “dump” them before I forget and close everything down. And I figure hearing from different sources is always good and could go into a compendium for the site.
Value judgements and “unproductive” days –http://www.christianunschooling.com/gaining-perspective-on-unproductive-days/
Can unschoolers use workbooks/textbooks? Deschooling our ideas on “resources” and asking for schoolish stuff –http://www.christianunschooling.com/almost-anything-is-better-than-a-workbook/
I know that unschoolers don’t use curriculum, but what if your child is asking for it? Is it wrong to give them a workbook and let them go through it? This questioned is posed a lot in our Facebook…
I want to highlight what Adam said, “A good way to gauge your de-schooling is your perception of learning. When you stop thinking are they learning this or that, and just start seeing what they are learning and not trying to categorize it in a certain way…then you know you are well on your way to being completely de-schooled.” That right there. When you stop second guessing, when you stop panicking, when you start living and stop asking. THEN you are done deschooling.
That was my big “aha!” moments where it started clicking, and things made a whole lot more sense. I see learning in almost everything that I or my kids do now and I know I’m better for it and so are they.~ Adam P.
Deschooling for me was a process of changing my thinking and beliefs to understand and embrace that learning need not be measured or graded or quantified. It is a leap of faith to say, “I will not fear [my child is falling behind, my child needs to know, other kids are doing x, so my child better do it, too].”
Learning happens constantly, and it is not limited to certain “learning times” or “concentrated learning moments”. When I let go of the beliefs society and culture had programmed into me, I realized each day was spent simply enjoying what is. No, my 7.5 year old is not reading yet, but every day, I engage with him in word play, and he is showing a ton of signs for reading readiness. But I know my role is not to worry or fuss over it – my role is to provide an environment rich in resources and things which cater to my kids’ individualized interests and strengths.
I knew I’d deschooled enough when I no longer compared anything my kids were or were not doing with the school equivalent. It took me about 2-3 years to entirely let it go and stop even mentally saying, “Oh, he’s doing x grade level work!” type of things. Now, I know they are simply doing what is best for them where they are at this stage of life.~ Teresa M.
It was the process of changing our perspective on what learning looked like. Understanding that there was not “better” way of learning. That there was not a higher value on books over movies, or curriculum over gaming, or “educational” over “entertainment”. That 10 hours of reading a classic was not more productive than 10 hours on the computer. That passion and interest in something does not equate with addiction. That fear inhibits rational thinking and creates illogical conclusions. That I did not have to see learning taking place for learning to be taking place. It just is, all the time, and when it is allowed to happen naturally and to the individuals unique wants and needs, it becomes part of the person and not lost to testing or expectations of another.~ Pam C
Deschooling is a transition, from a place where we think children will only learn if they are taught, to a place where we know they are learning all the time and it is often invisible to our eyes and doesn’t necessarily fit into a school subject box. It is a process, a journey, and it can take quite a long time!
Many people say that it takes about a month of deschooling to recover from every year spent at school, but in my experience it took longer than that, and in some ways it never ends. It is important to remember that the month of deschooling means a month where we actually, fully, completely refrain from any type of schoolish behaviour. It is means having a completely school-free month, in both visible work and invisible expectations. So every time we start to panic and make subtle or not so subtle comments, or do things that interfere with the deschooling process, it’s back to square one and we start counting again.
Think of it as being like a board game where you get sent back to start every time you do or think something schooly.
This, for me, helps me to understand why deschooling can take a really long time!!
Every time we go back to start, we move more quickly, because we have already begun to build a foundation of trust in their learning.
We also need to consider that we parents were in school for many, many years, and often completed tertiary education, too. We are also living in a society that is deeply entrenched in schooling, so we are surrounded by it at every turn. That affects our deschooling, too, and also that of our children, even the ones who have never been to school.
Deschooling means getting to a place of trust that our children are totally capable of learning anything and everything that they need or want to learn, without us having to allocate it to a school subject, or tick a box with a sigh of relief that they learned something tangible.
Deschooling requires lots of deep breaths, shifts of focus, and redirection of our nervous energy. When we start to panic, it is a good idea to turn our eyes to ourselves, rather than our children. Instead of focussing on what they are or aren’t learning, it is better to focus on having fun, connecting, playing and exploring, together.
Later, once we are further along on the deschooling path, it will become important for us to also focus on learning within the context of an unschooling life, but during the deschooling phase, too much focus on learning can keep us stuck in school think, and interfere with our trust that our children are learning all the time, whether they’re watching a TV show, or playing with Lego, or reading a book, playing a video game or seemingly “doing nothing”.
Deschooling is a bit like putting blinkers on a horse. We choose to ignore the critics and our inner voice of fear, and we focus on our children, connecting with them in relaxing, fun ways. ~ Karen L.