Deschooling the Deschooling Process

Initially, it can be a very big step to just let go of curriculum. However, after that, there are further steps on the way to fully giving our children’s lives over to God’s leading. 

Relaxed homeschooling is the natural next step when one lets go of the idea of replicating “school at home, only richer/better/more accepted by the child.” The difference between it and unschooling lies in letting go of school at home, but not (yet) our conceptions of “richer/better,” and being content merely with “more accepted by the child” while still trying to live up to school-derived goals such as reading or arithmetic. The following is a compilation of responses by CU moderators explaining ways to get further into the deschooling process.

Unpacking Misconceptions of Strewing

It can be very tempting to strew according to our interests and goals rather than the child’s. For instance, if a child is not accomplishing literacy goals on the parent’s schedule, the parent may try strewing materials such as phonics or writing workbooks without voicing an expectation to the child. However, the key is to consider whose interests are being followed and whether respect for both parent’s and child’s comfort levels is being signaled to the child by the parent’s example. 

If a child is asking, or has shown no desire not to, then strewed material could be a neutral thing that could simply be one new thing. But if a child has stated or indicated they are not wanting to do such a thing, then this could create a stumbling block or a frustration and could be a breach of trust because they are not being respected in their choice (possible need) to wait until they are ready.

Getting to the core of our “why” allows for truly letting go of schoolish thought and avoiding pressure to learn or perform before a child is ready (developmentally, emotionally, physically). Meeting that child where they are is important to the principles of unschooling.

Giving tools to a child who has already indicated they do not want something, for whatever reason, and “providing a tool” for them anyway, is not a kindness at that time. It could be excused as strewing in the mind of an adult (though it violates the spirit of unschool strewing), but can have different connotations to the child. The intention of the parent is still to get the child reading. Strewing is not intended to be coercive in nature. Passively or aggressively.

Not telling a child they have to read/do is not necessarily perceived by a child as such. This is especially true where a child/parent has not deschooled fully. There are still ties to assumptions of expectations whether spoken or not.

Previous schooling (home/public/private) and schoolish thought are in the adult and in the child. Obedience is tied to those thoughts. I give something – you do that something. Just because I did not tell, ask, demand – the internal dialogue remains tied to old patterns and expectations.

Those things make a difference.

A child picking up an offered, or quietly strewed item, may be out of desire, curiosity, or perceived obligation. Our assumption of their reasons may be right, or may be skewed. That is where a hindrance may exist.


It pays for us to be aware of when they’re still choosing merely the form of knowledge, rather than its real-life function. So a child may pick up a workbook that we call strewn, and it may or may not be the same thing as academics to the child. A child may gravitate back to a math resource like Khan Academy, which is very academic in style, and it may actually signal that the child hasn’t yet felt permission and encouragement to truly release schoolish values… to experience mathematical concepts in the real world.

And I want to reiterate that it’s not problematic in itself, it’s just an awareness thing of where there’s more transformation ahead to completely deschool. This is still schooling at home, just with different cues.

Taking the pressure off enough for them to resume compliance with schoolish activities without battles is not unschooling. Usually that’s all parents actually want from this approach–not to unschool, but to facilitate school-oriented values more gently. That was honestly my only original goal in beginning to unschool too. But fully unschooling has involved a deeper internal transformation of the narratives in my own head and the ones I’ve gotten the chance to cultivate in my kids’ minds and hearts.


Unpacking Problems with Natural Obedience

Particularly with “obedient” children, it never needs to be voiced that something is expected. Something a parent picks out is enough to send the message that “I chose this for you and will be happy if you use it,” and suddenly something that seemed innocent to a parent is perceived as a “demand” to a child. It’s one of the ways I failed at strewing in the beginning.


“the internal dialogue remains tied to old patterns and expectations”

This is huge, and I just want to pull it out of Pam’s comments and highlight it. We cannot really see the difference between relaxed homeschooling based on old patterns and expectations and unschooling until we get to a place of transforming the internal dialogues we have about child development and what’s important to learn (and how).

This is deeper into the deschooling process, past the “letting go of bookwork” place, so something to consider and wait on for those just starting out.

Being aware that there are more layers is often more discouraging than helpful without further information. It initially feels like getting told that progress isn’t progress. But we’re simply talking about a neutral awareness. It is not a success/failure measure.

How can we tell which it is? We can focus on building really deep, no-fault relationships (all things are within Christ’s forgiveness and sufficiency) and providing our kids with the language to express their actual perceptions. Asking open-ended questions that suggest words for what they think and feel. Letting them say “yes” or “no” to those words. Going past the invisible limits of “well, if I talk about this I’m opening the door to problems or bad character, this doesn’t seem appropriate.”

But guess what? They’re going to go there in their own minds anyway. The only question is whether we walk along with them and guide them through taboo areas like preference and personality and reactions to the adult world that aren’t always grateful and positive.

We are NOT leading our kids into temptation by modelling confessional living. Including “I don’t want to learn that.” If we’re transitioning out of schoolish thinking, that can have the status of a confession. It can feel emotionally risky for both child and parent.

We are very wrongly indoctrinated to view Christianity as ascetic, requiring us to ignore our own needs and our own natural way of getting through life other than to repent of its very existence. But from Genesis to Colossians we see that this is not true to Scripture. In Christ, we are image-bearers of God and can embrace who we uniquely are through His sanctifying power, without fear of cultivating sin. There’s great theological justification for embracing the journey, too.


Unpacking Unschooling

Unschooling doesn’t mean you simply stop telling your kids they have to learn [reading, phonics, math, essay writing, insert your fear of failure] topics, or you teach your kids [insert your fear-of-failure topic] in a new way, or you set books about [insert your fear-of-failure topic] on a table until they get the hint that they have to learn it all.

It also doesn’t mean you find topics [art, computers, music, insert your school subject of greatest comfort level] that are acceptable alternatives and let them learn those.

Unschooling is looking at your kids and saying, “There’s a whole world out there, go explore it. Find stuff that intrigues you, stuff you love or stuff that makes you curious, and I’ll promise to help you out wherever those interests and passions take you. Go to those intriguing places, whether in a book, through travel, or on a video game. Or, take a look and decide you’re not going to after all. You will not be pushed, you will not be judged, you will not be coerced, and this path you choose will be yours.”

If you aren’t doing that, then you aren’t unschooling. Please don’t give advice on how to unschool if in reality you’re advising people on ways to “sneak in schooly stuff” or “make sure they learn educational things.” It’s misleading information if someone is trying to unschool, or even if they’re just trying to become more relaxed about schoolish things.

We’ve had new people occasionally feel judged because they’re relaxed homeschoolers. We’re very clear that relaxed homeschooling is the natural first step along the way. It’s chaotic to suddenly throw out absolutely everything you’ve known. But here’s the deal: People have asked to join an unschooling group, and for this to be an unschooling resource in any meaningful sense at all, we can’t call it unschooling if it clearly isn’t moving beyond school-based values.


The Problem This Can Solve

These examples of how kids react may not be the case with every child, but we see a lot of it here. Parents come and post about how frustrated they are that their unschooling kids are rejecting the things they offer or are disagreeable and not pursuing anything, when in actuality a lot of what is offered is stuff the parents have handpicked.

Because of this we will often chime in to offer another side to things, rather than just agree that strewing an academic program is a definite solution, because we’ve seen the opposite results and know that motives, feelings, the child’s experiences, and individual personalities can change the outcome greatly.


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