Deschooling: What is it, and Why is it Important?

So you’re thinking about homeschooling.  It’s a big step!  It’s a huge choice that feels like you’re jumping out of the box or swimming away from the bait ball.  It’s new, it’s intimidating, and it’s full of annoyingly weird acronyms and labels that you have to decipher any time you join a chat group.

You may have heard this term already: deschooling.  Chances are a veteran homeschooler suggested it – and hopefully they explained what it means.   It’s not to be confused with unschooling; a complete homeschooling philosophy by itself despite being somewhat similar to deschooling.



So, deschooling.  What is it?

Deschooling is an adjustment period.  It’s for the entire family, but mostly for the student and the primary instructor.   It’s a chance to ditch the idea of what school is “supposed” to be and enter into a new model of learning.  One that doesn’t involve strict schedules, waiting in a line in the hallway to use the restroom, and lunch lines.

Deschooling is learning in a relaxed way, doing field trips, going on nature walks, doing fun STEM challenges, playing games, watching documentaries, and most importantly, allowing the student to follow their own interests.


New homeschoolers often fall into the “we’re not doing enough!” trap.  Heck, even we veteran homeschoolers do too – but we’re several years removed from the reality of traditional school, so it’s less urgent.  We’re all tempted to compare our day to the traditional school day and feel like our kids couldn’t possibly be getting enough.  Eventually you’ll ditch that feeling of panic, but for now, take my word for it:  you’re probably doing too much!


Think about it

Consider the purpose of school –  to facilitate learning.  Instinctively we all know that learning can happen anywhere – but homeschoolers take it a step further.  We DO learn everywhere!  Field trips that allow us to explore our world, outings around town that allow us to interact with others, trips to the grocery store that teach math skills and life skills: it’s all learning.

Deschooling is about that learning – the unconscious absorption of life that teaches our kids about the world around them.  That doesn’t even include deliberate learning like picking up a book, watching a documentary, or researching how to feed a hamster on their own initiative.


Why is it so important?

Kids in public school are trained to do things a certain way, and that deviating from the order of things is bad.  Homeschool kids are trained to think critically, ask questions, and do their own thing.  They’re completely different learning models, and you cannot switch gears so quickly without disorientation and confusion.  Deschooling allows all of you to bridge that gap between philosophies.

Plus, chances are you decided to homeschool for a reason.  Don’t make homeschooling the same as the reason you left – kids will absolutely balk and refuse if homeschooling reminds them too much of traditional school.  They’re burnt out – so worksheets are torture.  Maybe they’re tired of being told what to do and when to do it – so a homeschool schedule feels like rubbing a raw wound.

Give them time to breathe.  To find themselves.  To play.  They need it – kids are stressed out even in elementary school!


How long should we deschool?

The second most common question behind “what’s deschooling” is “how long do we do it?”  As long as you need to.  It really varies depending on your family, your kids, and how traumatic their time in school was.  The general rule of thumb is 1 month for every year they were in tradition schools – longer if there were issues.   If your kids start asking to learn about XYZ, then take that as a good indicator that they’re ready to get back to structured learning.


Ease in gently

Jumping into a rigorous curriculum with both feet is a bad idea.  Ease in.  Try samples from different curriculums.  Let kiddo have a chance to direct their own learning.  Don’t go out and buy a ton of stuff expecting school to go “poof!” and magically have a homeschooler sitting at the kitchen table for 4 hours each day.  Be gradual, be sensitive to your kid’s needs, and be flexible.

That’s the thing – homeschooling is truly about flexibility.  You have to find what works for you, and you have to be willing to ditch what doesn’t work.  I always tell new homeschoolers that if things are a battle (especially if there are tears) then stop.  Take a break.  Try something new.  Think outside of the box and figure out a different way.  Your relationship with your kid is far more important than finishing that worksheet.

Keep in mind that it takes an average of 2-3 years to really get in your homeschooling groove, so be patient as you work together as a family to find what’s the best solution.  Is it online schooling?  Project based learning?  Independent learning?  A structured classical curriculum?  Explore and test things to find the best fit – and sometimes that fit is a mix of all of these.


Be patient.  Be compassionate.  And try not to stress – I know having strict state requirements adds to the stress sometimes, but trust your kids and yourself.  Don’t try to overdo it – do the bare minimum for a little while, then add to it as you gain your confidence.


You can do this.  Deschooling just helps to ease you into it. 


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