Deschooling: Why is it Important?


When families first begin the process of transitioning from public or private education to homeschooling, they often find that it is easy to become overwhelmed with all the information available. What style or method of homeschooling should they use? What kind of learner is my child? Which, if any, the curriculum would be best? Are there state or local laws that need to be followed? With so much going on, families often overlook one of the most important steps that they need to prepare for their educational change. Deschooling!

Deschooling is a term that is unfamiliar to most people- even families beginning to homeschool. Deschooling is a term that was introduced in the early 1970s by Ivan Illich in his book “Deschooling Society.” Illich, an Austrian/ Croatian philosopher, and Roman Catholic priest were known for his “radical” arguments that modern technologies and societal constructs were essentially illusory and that their artificial nature undermined the ability of human beings to be self-sufficient and degraded their freedom and dignity. Illich especially focused on the medical field and mass education; which he believed were the primary establishments responsible for the institutionalization and manipulation of basic aspects of human nature. In his book, Illich claims that “forcing mandatory schooling on all children unnaturally separates academic learning from life.” He essentially believed that education is “unworldly” and causes the world itself to become seen as “non-educational.” 

Deschooling, often confused with unschooling (which is a method of home education), is the time a family takes away from education to adjust to the structural and environmental changes they experience when disengaging from any form of institutionalized education to homeschooling. While this might sound simple, or maybe not even necessary, deschooling is a very important, key step toward homeschooling success. It is important to take time away from the traditional educational model in order to see how your child will approach new ideas, concepts, and new information when they are no longer operating from an institutionalized education mindset.  

There are no standard rules for deschooling. Our first year of homeschooling was spent entirely deschooling. I had not realized how much stress my kids, especially the second to youngest, had been experiencing. When my daughter slowly stopped having daily melt-downs, we realized how much the stress of busy, bright, crowded classrooms had been for her. I had not recognized how much stress I had felt surrounding public school- from having to rush every morning and spend our evenings struggling through homework to the loss of more and more family time. Deschooling, although I did not know what that was at the time, was essential for us. Every family will experience deschooling differently; as a family deschools, they will begin to identify habits formed around institutionalized education that they may not have even realized were not working for them or were outright stressful.  Many online homeschool support sites encourage families to take as much time as they need to. Some recommend one month of deschooling for every year that the child was in school- even if your child is anxious to get started. Breaking away from habits formed during years of institutionalized education can sometimes be difficult even for kids. Give your kids, and yourself, time to decompress and breathe!

Several homeschool resource sites offer very helpful ideas for unschooling. These practices are rooted in experience from families that have gone through deschooling, or what they learned from not having taken deschooling time. Many agree on several key points: 

  • Don’t plan for deschooling during the summer. While it seems ideal, kids traditionally get the summer off from public schools as is. Summer is usually more relaxed with little expectations for academics. Plan deschooling for fall or spring when school usually resumes after extended breaks. The change in larger routine (such as not having to do back-to-school shopping, planning carpools and bus schedules, daily routines and bedtime schedules) is a more critical time of adjustment. 
  • Take a complete break. Don’t start exploring the curriculum or start laying out an academic plan. Instead, take time to reconnect with your child. Take walks, cook together, ride bikes. Find ways to share quality time and get to know each other. 
  • Keep to a daily schedule. Create a set of routines to structure your regular day. These routines don’t need to be on a rigid time table but they should be in a specific order. A schedule doesn’t have to be as strict as it was during school- getting up doesn’t need to be at 6:30 to catch a bus, but by 8:00 or 9:00 could be reasonable. Include time during the day to do chores, such as tidying, sweeping, or participating in preparing lunch or dinner. A good daily and bedtime schedule helps families feel connected and makes it easier for kids to know what to expect 
  • Check-in with screen use. Your child will have more free time available. Make the decision before you begin deschooling about how much screen time is acceptable and set clear boundaries before you even begin the process of deschooling. 
  • Do connect with the community. Look for resources, both locally and online. There are many more resources for new and experienced homeschoolers than ever before. Check for local groups or homeschool cooperatives in your area. Also, check-in with places like your local library and become familiar with the programs they may have to offer. 

Deschooling can sometimes feel uncomfortable at first. We are so accustomed to being busy almost every minute of our days and evenings. During deschooling, families often find that they have extra time and may start feeling restless or even anxious. At some point during the deschooling process, you will wonder, “how will I know when it is time to start educating again?”  You will know it is time to start again when you begin to feel comfortable with approaching learning more naturally- realizing that the opportunity to learn is ongoing and you and your child feel ready to explore your child’s learning style in a way that doesn’t create stress. You will feel more reconnected to your child and family. And, the best indicator that it is time; when learning becomes interesting again.

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