Homeschool 101: What Is Deschooling?

July 20, 2020 Updated: July 20, 2020

If you’re one of the many parents digging into the idea of homeschooling your children this coming school year, you may encounter some terms you’re unfamiliar with. One question presently flooding every online homeschool group’s feed is “How do I begin homeschooling?” A common response to this question is “Begin by deschooling.”

What Is Deschooling?

Deschooling is the process of giving yourself and your children the time and space necessary to let go of the ideas you’ve been programmed to accept about what school is for and the basic nature of education and learning. It’s a process of shedding deeply ingrained notions in order to experience a paradigm shift in your understanding that will allow your family to fully enjoy the many benefits of homeschooling.

We’ve all been taught, for example, that in order to learn and become educated, you have to go to school. A cursory glance at many great scholars and achievers throughout history proves otherwise—as does any time you or your children ever learned anything independently. 

Some argue that our modern-day public school system actually impedes learning and is, in reality, detrimental to education. (To learn more, look up the work of John Taylor Gatto, a New York City and state teacher of the year who shared his eye-opening experiences; or simply consult the alarming data measuring literacy rates in the United States.)

Many budding homeschoolers think of homeschooling as schooling at home, but rarely (if ever) does it work when one attempts to duplicate the constructs of school at home. Homeschooling is not school at home: It’s learning at home—education at home—which is rather different.

Most of the strategies employed at school are unnecessary at home—not to mention, unpleasant. They are for maintaining order, managing behavior, and engendering the compliance and obedience of a collective.

What’s more, the approach to education is fundamentally different in school and in homeschool. While school says learning is hard, homeschool says learning is natural. While school says learning must be forced, homeschool says learning is craved. While school says learning is a chore, homeschool says learning is a pleasure.

Homeschool Environment

Additionally, the learning atmospheres are starkly distinct at home and at school. The environment at school is sterile and one of control and confinement. The home environment, in contrast, is cozy and warm, loving and supportive, individualized and customized, and acts as a base from which the outside world can be explored in full. You may also be surprised at how much homeschooling happens outside the home. The world is your classroom, as they say.

For some people, education is not the primary benefit of school; socialization is. (If you’re thinking of homeschooling, be ready to hear the question, “But what about socialization?”) 

The social environment at school is a curious one. Its influence can easily overshadow the values imparted by parents. At school, kids are divided by age, forced to sit in confined spaces, set up in competition with one another, and stripped of personal privacy and agency. Of course, it’s common to make friends at school, but it’s just as possible for homeschooled kids to make friends in their homeschool groups, extracurricular activities, outside classes they choose to take, and their community at large.

The aim of deschooling is to let go of the idea that school is the only path to education and the only road everyone must travel to live a good life. It means to let go of the idea that kids just naturally lose that spark of curiosity, that light within them, that wondrous imagination when they reach school age. It’s to free yourself of the notion that you are not capable of providing your child with an excellent education that allows them to explore all of their interests and reach their greatest potential. It’s to stop answering to bells, wasting precious time, asking permission to go to the bathroom, and forgetting the facts as soon as the test is done. It’s to unpack your own baggage after years of compulsory schooling. 

Often, it’s the parents who need deschooling the most.

How to Deschool

So, how does a family deschool?

It’s rather simple—do nothing. Well, not exactly nothing. Intentionally refrain from diving headfirst into collecting copious amounts of curricula, bombarding your kids with worksheets, devising charts and checklists, and obsessing over a daily routine.

Instead, become one with the slow vibes of summer and reconnect with your kids. Spend time with them, listen to them, play with them, and get to know what their current interests are and what lights them up inside. 

If you are just coming off of a season of “distance learning,” think about the lessons you learned. Did you notice that your child was struggling with math because he or she hasn’t memorized multiplication tables, and the class has moved on? Did you notice that your child wished to read more advanced books, but the teacher insisted he or she stick to a reading level? Did you notice your child became a bit enthusiastic during one lesson when the topic was space, dinosaurs, art, music, engineering, etc.?

That’s valuable information. Put it in your pocket and keep on noticing. Visit the library and bookstores, and stock up on a feast of delightful reading. Enjoy an audiobook here and there. Maintain a careful relationship with screens. Play music. Watch documentaries. Go to the park. Swim in the ocean. Start a project just for fun.

Amidst it all, your child is going to learn things. And so are you. 

Homeschooling is a lifestyle shift like no other. When you can free your mind from the tyranny of what school is supposed to look like, you can embrace what learning actually looks like for each of your individual children. Then, slowly, begin to add in some structure.

Have patience with yourself and your kids. Have gratitude for the glorious freedom you’re about to embrace. Prepare yourself to learn more than you ever learned in school yourself. Cherish this precious time with your family. Enjoy the adventure.

Deschooling, simply put, is letting go. Take as long as you need. 

You’ll know you’re getting there when you witness your child’s true self shining through brightly once again. You’ll know you’re getting there when you stop worrying about your child’s reading level or what the other kids are learning in their grade. You’ll know you’re getting there when you begin to ask yourself how you were ever convinced that conventional schooling was the best you could do for your kids.

Follow Barbara on Twitter: @barbaradanza