What on earth is deschooling? It sounds like de-programming, right?
Well, it sort of is.
If your child is transitioning from traditional school to homeschooling, chances are school wasn’t going very well.
Your child’s needs weren’t being met and the school environment wasn’t conducive to your child learning and development.
Homeschooling makes perfect sense. The problem is that your child still associates learning with school – and all of the anxieties and insecurities they had about learning at school haven’t gone away.
For example, if a teacher or classmate made a negative comment about your child’s artwork, your child probably concluded that they aren’t good at art. Maybe your child felt embarrassed from the comment and began to feel anxious every time they were expected to make art.
Even though the teacher and classmates aren’t in the picture anymore, the anxiety and underconfidence remain.
Whatever wasn’t working for your child has probably left some scars. Your child has created a narrative about what subjects they are good at and which ones they “hate” or “can’t do.”
We can tell our children they are wrong and that they are amazing at everything they do, however, the words of others are very powerful. And the narrative has been written.
This is especially true for children who are wired differently and didn’t understand how something was being taught. Their narrative might be that they are too stupid to learn.
Of course, we know this isn’t true. But they believe it about themselves.
We can see this when our kids become anxious at the idea of doing a specific assignment, become easily frustrated with themselves, or flat out refuse to do an assignment.
Doing math at a desk in school and doing math at a table in the kitchen doesn’t feel that different to the child who thinks they are too dumb to understand math.
What is a parent to do? Give up on homeschooling?
Deschooling matters for kids
When kids leave school to begin homeschooling, they need a period of transition to leave behind the learned behaviors and structures of school.
During deschooling the child is not asked to do any work that makes them frustrated or anxious. It’s a chance to create and build up strengths. It’s an important time to let go of the rigidity and control exercised over them in their learning environment.
Deschooling activities vary, but can include:
- Child-directed play
- Reading that is child-selected
- Building, making, creating
- Cooking and baking
- Playing games
- Child-led outdoor activities
Deschooling is for parents, too
Deschooling is also a really important time for the homeschooling parent.
You get to spend time creating, laughing, and having fun with your child. This is a time to gather really important information that you need for homeschooling – what your child is interested in, what they think about things, anxieties and insecurities they have related to learning.
Deschooling is a chance to focus on strengthening your connection with your child, making sure they feel loved and safe, so when you start homeschooling they know it’s a 100% safe environment to be themselves and to make mistakes.
Helping our kids feel safe to be themselves
Kids with high needs spend a great deal of time at school not being themselves. Kids who are on the spectrum have to work so hard to fit in socially and suppress anxieties.
Kids with SPD, anxiety, and ADHD have to focus their energy on not expressing their needs for fear of negative attention, punishment, and being made fun of by their peers.
For so many kids, the school day is spent not expressing or meeting their needs. They learn not to be themselves in order to get through the school day.
Deschooling is the time for kids to relax and just be themselves. If they need to move, they can. If they need to read upside down or draw while lying on the floor, that’s okay.
In order to make homeschooling work, kids need to feel like they can do what they need to in order to focus and learn.
And you need to know what your child needs in order to learn. Deschooling is the time where you both get to discover what those needs are. Meeting needs is a huge part of homeschooling.
Deschooling is the bridge to new learning
What comes after deschooling is far more important, though. Your child is counting on you to see them for who they are, and provide them with learning opportunities that fit their unique needs.
This is super challenging for parents who choose “open-and-go” curriculum for their child. The standardized assignments may feel too similar to traditional school and keep the old anxieties, insecurities, and underconfidence alive.
Kids usually can’t explain how they’re feeling or why they are feeling a certain way. They just feel the anxiety and frustration, and it feels really bad. So, they don’t want to continue doing the work that’s making them feel bad. This may take the form of refusing to work, having meltdowns, or getting into power struggles.
Deschooling isn’t meant to lead to “school at home”. It’s meant to give information to parents so they can create an awesome learning experience specific to their high needs child.
I know this may sound overwhelming or just downright impossible. But, it’s actually the best reason to homeschool, and what makes homeschooling so fun for both parent and child.
Knowing how to teach your unique child comes from having a set of tools in your belt that you can use throughout their K-12 education.
You know your child best, but what do you do with all of that incredible knowledge?
Just as you would advise your child when they feel anxious and overwhelmed, you break it down step by step until you can do it. Just like learning to tie shoelaces or ride a bike.
It certainly helps to have me, a private homeschooling coach, showing you the way. Being able to voice anxieties, have questions answered, and collaborate is key to you feeling empowered to teach your child in a way that builds their confidence as independent learners.
Once you recognize that school isn’t working for your child, let them deschool and use the time to observe how they learn, what they’re interested in, and how to create daily learning experiences that are best for them.
Afsaneh has been an educator for over 20 years. She has taught students from preschool to graduate school and now homeschools her own child and coaches homeschooling families in how to teach their children based on individual learning styles, interests, needs, and connection so that the whole family can thrive. She is also the author of the picture books series Jamie is Jamie.