Friday, 20 April 2012

To deschool - or not?

This is something I have been mulling over since we first decided to home educate, although I am still not convinced in either direction.
I did a fair amount of research on it until I felt I had my head around it.  As far as I understand, deschooling is the process that a child goes through when they are first removed from the formal school environment - a period of adjustment to learning in a more flexible style, without grades, reports, formal structure etc.  For children who have been taken out of school because of emotional issues (bullying seems to be not uncommon), it is also a time of healing for a broken spirit, regaining their confidence and enjoyment of life.
(Incidentally, this is not the same as 'unschooling' which means slightly different things to different people, but generally seems to refer to the style of home education where the child is autonomous, having very little direction from the parent, learning from play etc.  It is the opposite of schooling)
It is suggested that a child may need a month of 'deschooling' for every year that they have been in school. In our case that would mean 6 months for DS1 and 3 months for DS2 (possibly even 1 month for DS3 who started Preschool in September). 
I have to say, the school that the boys were at (and I taught at) was a lovely school.  If we thought it was right to go back into school-based learning (I can NOT imagine that happening btw), we would go back there.  I just don't believe that any school, however good, can offer the best, tailor-made education that children need and deserve.  Some people have no choice, and in that case, it is important to know that their child is going to a good school.  I am so grateful that we have a choice - that we can choose the very best for our boys, in home education.
Anyway, regarding deschooling our boys... DS1 wasn't having major problems in school.  It's true, I felt he wasn't achieving his potential, and his identity had become fixed as a bit of an 'average Joe'.  The school used many incentives to encourage excellent behaviour and learning, and once he failed to 'be the best' (as he saw it) two or three times in a row, he gave up trying... but he wasn't naughty, he was happy, he was doing enough to get by, he had friends etc - and I never wanted to be a pushy parent.  So, basically, he doesn't seem to have been badly affected by school.  As long as he is in a more flexible environment that suits his creativity and doesn't have seemingly unattainable targets, I think he will flourish, and will deschool gradually as we go along.
DS2 on the other hand was the one who was really struggling.  It was a small school, which on the whole is far nicer than a large, impersonal school.  Sadly for DS2 this happened to mean that there was a gap around his age bracket, and (with the exception of one lovely little girl) personality clashes with the children closest in age to him - which often left him with no-one to play with.  Academically he was totally unstimulated by the work: what he could easily have done in 30 minutes, he often took all morning to fail to do, resulting in him having to bring it home.  His identity very quickly became fixed as the 'troublesome one', and although he had a lovely teacher, he totally lost confidence in himself.  He became really unhappy, insecure around other people and was increasingly showing destructive tendencies.  I think the decision to home educate was largely (but not solely) about rescuing him.  It's only been three weeks, but already I am starting to see glimpses of the old, sweet him - very loving and friendly to all.  So, do I need to deschool him?  I expect I probably will - there is certainly some emotional recovery under way.  However, he is the one who has been most keen to do some 'work' - maybe he needs the mental stimulation, maybe he's still trying to earn approval?
DS3 was loving Preschool.  It was quite heavily structured for a preschool, but that absolutely suited his personality.  He loves routine, loves organising people, and has a voracious appetite for learning.  He was only there for the mornings and had (in my opinion) the best preschool teacher in the world, so we actually considered leaving him there while we home educated the older two.  However, we decided that that would create more pressure on us as a family, and we felt it was the right thing for us to withdraw them all.  So no, I don't think he needs deschooling - if anything, I'm going to have to work hard keeping up with his needs - but I am totally up for the challenge.  Plus I get to be involved with his education during my favourite stage of learning - emergent reading and writing - yay!
All of which brings me back to my original question: to deschool or not?  I have no idea. (The more I write in this blog, the more I think it should be called the "I don't know" blog!)  Chances are, by the time 6 months is up, I'll know whether deschooling would have been a good idea.  But I'm not going to commit to 'unschooling' them for a finite period of time - if for no other reason than they sometimes do want to do some 'work', so who am I to stop them?  I will do my best to make it as fun as possible, and to put no pressure on them to perform (if they want my help they can have it, but I'm not going to 'grade' their work) - but deschooling?  As with everything else we're just going to run with what works for us, with the ultimate goal being to encourage their inbuilt love of learning :)

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