Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Deschooling FAQs

Questions about deschooling have come up a few times just this past week, so I thought I'd have a go at giving my version of the answers, at least...

You see, for many if not most home educators whose children were in school before being deregistered to home educate, part of the reason for choosing to do so was because they could see that their child was being failed or damaged by school.  This is not an exercise in teacher-bashing - I love teachers - it is just an acknowledgement that the school system is not good for all children.

Regular readers of this blog will know that this applied to at least one of my children, so I can empathise with the angst-laden deliberations over whether or not to leave a child in school... trying to balance the need for repeated conversations with staff with not wanting to come across as a pushy parent; the incessant arguing inside your own head, debating whether you're falling for some clever childish manipulation that your much-loved offspring is making up/ putting on, or whether your instincts are actually right and they are really suffering; the desperate wishful feelings of "maybe it will be better next term"...all of which deliberating delays the decision to remove them.

It is a horrible feeling to realise that a decision you once made in good faith for your child turned out to be the wrong one for them.  It is oh-so-easy to beat yourself up about it and wish with hindsight that you had woken up to what was going on sooner.  But that is completely unhelpful.  In this scenario the absolutely most helpful thing you can do for your child and for yourself is to deschool.

What is deschooling?
It is a period of time, usually immediately after the child is deregistered, when the child is given little to no required learning - when they are free to play and begin to get over the negative experiences they have had at school. 
If it helps, think 'detox'.  Detoxing is a tool used by people who have been on an unhealthy diet for a while, high in fats, sugars and other toxins that have been stored by the body.... so deschooling is needed by children who have been in an unhealthy learning environment, absorbing unhealthy attitudes towards themselves and learning. To leap from an unhealthy diet (or learning environment) straight to a more healthy one is sometimes not enough.  Old cravings and unhelpful behaviour patterns creep back in, often without noticing.  For some people, a detox is needed: a period of time when no toxic matter is consumed, to allow the body to get rid of the old negative influences.  The toxins are released into the body and expelled - and the person concerned starts to feel the benefits.  Hopefully you see where I'm going.  A child who has experienced a negative educational environment will struggle to go straight in to any other educational experience.  They need a period of little to no required learning, when they can heal from the emotional wounds and low self-confidence, and start to feel better about themselves - the foundation for any healthy childhood.
For the parent, deschooling is an invaluable period of time for you to reconnect with your child and rethink your own learned assumptions on what makes for a good education. 

How long does it take to deschool?
Hmmm.  That is as easy to determine as working out how damaged your child was.  A rough rule of thumb that I was given was to allow roughly one month for every year that the child was in school.  HOWEVER, that is a very rough rule of thumb.  Middle had been in school for three years.  It took him only a month or two to relax, let go of the over-riding depression and anxiety, and become the happy, chilled, loving boy that he had been before.  Then it took a further ten months before he was confident in his abilities as a learner.  Even now, sixteen months later, we still occasionally hit a blip and he needs extra help to get over a learned negative attitude to anything that looks like schoolwork.
For the parent, especially the majority who went through the school system themselves, deschooling can take much longer.  I still have to periodically stop myself from defaulting to old ideals of 'broad curriculum' and self-discipline (they have their place but are not the foundation of what we do), and remind myself of what I actually want for the children: confidence, enthusiasm about learning, freedom to explore their own passions etc.  When a home educator has a 'wobble' and questions 'am I doing enough?' or 'am I denying my children a better life?' etc, it is often because they are going through another level of detox, ditching old school-based ideals.

How do I deschool my child(ren)?
The answer to that is going to be different for every parent, every child.  It is whatever works for you.  However, key features of deschooling involve agreeing with the child that they do not have to do any school work for a given period of time (I recommend at least the rule of thumb as mentioned above, with a review at the end where you are prepared to extend the deschooling time).  Don't worry about them 'falling behind' their peers - learning is neither a race nor a competition.  That is some of the old-school thinking that you will need to detox from.  Your child has been disabled by a crippling emotional experience.  You wouldn't expect someone with a broken leg to run on it straight away - so you need to accept that they will need time to heal before they can handle any demands on their newly healed self-belief.  During this time the child needs to be given space to play, read, get outdoors, make things, hang out with you (and siblings), talk about their experiences at school (when they are ready) - whatever they want.  For some this may mean a lot of time on computer games or watching TV for a season.  Personally I would say not to worry about this too much - it really won't last forever, although I admit I did agree with my boys a screen-time limit, partly because of the deterioration in their behaviour after too long on it, and partly because I wanted them to reconnect with their imaginations and the world around them.  We spent a lot of time outdoors... still do, to be honest. 
The focus of the adult is to play with their child(ren), chat together, visit places and do things together, learn about them again: what makes them tick, what their preferred style of learning is etc.  It is also a time where you naturally find yourself starting to re-examine what you previously held to be true about education, and investigate alternatives (you will come across terms like 'unschooling', 'structure', 'child-led', 'curriculum-based', and authors like Charlotte Mason & John Holt (amongst many others).  Don't worry, it's not as heavy as it may sound - your own thoughts about education will naturally take you on your own journey of exploration and learning.

What if the Local Authority want to see what we're doing?
Legally as new home educators you are entitled to a period of time where you explore possibilities open to you before you commit to any style or form of education.  Even if and when you do choose your own educational philosophy, they still have no legal right to demand to see any work.  They are only entitled to make enquiries to satisfy themselves that an education is being undertaken - basically, that you are taking this seriously.  You do not have to have them round, and you do not have to show them anything.  I sent my LA a brief outline of our HE philosophy (our approach), and that was it.

Phew - that turned out to be longer than I intended, oops.  I wanted to try to answer the main questions that crop up but don't want to overwhelm you - but please, please do reply with any questions if you feel unsure.  I love Home Ed, love helping others to Home Ed - and deschooling was such an invaluable blessing to us as a family, I would love to help as many people as I can to experience the same.

PS I deliberately haven't addressed the style of education that you will adopt after deschooling.  You may love it so much and realise that your children are learning all the time without trying, that you carry on 'deschooling' indefinitely - like unschooling.  Or you may decide that a form of structure with some required learning elements needs introducing.  Either way, it matters not - deschooling rocks (and gives you all the time you need to think about it).  Happy deschooling!


  1. Such a well written post, I could have really used this when we started!!
    R x

    1. Thanks Rachel - I could have too, I think that's why I wrote it :) xx