Moving from full time school to homeschooling is a major transition. It can be compared to moving to a new state, getting married (or rather, getting divorced?), having a baby or giving up french fries.
There is a term that shuffles itself around, particularly during the September and October months, and that is “deschooling”. The general advice is to take time off from “school”; one month for every year a child is in school. Ideally, that means not touching one school book and just living life - whatever that is - and slowly moving back into a schedule after a given “rest” period.
Well, that particular advice isn’t always easy to swallow. And although I would recommend that wholeheartedly, I realize that it’s not so easy to do. If you are turned off, or scared, of that particular advice, I can understand. It’s a scary leap of faith.
Even as parents leave school to teach their children at home, there is a longing for the old way. Curriculum, learning through workbooks and directives, checking of learning lists, “keeping up”, and making sure that kids learn “everything that’s important” are concepts that are deeply rooted in our American psyche. Giving any of these up is like going cold turkey to give up shopping.
If you can’t go cold turkey, and you just can’t imagine a life without at least a little of the school ways that are a part of our culture, don’t give these things up. Don’t turn away from what you’ve always known. Keep all the stuff you like about school in your pocket. Don’t go cold turkey (well, unless you know you’re the kind of person who does better this way). Deschool gently.
Curriculum: Buy a curriculum. But don’t break your wallet doing it. Buy a small, cheap and non-wonderful one to start. Get a feel for what it’s like to even do curriculum at home. (Note: doing curriculum at home is a completely different experience than doing homework from school.) Or, if you want to, you can buy a set of books that cover each subject individually, at your child’s level. After you get a feel for doing curriculum for a few months, you can decide whether you would like to have more, less or approach it in a different way. In any case, keep your mind open to learning new things - including coming to an understanding of the point of each exercise, whether it works for your child and the many different ways you can cover the same material.
Learning through workbooks: This is what we know. This is the main way that kids learn at school. Tests are taken and assignments given based largely on the content of workbooks and textbooks. This is what we are familiar with. It’s how the majority of us learned when we were kids. It’s hard to give them up. The good news - you don’t have to! Even if you think that “unschooling” concepts seem interesting to you, you don’t have to give up workbooks. Instead, keep them as part of your life. But give them a lower priority. Workbooks are not life. They are snippets of life. They are bouncing off points. They are places to explore ideas and look at things conceptually. They are sources for ideas. However, there are a million other ways to learn the very same things that are taught in workbooks and textbooks. And, some kids will just hate workbooks to start, even if mom and dad think they’re great. So keep workbooks a part of your life, but do other things. Lots and lots of other things. And only do as much work from books that your child digs on. If he don’t like ‘em, put ‘em away and think of a different way to teach the same thing. You always have the workbook there. You aren’t giving them up! You’re letting them take a rest. Kind of like letting sore muscles rest after a long workout. Try again tomorrow, or the next day. Or if you can stand it, in a few weeks.
Directives: What kids should learn… Ok, so we all have heard of the standards, and what kids are “supposed” to learn. Well, those are school directives, not “your child” directives. Your child has his own directives. However, it’s hard to completely let go of the idea of what a child is supposed to learn. So, keep your directives. But let go of the “when” your child has to learn it. “My child has to learn his multiplication tables.” But don’t worry about “by 4rd grade”. Dump that part. You get your say, your child gets his… everyone’s happy.
Checking off learning lists: This is a toughie. Schools don’t check off what kids learn, they check off what they teach. Schools have to spend a lot of time making and checking off lists, because kids take their own sweet time learning what they have to teach, and because they have a lot of people to report statistics to. Homeschoolers can still make lists and check them off, but instead of focusing on what kids learn or what has been taught, make lists of what you want to do, and what you have done. Then leave it open as to what everyone’s going to get out of it intellectually. Often times, the things we think our children will learn are quite different than what they actually assimilate. If we focus on doing stuff, and let our kids learn what they are ready for, then we can make our lists as long as we want.
Keeping up: Ok, this one I’m going to have to suggest just dumping. I know, I know…it’s ingrained in all of our brains. But when you leave school - news flash - your kids are no longer in school, and no longer being compared to each other. If you want to compare your kids a year from now, after you’ve deschooled a bit. OK. But during those first few months of deschooling (or, adjusting to homeschooling), give up the idea of comparing your kids to anyone else. The comparison between children is one of the biggest deterrents to learning, and can create “educational blindness”, where it becomes hard to see the successes of our children compared to their own previous achievements. Ok, so this is hard to get rid of. Don’t think of it as “never comparing again.” Think of it as putting the “keeping up” idea on the shelf…just for a few months. Then revisit it again after you’ve had time to get to know your children, read up on educational philosophies, and discover your own definition of success.
Learning everything that’s important: During deschooling process, it’s hard not to think that our children are learning ‘nothing’. We took them out of school so they could learn MORE, not LESS, right? Ok, take a deep breath… education is a long-term process. We want our children to be happy in their lives, successful and self-confident. These are the important things. Without these things, the quantity of what they know gives them nothing. So, drop the school subjects of learning and focus on the fundamentals that are required before a child can really learn in harmony and work towards his life success. Focus on self-esteem, confidence, knowing yourself, knowing each other, understanding how the world works, knowing how to access information, how to make decisions and how to be compassionate for the people in the world. You may have different things for your list of fundamentals, but the concept is the same. Focus on these FIRST. Then, once that is covered, go back to figuring out how to cover all the academic topics. But in doing that, don’t leave behind the fundamentals.
Deschooling is not giving up everything and doing nothing. Deschooling is a focus shift. You can do it “cold turkey”, or do it gently. But definitely do it. Give yourself space. There is no rush in life. We live in a country where the only limit to education is our own self-defeatist perspective. Any person of any age can gain knowledge. But once a person’s self-confidence and introspective compassion is lost, that is extremely hard to regain later. Slow down, enjoy life and learn to live better everyday. The learning will come, in your own way. If you don’t give it at least a little space in the beginning, it will be hard to see the forest through the trees.