How to Deschool: Creative Ideas for New Homeschoolers

Let's chat about how to deschool. When you start to consider pulling your kids from school and homeschooling, you might hear or read advice to deschool first. Deschool!? What the heck is deschooling?

It turns out, deschooling is an important – dare I say vital? – step for you and your family to take before you start homeschooling (or unschooling).

Homeschooling is a big shift in how you and your family lives and learns together. You're stepping out of the societal norm into a different way of ordering your days. It's worth examining how you think about learning, what your goals are for your homeschool, and what your expectations are (and whether they are realistic). Deschooling helps you do all of these.

What is Deschooling?

Deschooling is a term coined by philosopher Ivan Illich in his revolutionary book Deschooling Society. For starters, it's the process of leaving public/private schooling and letting go of those definitions of what learning is and how it happens (grade levels, discrete subjects, etc.). But even more than that, deschooling is shifting your worldview around education and learning.

A picture of the front of a yellow school bus.

Deschooling is a process, not a destination. Even as I'm advocating you take time to breathe, examine your own thoughts and ideas about how education should look, and observe your kids, know that deschooling is ongoing.

I still find myself needing to take a step back and think about what learning is, especially at the beginning of the school year. When my Facebook feed is flooded with smiley back-to-school pictures and memes of moms celebrating all their many hours of alone time (usually with wine).

If you've grown up in school, you've got a lot to unlearn!

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How long does it take to deschool?

The longer your kiddo was in school, the more time s/he (and you) need to relax into a different way of living and learning! You'll read all over the internet the rule “one month for every year of formal school” but it really depends on your child.

My daughter was so wounded by school that our deschooling process took much longer. A couple of years, really.

Also, I find that for adults who grew up in traditional schooling – K through high school or college – deschooling is a nuanced and layered process that keeps happening as the homeschooling years go on. We are in year five of homeschooling and I still find areas of thought that I need to deschool around.

How to Deschool: Creative Ideas to Help You Transition to Homeschooling

Go on a Vacation or Staycation

I always recommend starting out the deschooling process intentionally with a vacation or a staycation – whatever fits into your time, work schedule, and budget.

A family celebration and time together is a great way to mark the start of your homeschooling journey. You will make fun memories, spend unhurried time together, and just relax a bit. Usually the process of deciding to homeschool is a difficult and stressful time, especially if your kids are struggling in school.

A family playing a board game together.
Have a board game marathon!

I'm not suggesting it has to be extravagant. A 4-day weekend pajamathon with favorite dinners, snacks, shows, and board games is wonderful if that's what your family can do. If you have some money saved and some time off coming to you, plan a little getaway.

Simply do things that your family likes to do, and do them together.

Become a Learning Style Detective: Observe Your Kids

One of the biggest regrets of many homeschooling families is buying curriculum too soon. Often, what we are first drawn to as parents are resources in our own learning styles – not what will be optimal for our kids!

So, use the deschooling time to become a student of your children. What do they love? What holds their attention? What are they into?

  • Some kids love writing and drawing (this was me) – workbooks and art supplies might be the first step!
  • Some kids are hands-on and lve building with lego – look for curricula that have more kinesthetic learning.
  • Visual learners might thrive with a mostly online curriculum!
  • Older kids might want to be more independent.
  • Neurodivergent or disabled learners might need a variety of learning styles and support.
A three-tiered, blue rolling cart filled with art supplies, pens, paints and scissors on a hardwood floor.
Our art cart. My daughter is a visual and kinesthetic learner!

You simply can't know these things quickly! When kids have been in school, they are trained to work and express themselves in the ways school uses to chart progress. So sit back, observe, and take notes. There is plenty, I repeat – plenty! – of time to worry about curriculum later.

How to Deschool: Plan Some Adventures

At our house, we have Field Trip Friday at least once per month (pandemic notwithstanding). I keep lists of interesting places within driving distance and every couple of months pull them out to plan adventures.

This could be as simple as a new park plus a trip to a new restaurant or ice cream place, or it could be an organized homeschool activity, like when we went to homeschool day at iFly in Seattle – we had a blast indoor skydiving and learned a ton about physics!

A smiling girl in an indoor skydiving tube, with a staff member holding on to her jumpsuit.
My daughter, flying at iFly! She got to do some tricks too!
A smiling woman in an indoor skydiving tube, with the staff member in the background.
Yep, I got brave and did it too!!

Field trips don't have to be lengthy or expensive, either. Other Field Trip Fridays we've done are:

  • Local Tribal museums and art galleries
  • Indoor trampoline parks
  • Beach walking at a new park
  • Visiting a lavender farm
  • A trip to a huge nursery, and creating a fairy garden
  • A trip to the zoo
  • A trip to a Victorian-replica conservatory complete with Venus fly traps and other carnivorous plants
  • A “Walk with the Manager” around our tiny local airport
A view of a small, rural airport buildings and a white plane from our homeschool field trip to our local airport.
Some of the buildings at our local airport.
Two small planes being worked on inside an airport hangar. There are rolling tool chests and you can see the engine at the front of one of the planes.
Planes getting fixed!

Take advantage of everything your local area has to offer! If you know the manager in charge of the produce department at your local grocery, set up a field trip. If you have amazing parks, make a plan to document a visit to each one and rate them. (We love taking pictures of all the plants and animals we find!)

If you have weird, quirky tourist stuff in your town, do it! It's ALL learning!

How to Deschool: Expect Behavior to Change

Kids who have been in school are used to a large group of peers; being told what to do and when all day long; being graded and tested; and for their days to have a certain structure. The freedom of homeschooling will be new, and well, weird.

Your child(ren) might:

  • Be moody, bored, and miss friends (even if they were bullied or had other difficult school issues)
  • Be unsure how your relationship works now
  • Be bewildered when asked what they would like to do or learn about, having never been given that choice before
  • Be unwilling at first to join groups, co-ops, or meet other homeschoolers

Alternatively, some kids (like mine) could be thrilled to leave school – but still not know what to do with themselves.

In our house we have chill time in the morning and I plan activities, curriculum, play dates, field trips, group lessons and anything else after lunch. That means we have a rhythm to our days even when we are doing lots of different activities.

It will take some time to find your family's homeschool rhythm.

Relax: There is No Behind

Grade levels are a creation of the formal education system.

If you want to dig into this concept and take a huge leap in your own deschooling process, read Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling by John Taylor Gatto. You will never look at school the same way again. It's really ridiculous to expect that children will learn and grow at the same pace.

If you are an involved, caring homeschool parent, your children will grow and learn just fine. You don't need to worry about what grade they would be in or if they are learning at that exact level, or if you are “keeping up” with school.

So, you can relax. Even if your child is in middle school or high school. You will be surprised how quickly learning happens and how much you can do without all the school trappings (bells, transitions, discipline, lecture-type instruction, etc.) and when your homeschool environment is tailored to your kids.

You have plenty of time to find resources and curriculum. Here's what I wish I would have known when we first started homeschooling.

Connect with Your Local Homeschool Community

We've moved a lot and I can honestly say that the homeschooling community has been the one continuity factor we've had during all the change. Even in our small town, the community is quite diverse, with homeschoolers of various nationalities, belief systems, and reasons for homeschooling.

Even if your kids aren't ready right away to dive into a different community, I urge you as a parent to start making connections for yourself.

Two girls holding hands and swinging each other around at a homeschool Valentine's Day event. In the background are the walls of the log cabin building.
Having a blast at a homeschool Valentine's Day gathering.

Join local Facebook groups or Meetups, talk to any homeschoolers you know, and start building community.

Know This: Deschooling is Harder for Parents

Truly, this deschooling journey is going to be harder for you than it is for your kids, if you went through formal schooling. Especially if you're the kind of person for whom school was a mainly positive experience. I'm sorry to say it.

Kids, for the most part, are so much less fixed in their thinking and able to shift. We parents who have spent years and years in school – and even defined our own lives and accomplishments by its standards – have a lot more letting go to do.

If you're anything like me, you'll also find that even with all the joy and freedom of homeschooling, there are things that you will miss or be sad about. I get a bit emotional during the end-of-year programs, when I see my Facebook feed light up with smiling kid faces holding awards and certificates.

Sometimes I am sad that I won't have all those shared experiences with my daughter. It's hard work learning to let go of the expectations of how you thought life was going to be as a parent.

It's hard, at first, to believe that kids can learn without the structure and systems of school, and it's daunting to take the responsibility for your child's education fully on your shoulders as a homeschooling parent. It's one of the reasons why building community is so important!

Final Thoughts

Deschooling doesn't have to be intimidating. Take the time to let your kids get extra sleep, do things they love, and build your family relationships!

  • Get out and explore your community
  • Read aloud and watch interesting documentaries
  • Find the pockets of time where your kids are attentive and energetic
  • Reach out to local homeschoolers
  • Examine your own beliefs and ideas about learning
  • Start to define the values that will shape your homeschool

Now it's your turn. What questions do you have about deschooling? How can I help you get through this process?

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