A common way to start homeschooling is –

  • Make (or be forced) into the decision to homeschool
  • Research frantically online
  • Get completely overwhelmed by all the info
  • Desperately ask parents which curriculum you should use, and
  • Get quite a few recommendations to deschool BEFORE you choose curriculum

Of course, your next question will be….

What IS deschooling?

Glad you asked, because deschooling is a fantastic way to start homeschooling!

Deschooling can be defined as removing the influence of the formal education system from your way of thinking. Many children who have been in school will need time to adjust to their new lifestyle, and learn this new way of education. This period of adjustment is usually called deschooling.

On a wider scale, nearly everyone in society has what could be termed a ‘school mindset’ (and you will notice this in the questions you get about homeschooling). As most of us went through school deschooling yourself is an important part of the process. It involves challenging and questioning your school mindset, and replacing it if a better mindset is available.

This can be a difficult, long-term process, but this short deschooling course will give you all the deschooling shortcuts.

Essentially, deschooling involves expanding your mindset about learning and education to include ALL learning and education, not just that performed in schools.

To deschool means to abolish the power of one person to oblige another - Ivan Ilich quote on deschooling featured on Fearless Homeschool.

Is Deschooling Necessary?

It’s a great idea to intentionally deschool when you first start homeschooling. A child who has been highly regimented or has had a traumatic school experience may need time to relax and rediscover their interests, and find the joy in learning again.

And as a parent you may have specific ideas of what learning and education should look like. These ideas may not be accurate. It’s common to miss much of natural learning simply because it doesn’t look a great deal like school and the results are not always obvious – but they definitely exist.

A deschooling period can help your child relax and recover, and give you the time and space to learn about your new, rather different, lifestyle.

For these reasons I believe intentionally deschooling is essential for a smooth transition to homeschooling, and increases your chances of successfully homeschooling.

Benefits of deschooling

Here’s why deschooling is totally worth the time it takes and the uncomfortable feelings it may cause.

  • You won’t waste (as much) money on curricula. You won’t buy out of anxiety, and you’ll buy what suits you because you KNOW what suits you.
  • Your children will want to learn. Really truly! It may take a while for their natural curiousity to rekindle, but once it does they’ll be unstoppable.
  • You won’t have power struggles. Honestly. You don’t need to force your child to do anything – if you homeschool right, they’ll learn in leaps and bounds without coercion.
  • You won’t have panic attacks because you’re ‘doing it all wrong’. These occur because what you’re doing IS the wrong fit for you, but you feel that you have to do it anyway. You don’t!

Willing to try it? Let’s get started.

How Do I Deschool?

During deschooling try to ignore curriculum and the ‘shoulds’ in your head. Don’t worry about falling behind, as this period of rest and rediscovery will allow greater success once you begin structured work again.

This period will also allow your child to settle back into their natural bodily rhythms. Sleep, toileting, eating, drinking and learning is all scheduled for the school child. They may be sleep-deprived after years of getting up earlier than their body likes, and sleep quite a lot to begin with. Maybe they won’t want to have breakfast until they’ve been up for three hours.

Relaxing into it will help them get back to their normal and feel fresh and revitalised quickly.

Deschooling Activities

So what are you actually meant to DO while deschooling?

Trust me, you don’t just have to sit and stare at the wall- there’s a whole wide world of non-school activities out there.

  • Lots of unstructured time – This may be stressful at first, as a child who is accustomed to their time being regimented may be unable to work out what to do to fill in that time. However, the following ideas will help to reintroduce them to their independence.
  • Reading – Just for fun, no book reports or assigned reading allowed! Visit the library and go shopping together for books (op-shops are great for building a large library cheaply). Read aloud to them, no matter their age. Listen to audiobooks while doing other activities.
  • Nature time – Rediscover the peace and beauty of nature. Take long rambling walks, examine plants, fungi and insects, have picnics, go swimming.
  • Arts, crafts, and other activities – Try any kind of art, craft or hobby that sparks your interest.
  • Mindful use of technology – Often, technology can numb us to paying attention to ourselves. It’s incredibly easy to distract yourself from your issues and feelings by mindless surfing. Instead, use it wisely. Watch TED talks, find tutorials for other activities, and watch documentaries.
  • Homemaking – It’s never too early to learn skills in cooking and cleaning. Even simple skills like learning to turn the washing machine on empowers children. And once they’ve mastered each skill they’ll be contributing meaningfully to the household.
  • Get moving – Physical activity is a wonderful way to relax mind and body. Take younger children to the playground, go for walks or bike rides, go to the skate park or try an activity like trampolining or parkour.
  • Join a homeschool group – Finding people who are doing what you are is a great normaliser. If your child feels ‘different’ this can reassure them that they’re not, while giving you great support.
Most learning is not the result of instruction. It is rather the result of unhampered participation in a meaningful setting. Most people learn best by being "with it," yet school makes them identify their personal, cognitive growth with elaborate planning and manipulation. Ivan Ilich deschooling quote featured on Fearless Homeschool.

As a parent, you can facilitate all of these activities. You don’t need to push or force – in fact, doing so can induce resistance and resentment.

Instead, incorporate these activities into your life, and include your child.

If you’re going to the library they can come along and get their own card and choose their own books.

If they’re not interested in origami, sit and do a few YouTube tutorials yourself and show your excitement at your success.

Put on a documentary about an interesting topic, and tell them a few quirky facts if they don’t gravitate there automatically.

Give them the bowl and beaters to lick as you bake.

As with your entire homeschooling journey, your modelling will influence your child. Practice modelling interest and curiousity, and they will follow.

This post contains affiliate links. For more information, visit my disclosure page.

How Long Should I Deschool?

How long is a piece of string? Common advice says one month for every year of school, but I can’t find where the idea originated from or how accurate it is.

Instead, consider the following.

  • Has your child experienced trauma with education, such as bullying or belittling or being put in the ‘dummy’ classes?
  • Do they resist learning, or any activities that look like school or are graded/evaluated?
  • Do you feel like the learning you are doing doesn’t suit them, or isn’t sticking?
  • Do you struggle to let go of the school schedule and curriculum, and feel a strong urge to keep up with it?
  • Do you feel like you’ll never be able to teach your child as much as a school would, and they’ll be missing out on many things?
  • Do you feel that your relationship with your child could improve?
  • Do questions or criticism from other people affect you deeply, and make you doubt yourself?

More answers of yes mean you need a longer deschooling period – more time for both of you to destress, reconnect, and adjust expectations.

But you’ll never actually FINISH deschooling – keep reading to find out why.

Deschooling Essentials invite

When Will I Finish Deschooling?

Honestly? Never.

But don’t be depressed by that – it just means that you will always need to be conscious of what you’re thinking.

I find problems pop up at milestones. For example, I was perfectly confident when my children were in primary school.

But when my eldest reached high school age I had a bit of a crisis. I started thinking things like

  • Is she doing enough?
  • What about university?
  • Should I push her more?
  • Are trigonometry and physics really essential?

(The last question was irrelevant, because she decided they aren’t essential and refused to do them.)

Then I stepped back, thought about it, and realised she was doing just fine. And trigonometry and physics really aren’t essential to someone who has no interest in them and no intention of ever using them.

She was right, and I was simply letting my school mind take over and freak me out.

That process was deschooling – it never stops. But it does become more automatic and a much more minor part of your life.

A second major illusion on which the school system rests is that most learning is the result of teaching. Teaching, it is true, may contribute to certain kinds of learning under certain circumstances, But most people acquire most of their knowledge outside school, and in school only insofar as school, in a few rich countries, has become their place of confinement during an increasing part of their lives. Ivan Ilich deschooling quote featured on Fearless Homeschool.

As your child relaxes into and begins to enjoy this new lifestyle their interests will begin to emerge. Keeping an informal journal of the activities they choose to do can help you to recognise patterns and emerging interests. You can begin to address these casually by finding a book at the library about the topic, or buying the materials needed for it.

From this they will naturally begin to fill their time with worthwhile activities. It will also provide you with guidance on which resources and educational methods will best service your child’s learning style and interests.

All of the activities above will also help you both deal with one of the greatest challenges – learning to spend most of your time together. This can be difficult when you’ve led separate lives. You may feel like you don’t really know or understand each other, and this can cause tension and arguments. If you have more than one child they may fight and bicker.

It may be depressing and disheartening to realise just how little time you used to spend together. The important thing to remember is that now you are spending time together, and if you make it relaxed and enjoyable you will only get closer and more comfortable with each other.

Please remember that it is possible to repair and rebuild your relationship with your child at any stage – there are people who can help if you feel you can’t do it on your own.

Once you and your child are feeling relaxed, happy and motivated then it’s time for the next step – instigating a style of homeschooling and getting busy!

If you’re interested in reading more about homeschooling styles, take a look at my Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling Styles. It gives you an overview of all the most common homeschooling styles, and with your newfound knowledge of your family and how they learn you’re well-equipped to choose what will actually work.

Deschooling Resources

Deschooling Essentials – Not sure where to begin? This short but thorough course will help you get the mindset for homeschooling success.

Deschooling Society | Ivan Ilich – The quotes in this post are from this book. I highly recommend it.

Everywhere All the Time : A New Deschooling Reader | Matt Hern

General homeschooling books will also help you deschool – here are my favourites

Follow Fearless Homeschool for more fantastic homeschooling info