I often receive emails like the following:
We have been homeschooling for X time and it is just not working. I read about unschooling and it really sounded like the way I would like my children to learn. We started unschooling X weeks ago and I feel like we are not doing anything. My X year old has not done anything I can call learning. His/her day consists of cartoons, movies, video games, riding bikes, trampoline, roaming our wood, board games, reading fluff novels, comic books, playing on his/her guitar, playing Pokemon (you fill in what you consider to be an inappropriate activity for a “school day”). I have been trying to see learning in what my child does. Can you help? What did your unschooling look like? Are these things really learning?
This is an amalgam of those emails, of course, but you get the idea. And before I go into unschooling with them and what unschooling can look like (because it looks different for every family and even for every child), I take the time to explain about deschooling, a necessary process for those who have spent any amount of time in any formalized school-type setting.
Deschooling is the time given and the process where children who have been in a formal school setting (such as public school) unlearn what the system taught them (often unintentional lessons), recover emotionally from any damage inflicted upon their souls, and essentially rediscover who they are, what they like, and what they are capable of. This process can take quite some time, depending upon the number of years that your child was in the school system and how traumatic/damaging his/her time there was. If you went directly from the formal (public) school setting to “school-at-home,” then your child did not go through this deschooling process. You replaced the structure of the (public) school with the structure of school at home, so your child did not have to think for himself about what he liked, what he wanted to do, and what he wanted to learn. He simply had to follow the routine and schedule provided for him.
The general rule of thumb for deschooling is that it will take one month for every year in the public school system, but this process can take a much longer time if those years in the public school system were particularly traumatic or if your child really lost herself within the (public) school schedule and way of doing things.
When we first began to homeschool, we went directly to school-at-home, which lasted about four months before I burnt out. Then I learned about unschooling and deschooling. Our two younger children had only been in the system for a short time and never really gave themselves up to it (fought it at every turn) and they didn’t require much, if any, deschooling. But our eldest had a rough time the last year of school, had spent six years in the system, and had really lost herself. She took a full six months of deschooling time – time when she did nothing but sleep, read “fluff” books, watch television and sleep some more. I really became quite concerned … but, with the support of some unschooling friends, I held on and let her deschool till *she* was done. And I knew she was done with deschooling one morning announced she needed to go to the library to look up something that she was curious about. She was ready to go, full of ideas and plans and needing this resource and that resource.
Be forewarned, though! When your child renews his/her interest in learning, it may not be in the direction or mode that you would wish him/her to learn or are familiar with. For many years our daughter wanted nothing to do with a textbook, workbook, or any type of formal learning. It wasn’t until she was sixteen and decided to take a college class in Spanish that she was willing to do any type of “regular” or “formal” academic type work. She would learn things, but in her own way and her own time … sometimes through Internet searches, sometimes by reading, sometimes just by trial and error and questions. I could not lead her in any direction whatsoever – in fact, the mere suggestion by me of something she might be interested in would send her quickly in the complete opposite direction. I learned that if there was an idea I wanted to present to her, I had to come to it in a roundabout manner, simply making general observations about a subject, or even just reading about it on my own, leaving my resources lying around, and eventually, usually, she’d pick them up and have a look.
And it is not only our children who must deschool. Because we parents were not homeschooled and we spent years in a formal school system, it will take us much longer to deschool. Until we deschool, though, it will be more difficult to recognize the learning occurring in our children as they continue on their unschooling journey. I found myself panicking many times during our unschooling years, sure that no learning was occurring, trying to implement some sort of schedule or maybe try a new curriculum. My children were very good at humoring me, knowing that within a few days the panic would subside and we could go back into our unschooling routines. Deschooling took years for me, but gradually those panicky times were fewer and further between.
So do yourself a favor and give your children (and yourself) the time to deschool. Once you do, you will be able to see learning occurring at times and places where you never would have thought it possible.