Deschooling is not so much a method or philosophy of Home Education as a transition period from school education to Home Education, almost always used for children who have recently left a formal school environment.
It is time for the child to adjust to learning without the rigidity and formality of the school system, and for the parents to take the time to try out different methods and styles of home education to find the best fit for their family – something which evolves quite naturally once the notion of education as society sees it is unlearned.
During this time the child is, in essence, rediscovering themselves. In school, their natural curiosity and desire for learning has often been dulled by the limits imposed by the school day and the tasks they are required to complete. For some children, school has had such a negative impact that they do not want to engage in anything that looks like education at all! They will refuse to put to pen to paper, to read, or even to listen to their parents when they begin speaking about something that feels like it might be leading towards a lesson or a question. It is important to remember that this is completely natural, and is vital in the child’s transition from a very formal, one-size-fits-all method to a more relaxed, personalised one.
Parents may panic at the start of the deschooling process because they find their children spend the majority of their free time just staring at the TV or playing computer games. Remember – the child has not had direction over their time other than the brief period after school each day (slotted in around homework, bath, tea time, and any after school clubs) when they are able to sit and wind down for a short while. At first they may want to nothing other than those activities which they are used to doing during that time. Consider how children are during the summer break. The first week of that holiday period looks nothing like the last, as during that time they are beginning to move away from the lifestyle they are used to. The first week or two you may find your child wants to engage in every activity you suggest, and is willingly up and out of bed by 7am everyday. As the weeks progress, you find that they do not want to do what you suggest, and spend their time watching tv, playing on the computer, and complaining that they’re bored. And often, usually right at the end of the holiday, they have rediscovered the simple pleasures of just being. Of playing in the garden, a walk round the field with the dog, a visit to a grandparent’s home. They will start to come up with their own games and self directed activities. Deschooling is really just another period like this. They need time to move away from being told what to do, where to be, how to play, when to eat, drink, and use the toilet; time to take back control of their own bodies; and time to rekindle their often lost passions for castles, gardening, dinosaurs, baking, painting, music, rock climbing, beachcombing, or whatever it was they loved, and had time to love, before school dominated their lives. Just as it is normal for children to go through this process, it is also normal for parents to find themselves worrying about it! Allow it to take its course, and the child will naturally come back to their inbuilt need for information and their innate desire to learn.
The time taken for this process is usually linked to the length of time the child was in school. The general rule of thumb is one month for every year of school, but this is not a hard and fast figure. Some children may take longer, some need very little time at all.
One factor that can alter the length of the deschooling period is the child’s experience of school. Some children who leave school to be Home Educated do so because it fits better with their families lifestyle or beliefs, but had few or even no negative experiences in school. These children are often the ones who need little time to adjust. Some children leave because of difficulties such as clashes with teaching staff, lack of help with learning difficulties or other special needs or bullying. Children who have left school after an upsetting or traumatic time can often have very negative views of education, and so it often takes these children longer to recover.
Also, older children may need to overcome some of the negative peer pressure, or even bullying they could have encountered in school from children who saw learning as ‘uncool’. This can make the deschooling period stressful for the parents of older children simply because it can feel like time is running out. It is a very fixed expectation in our society that children will achieve set milestones at certain ages – GCSEs or similar exams at 16, advanced studies at 18 and then on to University, College, apprenticeships or employment from there. These are set by the school system, because of the need to have children in classes which progress at a projected pace. Home Education removes the necessity for these age limits. Children can take their exams earlier or later than they would in school, they can focus on one or two subjects at a time instead of 8 to 12 subjects all at once. They might not even take them at all! (See the Distance Learning section for more information on this.)
The only other thing that must be said about Deschooling is that it is not widely known of or understood. A lot of people will see that you have deregistered your child in order to let them sit around doing nothing all day. There are two things here that are untrue. Firstly – this is part of your plan. They have have the time to recover, whilst being allowed the freedom to direct their own learning, be that as trips to museums and art galleries, as listening to classical music all day, cooking and baking, or in making “potions” for casting spells…and leaving them forgotten under pieces of furniture for weeks before the cat knocks it over and dyes a patch of your living room carpet purple! But secondly – in Home Education, everything is education. Life is education. When they are tired, they sleep. When they are hungry, they eat. When they need to pee, they can go without asking permission. The first thing they learn is to listen to their bodies again, and this is massively important in allowing the brain to function to its best ability. They learn that their parents will listen to them, will hear their problems and work with them to solve them. They learn to trust themselves, to make strong, genuine connections with their peers based on mutual interests rather than the current trends in toys, fashion, music, or gaming.
It is important that during this time you can show that your educational provision for your child is suitable, but it is also noted in the guidance that “it is not unreasonable that good home education develops with experience as a child becomes used to being in a different learning environment and parents “find their feet””. During this time it is important to balance the educational needs of the child with the emotional ones, and so it is normal for education to begin very slowly and informally, and build slowly with time.