Deschooling became my favorite word around 1996. Until then I was still doing quite a bit of homeschooling-in-a-box, with prepackaged curriculum from A Beka and Alpha Omega. Both are great- don't get me wrong about that. But I was becoming a bit frustrated by the pressure to stick to The Lesson Plan, or else we would be BEHIND, which is a concept that haunts every homechooler.
We can't tell you what BEHIND really means, we just know that if it happens, we may spontaneously combust and our kids will grow up to rob convenience stores and torture puppies. I can't remember where I first heard the term 'deschooling', but I knew instinctively that one of the reasons I felt twisted into pretzel knots was my efforts to mimic traditional schooling at home. I never took it as far as one homeschooling friend who dressed her kids, packed their lunches, marched them out the back door and back in the front so they would feel like they were 'going to school'. Need I mention that her school area was equipped with flags, a chalkboard, desks, and bulletin boards? Bless her heart.
I started reading more about relaxed homeschooling, unschooling, and eclectic homeschooling. I began to experiment a bit with delight-directed learning, allowing my son to read books of his choice instead of the A Beka readers, rewarding work accomplished with free time (instead of more work!), and giving him tools and a space to explore his love of taking things apart. I found The Moore Formula, and added their insights to the mix.
The local librarians saw us several times a week, and my checkbook heaved a sigh of relief.
Some years later, I came across a great blog post by Tammy Takahashi at Just Enough called "Deschooling Gently" (which is now a book/ebook). Each time I evaluated our homeschooling, I let go of traditional school methods more and more.
I don't believe I will ever stop the deschooling process, but for those considering homeschooling or those already homeschooling who have a nagging feeling that there IS a better way, I've outlined 4 Phases of Deschooling:
- School should meet the needs of the child, not the other way around. Traditional schools demand that children change what is individual about them because the school serves the needs of the many, not the needs of the one. Think about your child's abilities, interests, internal clock, and general health. ASK your child, other than a 2-hour recess and ice cream for breakfast, what would their Dream School be like? Can you imagine what it's like to know that they can use the bathroom without raising their hand and announcing to all their friends that they feel the call of nature? They can maintain their energy and focus because they are able to answer their body's hunger and thirst with healthy food and plenty of water. When they are tired or don't feel well, they can get some much needed rest. Aren't doctors always talking about the need for people to live less stressful lives? We can provide some much needed de-stressing by deschooling.
- Learning as a student activity. Education is not information transmitted in a vacuum to a passive audience. History, literature, science, music, math... these 'subjects' are usually taught in a way that separates them in a child's mind, so that they say things like "History is boring" and "Math is hard". The teacher does most of the work, and children are expected to absorb it while sitting still and quiet in a chair. Forget that. Providing materials that are not so compartmentalized, helping kids see how cooking involves chemistry, or that the microwave oven was invented during WW2 by accident, giving them hands-on projects, letting them ask question after question and following the paths that the answers reveal, can create an excitement for learning and concrete connections between different content areas. It is also inevitable that our children will be influenced by the beliefs and biases of the teacher. At home, we can ensure that our kids are influenced by healthy, Biblical ideas, and that they learn to think critically about the information being presented.
- Education belongs to the student. Give them some ownership of what they will learn, and how they will learn it. For example- since math is a core skill and non-negotiable- give them the school calendar, their math materials, and have them create their own lesson plans. What days of the week will they do math, and what time of day would they prefer to do it? Since they are the ones who crafted those expectations, their own self-motivation kicks in, and it's a bit easier to hold them to it. Do they love math and struggle with reading? Allow them to flourish in their areas of talent and interest, but don't be obsessed with producing a voracious reader, and don't apologize if they aren't reading what the other kids are reading, or as proficiently. After all, the other kids probably don't know an ellipse from an algorithm.
- Defining success. Shift your focus to the purpose of learning, and a truer definition of success. Motivations need not be the usual materialistic rewards- sticker charts, report cards... When the mind and heart are fully engaged in the process, the student can enjoy the pursuit of a challenge, perseverance, curiosity, and satisfaction of personal accomplishment as their motivation. After all, we want them to value learning, not grades, or certificates, or honor rolls. The true measure of success has nothing to do with one's vocation or the amount of their paycheck- it is whether or not we are living up to our God-given potential, and if we are using that potential to be a blessing to the people around us.
Colossians 3:17 And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.
Have you deschooled your homeschool?
What was your process?