Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Homeschooling 101: Deschooling

Deschooling is a process of retraining and refocusing kids and their parents out of a public school mentality and attitude towards learning. The idea is to figure out that learning does not require a text book, a test, a worksheet or a teacher. Learning can happen anywhere. It is actually more important for the parents to "deschool" than the children, especially if you are pulling your children out in older grades. 

So what does it look like?

Specifically, you'll avoid worksheets and workbooks, you won't do tests, or sit down with one person lecturing and another listening. You will read lots and lots, but they won't be textbooks, just books on topics you enjoy. You will do projects perhaps, but these will be messy and fun and fascinating. You will go places - the store, the library, a museum, the zoo, the symphony, the movies, etc. You won't be sitting at a desk or the kitchen table answering questions out of a textbook. You might sit at the kitchen table eating a snack and talking about questions. You won't be lecturing your kids on the specifics of algebra, but you might watch a YouTube video on math in nature. You won't be cutting and pasting worksheets, but you might cut out magazine letters to create poetry art, or write a letter to the editor of your newspaper, or volunteer at a local homeless shelter. 

As a parent, you'll be observing your child(ren). You will reconnect with them as parents and kids, enjoying life together. You will figure out that Junior likes to build and learns best by doing, and Miss learns by reading and more reading, and Little One learns best by asking questions and talking about it. You might also figure out that your family thrives when you "go with the flow" or that you all much prefer set times to do certain things, and like predictability and routine. You might discover that you really like reading as a family, so a literature based curriculum is best, or that you really really hate the mess of science experiments, so maybe online options are better, or that your day just works better when you're at home so you'll keep field trips to a minimum -- or just the opposite. 

The rule of thumb is that you should take approximately 1 month for every year your child was in school. The focus isn't so much on learning anything or meeting goals or "keeping up with their class", but on reconnecting as a family and discovering the joy of learning. It may take less time for you -- it may take more. But don't skimp out because of a panic that "they aren't learning anything". They will learn. They will surprise you with what they learn. 

So often new homeschoolers short-change themselves and their children in this process. A sense of panic can set in, because it doesn't look like your children are learning anything, because it doesn't look like school. You may feel a sense of looming disaster, of "falling behind", that you are somehow neglecting them and their education by not churning out workpages, reports, and struggling with school work, like you are so used to. For some reason, we, as a society, have separated "education" and "learning" from life and fun. Education is over here, and it's supposed to be hard, and even a little boring, and you don't learn anything if it's not written down. Life is over there, completely separate, and you don't learn anything in "real life". But it's that mentality that this process of deschooling is designed to break down. Like in childbirth, if you can push through the panic, you'll have a brand new life and a lot of fun! 

It depends I think on what your purpose is in homeschooling. If you are approaching it from the idea that your child needs to know "xyz" information and skills by "x" age in order to be "educated" then yes, you'll always be thinking "grade level" and "ahead" or "behind". But if you think in terms of parenting, not just academics, and think about the information and skills of education as part of your parenting (that reading and arithmetic are just like walking and talking in your child's development), then there is only a "grade level" like there is "typical development". It's a range. Most children learn to walk somewhere between 10 and 16 months. If they aren't walking by 18 months, you take them to a doctor. Most children learn to read somewhere between age 4 and age 10. If they aren't reading by age 12, you might want to get extra help. It isn't about an arbitrary "grade level" (which by the way is very specific to region -- children are expected to be reading by age 6 in most states, but in other countries, not until age 8 or 9). It's about where your child fits on the typical development range.

Formal academics are not a goal. They are the means to a goal. Being a successful adult requires that they read and write fluently in at least one language, that they can add and subtract and manage money and think logically and critically, that they have some familiarity with the whys and hows of our society, economy and technology. *When* our children learn this is not all that important. It only takes 30 days to teach the average-intelligence adult to read. And with the internet and smart phones today, most information is easily accessible. College may not be everyone's best career plan, and there are other choices. Educate accordingly.

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