Deschooling is a process of transitioning from institutional school - whether public, private or church school - to a homeschool environment. The way we traditionally think of "school" is very regimented, with schedules; separated subjects; special rooms, desks and tools; textbooks; and a teacher lecturing students who listen. Homeschooling has a lot more flexibility and options available for a parent to educate their children. Deschooling allows for a break, so that a mental reset can happen towards school, and that the family can have the best chances for homeschooling success.
Many parents struggle with deschooling. Worries about "keeping up" and "not doing enough" often prevent deschooling, or cut it short, which is unfortunate. I believe firmly that homeschooling is a lifestyle, and like any major lifestyle change, we must give ourselves a transition period to fully detach and embrace the change.
Deschooling helps change a family's belief system about what school is, what it should look like and what the priorities are. The majority of the time spent deschooling should be in doing things as a family that are as far away from school-like activities as possible. Deschooling doesn't include workbooks or text books, writing papers or tests. It may include reading books on ancient history, writing stories or doing a science experiment -- just for fun. But don't ruin the fun by asking comprehension questions on the chapter book you're reading together, or by critiquing the spelling errors in the story. The point of deschooling is to regain the joy of learning!
"What about keeping up?" many parents cry. This is where you're going to have to trust the process. Traditional institutional school has so often destroyed children's mental and emotional health to the point that healing will take time. Add to that many people's inability to recognize any but formal academic learning, with its reports and tests, as actual, genuine education, and many parents fail to see that their children really are learning. Even when it doesn't look like, they are.
A major aspect of deschooling is healing the wounds inflicted by traditional school. Depending on how long your family has been involved in an institutional school setting, this process takes time. A good rule of thumb is 1 month for every year spent in traditional school. And like any healing process, there are certain stages that are typical for every person.
First, expect a great deal of confusion. Children, when changing routines, will often ask for aspects of the original routine. They may ask for workbooks, or to "do school". They may, at first, find this kind of neat. Resist the urge to jump right into doing school at home. You will burn out if you try to do too much too soon.
Second, expect general laziness. They may start sleeping in more, playing a lot of video games or watching tv, and resisting any kind of learning work. Besides your normal parenting standards (a standard wake-up time, chores and perhaps screen time limits), don't push learning activities. Remember this is like healing from a major illness. Just as you wouldn't push a child into a hike in the woods after a bout of the flu, don't expect them to want to do anything academic right away.
Third, expect resistance on normal parenting issues. They may begin to test the boundaries you've already set out as parents, questioning curfews or bedtimes, wake up times, chores and the other rules of your house. This is because every child wants to know what exactly has changed and what hasn't. It's a security thing for them. Do treat these as parenting issues. Don't let your rules and consequences slide, simply because you aren't insisting on school. A major part of deschooling is to re-establish the relationship between parent and child, so if there are parenting issues that have been ignored because of lack of time due to school, this is your time to take care of them! Don't tolerate disrespect, but have set consequences. Insist on chores (if that's your parenting philosophy!) and on following the rules of the house.
Fourth, don't be afraid to let your kids be bored. Boredom is what stimulates creativity. Don't help their boredom either by providing suggestions of activities. My personal response to my children when they tell me they're bored is to ask them to do a chore for me. After a while, they stop being bored, because they will find something to do, to avoid doing the chores! And in the meantime, I get chores completed. It's a win-win for me.
Fifth, DO NOT PANIC! Deschooling is a process that takes time. To fully appreciate the benefits, you need to fully take advantage of the time. This is not a time to rush or push, but to step back and relax. Let the healing happen, the relationships grow, and when you're finished deschooling, you'll be much more ready to homeschool.