Deschooling your child
School doesn’t act as a dam for a child’s natural curiosity. It’s a drought. School didn’t suppress their natural behaviors, habits and incentives. It completely changed and warped them. The longer they were in that environment the greater the effect. You can’t go from a dessert to a lake overnight.
They need to have a period of detoxing (deschooling) from the rigid and oppressive structures inherent in compulsory schooling. In school, a child’s natural self-direction and passions are ignored by teachers who favor blind obedience. Even when removed from this tyrannical structure they need time for their exploratory natures to flow back. It isn’t until they rediscover this repressed creativity that they start wanting to read, write, explore and create.
This process can look a lot like doing next to nothing constructive for anywhere from several months to over a year depending on how long the child was in school, their particular nature and their personal relationship with learning. The broad consensus is it takes about a month for every year the child spent in school, so long as they are genuinely free of school-like requirements or attitudes from parents.
They may go so far as not wanting to do anything that looks vaguely like school, whether it be reading, writing or learning what type of butterfly likes the flowers outside their window.
Slowly tugging them back out into the world with trips to the zoo, a museum or the local library are great places to rekindle their interests. But it’s important to note that you shouldn’t try and force the learning. At the library don’t force them to read books they don’t want to, in fact don’t force them to read at all. They had enough of that in school and it probably made them hate it. Controlling or coercing them to read now changes nothing except directs their frustration toward you instead of the teacher. Let them wander around the shelves until they’re bored. Boredom with the means and opportunity to entertain themselves will be the biggest contributor to their creativity, self-direction and motivation.
This doesn’t mean you can’t help them along though. Check out books you think might interest them and leave them around the house where your child will see them.
Often it isn’t just the child who needs to readjust. Parents all too often try to replicate school in some fashion at home. That’s the kiss of death for successful unschooling. Parents must deschool themselves too. Instead of behaving like teachers and bringing school into the home, they have to recognise learning is not separate from life. Learning is asking questions and searching for answers. A curriculum is unnecessary—though some kids do find them valuable for their particular interests.
It’s perfectly natural to feel uneasy and uncertain trusting that the child will come around and express an interest in learning. When a child has an option that they didn’t have in school—to do nothing—it becomes the easy choice for them. What parents must understand is that there’s a lot going on beneath the surface that isn’t easily observed. If the child is doing what they enjoy and healing, then they are on the right path.
Connect, be there for them and love them—just don’t try to force learning or ‘make learning fun’. Let it happen in a real and organic way, not contrived and artificial like in school.
Caitlyn attended a traditional public school until 8th grade. She learned about unschooling, pitched it to her parents and has been a self-directed learner ever since. Caitlyn was also accepted into the entrepreneurship and apprenticeship program Praxis at 15.