You’ve made the decision to homeschool. You’ve pulled your child out of traditional school. Now what? Changing from a classroom mindset to a homeschooling mindset doesn’t happen overnight (for parents or children). That’s why veteran homeschoolers recommend a period of deschooling.
Deschooling simply means setting aside a period of time to adjust to the transition from traditional school to homeschooling. It’s a time of letting go, loosening up, establishing new rhythms and routines, processing the changes that are happening in your family, and getting your child back in touch with a love of learning. If you’re new to homeschooling, a season of deschooling can help you get your homeschool off on the right foot. Here are some suggestions to guide you through the transition.
1. Say Goodbye to Traditional School
Even if your child struggled in school, it’s still difficult to leave a familiar environment behind. Losing time with friends, sports teams or favorite activities can make the transition that much harder. Try not to rush your child through this process or dictate how they should feel. Here are some ways to help your child process the change.
Include your older child in the decision-making process
Ideally, you’ll have the opportunity to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the traditional school setting with your child, instead of springing on them that you’ve made the decision to withdraw them from school. If they’re open to it, try to spend some time genuinely listening to what school has been like for them. Starting with phrases like, “I’m noticing…” or “I wonder…” can open the door to deeper discussion. Once homeschooling is on the table, be sure you articulate your reasons for making a change.
Encourage them to give homeschooling a try for a finite period of time
Sometimes the idea of saying goodbye to school forever can be scary. If you’re not set on homeschooling as a permanent change, it can be helpful to tell your child that you will try homeschooling for six months to a year and then reevaluate. (Try not to pick a shorter time, as it usually takes about six months to really get a feel for what homeschooling is like). This gives everyone the assurance that their experience will be valued and taken into account.
Give your child the opportunity to say goodbye
If it’s appropriate, providing the chance to say goodbye to favorite teachers or classmates can smooth the transition. It may take extra time and energy on your part to coordinate farewells with people at your child’s school, but giving your child some closure in this area will be well worth it.
Show excitement about homeschooling
Try to frame homeschooling as a new adventure for your family. Brainstorm some of the positives (sleeping in later, staying in pajamas, getting to study a favorite topic). If your child isn’t keen on homeschooling, don’t constantly harp on how wonderful this new lifestyle will be, but try to invite them to consider the pros as well as the cons.
2. Transition to a New Normal
Collaborate about what your homeschool will look like
Invite your child to discuss how they want your days together to feel. Listen to what they would like to learn, how they would prefer to get their work done, what their goals and passions are, what challenges they are experiencing and how you can enlist support to see growth in those areas.
If your child has spent years in a mainstream educational setting, this sort of open-minded exploration may be difficult for them. After years of having others dictate your educational path, it’s not easy to embrace the freedom and flexibility that homeschooling offers. If it’s not going well, give them time, and revisit these topics again in a few weeks or months.
If you’ll be using curriculum, explore the options together
Your child probably has some ideas about how they learn best. You likely do as well. The more common ground you can find here the more smoothly your homeschool will run. Value their input and participation wherever possible. Try to come up with some options that will work well for both you and your student.
Administer placement tests if necessary
You may need to take some time to assess where your child is at academically. Seeing where you stand with open eyes can be painful, but it is a necessary step in moving forward. If you’re choosing a traditional curriculum, try to get an accurate picture of what level your child is at for subjects like math and reading. It’s always better to start at a lower level so your child can progress quickly and confidently than to push them into a higher level of material and have them flounder.
Research co-ops, sports, music or other elective activities
You don’t want to load your schedule with activities, but working together with your child to choose an extra class or activity that they’re passionate about will help them take ownership of their homeschool journey. You may not be interested in video game design or paddle boarding or pottery, but investing in your child’s area of interest, even for just a semester, communicates to them that you are in this together and that you value their input.
Set up a work space that suits your child
Whether it’s a whole school room, a desk, or a shelf of supplies that’s readily accessible, work together to make the most of the space you have. You definitely don’t want to spend your time, energy and money creating a school room that your child ignores. Collaboration is key in this process.
3. Use the Deschooling Period to Help Your Child Reconnect with Their Natural Love of Learning.
Leave Time and Space for Boredom
“I’m bored” might really just mean “I’m waiting for you to tell me what to do next.” If your child has been in a highly structured environment where they’re expected to follow a teacher’s directions all day long, they’re likely out of touch with how they learn best and what they’re passionate about. Their natural love of learning may have been snuffed out by busywork, chaotic classroom environments, and the drudgery of having every moment of the day scheduled out for them.
Give your child some space to reconnect with who they are and remember how to just be. A frequent guideline in the homeschool world is to give your child one month to do nothing but what they enjoy for every year they were in an institutional school setting. For example, if your child was in public school for kindergarten through fifth grade, give them a full six months of relaxed enjoyment before starting formal academics.
This may seem like a waste of time, especially if your child is behind and you have important learning you want to tackle. But trust me. You are better off investing some time up front in allowing your child to decompress and feel the sense of freedom that comes with homeschooling.
Here are some activities some families have found helpful during a season of deschooling.
Reconnect with nature
Go on a nature walk. Spend time out doors. Explore a new park or wildlife center. Don’t make it educational. Just enjoy being outside.
Sign up for a sports team that you might not have had time to commit to when your child was busy with school and homework. Take a class at the gym. Try a new sport or activity you’ve never done before. Go for a hike.
Visit the library
Read for pleasure. Let your child pick out “fun” books that capture their interest. Check out the apps that are free to download through your library. See if there is anything that interests your child. Look for audiobooks that they might enjoy listening to.
Try new experiences
Go on field trips or adventures that align with your child’s interests. Again let them lead the way. What they’re excited about is likely not what you’d prefer to spend time doing. Hold space for their interests anyway, and try to encourage their interests even if you don’t share them.
4. Start Slow
Once your child has had plenty of time to process the change, unwind, and recover their love of learning, then it’s time to introduce formal academics. Don’t go overboard. Use some of these suggestions for easing into your new homeschool life.
Begin with a vacation or field trip
Don’t jump into schoolwork right off the bat. A vacation or field trip can be just the reset everyone in your family needs.
Choose a modified schedule to start
Begin with just one or two subjects and gradually add in more over the coming weeks and months. Or do a shortened school day to start. Let go of the pressure of what you “should” be doing. You are allowed to take your time working up to a full school load.
Use a fun tradition to set the tone for your school year.
Think about the way you want your homeschool life together to feel, and choose a tradition that starts you off accordingly.
5. Evaluate How It's Going
Periodically check in with everyone in the family to see how things are going. Talk through what is working and where you’d like to make changes. Be open to different perspectives and prayerfully make decisions to bring your homeschool days into better alignment with your family values. Take time to celebrate your successes and record your child’s progress.
We hope these ideas help you embrace an extended period of deschooling as a way to successfully transition you and your child into a homeschool mindset.