Last month we talked about a couple of the paradigm shifts that typically accompany the journey of learning about unschooling. Deschooling is a general term used to describe this transition to unschooling, where we expand our definition of learning beyond the classroom paradigm. Conventional wisdom tell us that learning looks like teachers and listening and writing and tests. Even years after we’ve graduated, chances are our vision of learning is still locked within those four walls. But what might we see if we remove our school-goggles?
The guideline surrounding deschooling is that the process typically takes about one month per year of school or school-at-home. Right away that tells us that parents likely have the bulk of the work to do, which makes sense because we’ve been enmeshed in school culture the longest. The idea of a guideline makes me giggle a bit because it takes as long as it takes, but where the statement really helps is planting the idea that the process takes a while. Not a few weeks or a couple months, but some real time. Long enough that when you’re nearing the end, hopefully you’ve reached the point where you’re not even looking for the “end” any more.
That’s a great point to remember when you find yourself feeling overwhelmed with information and begin to worry: deschooling is going to take months and months. And months. I don’t think I came across that information when my children first left school—or if I did, it didn’t make a lasting impression. I recall posting on a homeschooling forum after about six weeks about my worry that, at least my older two (ages 10 and 8 at the time), were playing all the time and not learning. I was encouraged to relax and I think someone mentioned the longer time line of deschooling at that point. I relaxed and six months or so down the road I looked back at that post and laughed, realizing how tightly I was still clinging to my school-vision goggles—I wasn’t yet seeing all the learning that was happening in their play.
Moving to unschooling is a process. Six weeks can seem like a long time when you feel like you’ve leapt into an abyss, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s just a blip on the radar. If you find yourself questioning your choices, that’s good! It’s part of the process. Do your best to answer them, don’t just throw up your hands in defeat. And be careful not to use the longer-term nature of deschooling as an excuse to dilly-dally: take another step forward, and another. Keep learning and observing and thinking. You can’t change past moments, but right here, right now, is a new moment in which you get to choose how to act and react.
For me, it was probably about a year before I felt like we were truly unschooling, not deschooling. There was no announcement, no graduation ceremony, but one day I realized I no longer feel like I was emulating the lifestyle—we were living it. I was no longer trying to wrap my mind around the principles, instead I was spending my time supporting how those principles were playing out in my unique family.
So how do you get there?
Something spurred you to investigate unschooling and whatever it was, it’s a great place to start because that’s where unschooling has made a connection with you. What conventional idea were you questioning? What unschooling action or principle caught your attention in response? Why? If you stay with the conventional wisdom, how might it play out in your family over the next five years? What about the unschooling wisdom? What might that look like in your family today? In a year? In five years?
Alongside that, since at its most basic unschooling is about creating an environment for learning to replace school, it’ll help to examine your thoughts, ideas, and filters surrounding learning. Ask yourself tons of questions to explore your understanding of learning. You’ve been learning for many years, so how’s that been working for you? How would you define real learning? What does a test really measure? How much of what you learned in school do you still remember? What’s the difference between what you remember and what you don’t? Do you better remember the stuff that was useful to you? Interesting to you? Have you learned things on your own since leaving school? What about hobbies? Is that learning any less valuable just because it was done outside a classroom? Is there a difference in how easily you learned things you were told to learn and things you wanted to learn?
When you’re not busy playing with your kids or pondering the nature of learning, continue reading about unschooling and its underlying principles. Tip: though what you’re finding my seem incredibly unconventional right now, try to keep an open mind. When I first began reading about some of the parenting things unschooling families were up to I remember thinking “well, we won’t be doing that.” But instead of feeling defensive, I just let it flow by and kept reading—I was so curious! I hungrily absorbed all the unschooling information and discussions I came across. The information about how people learn aligned so closely with my personal experiences and my observations of my own children’s learning, that I knew there was something to this unschooling thing. I kept learning. And in a few months I was doing many of those things I initially dismissed—they began to make sense as my understanding grew.
If possible, hang out with unschooling families to see them in action. Do a bit of web searching for unschooling or even homeschooling groups in your area (there’s a reasonable chance you will find some unschoolers in the homeschooling groups, especially groups focused on social activities). Some things to notice as you spend time with them: What do the parent-child relationships look like? Be careful not to put higher expectations on the kids, unschooling kids aren’t “perfect”, nobody’s perfect—neither is anyone’s definition of “perfect”—but do they seem happy? Connected? Do the parents seem supportive and available? Do the parents and kids enjoy being together? Try to observe in different situations, groups and individually. Talk with them. Or just listen. Understand yourself and how you like to learn. You’re not there to judge, but to see unschoolers in action; to see some of the unschooling principles you’re reading about play out in person, deepening your understanding.
Personally, I did not find any reasonably local unschoolers so I focused on reading, reading, reading. I’m not one to ask questions at first, I prefer to join communities and lurk for a while, reading and trying to make sense of things myself first, eventually asking questions about what is still confusing or nagging at me—like my six week question. It helped a lot, and I don’t think I asked anything else for a few months. But that’s just my learning process. It’s not to say that asking questions while you process things is wrong, not at all! Some people learn more effectively that way, and it brings those topics up for discussion in the group for others to read (like me!) so it’s helpful that way too. It’s interesting to notice our ways of learning, and the ways of others. Why? Because the ways our children prefer to learn may be significantly different from ours. That’s a really good thing to notice. Don’t presuppose anything: observe and chat and discover. Learn.
Now that we’ve talked about the purpose of deschooling, over the next couple weeks I’m going to talk in more detail about things you and your family can do instead of school to help you transition out of the schoolish mindset and begin to explore the exciting world around you. Have fun!