Starting the homeschool journey is a life changing experience. Like any other such experience, it will have many challenges worth overcoming. I like to compare it with having a baby: no matter how much you prepare yourself and read about it, experiencing it is so much different than reading a book.
It takes a long time to prepare your mind-set and home for a new baby; in the same way, it will take time to prepare for your journey as a homeschool family. Deschooling can, therefore, form an important part of your preparation. Whether you take your children out of school or start homeschooling from the outset, it is your own mind that needs deschooling the most.
One of the first questions asked by many homescholars of any new homeschooling family is: “Will you be deschooling?” According to www.south-african-homeschool-curriculum.com, deschooling is the term used to refer to “the period of rest and recuperation after a child has been in the school system for some years”. www.unschoolingmom2mom.com sites it as the process “when people are trying to get past the school version of learning and open to the ideas that learning is much bigger than that.”
Deschooling has many parts and it will differ from person to person, though it always has a time factor and incorporates a process of change. You will need to start somewhere and – through time – enter a new mind-set with a new vision for education, learning, and schooling.
TIMING THE PROCESS
Deschooling will happen to your family when you start homeschooling whether you pursue it or not. If you choose to actively deschool, it might help to set some goals, rather than setting yourself a specific time. The important deschooling goals should include:
- getting to know your children better;
- building strong family relationships and teaching your children to take responsibility for these relationships;
- identifying what your family values as important to learn; and
- starting to use everyday situations and challenges to provide the opportunity for practical learning.
Homeschooling is real life and – in real life – relationships matter. Spending time with your children will be the easiest way to do this. It will not require much planning and effort: just start doing your daily activities together. Doing chores like washing and cleaning together, going for long walks, lying next to your children and chatting before they go to bed are ways to spend time together, and the added benefit is that you are teaching them some new skills too.
A few mothers from Bloemfontein have shared their experience and the important lessons they have learned during their experience of deschooling.
KNOWING YOUR CHILD
Annelise Cotton, mother to eight-year-old twins, started to homeschool her children in April 2019 after taking them out of public school. Her children, especially her daughter, had a lot of anxiety when it came to schoolwork. They had no choice but to do things differently and especially at their children’s pace. After a two-week break, they started with doing a little maths and language studies and reading together often. She wanted to see what her children were interested in before starting with a formal curriculum. She gave them space to play and observed them to identify what excited and interested them. Although they work formally on maths and language, they focus more on what stirs their children’s curiosity.
Homeschooling is tailored-made education and – before children can receive an education focussing on their unique abilities and interests – the person facilitating their learning should know them well.
A single mom with two boys aged eleven and twelve, Hannah van Deventer started homeschooling in March 2017. After a short break from school she wanted her boys to get straight back into schooling, setting targets and keeping the learning process active. She did not want to deschool but realised, over time, as she talked to other homeschooling parents and getting to grips with their new reality, that she could relax more and take things slower. She bought a curriculum three months after starting with homeschooling but did not continue with it, as it was not what her boys were interested in.
Hannah describes their deschooling process as having many conversations with her boys and building their emotional intelligence. When her children were still in school, they did not have enough time to ask questions on things that interested them. For almost a year after leaving school, they spent at least an hour a day discussing all things under the sun that they wanted to know more about. They were now able to ask question such as why things happen, how to solve everyday problems in a creative way and how things work in real life as they experienced it outside of their home.
Hannah’s most valuable lesson from deschooling is to learn to trust your child to take the initiative and responsibility for learning. Allowing yourself to relax and focus on your child will make it easier to transition from the formal school system to a learning environment that fits your family.
The Botha’s from Bloemfontein are a family of four with their own property development business and two daughters aged ten and twelve. At the end of 2017 they had to move into a rental home while waiting for their new house to be built. The girls finished school at the end of the year and had the long December holiday to rest and relax. During this time, they made a conscious effort to break with the habit of constantly working just so that you don’t fall behind.
They used the challenging circumstances of moving twice in four months, building a house and living out of boxes for a while as an opportunity to teach their children some valuable skills and lessons. They were responsible for marketing their rental home and the children were actively involved in the process. It was not only a lesson in marketing, but also real life.
This process assisted their mother, mostly, who was formally educated, to change her mind-set from school being the only option for education to one of embracing the numerous other avenues of learning and schooling through real life.
THE NEVER-ENDING QUESTIONS
As a new homeschooling family you will be bombarded with questions on why, how and what you are doing. Most people ask these questions because they are genuinely interested in how it works. These questions should not be feared or answered half-heartedly. They will provide you with an opportunity to strengthen your convictions regarding your new journey and – in answering curious people’s questions – you cement the new ideas on schooling and learning in your own mind. This helps you transition to a mind-set beyond the schooling system.
Embrace these opportunities with tact and friendliness, not only for yourself, but also as an opportunity to teach your children how to act appropriately in a situation where you do not agree with the person asking the questions. Be creative and think of a fancy term for deschooling, such as that that you are using a life skills and relational curriculum that will help you transition from formal school to homeschool.
It is within your control to turn those never-ending questions into never-ending learning.
PRACTICAL TIPS FOR ACTIVELY DESCHOOLING
- Make a conscious effort to relax into your new situation;
- Take time to write down what you observe in your children, such as their interests, likes, and dislikes;
- Reorganise your home to create a relaxed atmosphere for learning, making sure that books, tools and interesting items to play with are easily accessible;
- Transition to a flexible routine;
- Give your children plenty of opportunities to ask questions;
- Read aloud to your children daily from books they choose; and
- Encourage and support your children in taking up a hobby.
By S. de Bruyn