When a child leaves a traditional school environment to begin unschooling, the adjustment period is generally referred to as ‘deschooling’. It’s a time when, free from external expectations and pressure, they can rediscover their natural rhythms and who they are when no one expects them to be anything in particular. I keep coming across a piece of wisdom that says this process takes one month for every year the child was in traditional schooling. That seems a bit tidy to me, and I suspect it can take anything from weeks to years. The point is though, that there is certainly lots for a child to unravel when they’re allowed to take the lead in their own learning processes.
But children are never the stumbling block in unschooling. Issues in the unschooling home are likely to be all about the parents’ deschooling. That’s not surprising when you think how programmed we adults are by social norms and by our own experiences. An enlightened few may have already done the groundwork before their children were born. The rest of us could have 40 years worth or more of social conditioning to unravel. Not only did we go to school the whole way through, but we then probably spent most of adulthood assuming that our own children would go through the system just like we did. It often takes the deep discomfort of seeing our child anxious or unhappy at school, for us to begin the uncomfortable process of questioning our beliefs.
Although the word ‘school’ appears to be the big deal (‘deschooling’, ‘unschooling’), this is about much more than whether a child is in school. It’s about the absence not only of school, but of all sorts of other ideas about how children best fare in life. It’s about getting beyond our own egos, our sense of entitlement over our children, the notion that we always know best. More than anything, it is about trusting that our children really do know what they need, and that we are there to hold space for them, not shape them to how we think they should be.
Deschooling is an intensely personal process, and most parents need to go through it in order to let their children live and learn naturally and coherently with who they are. Some parents find this journey a natural fit with their beliefs, and experience great relief in finally discovering a more coherent way to live. For others, it’s a hugely challenging process that has them confronting everything they had ever thought about bringing up children. That ‘aha’ moment when you suddenly realise that unschooling really could work for your family is just the beginning. And, it’s easy for unschooling to seem like the best thing in the world after a harmonious morning of baking and nature walks, or after a long political discussion with your bright pre-teens. You can sit back satisfied that it’s all flowing rather nicely when you see them happily playing with their friends or with their nose in a good book. But how about a morning on the Playstation? How about when one doesn’t feel like doing anything at all? How about when the whole day seems to have been one long argument between siblings?
There are likely to be plenty of moments at the beginning that will make you jittery or frustrated. But it’s no good to say that unschooling isn’t working because it doesn’t look how we expect it to look. It can be hard, but the deep learning and moving forward really is contained in those triggering moments. That’s when we make a choice. We can accept the situation and respond in a way that is coherent and respectful, or we can resist it and react with annoyance or anger because it just wasn’t supposed to be this way. Taking a deep breath and letting go of our expectations is key to moving through these triggers. This is where the unschooling begins and where the magic lies – in this place of deep trust in ourselves and in our children. Where sibling arguments end in heartfelt hugs, where boredom gives way to ingenious ideas, where things are allowed to twist and turn then morph into something entirely new and unexpected. It is unfailingly rewarding to let go and trust.
My own process of deschooling has taken several years and is still a work in progress. Just when I think I’m done, something pops up to challenge me. I’ve become accustomed to noticing the triggers in my body. A slight tensing up, an uncomfortable sense of being out of control, and the recognition that I have unwittingly attached myself to a specific outcome without realising.
So, sure, every child will go through their own deschooling process, as they learn to make choices, to feel into their passions and interests and to trust in themselves. But, ultimately, it’s the parents’ deschooling journey that will have the most impact on the child and on the parent. It’s not an easy journey, and it is likely to take a huge amount of introspection, curiosity, frustration and deep breaths. But, it will be rewarding in all sorts of unimaginable ways. Such is the power of letting go.
New to unschooling? Download 20 ways to deschool for some ideas on how to get started.