As we find ourselves in the uncharted waters of a global pandemic many families are now also finding themselves in the unknown waters of home educating. For some this may be a breeze, and your children may find it easy to home school following the work that school has set, sat around your kitchen table. For others this can be hugely stressful and explosive as children kick back against your authority as you attempt to become their teacher at home. Another group may be embracing the freedom that no school is presenting, but wonder if your children are learning anything, and perhaps still experiencing a kick back against your well meaning suggestions no matter how inspiring they are! If children have been attending mainstream education one can say they are ‘schooled’, and when they come out of this system to experience an alternative (even in the forced current circumstances) they are likely to go through a process known as ‘de-schooling’ (#deschooling)
This is something many home-educators experience, but also children who move from mainstream schools to a democratic model such as Sudbury, as the change in freedom and rhythm is so different to what the child is used to. Think of your five year old settling into primary school, it took time to learn to fit in and for some much longer than others. De-schooling is almost the opposite. But this doesn’t mean they are regressing or not learning, it just means they need time to adjust and perhaps re-discover how to explore and trust their own natural ability to learn.
I previously home educated my children for a year, after coming back from a six month stint in a Waldorf inspired school in Goa (basically barefooted hippy school!) and as the contrast seemed so great it felt the natural choice. I started like many enthusiastic educators with projects and books around the table every morning encouraging and trying to entice learning from them. Which was fine for the first week or so, then the kickback came. And suddenly I found myself in the position of the teacher trying to enforce something to unwilling students and the excitement and joy evaporated. So I took some time to think about what was really important and to read about the transition from schooling to not schooling. It was during this time that I first had the idea to start a democratic school, but that’s another story for another day. We then changed tact and pace and gave the kids space to breathe and be. I wouldn’t say it’s always smooth sailing (when is parenting!?), but allowing time, trust and support makes things a lot less choppy. It is also really valuable to take off the pressure of trying to deliver school at home for everyone’s mental well-being in these challenging times.
De-schooling takes time, the length of which really depends on your child, but if you can trust in the process everyone will come out the happier. This doesn’t mean you have to allow your child to watch TV, or play computer games all day if you don’t want to. In functioning households we all need to pull our weight and do chores so de-schooling doesn’t necessarily mean being exempt from these! What is does require however is trust, the same as for a self-directed education, trust in your child’s innate ability to learn. For anyone wanting to know more about this I highly recommend you look at the library section of our website, especially Peter Gray’s ‘Free to Learn’ (https://www.westcorksudburyschool.ie/recommended-reading). De-schooling in this time could simply be allowing your children time to explore what really interests them, time to play or time to read all day.
For those of you trying to juggle working from home and enforced homeschooling allowing some more freedom may just help keep everyone sane. Roisin Ingle wrote a wonderful piece for the Irish Times on just this (link below), where she advocates focusing on the things you wouldn't learn in school and letting go of the school workload.
A wonderful gift of this time is a chance to re-evaluate how we educate, and for some perhaps a chance to de-school with a view to accessing a different approach to education in the future. Think how different it will be for children starting at a Sudbury school this September having had this period of time to de-school, rather than having gone straight from a mainstream school setting to the unknown waters of steering their own educational ship.