Imagine embarking on the journey of a lifetime to a country whose language you do not know, with customs and habits that are completely unfamiliar to you and where even the clothing is different. You’re really excited but also know that this trip is going to be unlike anything you’ve known before! Oftentimes a travel agent (one of those fancy ones!) will run immersion classes or you might take a language course before you leave, just so you can communicate on a basic level.
Moving away from a traditional schooling model is a bit like that! The construct around learning has provided a high level of comfort – scaffolding if you like. Even if your child hasn’t spent much time in school or hasn’t reached school age, chances are that you went to school and base much, if not all, of your ideologies around education and learning on your own experiences in a traditional school. The world is schooled!
So consider how each member of your family might feel, including you as a parent, without the framework of school and add to that the element of travel. It’s worth investing some time in considering what sort of transition your family might need and how you will approach it together.
Generally speaking, it is suggested that for each year that a child was in school, they will need AT LEAST 2 months of deschooling. My own experience is that the two months is a base point and that it will increase exponentially for every year after the first year of school and that’s just for the kids! If you consider that many parents will have completed 12 years of school plus tertiary education (for simplicity let’s say a 4-year undergraduate degree and 1 year of post-grad study) plus all the years of work in a conventional sense (Yes, ‘work’ will often have similar systems of control and measurement to school) and you could easily if you’re 35 years old, have spent 29 years in a schooled environment which extrapolates to almost 5 years of deschooling required!
So now that you’re shocked by the numbers, what exactly is deschooling? Well, it’s the period of conscious transition you commit to when you decide to live a life without traditional school. I’m using the term ‘traditional school’ because worldschooling isn’t defined by one type of schooling. Some families will use a formal curriculum and sit down for set periods each day for explicit learning; some families might combine natural learning for some subject areas and child-directed learning for other areas that interest them. Other families might take a literature-based approach such as Charlotte Mason while others might follow a Steiner based program with some specific rhythms and rituals incorporated. There are also families who use no curriculum or formal plan and take a purely child-led learning approach called unschooling. So one size definitely does not fit all but all styles of worldschool learning will benefit from a period where your family intentionally decompresses.
You might want to consider and plan for the following types of changes:
- Not having a set school start and finish time – this literally adds available time to your day to watch TV, to be ‘bored’ (yeah, get ready for that one- it’s a gift!), or even to argue with siblings. It’s time for your child to do whatever they like!
- No lunchboxes to pack means that kids may ask for snacks more frequently or, conversely, forget to eat if food isn’t offered. Some families find that during this period, the way they eat changes completely.
- If your child wore a uniform to school you might have more washing to do. Or you might have less as there is now no motivation to change clothes at all!
- Any child-free time that you might have enjoyed when your children were in school will need to be rethought. You can still grab a break but you may have to be flexible about how and when this happens and your hour at the gym after school drop off might now look like running around the park with your kids.
- Your children may need to accompany you to the supermarket if you were used to shopping during school hours, which provides a great opportunity for them to be more involved in food choices and cooking.
- Bedtimes might be more negotiable as you won’t have the phrase ‘Bedtime. You’ve got school tomorrow’ up your sleeve. This frees up time in the evening to watch movies, play games, hang out with friends and spend more time over dinner, but it can add to that feeling that you have the kids around all the time now. Which you do!
- The talking never stops. Seriously, this is a real thing, and it’s best to think about how you will manage with small people talking to you for several hours more every day than you’re used to. Suddenly becoming sensitive to sounds, feeling touched out if your kids are very tactile, constantly preparing snacks, and just answering questions or breaking up sibling disagreements are all things that might make you feel pushed to your limits.
Each and every change that has been listed above will have positive and negative elements. The thing to remember is that you and your family are facing a massive adjustment, and almost everything is normal while you are all finding your feet. Your children are staring into whole days that used to be accounted for and are now totally open with adventure and possibility. Their snacks no longer need to fit into a quirky yellow bento box and they can wear what they like!
As wonderful as this sounds, some kids really do find the freedom overwhelming and may look to you as the parent for guidance during this time. Cries of ‘I’m bored, what can I do?’ are pretty normal. You might like to have some games and activities up your sleeve.
My oldest child spent the first 6 months after leaving school baking. It cost us a fortune, but it gave her a purpose, and for a child who was used to a schedule between the hours of 7am and 4pm, making cakes shaped her day.
For traveling families, the excitement of traveling, not to mention the travel schedule itself, can replace the framework of school to a large extent and, particularly if you’re a family that likes to fill your day with activity and outings, you may not notice the effects of moving away from school until you slow down. But the idea of deschooling will still be relevant to you as there are other elements of schooling that are left in the classroom when you step away, such as testing, comparison, and competition with other kids (and parents!), feedback from teachers, community and social connection with other nearby kids and their families, and being rushed from one subject area to another. Even though some of these things feel inherently wrong, they still often provide some comfort to school children, purely because they are familiar. Stepping into the unknown can feel scary and grieving over that change can also form part of your deschooling process.
You might be wondering what you actually do, during your period of deschooling. Well, that’s up to you! But it’s considered sensible, at least as you first begin to deschool, not to try replicating school at home. Try to be open to not doing much at all. If you’re not traveling right now and your schedule is wide open, you might want to explore your hometown. Visit museums, go to the library, check out the zoo, maybe go for hikes. In fact, if you embark on a life of homeschooling in any form, these things will likely form part of your regular routines. It’s common for some kids to not want to do anything at all or to focus on one activity that was limited by having to go to school. They might play computer games, Skype with friends, read books, play with Legos, or any number of things to the exclusion of all else. Whether or not there has been any trauma associated with school not forcing outings or activities is wise.
Many families actually find that deschooling leads them to discover their longer-term learning philosophy. If you approach your deschooling period with no set agenda and are open to enjoying each other’s company, having fun and learning together without pressure will help you find an educational style that fits your family. Some kids with the freedom to choose how they will spend their day may decide that they like some structure and seek out some quiet time to engage in some quiet study. Others may enjoy spending much of their time gaming and looking things up on YouTube, which could prompt you to explore what’s available in digital media or how you can build a gaming laptop. (Another fabulous bonus of deschooling is that many parents find a love of learning that they’d thought lost). Whatever your path, it’s more likely to present itself if you remain open to the opportunities that present themselves.
Whatever your travel style and whatever learning philosophy you’re thinking of trying out, plan for some time to slow down, sink into whatever you and your children find interesting, and, most importantly, lean into whatever feelings come up for you during this time.
You might say that the process of letting go of your schooled mind is the perfect partner to worldschooling and can be the impetus to let go of fixed ideas about schooling, travel, and even your old way of being together.
There is no wrong way to deschool and no set time frame for the process. It’s a lifetimes journey in itself!