Why Kids Need To 'De-School' Before They Can Homeschool

by Elizabeth Broadbent
Originally Published: 
Kids Need To 'De-School' Before They Can Manage Schoolwork

In the homeschool world, we call it “de-schooling.” It means that, when you pull your kids from formal brick-and-mortar schooling, they need a break to adjust. Going from a regimented, five-days-a-week routine to … pajamas and school whenever is an enormous change for children, who thrive on routine. They need a break. They need time. They need to de-school.

Think about not only the routines your children go through at home, but the ones they’re used to at school. They live by a bell. They know, to the minute, when certain subjects end and when they start. At a designated time each day, they have snack times and bathroom breaks. They eat lunch for a certain amount a time, have a regularly scheduled free period, and return to do certain subjects — to the point that any deviation from the routine (a school assembly, a movie day, a pizza party) is typically seen as a reward. A pajama day? Total mayhem.

You’re basically asking your kids, suddenly, to have pajama day, every day. To wake up whenever. To decide when to have lunch, when to have a snack, what subject to do first, and when to finish it. They finish work when they finish, not when the clock says so; they don’t work for six hours a day.

Your kids also don’t ride the bus. They don’t have lunch. They don’t have recess. They don’t do group work, work in pairs, “talk amongst yourselves,” or circle time. They’re stuck with the parental unit(s) and maybe some siblings.

Y’all, life has changed. The kids need to de-school.

The Need To De-school

All this routine has vanished into thin air. All this socialization has vanished into thin air. Your child needs time to process this loss. According to The Homeschool Mom, de-schooling is when a child goes through the process of “disconnecting” from the default of all these school routines to the default of home being the routine. And that takes time. In other words, kids need to change from a seriously regimented, autocratic system to one in which they’re free to make more of their own choices about how to spend their time and when they do their work. That’s an enormous change, and children need time to grapple with it.

They need a break.

Give it to them. Let them spend two weeks as if they were on Christmas vacation. Let them play. Let them learn to be children in the middle of a pandemic: children who can’t leave the house; children whose only playmates are likely their differently-aged siblings (if they have siblings); children who can only talk to close family members on FaceTime or Zoom; children whose recreation may be limited to a bike ride or a walk around the block.

Gökhan Bayhan/Reshot

Once they’ve gotten a handle on that particular skill (and they never really will; they’ll only learn to live with it better, the way all of us will), then you can start to gently introduce schoolwork.

What You Can Expect

The Homeschool Mom says you can basically expect rebellion and reluctance as you introduce subject gradually. You’d get it anyway if you started immediately, but this way, you’ll at least get it less if you de-school, and in a gentler way if you give them a break. They’ll be used to less routine, so they won’t be trying to process that and schoolwork all at the same time.

They may complain about doing things the way they did them in school — or object when you try to teach them differently: “That’s not the way we did it in school!” This will freak you out, because you want them to be perfectly on grade level when they return.

No one will be perfectly on grade level when they return. Many teachers (like my husband) had mere days to prepare for virtual learning. Some parents have decided to adhere strictly to guidelines. Some kids have no web access. The divide will be stark, and there will be a lot of necessary review.

Do. Not. Panic.

Your kids also may not know what to do with themselves. You know the laments of “I’m bored!” you hear? You know how you’re hearing them a lot right now? It’s not just because of the pandemic. Your kids had their days governed by rules and regimentation. All of a sudden … they’re free. But if you de-school and introduce subjects gradually, you can cut down on the boredom by letting them get used to their situation instead of tossing them into the deep end.

Another Reason to De-school: Emotionally, Your Kids Need It

Brittany Leigh Neal/Reshot

We talked about the practical reasons to de-school. But we didn’t touch on the emotional aspect. Your kids are in the middle of a frightening pandemic. Aside from all the scary news, aside from all the information they may hear, aside from all the fear and the panic and the nightmares: they need time to mourn. They need time to mourn their friends, whom they may only sporadically talk to over the phone (my children were already homeschooled, and even they needed time to mourn). They need time to mourn their ability to go places and do things. They need time to mourn the little things that are important to children, like sitting together on the bus, or the pride of receiving good grades, or even the chance to shine on the baseball team.

Our kids are in mourning, and we need to honor that.

The very least you can do is to give them two weeks, and then introduce subjects gradually, gently, and slowly. You can use the chance to de-school as a chance to reconnect and bond with them. If they need to cuddle on the couch, cuddle on the damn couch. Put their emotional needs first.

My husband and I made that choice.

My kids are outside on the trampoline right now. They’ll do some light reading and math later today, and watch a documentary. Welcome to school. They need time, and we are giving it to them.

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