Homeschooling Harry: Deschooling

A couple of weeks ago, we were at a soft play place and, after running round madly with Joe for about ten minutes, Harry appeared next to me (I had the iPad and a bacon sarnie) and said, “Homeschool me now.”
“Er… what do you want to do?”
“Just learn!”
“That’s not really how it works,” I started to say, but he interrupted with, “What you know, you tell me!” accompanied by a tap on my head and then a tap on his own.
“Think of this as PE,” I said.
“Okay!” he said and darted off to join Joe on the trampoline.

The above exchange made me laugh because whenever I do try to “homeschool” him, he resists. Strenuously. Plus we’ve discussed how unschooling works and he loves the idea (obviously), but apparently he still, every now and then, thinks he should be doing some formal learning.

And I don’t blame him, I still think that too sometimes. Because unschooling is so different, it’s hard not to try to slip in a bit of formal learning too. I’m trying to do something every day that I can actually make a note of if anyone asks what he’s learning, but everything I’ve read suggests that I really don’t even need to do that. And Harry asks me about something every day, so I could just wait and take his lead, but… I’m just not comfortable with that yet. *twitches*

I’m currently reading How Children Learn at Home and the authors suggest that a child who has been taken out of school should be left alone for a year. (At least, I’m pretty sure they do, I can’t find it now to quote it.) Not literally alone, you understand, but left to learn when and what they want to learn, without being steered or pushed.

There’s a brilliant article about unschooling in the current issue of Green Parent magazine (if anyone’s interested, I have a scan of it and am happy to email it to you) and the author, Chaley-Ann Scott, also claims a period of “deschooling” is essential:

“This is both for the parent and for the child and is basically just like taking a long holiday where your children are free to decompress, and you let go of all your assumptions given to you by school.”

I’ve read somewhere that a good way to think about unschooling is to think of the long summer holiday. Children may not do any formal learning, but they are still learning every day. Because that’s what children do.

That’s what we all do.

[I’ve added a ‘recommended reading‘ page under ‘Unschooling‘ on the menu, if anyone’s interested in the books I’ve read so far and whatever I’m currently reading on the subject.]


14 thoughts on “Homeschooling Harry: Deschooling

    1. Thank you, I’m glad you find them interesting. I’m always a bit nervous about these posts because some people are SO anti-homeschooling, but I’ve been surprised at how many people have told me they envy me and that they want to know more, so I’m going to keep writing!

    1. Totally meant to add that to the post, but then got carried away. Have added it now. It’s Chaley-Ann Scott.

      Yes, the thing I love about homeschooling is that if something doesn’t work, you can just try something else. I love the freedom and – conversely, I suppose! – the control.

  1. They are very interesting and of course children learn every day but I still don’t understand how they learn stuff like maths unless they are taught, whether that’s by you or by a teacher. Maybe I am missing the point.

    1. I’ll be going into it in more depth in the future, but research has found (I hate saying that, I hear it in my head in a slightly sarcastic voice, but it’s true!) that they will teach themselves. Obviously that wouldn’t include stuff like, um, quadratic equations or algebra or other stuff I learned at school, never really understood and have never subsequently needed, but if Harry does suddenly become interested in maths, he can follow that up in whatever way he wants to. Does that make sense?

  2. I think it’s great! And more people should be encouraged to do it. I can still remember sitting in class at school throughout the years and going out of the door knowing as little as I did when I went in. We’re just not programmed to sit there listening to teachers drone on all day. They can put kids in a classroom but they can’t make ’em learn. As for maths, in my young day we had to learn algebra, logarithms, trigonometry, etc. but I’ve never used them. I loved algebra, though. In this day and age, there are calculators and I don’t get the idea that you have to work things out in your head (mental arithmetic was the bane of my life). It’s not necessary for us to put ourselves through hell just to be thought of as ‘brainy’. I spent a lot of my lesson time daydreaming yet (not wishing to blow my own thingy) I excelled in languages and managed to get a degree (eventually). People are resistant to change, is all. There was a time in history when teachers didn’t even have any qualifications. In the dim and distant past, one of my friends went to teacher training college for one year straight after A Levels, no University degree or anything, so things do change, and so do ideas. Call me crazy but I don’t see how homeschooling can fail. Wish I’d done it.

    1. Thanks, Maz. I think a lot of people are coming around to the idea. In fact, I know they are because the homeschooling figures are increasing enormously every year. Partly, I think, in reaction to the schools becoming more rigid and more focussed on testing, which is only getting worse under this government, unfortunately.

      I don’t think it’s necessarily even about being thought of as ‘brainy.’ One of Harry’s teachers said a couple of years ago that Harry’s strengths are not the kind of things school’s really interested in – creativity and imagination (cos, god knows, creativity and imagination shouldn’t be encouraged…).

      The one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work and really *shouldn’t* work, but we’re all so conditioned to believe that there’s a certain set of facts that everyone must learn, but a) how many of us remember much of what we learned? We learned it to pass the exams and then forgot it all, and b) we have Google now.

      The other thing people forget (or never knew!) is that schooling as we currently understand it has only been around for 200-odd years and came out of the Industrial Revolution (which my school banged on and on about for what seemed like 200 years).

      Sorry to bang on. I’ve totally turned into one of those tedious people who discovers something and can’t bloody shut up about it. 🙂

  3. This is so interesting, Keris. My 8 year old thrives at school but my son hasn’t yet started (at nearly 6) and shows so many signs of being a kid who doesn’t fit in the box and yet is knowledgeable and enthusiastic when it’s on his terms (eg. he gets about a third of the alphabet mixed up but can show you where loads of countries are on a map and bore you to tears about which animals live there…I’m joking about the tears, it’s cute as hell). As I’m working full-time it’s an impractical solution but definitely something I want to know more about. So keep posting! 🙂

  4. Haha, I know, I found that photo the other day – from the article you did about pregnancy *eek* moments. Gawd, never mind the kids, I’ve aged! All well here, furiously working to a deadline…(deadlines are like buses…). E.

  5. Hi Keris, Thanks for your kind comments about my unschooling article in The Green Parent. I am so glad you enjoyed it. Unschooling is really great fun and just allows kids to learn what they want, when they want, where they want, in the way they want. And boy do they learn! We just see it as living life now and learning is a side-effect. I talk about this in a lot more detail in my new book if you are interested. Best wishes on your unschooling journey, Chaley-Ann Scott.

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