School is so indelibly imprinted in our brains that the idea of removing our kids from the system can seem overwhelming. No matter how tempting it may be, no matter how badly school is working for your family, living without it is daunting.
This is how I personally went about it. There are no wrong or right ways, and what we did may not work for your family, but if school isn’t working either, what do you have to lose? Taking a giant leap of faith, as I did, has turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made about family life and wellbeing.
Step 1: Decide you want to do it
A lot of people set arbitrary dates – I did – like at the end of that school term, or year. I set a date for the end of the term, but after much thought decided that there was no point leaving my daughter in the school any longer. In the end I pulled her out three weeks earlier than I’d planned. The day I pulled her I made the snap decision sitting in the playground waiting to collect her. My sister asked me why I had set a date and I really didn’t have a good answer, so I asked my daughter if she’d be happy to finish that day. She never went back.
Leaving the playground that day was so liberating! We walked along the street by the school and I said to her “are you SURE you’re finished” and she said “no, actually, there’s one more thing” and she stuck her middle finger up, and we kept walking … it would be a lie to include any references to sunsets here because it was only 3pm, and this was really only the beginning of a sometimes bumpy road!
Step 2: Decide how and what you are going to tell the school
We had a few problems with the principal and the truancy agents. Probably because I was critical of my daughter’s teacher in the notice of withdrawal I sent. So I suggest plotting carefully. Know the laws in your state. We were threatened with legal action if I didn’t return my SON … yes SON to school. Despite the fact we did nothing illegal, they still wanted to play hardball. We were hoping to avoid registration as home schoolers but when they threatened us with legal action we chose to register fast.
Given my time again I would tell them we were going on a holiday, moving state, or maybe even joining a canabalistic religious sect. I would ask for all the appropriate paperwork as though I was planning to re-enroll my daughter in another school. I had a lot of reasons to pull her out though, and I wanted to tell them how lousy their school was. At the end of the day, the school wasn’t my problem, I should have left them to work it out by themselves. I doubt they changed anything based on what I had to say.
Find out what registering for homeschool in your state involves, be prepared to do it if necessary – or perhaps you’d rather register, that’s entirely up to you, just know how it all works beforehand.
Step 3 : Now you’re on your own!
A child who has been in school for a long time will have a lot of stress to let out, and a lot of de-schooling to do. There will possibly be some grief even if your child is really excited about it. Changes often bring grief. We tackled this in two ways. Firstly we did exactly what we would do on school holidays …. NOTHING! Three weeks of NOTHING! Holidays are normally two weeks, but we snuck an extra one in for good measure. Then at the end of that my daughter started to do what I’ve read is quite normal, and worry about not learning (because until now learning had all be judged and set in front of her … and boring) so I wrote lists of useless activities for her to do and told her she was learning. Lists included things like
- Read the bus timetable (this was maths)
- Read a book (english)
- Make a pie chart of the colours of cars that drive past our house (maths again)
- Choose a country, cook dinner based on that country’s national dish (geography)
- Research the ghost stories from the Tower of London (history)
And you get the picture. It was pretty mundane stuff but it made her feel like she was learning. The first week I put 30 things on the list and gave her a week to do it, telling her to ask for help if she needed it. She had the completed list to me two days early. The next week I put 20 things on the list, she got it to me early. The next week we did 20 things again but she had a bit of a panic to get it to me on time. The week after that she didn’t finish the list and stressed that she hadn’t done a good job. I asked her if she thought there were too many things on the list – she said she did. The next week I put less things on the list. Lists were getting boring by now …. so I asked her if she’d like to stop doing lists and (huge sigh of relief) she said she would.
Step 4: The work of de-schooling begins
De-schooling will apparently take six months for every year of school your child attended. I found that this wasn’t entirely accurate. What I found was that de-schooling was a process of ebb and flow. One step forward, two steps back. It was like that for the next 18 months. She’d binge on tv, stay up late, engage in mind numbing activities, and basically she achieved NOTHING that was visible. But underneath all the destructive behaviour was a whole lot of unwinding, and learning to trust herself, to self regulate herself and her activities, learning to entertain herself and basically becoming a free spirit again, she had to reclaim herself from the institutionalised worker bee she’d become.
During this time I had to really look at myself and my own beliefs. it was hard to stop myself from making value judgements about the worthiness of what she was doing some days! It was hard not to suggest that she do something that used her brain (perhaps beg would be a better word). Sometimes I failed, sometimes I succeeded. I had to do a lot of reading about unschooling to keep me on track, to stop myself from being scared about it, and I had to really look at what I’d spent my entire life believing. It was a journey of self discovery for me, my daughter, and the whole family!
Step 5: wake up an unschooler!
De-schooling ebbs and flows, I really can’t stress this enough. Sometimes it will be you that needs to unpack your stuff, sometimes it will be your kids. But eventually, one day you will wake up and realise that you are unschooling. You’ll have stopped looking for learning opportunities, your kids won’t be bored anymore, you’ll look at the learning after it’s happened and be amazed (and maybe even a little bit smug) at how far you’ve come, and how happy your kids are, at how liberating the whole experience is!
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