How to Deschool Children (Process of Going from School to Homeschool)

Deschooling is the first step when you’re starting your homeschooling journey. It’s best if you deschool your children before homeschooling them. The process of deschooling is fun and bonds you and your children closer together so that when you start academics, you’re not at loggerheads, but rather, you’re friends.

Rebbecca Devitt

I hope you enjoy reading this blog post. If you want to do my course on how to homeschool, click here.

In this article, we’re going to talk about:
  • The deschooling definition and its meaning
  • Some benefits of deinstitutionalizing children
  • The deschooling process and examples of it
  • Ideas, tips, and activities to doĀ 
  • How long to deschool for
  • Is deschooling necessary?
  • The book Deschooling SocietyĀ IvanĀ Illich wrote (a summary)
  • The difference between deschooling and unschooling?

Let’s dive in and get started!

The Definition of Deschooling

Deschooling is simply the process of trying to deinstitutionalize yourself (or your homeschoolers/unschoolers) from the institutionalized mindset that comes from school.

When you deschool someone, you let them have a period in which they can adjust themselves to no longer being institutionalized.

When we go to school, we have to follow many rules about learning. These rules are necessary to create order in large classrooms of 30 students.

Unfortunately, many of these rules also curb a student’s natural curiosity and interest in a subject.

Deschooling helps children revert to their natural curiosity and enjoy learning through things that interest them instead of learning the way the institutions want them to learn.

Two Definitions of Deschooling

In a nutshell, deschooling refers to two processes, namely:

  1. the end of institutional schools as the best way in a parents head (because schools are generally poor educational environments). Ivan Illich, the person who coined the term ‘deschooling,’ said the fact that we’re in love with schools, despite their poor learning environment,Ā  is evidence we’re institutionalized and need to be deschooled ourselves). This is more of a concept.
  2. the mental process a child goes through after being removed from an institutional school, whereby the school mindset is forgotten, and the child starts to learn in an unstructured way (that is, without being spoonfed by teachers). This is more of a practical activity.

We’ll be referring to the second definition more when discussing deschooling in this article.

Some Deschooling Benefits

There are many advantages of deschooling your child, which will help them deal with the loss of school structure and embrace the less formal learning style that home learning brings. These advantages include:

  • children having time to discover their gifts and interests
  • students learning how to learn by themselves (and forgetting how to rely on a teacher for all learning and direction)
  • children having time to acknowledge their past life and mourn it and (hopefully) celebrate their new homeschooling life
  • children being able to directly deal with psychological or physical issues kids were dealing with at school
  • parents getting to know their children better and having time to get used to being in such close contact with them for so many hours each day
  • parents and children alike getting time to spend de-stressing after the stressful lifestyle that school often brings
  • students not needing to do formal work for a period so that they can relax during the deschooling period
  • parents having time to find a learning style and home education curriculum that works for them and their children and
  • teenagers can spend time thinking about the career they’d like after high school. This means they will be more motivated to study as they’ll be doing it more purposefully!
  • children have more opportunities to explore entrepreneurial options instead of only heading down the college pathway.

If you take advantage of these benefits, you’ll notice your homeschooling journey is a lot less stressful as you’ll have your children more on board with your vision for their education.

During this time, you can build an educational vision together during the deschooling period and find an academic pathway that suits everyone.

The #deschooling process: learn how to transition your children from school to #homeschool without the tears. Discover how to effectively #deinstitutionalize your children so you'll have an even better learning experience!

But, Why is Deschooling Necessary?

Why do you need to deinstitutionalize children anyway?Ā Won’t it just happen naturally?

Some people believe we need to recognize the difference between our old way of learning (being taught) and our new way of learning (hopefully, learning how to learn and interest-based learning).

If we’ve only ever been educated in a school system, we need to deschool ourselves because we are (ourselves and our children) institutionalized.

Because there is so much momentum behind institutionalized schooling, we need to separate ourselves from it and look at the idea from afar. We need to let go of our ‘school’ mindset and develop something far richer, far deeper.

For some, deschooling will undoubtedly involve a bit of mourning over our old-school lives. This was the case for me when I started homeschooling.

The funny thing is that now I love homeschooling so much, and I felt like I always did.

But, I was shocked when my parents told me that when I started home educating, I went through a period of mourning and sadness as I left school. You might find something similar happening to your children.

How Long to Deschool

The more time you’ve spent in school, the more time you need to spend deschooling. The rule of thumb is to one month for every year a child has been in school.

So deschool:

You might question whether your teenage children will be able to catch up on their schoolwork if they’re not studying for six months. Don’t worry because they will be very excited to get back into learning after six months of deschooling.

This is because their vision for their education will be renewed, and they will (hopefully) be thinking about what they want to train for after they graduate high school.

Essentially, they’ll have more purpose to the study they’re doing after they’ve spent six months deschooling.

The Deschooling Process

The process of deschooling is more about doing nothing than doing something. You want to be using this time to relax and de-stress.

Keep in mind that the process is harder with teenagers as they’re more institutionalized than younger children, and they need more time to carry out the process.

Be prepared for initial moodiness and sullenness. But, that’s okay as you’ll have time to overcome distempers and they won’t stay moody forever.

Jeanne Faulconer from the Engaged Homeschooling blog says new home-educated students will be significantly affected by the process in the early days, months, and (possibly) years of homeschooling.

You can help your child handle stress by checking out this post.

Examples in Action

What does deschooling look like in practice? Some of the best examples of the deschooling process are seen when families do really simple things together like:

  • relaxing and chatting in the backyard
  • going out to parks
  • doing nature walks and hiking
  • camping in scenic areas for a few days
  • baking cakes or making dinner and
  • planting a vegetable garden.

Don’t do any formal homework while you deschool. Save this time for having fun together (and perhaps a little informal collateral learning)!

Also, keep in mind that you might have to make friends with your kids again otherwise, collaborating on curricula later will be difficult.

Activities to Do

Deschooling activities look like you’re doing ordinary everyday tasks with your children…minus the schoolwork! Some activities (other than the ones in the examples above) include:

  • meal planning and allocating children a meal to cook together
  • asking children what they’d like to do and doing that
  • planning for holidays together
  • collaborating on the walking trail your family fancies
  • doing chores at home together. It’s a great idea to make chores fun
  • going to the nursery and picking out flowers for your garden
  • planting indoor seedlings and nurturing them as they grow
  • playing board games together and
  • going for a picnic which your children have prepared
  • and more fun homeschool activities.

You get the idea…make sure you have fun learning…make your children realize that this homeschooling thing might be more fun than they realized!

The #deschooling process: learn how to transition your children from school to #homeschool without the tears. Learn how to effectively #deinstitutionalize your children so you'll have an even better learning experience!

Deschooling Tips

If you want to make the deschooling process go smoothly, it’s a good idea to keep these tips in mind:

  • give your children plenty of encouragement when you see them learning independently
  • be their number 1 cheerleader
  • when they ‘fail’ to make something (like a cake), encourage them by saying something like, ‘You haven’t failed, you’ve just successfully discovered another way NOT to make a cake.’ (Thanks, Thomas Edison.)
  • make yourself their best friend and confidant…this will also come in handy when they’re considering dodgy boyfriend potentials in their later teen years…
  • make an effort to connect with them more. Here’s a 50 things you can do to connect with kids.

If you follow these tips, you should find your children react and slowly start coming on board with your vision for their education.

Pushback when Deschooling Teenagers

When you’re trying to deschool a high school teenager, you might be in store for some unpleasantness.

So, don’t be surprised when you notice some moodiness or angst in your children. This might look like they’re:

  • sullen and unhappy (even if they wanted to homeschool)
  • confused over what to do next (as they’ve had their day planned for so long)
  • aimless and lost
  • indignant as they’re thinking about how they will be labeled ‘weird homeschoolers‘ from now on. (This means they might be hesitant about making friends with other home-educated students.)
  • panicked as they’re not doing tests and exams and think they’re falling behind when there’s really nothing to worry about
  • anxious as they may worry that if they’re home educated, they won’t be able to find a job or go to college or
  • apathetic and don’t want to do anything.

Teenagers may need time to get used to spending all day with their parents and doing things differently. They may find it strange that they’re now on the same side as their teacher!

Deschooling and Unschooling: What’s the Difference?

Many people think unschooling is the same as deschooling. But they’re not the same thing.

Deschooling is deinstitutionalizing children from the way they are taught in traditional schools. Unschooling is throwing off all notions of school in education so they’re not tied down to curriculum or the feeling that children must do various subjects.

Perhaps unschooling is perpetual deschooling.

If you didn’t buy a homeschool curriculum but instead let your children keep learning through everyday life, you’d probably be termed an unschooling parent. A hallmark of unschooling is that parents don’t impose education on their children.

I’m not a fan of strict unschooling (towards the radical end) because:

Having said this, unschooling parents have a commitment to interest-based learning that many homeschooling parents might benefit from copying somewhat. For more info, watch the video below on unschooling.

Ivan Illich

Ivan Illich wrote a book against institutionalized schooling calledĀ Deschooling Society. It was published in 1971 and lauded by many who were frustrated with the poor educational standards set up in schools. Faena Aleph described this book like this:

In 1971 the philosopher and priest Ivan Illich published a book with the controversial title Deschooling Society, a challenging premise that recalls a certain kind of anarchy in the sense of freedom exercised with awareness. For Illich, the aim of achieving ā€œuniversal educationā€ is not feasible through a school system, where teaching and learning are centralized and managed by specialists, in addition to the fact that not everybody has the material resources to attend school or have access to educational technology. [Source]

Illich was downright anti-school because he believed schools were effective at institutionalizing children but ineffective at educating them properly.

Illich believed schools provided a poor education, and we should use technology to find things we want to learn. He also argued that decentralized technology webs should feature much more in learning, saying:

A good educational system should have three purposes: it should provide all who want to learn with access to available resources at any time in their lives; empower all who want to share what they know to find those who want to learn it from them; and, finally, furnish all who want to present an issue to the public with the opportunity to make their challenge known. (Deschooling Society)

I can’t help thinking Illich probably copped a lot of flak for his blunt appraisal of schools. And maybe that’s why there is much to admire about him. He was brave enough to stand against an institution he believed was hurting those inside it.

Don't know how to transition from school to #homeschool? The first step is #deinstitutionalizing your children. Find out about the deschooling process by reading this article! #deschooling


Deschooling is an excellent idea if you’re transitioning from school to homeschool. It helps parents and children realign their educational goals to make more progress in the long run. The process involves a lot of relaxation and should eventually bring you into a much better relationship with your children as you have fun living life together. You may discover your teenagers are a little moody when they start, but you’ll soon find this morphs into a joy of learning and a love of life!Ā 

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Rebecca Devitt

Most adults don't particularly want to relive their schooling experience on a daily basis. They would gladly move on to a new life devoid of homework and teachers. Very, very few adults will passionately blog about their schooling some 15 years after graduating. This makes Rebecca Devitt somewhat unique. As it happens, she was homeschooled. And she loved it. Still does. And she wishes every kid could get a taste of homeschooling at its very best. Her website How Do I Homeschool, is a springboard for parents to see what a life of homeschooling could be for both them & their children. When she's not blogging Rebecca is still homeschooling her-adult-self by learning Latin, growing weird vegetables and most importantly looking after her two children Luke & Penny. She has a husband Tristan and is a participant at Wollongong Baptist Church. She's also written a book about why parents should homeschool called 'Why on Earth Homeschool'.

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  1. Dear Rebbecca,
    I am considering homeschooling my Asperger son and came across your page. It was really illuminating and very helpful for parents like us when everything seems a blur. I am a University lecturer, so this would mean I have to give up my full time academic career, which makes this transition doubly harder.
    I am quite concerned about being able to continue having similar aged children to be friends with. Are there homeschooling groups that meet frequently etc? This is a big part of our decision to homeschool as my son is very social. Any help and guidance would be really appreciated, and again THANK you for this amazing work you are doing.
    Best regards,

    • Hi Dipa.
      Thanks for your comment.
      I love that you’re considering giving up a successful career (which probably took you years to achieve) to homeschool…well-done!
      There are so many homeschool groups out there! There’s even a lot of groups specific for autism, especially as kids with autism make up such a large sub set of homeschoolers.
      I think it’s easiest to find them through Facebook (type in your town or city followed by ‘homeschooling group’). Otherwise ask your local church….there’s often plenty of homeschoolers in churches. If that fails, ask your local council.
      Even if your son wasn’t social, socialization is quite important.
      I’d also encourage you to checkout this interview with an ex-surgeon, Katheryn Butler, who gave up her career to homeschool her son with Autism. It seems she’s very happy her decision.
      You can contact her personally I’m sure via her blog at Oceans Rising. She’s a lovely and super-friendly Christian lady.
      Hope this was helpful!

  2. I needed to read this today, thank you. I woke up seeking advice from friends about what could be wrong with my 9 year old, hes been very quiet and withdrawn lately. We switched to homeschool right before schools got shut down so I’m guessing this is exactly what it is. Thanks for the reassurance that this is a normal process and hes going to be just fine.

    • Absolutely!!!
      I loved my homeschooling experience, so was surprised when my parents reminded me how sad I was the first few months after leaving school! All the best and stick with it!

  3. Hi Rebbecca,
    Great post! So much great content about deschooling & you did it with useful detail. I’ve found that there’s always one more thing I’m learning about shifting my perspective away from the institutional concept of education and how they do it. Despite homeschooling for almost a couple decades with four kiddos (now aged 21-13). So much to deschool from. My goal is to work toward individualization, freedom, and purpose in our homeschool (& lives) for me and the homeschool mamas (& occasional dads). My ultimate goal is to show up on purpose in my homeschool & life. Last thought: wouldn’t it be great if we could just away from the “homeSCHOOL” word. A curious oxymoron. Certainly I can see that our movement of “deschooling” certainly is a primary driver in the present homeschool movement. Glad to work alongside you.

    • Yes. Moving away from the word would be good, and I feel some are saying ‘home education’ these days. I find that people still google ‘homeschool’ a lot though, so I’d probably miss out on a big audience if I dropped it from the vocabulary.

  4. Hi Rebecca, thanks for all the videos you did, I’m learning a lot. I’m having difficulty deschooling my two children. They’re 7 and 10. Basically, because I don’t enjoy baking, board games, painting, etc. that parents have recommended us to do. Both my husband and I rely heavily on gadgets, and we work from home. We do bring our children to beaches, farms, and shopping. Would like to hear your opinion on this, what if I don’t enjoy playing with my children?

    • If I’m going to be honest Tzy Jin, I don’t always enjoy playing with my kids either. My son often wants me to play Paw Patrol with him or Lego…and I really struggle. I leave that to my husband. My daughter wants to play dolls houses and I’m not keen on that either. To a certain extent, I make myself and see it as a duty. It’s a great way to get close to your children. Sometimes you just have to do it, even if you don’t enjoy it.
      Would it be possible to try to engage your children in something you like? Do something really simple, like talking them through gadget parts. Then get them some of their own to make something with.
      I get most satisfaction out of homeschooling my kids. I really enjoy that. The aim is to always make it fun. That means we only go till I sense he’s getting tired of it. It also means you might find a fun program to use that kids think is a game, but it’s really an educational program. (Like reading eggs).
      I also try to get kids out every day, so they can go shopping with me and do exercise.
      I also make sure I get a rest everyday!!! My son listens to an audiobook for 2 hours and plays independently for another hour. My daughter has to stay in her room for quiet time.
      This means I have more of a brain and more patience when I do need to sit and play with them.
      I hope that helps. Homeschooling isn’t always fun, but it’s so worth it. And after a time, you may find it gets easier. If you’ve just started homeschooling, it can take quite a while to get into the swing of things and start enjoying your kids.

  5. Thank you so much for this article I found it super helpful. I have just started homeschooling my child and am lucky I don’t have to deschool him…. instead I am in the process of deschooling myself. I am loving spending time with him and treasure the chats we have. I loved also reading in the comments that others including yourself find it hard to ‘Play’. I am getting around this by playing board games and spending as much time together outside and in nature instead.