How to Deschool Children: The Process of Going from School to Homeschool

So you’ve decided to home educate your children. But, you’re wondering where to begin. Fortunately, you’ve come to the right place because you need to deschool your children before you can homeschool them. In this article, we’ll teach you all about the process of deschooling and how you can have lots of fun as you deinstitutionalize your kids and get them ready for an individual, interest-based-learning education.

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 do 
  • How long to deschool for
  • Is deschooling necessary?
  • The book Deschooling Society Ivan Illich wrote (a summary)
  • The difference between deschooling and unschooling?

Let’s dive in and get started!


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!


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. Many of these rules are necessary to create order in classrooms full of 30 or more students. Unfortunately, many of these rules also curb a student’s natural curiosity and interest in a subject. Deschooling helps to show children that they can revert to their natural states of curiosity and enjoy learning through things that interest them instead of learning the way the institutions wants them to learn.

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

  1. the end of institutional schools (because of the belief that 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,  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 we talk about deschooling in this article.


Some Deschooling Benefits

There are many of 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 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 of an opportunity to think about 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. Hopefully, you can build this vision together during the deschooling period and find an educational solution that suits everyone.


But, Why is Deschooling Necessary?

Why do you need to deinstitutionalize children anyway? 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 such a lot of 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 certainly 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 happens 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. My guess is that after six months of deschooling, they will be very excited to get back into learning. 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 very affected by the process in the early days, months and (possibly) year of homeschooling.


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

You get the idea…make it fun…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 to NOT 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…

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’re going to be labeled as ‘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 the process of deinstitutionalizing children from the way they are taught in traditional schools. Unschooling is throwing off all notion of school in education and adoption that philosophy for the remainder of the child’s traditional learning years.

Perhaps some might describe unschooling as 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. This is because a hallmark of unschooling is that parents don’t impose education on their children.

Personally, 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. You can read this article to learn more about unschooling.

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


Ivan Illich

Ivan Illich wrote a book against institutionalized schooling called 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 philospher 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 “universal education” 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 instead be using 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.



Deschooling is a great idea if you’re transitioning from school to homeschool. It helps parents and children realign their educational goals so they can 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! 

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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'.
Articles: 187


  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!

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