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Wednesday, 30 May 2012
One aspect of the move to homeschooling which I hadn't anticipated was the 'de-schooling' phase!

{{This is a long one, folks...  but writing it all out is very helpful to *my* de-schooling!}}

When we realized that our need to homeschool Rowan was arriving sooner, rather than later, we began to plan for the transition.  (You can find more about this in our past homeschooling posts). Most of our friends who currently homeschool have always done so for their children, but a few have had their child(ren) in school and then moved them out. These folks spoke of 'de-schooling'.

The blog 'Living Joyfully' has a wonderful overview of de-schooling.
And I am grateful to those who brought this aspect of the transition to my attention!

We joked that it felt a little like de-programming a cult escapee... and yes, we parents, as much as our child, needed the time to de-school!

It meant letting go of all the routines that had become such a battleground in our life, and which were weighing down our daughter's ability to learn~ her availability for learning.
It meant releasing the pressure valve and letting go of all of the anxiety and fear that had been built up over 2.5 years of school.

We made an exit plan for March Break.
We would take the break and then just not return to school.
For the week following March Break, Rowan and I visited my mother~ shopping and visiting, going to the zoo... basically living in holiday mode~ not the usual routines for home OR school, in order to break the cycle.
During this week, I actually noticed an increase in both tics (her first gross motor one~ jumping everywhere) and in OCD behaviours. 
The unknown/ transitions have always been very daunting for Rowan.
And then we went home.

Allowing ourselves to de-school was such a fascinating process.
For a few weeks we just threw out all but the most basic of routines (morning and bedtime) and let Rowan follow her bliss as far as playing, eating and learning.
We slowly reduced screen time~ not that she had a lot to start, but the void left by the absence of school left her a bit at sixes and sevens as to what to do with herself and her free time, so she was pushing for that type of stimulation.

At first, there was the release of the pent up fear and other nasties, resulting in an angry child, confused but relieved. 
We resisted the temptation to rush in with schedules and program, and bore a week of petulance and some outright tantrums as she struggled to know where or how she fit without the school routines.
Thankfully, this coincided, intentionally, with working with a counsellor at our local family resource center.
Through this time, Rowan had new tools for managing her big feelings, and they came in very handy!
The tics and OCD behaviours receded considerably during this time.
This soon gave way to a state of near euphoria~ a child who was blissful and over the top with
big emotions.
Happy, chatty and highly energized.
Overly precocious, and with it demanding and challenging.
She wasn't sure what it meant to be at home, where she fit... whether all of this meant she ran the world...

While she was attending school, we were always very gentle, understanding that often her lack of emotional regulation came out of fear. That her desire to control the minutiae of her home life came from feeling so out of control at school~ the details of which were unknown to us.
BUT now she was home.
We knew what happened all day long.
And we knew better when it was appropriate to be firm, and we were able to be FAR more consistent with greater confidence.
It only took a week or two of her testing the boundaries, and us helping her to understand where and why they were established for this phase to resolve.
It was quite shockingly easy (though it made me glad we did this NOW and not a year or more from now!)~ we had a responsive child rather than a reactive one. 
SO many of the simple parenting skills that many rely on were now available to us again as Rowan came back into herself and felt safe and confident in her role and her environment.

And the appetite!
Having never eaten at school and having had a sore tummy the rest of the time from the anxiety, Rowan was a very picky eater and had remained a small child~ for two years she wore the same pants (size 5).
Since March she has gained 10 (!) pounds and grown several inches and shoe sizes.
(If we needed any concrete 'proof' of the rightness of our decision, this was one piece... our child GREW).

Next and quite naturally, we moved into a gradual routine for schooling and greater expectations of responsibilities as part of the family at home.Slowly we built up our ideal days.
Monday to Wednesday with daddy~ a school block morning and afternoon, surrounded by free play and simple chores and outdoor time.
Thursdays and Fridays with mom, our time more flexible around outside activities and more focused on the creative aspects of the curriculum.

We chose to start Grade One over again.
This allowed all of us to work with familiar material, more focused on the new processes of learning (and the love of learning) than on the content. 
This has worked well, allowing us to move gently through the material with plenty of room for diversions and a more 'unschooling' sort of approach, appropriate for this time of transition and Rowan's age and interests.
We anticipate beginning the Grade Two program around October, although she is working well ahead in math and reading at this time (by her choice). By then we should all be ready for more concentrated skill building.

During this de-schooling time we also made some conscious choices about Rowan's social life.
We enrolled her in a homeschool gymnastics group ~ the wonderful, quirky, easy going kids there were real models for her of kids living this lifestyle and loving it.  We also enrolled her in a local dance class so she could see her local friends in a structured setting.  She continues to attend Sparks (Girl Guides) as well.
Interestingly, being away from school, we had NO requests for playdates after the first week or two.
Whereas she would have been upset not to have playdates planned for each weekend, feeling the need to keep up with the social whirl of Grade one and two girls, being out of that environment it was not an issue any longer (which is an interesting bit of learning about what (some) 6 year olds may really want vs. feel they need!).

We have since begun to have mom and kid playdates again with great success.
Our intention is to continue with positive experiences with kind kids to rebuild Rowan's badly damaged sense of self.

As our de-schooling progressed we have seen even more surprises emerge!
Two in particular have been a boon to both our schooling and life at home in general.
Where previously independent play was a challenge (despite a great imagination, Rowan was clingy and felt she needed a parent's attention in all play), now, she plans for her free time every day, eager to get to playing, sometimes for hours without interruption.
And where teaching or reviewing skills from school was a battle~ Rowan was frustrated and often angry to be asked to focus on this type of work outside of school (this was one of my big concerns for moving to homeschooling, and one many other parents have expressed to me as well), now we have started printing over from the beginning (ie picking up the pencil) and Rowan happily goes along. She often initiates lessons and learning outside of school time and happily receives direction and correction.

After two months, we are nearly completely deschooled.
I very rarely think "tomorrow is a school day" any more!
We have a happy, healthy, growing child who is learning with passion and confidence.
She is more comfortable socially and physically well.

Her counsellor 'graduated' her from her services without finishing the anxiety program... because it was no longer pertinent.
Her pediatrician declared last week that there was no medical reason for him to see her again at this time (my child diagnosed in December with Anxiety with a likely upcoming diagnosis of Tourette's Plus to encompass her tics, OCD and other issues).

We still have lots of work to do... Rowan would not be ready to return to school.
We expect at least a few years more at home before even considering~ the issues she has still exist, but the longer she can live WITHOUT them active, the better her skills will be for coping as she grows up.
We are looking forward to starting occupational therapy to address the root sensory integration and processing issues.
Transitions are still tough and our daughter is still incredibly emotional sensitive.
But we now have the space to breathe and allow these 'issues' to be the gifts that she has been given.

It has been a remarkable process.
For our child, and for us as parents.
Our lives in many ways have been re-arranged by having a child at home all the time.
Yet also, they are simpler, allowing us to find our own natural rhythms.
I wouldn't trade it for the world and I am so grateful that we are able to do this at this time in all of our lives, and for those who have recognized our daughter's gifts and supported our choices.

{{and for you, dear reader, if you have made it this far! ♥♥}}


Kate said...

What a fabulous post! I'm so happy that homeschooling is off to such a great start for you. I have to say that even after many years, I am still amazed by this wonderful lifestyle. It seems to contradict everything I was taught to believe growing up, (and sometimes I feel like I'm living in another reality entirely!) but the proof that it works is right there in front of me - the kids just keep blooming and thriving :)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this. I get so discouraged homeschooling my daughter with similar anxiety tendencies and sometimes it just seems so grooling. But this reminds me that it could be even more difficult if I send her to school where her anxieties and fears could be increased and here I can meet her at her own level and pace without demanding so much adherence to the school's expectations.

Lauren Wayne said...

This was so fascinating to read along and share the experience of deschooling with your family. I've often wondered what it would look like for previously schooled children, as I know I personally have had to deschool myself, most of that mentally. We did have a smaller process of deschooling when Mikko stopped his twice-a-week preschool, mostly related to reassurances that he would not be going back. I was most taken with the fact that Rowan grew — that really is incredible that she's so obviously thriving where she is now. I wish you the best on your homeschooling journey, wherever it takes you all!

Joyful Mud Puddles said...

I am so happy that everything is going well for you! My son is highly anxious and we continue to pray that I can stay at home with them to homeschool. Many blessings to you and your journey!

Miss Traci said...

I am *so* happy for you and your family! I am so glad that your precious little girl is finally able to feel safe and begin to love learning, and that you and your husband are able to help her through these difficult times. Thank you so much for sharing your journey with us.

Rachel C said...

wonderful post! So interesting that what we view as our children's gifts can be "issues" in other settings. I'm so happy that things are going well for you!

Unknown said...

Thank you for all of your replies, the affirmation is nice to hear... LOL it can be a lonely transition!

ewaters said...

I just stumbled onto your post about de-schooling your Rowan, and I wondered how she's doing now? I am a public school teacher that aches for children that don't prosper in our "systems", to no avail. My own adopted 7 year-old would thrive in a homeschool life like you describe, but it is financially impossible for us. I envy your family's ability to do this for your sweet child. Best wishes.

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