Deschooling, Sort Of

As November came to a close, I was at a loss.  Not the throw in the towel kind, but the back to the drawing board kind.  In the moment, though, I needed an immediate plan, so my temporary answer was to take that open-ended time that all the experienced homeschoolers recommended; we’ll deschool in December.

My announcement went like this, “Let’s spend December getting ready for Christmas.  We can make gifts and bake.”  I suppose that wasn’t so open-ended, my need for a product very much intact, still we all thought it sounded pretty luxurious.

The first week we were off to a good start.  My good friend and writing teacher, Susan Hagen, once worked as a baker at the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo back in her college days.  Susan brought her gingerbread house patterns, recipes and love into our kitchen and spent two mornings making houses from scratch with Rue and Gigi.  It was a sweet experience and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves while gaining some new baking and decorating skills.

Putting the finishing touches on the gingerbread houses

The rest of the month was filled with visits from family members, our regular schedule of science, horseback riding, and music classes, a trip down to see the reindeer at the Academy of Sciences, and a couple stage performances.  Gigi spearheaded getting together the pictures for the Christmas card. She also spent much of her time reading and riding.  At this point she was up to four days per week of horseback riding, two of the days working as trade for riding.  Rue spent as much time as she could taking pictures, filming, and editing and working on her novel.

In educationalese, I would say we worked on the following subject matter and skills: Consumer Math, Angles, Geometry, Fractions, Project Planning, Language Arts, Computer Sciences, Biology, Large and Fine Motor Skills, Research, Design, and Visual and Performing Arts.

This was the first holiday season in memory where we had enough time to prepare for the holiday, see friends and family, and continue to do most of the activities that we enjoyed.  It was ALMOST stress-free.  And, in my experience, that’s saying something.

Now that I’m writing, I see that Rue and Gigi were involved in a project, a book, or an activity much of their time, but in December I felt guilty and somewhat irresponsible for allowing so much free time.  It makes me wonder about how conditioned we are to believe that real learning doesn’t happen unless children are instructed in set time slots, using a specific lesson plan with a clear objective, and then evaluated using a standardized test.  These tools make a certain amount of sense (honestly, I don’t think standardized testing ever makes sense) the way most schools are set up, but I began to see that they were completely unnecessary and irrelevant in our homeschool setting.


How Now, Homeschool Frau?

We decided to homeschool. We had also decided to file a Private School Affidavit (PSA), which lets the state know that we are functioning as our own private school with no attachment to a district.  Giddy and slightly bewildered the question became, “Now what?”.

The advice I read and heard most often was, “Don’t buy any curriculum sets, you’ll just be throwing away your money at this point and you’ll likely never use them.” Easy. They cost a fortune and I was still gathering information on how we might approach the next school year.

The second most common advice was “If your child has been in school, give her time to deschool.” The rule of thumb most often provided was a month of letting your child do her own thing for each year she was in school. If you’re not familiar with the term (and I’m familiar with it and it’s still a bit illusive), deschooling is about taking time to let go of the school-based structure of how learning happens. By letting go of these preconceived notions we begin to see learning from a perspective that doesn’t necessarily include an assortment of textbooks, worksheets, project centers, tests, allotted time slots, and other deeply-rooted beliefs in the tools of education. This just glosses over the shiny freedom of deschooling. Believe me, it’s much more extensive than that. There are entire books written about it, like Tammy Takahashi’s Deschooling Gently, in case you’re interested enough to pick up a book about it. To say the least, I didn’t tell my girls about deschooling. I was totally freaked they’d love the idea and never learn another damn thing in their lives.

“Now what?” still loomed large. In August we went to HSC’s homeschool conference. Wow. If you are considering homeschooling, do this. The event is designed for the entire family: workshops for kids, teens, and adults, plus non-stop group activities. It was all fun and games and interesting until the end of the very last day when I found my golden nugget. The workshop was presented by Marilyn Mosley Gordanier of Laurel Springs School and was my first introduction to learning styles by breaking them up by learning personalities. Marilyn described each one (of which there are five and we are each varying degrees of these five personalities) and when she described my dominant one I had that knot-in-the-throat, you are speaking the truth moment. I actually got teary. The residual negative feelings of all those moments of my education where I felt “less than” or misunderstood drifted away as the reality that I am who I am and my teachers were who they were and it was just a miss of expectations and internal motivators that caused the chasm. I’m well-schooled in Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences Theory (which, BTW, is incorporated into the assessment), but the information I learned in that itty-bitty 45-minute workshop gave me a whole new perspective on learning dispositions, approaches, and motivators.

The concepts of the learning personalities and the assessment were created by the women of Learning Success Institute, however, Marilyn offered that if the people in her workshop sent her an email, she would provide the tools to give your children the learning assessment for free. That email may have been the first thing I did after I walked out of the workshop. And I went ahead and purchased three more assessments for my husband, my wasband, and myself. Your learning personality makes a huge difference in how you approach teaching, we needed to be clear on where we all stood.

Here is a graph that shows the degree of each of the personalities for my daughters (green and red), my husband (blue) and myself (orange). The sections are in this order: Performer, Producer, Inventor, Relator/Inspirer, Thinker/Creator. You may or may not be able to deduct that my two daughter are almost exactly opposite in dominant personality.

There are 5 sections with 4 colors in each. The sections are the personalities, the colors represent each of my daughters, my husband, and myself and how we “rate” in each personality.


I came home pretty enthusiastic, with access to a tool that could shed a lot of light on how to reach my number one goal for the school year: to create an environment where my children were once again in love with learning.