De-schooling is simply the period of time in which families adjust to not being at school. It happens when families switch from schooling to home-schooling, but also just over school breaks, and... during the time of coronavirus, when school break ends and "school" becomes a never-before-experienced jumble of teachers online, free time, confusion, and curriculum you didn't know your kids had. Suddenly everybody is kind of homeschooling kids, without ever having intended to be a homeschooler in the first place, and possibly while newly trying to work from home, leaving the house to work in essential services, or struggling to maintain a household on a sudden lack of income. How in hell are you supposed to teach your kids or even keep them safe in this kind of situation?! This is some seriously stressful new experience for everybody in the house; we need time to decompress.
De-schooling is decompression. It's a time of adjustment. When I was a kid my father used to work in the bush - sometimes for a couple of weeks at a time - and we all had to adjust every time he left and every time he came home. I used to scavenge one of his work-shirts to sleep with when he was away. I missed him horribly, and was often angry with my Mum for missing him too. And when he came home, the excitement of picking him up from the airport or the ferry was a predictable highlight of my childhood... but then I felt angry with him for not having time to do things I wanted him to do; for not being the imaginary father I had while he was away; for having been away in the first place, and even for going back to work in his office in town. I guess we could have called it de-Pappa-ing? Adjustment is always difficult.
De-schooling on its own can be difficult, as experienced by so many families at the beginning of every summer, when Facebook fills up with memes about summer-can't-end-soon-enough, and parental countdowns to school getting back in. Right now we're even more challenged, since most were unprepared for this non-school time, and it also comes with social isolation, fear of disease and loss of loved ones, daily dead-counts on the news, an overwhelming feeling of having to become homemakers when we weren't, before, and for many of us a significant or total loss of income. On top of that, somehow we're supposed to provide "school" at home?! Oh, and if you want to really do this right, you'll be harvesting yeast from the wild, baking bread out of nothing at all, and dancing around the table with your delightful children while they produce amazing schoolwork in perfect harmony, and you pick up a Phd on the side.
Give yourself a break. You deserve one, just for having gotten through the first week and still loving your kids, despite the meltdowns. You deserve a meltdown, too.
I live in British Columbia, where the ministry of education announced that this year's grades will be based on the work done in the year before COVID-19. So if your kid had a B in science in term 2, and does nothing more for the rest of the year, they'll still have a B in science. If they had a frighteningly low grade in science, and want to improve it, the school will offer options for remote activities, with which they can improve their grade from home. They will not be behind in September. THANK YOU BC MINISTRY OF EDUCATION for giving us all a break!!! This means we can relax and deal with the emotional stress of this transition, before we get worried about academic success. We have some much-needed time to de-school, decompress and figure out how to live in the pandemic reality as a family. We can even have time to make that yeast bread if we really want to, and post photos on social media, where we all pretend everything is awesome. Whatever we need to do to keep ourselves and our kids sane, and find a way to thrive.
What to do while de-schooling?
As I wrote in a recent article about how to unschool during isolation: nothing. Just get through. This is early days, and de-schooling isn't a thing you do, but a time of disengagement of one thing in mental preparation for something new. Maybe you have some big project to work on, or a book waiting to be read, and these things can be wonderful as distractions, but they're not going to change the fact that the whole family is going through a big, confusing, overwhelming and scary adjustment. De-schooling is the time where we all give each other some space and forgiveness. It's when, as parents, we remind ourselves that our kids' seemingly ridiculous melt-downs are founded in legitimate feelings, and we catch them in our compassionate arms. Maybe we watch a movie. Maybe we go back to sleeping with them or we just sit watching the suddenly-quieter world go by, letting all our feelings just hang in the air. Maybe we tell ourselves it's OK to do nothing, and it's OK for them to do nothing.
Doing nothing looks different for different people. For many kids these days it looks like video games or sleeping - a lot. And that's OK. We have to give ourselves permission to do whatever nothing is or to not do whatever something is. Read some A.A. Milne.
“I’m not asking anybody,” said Eeyore. “I’m just telling everybody. We can look for the North Pole, or we can play ‘Here we go gathering Nuts in May’ with the end part of an ants’ nest. It’s all the same to me.” ~ Winnie the Pooh, Chapter 8.What I'm saying is, it's OK. It's going to be OK. Some things won't be, but we'll get through this with love, even when love seems like not enough. Find what helps you make things feel OK and do it. Make school happen at home, start unschooling, or ignore this all entirely and watch TV until you stare blankly out the window, just to see something other than a screen. Go for a walk. Play 'Here we go gathering Nuts in May' (whatever that is!). Cry. Wrap your kids up in your arms and just love them. Leave them alone when they ask you to, or join them making inane TikToks. Whatever you need to do. It's going to be OK. You're de-schooling.