Making Learning Fun Again: A Critical Element in Deschooling

Do you remember how much fun it was to watch your child learn to walk and learn to talk? Or how eager your child was to learn the names of everything she saw during a walk through the neighborhood? Many children, after several years of institutionalized, one-method-for-everyone schooling, regard learning as anything but fun. Even those same children, though, will eagerly learn about something that interests them, whether it be learning everything there is know about their favorite celebrity or memorizing the lyrics to their favorite songs. Their difficulties, then, are not necessarily with learning (unless they have a learning disability of some sort), but with maintaining motivation and enthusiasm around learning "academic" subjects.

As the mother of a child who left school early in sixth grade to begin homeschooling, I didn't know at that time that there was a process he would embark on once he left school known as deschooling. Although he wanted to be taught at home and was a significant part of the decision to do so, once the newness of the first days at home wore off, he seemed listless and almost depressed. He would lay on the couch and not be motivated to get started, or he would begin a short assignment and take much, much longer than necessary to complete it.

Right away, I realized that several subjects that had engaged him as a very young child, like writing, language arts, and certain aspects of math, had been deadened for him as subjects of curiosity and enthusiasm by the routine of school. I knew I had to somehow make learning in those areas, both the ones he had great talent in and the ones he didn't, appealing and fun.

My first idea was to vary our "school day" between indoors and outdoors, book learning and computer learning, audiotapes and games..whatever it took to make to take learning out of the pattern of "you sit and do what I tell you to do". Especially in work that I knew was distasteful to him (as was writing at that time), I always gave him a choice of assignments or we brainstormed together to think a topic he was willing to write on. We combined writing assignments with drawing or writing assignments with math (i.e. make your own store advertisements with prices and sales, utilizing percents and decimals). We played dice games to practice mental math and map games to learn geography.

My second idea was to introduce subjects he had not been studying in school. The middle school he'd left behind did not teach foreign languages at the 6 th grade level, so it was enticing to him to begin to learn Spanish because it had no connection to what he'd been doing in school. For the first six months of Spanish learning, we did nothing but fun learning..listened to music tapes, played "concentration" with our own vocabulary cards, and labeled things around the house with their Spanish names.

My third, and the most important idea I want to leave you with, is that there is always an alternative way of learning whatever needs to be learned. If we tried a book, a method, or even an expensive curriculum unit that didn't work for him or that bored him, we found another way. Today, in the Information Age, with all the resources found on the internet, in catalogs, and in other media, there is always an alternative resource or method to be found. In our initial deschooling process and in the years that followed, we used books, software, cartoons, magazines, movies, plays, on-line learning sites (there are some terrific interactive ones), television, music, field trips, and mentors as resources and, even as write this list, I'm sure there were more that I'm forgetting.

Deschooling, in my experience, was a process that took the better part of our first year of homeschooling. The key to helping a child through the process is to be patient and to find ways to re-engage him in learning just for the fun of it.