Learning outside the lines: Home schooling in Kansas

Sarah Sobonya says unschooling led to creativity

May 13, 2007


See more in our home schooling series
Learning outside the lines

When I look back on our eight years of unschooling, what strikes me most is how much fun we've had. I never expected unschooling to be so much fun. In a way, it's been a kind of an endless summer: eight years of watching Rain follow her whims and her dreams and of learning and growing alongside her.

With unschooling, no two days are the same. Some days we rise late and spend the day puttering around the house, maybe baking pancakes and reading together, gardening or watching movies. Other days we're up early and off to museums or classes or berry-picking or visits with friends.

Although we rarely spend an entire day together anymore, I think I spend more time with her than do most parents of teens. I really enjoy hearing her ideas and insights and jokes, and just being with her. In my very biased opinion, she's a pretty wonderful person.

Most of the time, I don't think in terms of traditional academics at all. When Rain was younger, schooled children would sometimes quiz her on the things they were learning in their classes, like multiplication facts or spelling words. They would forecast a lifetime of doom and gloom for her, and sometimes she would come home upset and determined to master the skills the schooled kids were working on.

I walked a fine line, trying to support in achieving her stated goals while pointing out the things that she knew that most kids didn't, and gently sharing my conviction that learning things on her own timetable didn't mean she would never learn them, if she needed to know them.

When she was 10 or so, her hitherto almost nonexistent writing skills blossomed, and within a year she was keeping a blog or two and writing beautiful stories. A couple of years later, she wrote a thoughtful essay requesting a scholarship to a summer program and was awarded the highest amount possible.

It didn't matter at all that when she was 9, she would have struggled to write a simple paragraph. Her writing score on the SAT she took as an eighth-grader was well above that achieved by the average college-bound high school senior. She wrote when she was ready, and she enjoyed it, and I enjoyed bearing witness to the process.

There's an idea among some people that home schooling parents need to know everything their children will learn, or they'll need to hire a tutor for those topics. I haven't found this to be true. Learning occurs independently of teaching most of the time, and most of what I know was never explicitly taught to me.

Indeed, I'm often surprised by what Rain knows. Through books, television, radio, talking with people, Internet browsing, classes, live lectures and perhaps osmosis, she's acquired a rich tapestry of background knowledge and an impressive skill base. The availability of resources for learning in today's world is amazing to me, and Rain has learned to maneuver this world with dexterity and grace.

I'm always here if she needs me, but I would never want to be her only source of information. I like that she can explore the world and make her own choices. She doesn't always agree with me, and I think that's a good thing.

I don't consider unschooling to be a sacrifice on my part but an active negotiation between the two of us. In our family, we pull together, and unschooling is just an extension of that. Since Rain was born, I've always either worked or been a student or both, and I've tried to apply the principles of unschooling to my life as well as Rain's.

I do the things that I want to do, and I truly enjoy all facets of my life (well, except housework!). I feel so fortunate that Rain and I are able to live this way.


NCCaren 11 years, 1 month ago

What a beautiful article! It brought tears to my eyes... I'm an unschooling mom of 2 boys, 14 and 8. I would not trade our life for anything - I love our days.

latinlab 11 years, 1 month ago

Is "unschooling" a word? It's not in the dictionary. Maybe it's slang. If it is, then I'm sorry to say that it doesn't mean "teaching at home". To undo something is to reverse it. If your children never went to school, you cannot unschool them. Perhaps you should read more.

NCCaren 11 years, 1 month ago

Unschooling is a word.... www.unschooling.com; www.ncunschoolers.com; This is from the American Heritage Dictionary: When used with adjectives, un- often has a sense distinct from that of non-. Non- picks out the set of things that are not in the category denoted by the stem to which it is attached, whereas un- picks out properties unlike those of the typical examples of the category. Thus nonmilitary personnel are those who are not members of the military, whereas someone who is unmilitary is unlike a typical soldier in dress, habits, or attitudes.

Therefore - unschooling. We definitely don't teach at home. We do learn, though, all the time.

shadowspring 11 years, 1 month ago

Even if the links themselves don't work for you, you can type the url into your web browser and find the websites referenced above.

And I find myself giggling at the idea that if a word is not in Webster's that it therefore cannot exist. Words are labels we put onto objects, actions and ideas so we can share information with one another. New objects, actions and ideas are being invented all the time, all around the world. Humanity is nothing if not creative! Webster's adds words after they have come into common usage in the greater community at large, not before. That's why they periodically publish new editions. As our world and vocabulary change, dictionaries change to reflect those changes.

Look for the word "unschooling" in future editions of Webster's, as this method of education becomes more common in the future, along with the use of "texting" as a verb, and "hybrid" as a type of car using more than one method of energy intake to provide power for locomotion.

coachman 11 years, 1 month ago

Hiya The links do work, just remove the semi-colon at the end first, thus www.unschooling.com and www.ncunschoolers.com. Also hundreds of other websites - just do a Google search on 'unschooling' and you will see what I mean.

roger_o_thornhill 11 years, 1 month ago

"Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together - mass hysteria." -Dr. Peter Venkman

latinlab 11 years, 1 month ago

Notice how all the other articles in the home-schooling series actually say home-schooling. There's no mention of unschooling anymore. I guess they caught that. Shadowspring, I'm not saying it's not cool because it's not in the dictionary. I'm saying that if you're going to make up words, use root words that make sense. Using un-, is only ok if you want to reverse something. If you want to make up the word unschool, that's great, but use it properly. To unschool does note mean to home-school, even if it's a made up word.

SarahS 11 years, 1 month ago

Educational activist John Holt first coined the word "unschooling" in the early seventies. At that time (and maybe today, too) the term "homeschooling" implied that families were simply recreating the school environment at home, using textbooks and workbooks and having parents act as teachers. Unschooling is simply "not-schooling" in any form, whether at home or at school, and thus "un" makes perfect sense. So you're correct, to unschool does not simply mean to homeschool, although most people would categorize unschooling as a form of homeschooling because unschooled children don't go to school.

I am sorry I wasn't more clear about the word. I know both Terry and Rain defined it a little bit in their writings, but I rather blithely assumed that my essay would be clustered with theirs so that I didn't need to define it as well. If you're still curious, a google search found over 650,000 references for "unschooling", and most of Holt's works are still in print, as are many more recent books about unschooling. As far as it not being in the dictionary, Webster's does recognize it as a word now: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/unschooling.

And NCCaren - thanks for your kind words. It is fun, isn't it? :)

VBMoon 11 years, 1 month ago

Latinlab might not like the neologism "unschooling," but it is a common word among home schoolers, home-schoolers,homeschoolers, unschoolers and those who do 'school at home' and perhaps even 'public school at home.'

The home ed movement is rich and diverse with no one method or technique defining it. People move outside the lines (as indicated by the title of this series of articles) regardless of dictionary restrictions. http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=unschooling

yoornotmee 8 years, 10 months ago

Why is everyone getting caught up on the term?

Call it home-learning or non-school-learning if you'd prefer.

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