Sarah Sobonya says unschooling led to creativity

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.