Rachel Rainbolt is the Sage Parent Coach and a natural learning mama. She believes in the power of trust and connection. Rachel wants to elevate mothers to believe in themselves and act on their power to create and live a joyful natural parenting, learning path.
Rachel has her Masters degree in family therapy, is a parenting coach, writer, and home education mom to her 3 kids. Honestly, she has a list of letters and titles behind her name, but her academic background almost seems counter to how she lives today — living in a state of parental flow. Rachel runs her business Sage Parenting from her computer in their home in the Pacific Northwest. But more often you can find her hiking through the forest with her family.
Rachel and I talked about her new book — Sage Homeschooling Wild and Free, their natural learning journey and why she says connection and trust is the foundation for all other learning.
Rachel’s background is in psychology and Family Therapy. She’s also a certified infant massage educator. She’s an advocate for natural sleep, breastfeeding, parenting, and learning. Rachel feels her degrees have value and do inform much of her life, but as she shared on the podcast, they also helped indoctrinate her with a mountain of beliefs, assumptions, and expectations she says she had to shake off to adopt the natural learning method of parenting.
She says the field of psychology was valuable and taught her how to sift through data and do research. But she’s since noticed that her choices and beliefs differ quite a bit from her fellow graduates. Her life now relies on connection, trust, and the natural unfolding of life.
Rachel started her family journey using attachment parenting. When her oldest turned 4, she started looking for schools for her son because that is what, “we’re supposed to do.” She didn’t even know there were other options. Her and her husband put their son in Kindergarten at the public school where he stayed all the way to the start of 2nd grade.
When they started homeschooling they stayed with their local public district. This meant the same work as the school classroom — which was an eye-opening experience. Soon they switched to a charter homeschool, then switched to independent homeschooling, before diving fully into unschooling.
Rachel’s oldest loves homeschooling. He didn’t enjoy most aspects of school, especially the routine of getting up early, rushing off, and sitting in a desk all day. The family also saw that his natural learning fire was extinguishing. It only rekindled when they started homeschooling.
Rachel says she sometimes wishes she’d slowed down and listened to herself more and just started homeschooling right away. But as she also said, “We have to walk our journey and be patient with ourselves.” Today, her oldest son brings gratitude and wisdom to the younger kids that only know unschooling.
Rachel’s believes unschooling is a lifestyle of learning and connection. She practices learning with her children and trusts in her own journey as she does in her children’s.
Many people don’t know this kind of lifestyle exists. She meets people at the playground who have no idea about natural parenting or natural learning. It’s a passion piece for her and she feels there’s less information available about the natural learning mindset.
What information is available is mostly dated. Rachel finds that there aren’t many families living the natural learning process today. She wants others to know natural is an option and what it can look like. This is why she wrote the book.
Rachel and I discussed what the natural learning environment can include, especially the debate around kids and technology. Rachel says people have a misconception that you can’t live a natural-minded life while owning technology. Her family lives close to a forest and sound and are outside constantly, but they also have access to an infinite amount of knowledge because of technology.
She gave me a few examples. They can be walking through a forest and discover a tree that interests them. Rachel will take out her phone and reference what it is and information about it all in a matter of minutes.
Her oldest is video chatting with a group of friends he met at an unschooling conference. They are currently writing a screenplay together using Google Docs. It wouldn’t be any more valid if it was on a piece of paper.
People are judgemental about screens, but Rachel says the out-of-balance feeling is usually more about the parents. Research shows that children escape more into a virtual world if their real life doesn’t have much to engage with. If they are alone for hours for example, without access to the outdoors.
If you are feeling out of balance, the best place to focus your efforts is on building your life and placing more engaging things in your environment. Focus on engaging and not limiting.
Screens are powerful tools in the learning process. In the Rainbolt home, they have one adventure day and 2 home days for their balance. On home days, when the kids are on screens they more often watch and then create.
The screen may or may not be one piece to that learning. The word “screen” encompasses so much and Rachel has found that the research does lag behind a bit. A lot of the data still pertains to kids watching TV shows.
But that can be misleading, and Rachel knows from her own life example what the TV created for her as a child. Your kids may be getting positive things out of it that you may not be aware of. She told me about the Robin Hood cartoon that she watched as a child and how much she loved it.
It was a show she resonated with, because it came at a time when she felt disempowered and she didn’t have much of a voice. That movie empowered her.
Rachel and I talked about her placement of screens in her natural learning environment section of the book. She asked, “Do you bake online? Use Online music classes? ‘Screen time’ is so much more integrated into how we can tap into the world as opposed to before.” Screens are tools that go along with paper, LEGO, books, and paint. They are a tool kids have to draw from in their environment.
The homeschool environment is a powerful force in natural learning. Especially if you promote self -directed learning. With the right materials in the home environment her kids can play, act, and create what’s going on in their mind. It also makes her job a lot easier. She doesn’t tell them what to do but she creates an environment that supports their interests. She sets up invitations which they can use or decline.
There is a misconception that if you are not controlling and instructing there is no learning. But there is so much learning that happens in place of control.
Instead of an enforcer, Rachel’s is a supportive guide. By role-modelling you can foster the qualities your children need later in life. They are responsible for their own learning when you’re not responsible for it. And the trust — the more she trusts them, the more their amazing qualities blossom and flourish.
It creates a safety where everything else springs from. This important piece can be absent from schools but it’s the first level building block in natural learning.
Rachel feels that in the future, education will turn to more alternative schooling opportunities. But it’s important to be clear on the role and purpose of those schools. Be clear on the function so the environment can be designed around that. Schools can be built around how children learn.
But what if you are in a situation where you can’t be home with your kids? Or you’re having a tough time dealing with other things? Rachel says it is important to remember you’re the one that gets to write your story.
We don’t control 100% of our lives, but we do have power over most things in our lives. 90% of things in your life that feel immoveable are actually moveable! When you know you can make and become the person you want to be, you look at where you want to go.
Write it out. What would your priorities be? Your intentions? She uses the word intentions rather than goals, because goals tend to be focused on an outcome. We can’t necessarily control outcomes, so goals are more often disempowering. But intentions are different. What direction do you want to set your compass? If you are not setting it, society will set it for you.
A desire to learn is contagious. Your children will be inspired by the way you live your life, connect with your community, grow, and learn. If you’re only demanding of them, then there is no inspiration and role modelling.
There’s a misconception that when you start homeschooling, the parent’s role becomes top-down teacher. Living a life that fills you with joy and purpose is one of the greatest teaching gifts you can give your children.
When Rachel finished graduate school, she wanted to continue doing her work but in a way that connected her to her own children. She did what she suggests others do — get out of the “current” and live your own story.
The Rainbolt family calls themselves unschoolers, but more so natural learners. In any movement people can become dogmatic, even with unschooling. Rachel believes in radical acceptance and doing what works for her family.
Even deschooling can be rather prescriptive. Their family didn’t follow the deschooling suggestions when they left school, it was different for them and it should be unique for each family. Deschooling means unpacking the education baggage you inherited. There really aren’t any wrong ways. It looks different for each family but the point of deschooling is being able to shake off old beliefs and question everything. Be brave and engage in that process.
Rachel left me with heartfelt advice –lean into trust. It feels hard at first and uncomfortable but the more you do it, the more rewards you get. Every time she’s been unsure, she unlocks, grows, and flourishes once she leans into trust. Trust in your children, the natural learning journey, and the joy you have together.
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Get her new book– Sage Homeschooling Wild and Free