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Unschooling Success

Unschooling Success:
TED Talks, Young Geniuses, Overwhelm, and Extreme Admiration
By Lehla Eldridge-Rogers

“We stepped out of traditional education for many reasons, but one of the main ones was the constant competition, tests, scores, and pressure. So it is interesting to me to see that it can show up also in the worlds of unschooling and homeschooling….”

We, as of yet, have no self-sustaining organic garden, our kids don’t know quite how to fashion wooden spoons out of a tree nor how to stick then roast an organically farmed pig. They are not musical geniuses that we know of, yet, and they have not started, at the age of eight, their own companies, which they are not now floating on the stock market. These are not our kids; our kids may end up doing all those things. Who knows? But right now, they don’t.

Now, this is such an interesting topic for me as I put myself on the line and question the way I show up all the time. I am tempted to help my kids be able to public speak; there is a part of me that would love them to feel that they could address a room at a TEDx talk on unschooling or even hackschooling. Why? Is that me or them? There is part of me, I hate to admit, that is most likely a competitive parent. But then perhaps it is in our genetic make-up; perhaps I should be more gentle on myself; perhaps that is how we have survived all these years; perhaps, way back, when I was sitting in a cave with my loin cloth on and picking at my nits (no change there) my neighbor said to me, “Ooh, you think that the rabbit that your children have caught is big? Look what my little Johnny got for the pot. He is so good at hunting!”

There are stories of kids who are blacksmiths at the age of fourteen, have become pop stars…. There are kids who have their own companies. Our friends’ kids learned to play the accordion in three weeks. (I have had a concertina for twenty years and I play it the same way I played it twenty years ago: badly.) I do believe kids fly given the tools and the support, I really do.

But another question I ask – and I ask this from a mother’s point of view – is: How do you know when you are doing the right thing, nurturing the right interest? When Ken Robinson does his wonderful talks on creativity, he often mentions how the mothers took their kids into a sports gym and then everything changed from that moment on, the child’s life completely transformed. Or he would say something along the lines of, she was there with her mother. She took her to see a specialist, who saw that when they stepped out of the room the young girl was moving to the music and from then on she knew she was a dancer and she became one of the world’s best choreographers. There are often these magical, instinctive mothers in the background being witchy and supremely clever and generally getting it perfectly right.

So that leaves me with the feeling of erm oh er, overwhelm….

Then the other question I ask is: What is this getting it right bit? And I quiz myself: Do I show off my children’s achievements and show that I think we are getting it right because I want to prove to the world that kids learn brilliantly without school? Possibly.

If I were sending my kids to school and was really interested in unschooling or home- schooling, would I be totally put off and intimidated and a bit bored by all the posts out there hat say how incredible and successful unschooled children are?

We stepped out of traditional education for many reasons but one of the main ones was the constant competition, tests, scores, and pressure. So it is interesting to me to see that it can show up also in the world of unschooling and homeschooling…but maybe it has just mutated.

Then I wonder how my kids feel when I show them a video of an incredible child doing something, well, incredible. I asked them and they said, “It makes me want to do amazing things,” “It is inspiring,” and “I like it.” So they don’t seem to have a problem with all of this. I see the brilliant kids and parents out there doing their amazing stuff and I also know that it is wonderful when they shine. All kids shine to me, so I say, “Shine on kids, you are our inspiration.”

But maybe the most important question that I would ask myself as a parent is this: How can I best help my kids be fully themselves and happy with who they are in the world however they show up. I hope that in this way all the answers will fall in to place and their lives will unfold exactly as they should.

Lehla Eldridge-Rogers is an illustrator and an author of books. But prior to that she was an actress and trained at The Guildhall School of Music and Drama. She wrote The South African Illustrated Cookbook, The Lovely Book for Wonderful Womenand she illustrated a kid’s book by M.J. Amani called Excuse Me, I’m Trying to Read. Above all, she is a mother to three fast growing kids, and she juggles her time between them and working on new books and projects. You can read more about her Jump, Fall, Flybook at or on Twitter.

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