From schooling to homeschooling to unschooling
by Lehla Eldridge and Anthony Eldridge-Rogers
Available at http://unschoolingthekids.com/unschooling-the-kids-the-book/
Reviewed by Susan Wills, Lorinna, Tasmania in Otherways issue 152
I jumped at the chance to read this book. The title spoke to me as a parent who, over the past 3 years, has moved from schooling to homeschooling and now unschooling – a journey containing moments of both falling and flight. I guess I was looking for a roadmap with signposts that would speak to our experience. Were we on track and how would we know?
There is quite a strong theme (in Part One) of holding true to yourself in the unschooling process as they unpack the very nature of living an unconventional life, including why they made their choices and how this might play out for others. This would likely help readers unsure as to whether the unschooling decision is right for them, or those starting out, especially in working through any wider family or community resistance. Those already invested in unschooling might find themselves jumping ahead to get to the ‘how’ parts of ‘Falling’ and ‘Flying’.
As to ‘how’, their central message is to trust your child in the process – using curiosity as the key. And the rationale for this trust is based on the mostly positive experiences of their family so far (with the eldest girls being 13). We’re shown that the three children are ‘self-assured, unbelievably emotionally savvy and confident’ (among other qualities). And through their writing, the parents reveal themselves as emotionally intelligent, self-aware and very comfortable with change and creative leaps (in careers, countries to live in, and exploration of pedagogies by which to teach their kids). As such, a lot of their suggestions are aligned with high levels of intra and interpersonal competence and a bent towards receptivity and creativity (e.g. ‘create community, ‘embrace everything’, ‘live creatively’ and ‘inspire play’). This did lead me to wonder how well the book might speak to those whose gifts and competencies shine in other directions. Of course, many people who choose to unschool do share these writers’ qualities though it could be really interesting (in any future writing) to explore anecdotes from other families with different strengths.
The book is structured to be read in two voices (Lehla and Anthony) who take turns in responding to the various chapter cue questions and statements that make up the book (‘What is learning anyway?’ ‘The Key Principles of an unschooling life’, ‘What seemed important but turned out not to be’ and ‘Managing competition’ etc.). This did encourage me to skim as it seemed a bit repetitive in parts however, as intended, there were sections where either Lehla or Anthony’s examples or ways of expression would resonate more than the other.
As a relative newcomer to unschooling, I was most drawn to Part Two ‘Falling’, i.e. all of the questions and doubts and challenges that arise on this path (‘Fear of failing’, ‘Managing boredom’, ‘Nurturing the inner compass’, ‘Using coaching skills in the parenting toolkit’ or ‘Having boundaries and managing them’ etc.). While some of the bigger questions could have been more fully explored, I think the real strength of the book lies in the comprehensive range of topics and the questions that they raise.
I loved the anecdotes that put the flesh onto the bones. Actual everyday lived experiences that took me into the heart of their world in its fullness – the good (connecting via Skype with a class of schooled American children on a S.O.L.E. project), the bad (getting attached to outcomes such as the much encouraged yet never finished papier mache solar system that the kids were never into) and the ugly (recognising your own conditioning as a parent including your need to control or impress others with your kids’ achievements).
From a practical perspective, it was great to read about ‘strewing’ (placing interesting items around the house or on the table, something I’d done but had no name for), understanding the opposing forces of competition (whether serving to make others feel inadequate or as inspiration), the importance of questioning (‘the quality of your life is determined by the quality of your questions’), and some of the various methods of teaching that they’d had success with. Approaches such as explicit teaching, structured learning, side by side teaching, and facilitation (making learning easier by ‘being with’ the child, aligning with their thinking process and contributing something to that existing situation) – with facilitation being by far their preferred approach. Lehla sums this up with: ‘If you are enjoying sharing knowledge and they are still in the room, then most likely learning is happening.’ I also liked some of the descriptors of the unschooling parent’s role in nurturing the critical element of curiosity: to be a ‘fellow traveller’, a ‘useful guide’, a ‘learning companion’, a ‘gofer’ (bringing stuff into their world), an explicit teacher (at times), a quiet observer, or someone who ‘nudges’ things along or helps things get ‘unstuck’.
As a case study of one family’s process, what they have learned, and how it has worked for them I think the book will be useful for parents seeking to make or having just made their ‘first jump’. For those who’ve already jumped and fallen over several times and perhaps made a few early flights, I think it will serve as a broad framework to encapsulate the experience, raise some important questions and, perhaps most importantly, reassure us that we are not alone.