What is Unschooling Anyway?

The kids pic UNSCHOOLING

This is what I, Lehla mean by Unschooling.

I do find it tricky having a label slapped on anything. So for the purpose of basic communication we are ‘unschooling’. But what does that actually mean?

Are we fruit loops? Possibly.

Do we ever go out? Yes a lot.

Do we lock our kids away and never let them see anyone? Er, no.

Are we radical hippies? Depends who you ask, I don’t think so.

Are we rule breakers. Yes I guess so, a bit.

Anarchists. Not really.

Freaks, punks, crazies? Erm, I don’t think so. Maybe you can answer that by getting to the end of the book…

We could be all of the above. It depends who you talk to.

But In all truth I think we are quite normal, in as much as anyone is normal. For us unschooling means many things but mainly these things listed below.

Not going to school (well that is obvious!)

Keeping our kids open, independent, curious, playful and questioning.

Following the children’s desires and wants as best as we can by guiding them towards self directed learning.

Unschooling for me, is what starts from minute I wake till the moment I go to bed, the opportunities to learn are endless and learning moments come up at all times, even when I am trying to get the kids to switch off and go to sleep and they ask me a really interesting profound question…like what is sleep??!! The process does not stop, so as an unschooling parent it is not ‘unparenting’ it is being with the kids throughout the day, the week, the month their childhood. It is being available to help with their learning, their projects, ideas needs etc. For me it is also balancing the fine art of managing my own stuff, ie my internal scripting around how education should be and learning how to manage my own boundaries with regards to my own personal bit of time and space.

It is a process of learning in an organic way. Our son is very quick at maths, however if I sat him down and made him ‘do’ maths he would be achingly slow and resistant and seemingly not good at it. But if I try and follow his maths in a game which he has invented called ‘Coob’ he is beyond quick, it is actually a game about maths and war. (Gulp!) So if he drives the learning process through his desires and needs he learns very quickly. If I drive it, it is like sucking all the petrol out of a car and expecting it to move forward.

The girls also like to learn on their own and they show me things that they have done. I look at their work, books, pictures etc for what they are and do my best to not clamp down their learning process. So if they show me a fantastically illustrated cookbook, which they have just done and I see it is glaring with really huge spelling mistakes, I ask them if they want me to correct the mistakes. Sometimes they say yes sometimes they say no. Either way I am more interested in the process of their learning than the detail of having to get every word right.

Going back to our son. The other day whilst working on ‘Coob’ (the maths/war game) I said maybe you need to write out the rules because I am getting lost. And he said ‘Yes, good idea’ he sat down and wrote out the whole rule sheet. Whilst I was internally was doing my own personal Mexican Wave and trying not to show it on my face. Our boy was writing, and he wasn’t even aware of it.

For me unschooling to us is keeping the kids open and curious and in a bigger community of people. In Africa they say ‘it takes a whole village to raise a child’. For us Unschooling is keeping them in a big village as best as we can. Whether that be through their friends, other families, their circus school mates, their grandparents, visitors or people that come and help us throughout the year. Just keeping them open and connected and curious to learn from what other people have to offer, everybody who crosses their paths has something to offer, for me this is what unschooling is about.


This is an excert from ‘Unschooling the Kids’ coming soon.


About the Author

Lehla is an illustrator and an author of books, she has written for The Guardian. She trained as an actress at The Guildhall School of Music and Drama. She wrote The South African Illustrated Cookbook, The Lovely Book for Wonderful Women and she illustrated a kid's book by M.J. Amani called 'Excuse Me, I'm Trying to Read' and also 'I am Me, You, Us and We' by Caroline Trowbridge. Above all she is a mother to three fast growing kids, she juggles her time between them and working on new books and projects. She has recently co authored with Anthony 'Jump', Fall, Fly - from schooling, to homeschooling, to unschooling' Her art work can be seen at http://lehlaeldridge.wix.com/lehla-

9 Enlightened Replies

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  1. Bob Singha says:

    This is important and valuable. I’m so grateful for your leadership on this, Lehla. Thank you.

  2. Lehla Eldridge-Rogers says:

    Thanks so much for your lovely words Bob.

  3. marnidwood says:

    Really interesting, and would love to learn more, so please keep posting. The children’s blogs are also excellent and a great read.

  4. Lehla Eldridge-Rogers says:

    Thanks so much Marni, yes I will keep posting!

  5. This is great. Power to your elbow!

  6. Hazel Eldridge says:

    I will be sending a colourful letter Lehla of my drive for unschooling -using schools. You could be handed the torch,as could Michelle and RMJ. Your Dad is doing unschooling for big kids..is all. Only the very rich could afford to ‘unschool’ then launch their quivering little charges to prep school at the age of seven. No wonder the UK is in such a mess with all those toffs in charge of everything sacred to my generation Hx

  7. federay says:

    Yipee. When J writes I also ask him (permission I guess) if he would like me to look at his spellings. If he does I write them on a separate sheet of paper, I don’t mess with his work. He then makes choices about how and whether the corrections might be made. I also picked up a lovely habit from a friend of mine who a long time ago called my (amateur but enthusiastic) photographs, my “work”. I use the word a lot, whether the kids have made scones, a drawing, cleared a table or created a footy goal – this is their work. To me, my “work”, is worthy of respect so that is what I am indicating when I use the word with them.
    And, yes, how lovely when they write because it is important to record and communicate, not because it is an order. J will write endless lists, charts, map details, cartoon narratives and “instructions” and “rules” without a murmur… but “My Summer” homework essay is just a frustrated, groaning mess.
    Wish, as always, you were closer but so lovely to have this site to check in on. x

  8. Lovely Fed! Yes wish we were closer too. x