U.N.I.Q.U.E. KIDS: Growing My Leadership Garden is a character education program from Leadership Garden Legacy. For the last month, my family has been working with this program thanks to the Schoolhouse Review Crew. I was eager to receive these materials because secular character education materials are so rare in the homeschool market, and hoped this really was a program that would work for families of all backgrounds.
Leadership Garden Legacy was kind enough to send me materials to use with Bug, but also the U.N.I.Q.U.E.: Growing the Leader Within book written for adults and its accompanying The Leadership Garden Guidebook. For Bug, we used the U.N.I.Q.U.E. KIDS: Growing My Leadership Garden book and the downloadable U.N.I.Q.U.E. KIDS Activity Guide & My Leadership Garden Journal.
When I first received these books and downloads, I was immediately impressed with their quality. The U.N.I.Q.U.E. KIDS book is printed on crisp white pages, and has beautiful full color illustrations throughout. Bug was thrilled to be given the book because he loves animals and set to reading it right away. While he got started reading, I dug into the accompanying materials and began to work my way through the guidebook while reading Growing the Leader Within. We were also provided these MP3 audiobooks which were well done and pleasant to listen to:
U.N.I.Q.U.E. KIDS Audio Book MP3 Download
U.N.I.Q.U.E.: Growing the Leader Within – Audio Book MP3 Download
The U.N.I.Q.U.E. story is told through a metaphor. The idea is that your child can learn leadership skills through a story about animals on a farm. According to Leadership Garden Legacy, leaders are:
- Understanding: balancing and blending your four leader behaviors
- Nurturing: using leader-friendly gardening practices
- Inventive: invent a unique purpose and aim
- Quality: use the leadership attributes necessary to thrive
- Unstoppable: move through the circle of commitment and remove any barriers to your purpose and aim
- Expression: practice the art of communication with a unique purpose and aim”
Our Experience with the Children’s Materials
The children’s book, U.N.I.Q.U.E. KIDS, Growing my leadership garden is about a little sheep, Hugh, comes across a woman Leda, at her home on Leadership Farm. He had run away from his home farm because a group of coyotes circled his mother and he became scared. In the past, other animals on the farm had been mean to him, and teased him, and he was worried they would call him a coward. He wasn’t sure what had happened to his mother, but he thought she was “gone” forever.
I had originally sent Bug to read this book on his own while I worked through the adult materials with the intention of discussing at the end of each chapter, but after reading this first section I immediately worried this book would not be a good fit for my sensitive child. After the first chapter and the comments about the mother left Bug in tears, I decided to stop using the children’s story until after I worked through the materials, and I am really glad I did.
Later in the children’s book, the author again returns to talk about Hugh’s (possible) poor dead mother and says some things that I don’t really agree with fully, and that feel a little inappropriate in a children’s book. It’s very heavy:
“You can’t change nature. Sad but true, Hugh…. Would you be willing to accept the fact that she might be gone without becoming a victim?” (Page 65, U.N.I.Q.U.E. KIDS, Growing my Leadership Garden)
Throughout the book the child is taught various behaviors which help Hugh become a “leader” like using behaviors that are: visualizing, organizing, harmonizing and energizing; as well as having integrity and communicating clearly. All these ideas are delivered through metaphor while Hugh tries to deal with his fear and worry about his mother and returning back to the farm.
At the end of the story, Hugh leaves leadership garden, but the story never tells us if he goes back to his home, or if his mother survived the coyotes.
Bug’s input for this review and the portion I had him read independently:
“It’s about a sheep and a garden and like, leadership, only I don’t ever know what they are talking about. Maybe when I’m 17 I should read it. The pictures are awesome though!”
My experience using the adult materials
The children’s book, and the adult book contain the same metaphor farm story, but the adult version has the authors life experience intertwined. The author has had many past struggles to include her own mother’s suicide, and a divorce. As I read U.N.I.Q.U.E., Growing the Leader Within, I felt less like I was reading a book about leadership, and more like I was reading someone else’s life story and how she coped with difficult situations.
I feel like this program was not really about leadership per say, but about overcoming difficult situations (source events, as the author puts it) and coming out a stronger, more confident person. I have a lot of respect for the author for being able to work through her past and finding the courage and willingness to not only share her story, but to try and lift up others along the way. I felt like the theme of loosing a mother was just very inappropriate for my child at this stage in his life, and I didn’t feel like it was required in a “Leadership Curriculum”.
A significant portion of the guidebook is spent looking at your own personal past “source events” and the feeling and self-talk associated with them. Personally, I too have a past divorce, and plenty of things I could probably list as “source events” but I am not dealing with fear or self-doubt . I feel like this program could strongly benefit any adult who does have past experiences they need to work through to become stronger, more confident people.
As far as the actual philosophy behind Leadership Garden goes, I do feel like the “6 Leader Friendly Gardening Practices” which are “be non-judgmental, do not enable, use empathy, prune gossip, eliminate blame, and eradicate victimization” are very important. I did like how the book encourages the reader to find their purpose and aim, and then work hard to achieve it without being dissuaded by others or being stopped by fear. However, I don’t feel like the metaphor alone taught these principles and ideals in the most direct or age appropriate way. I had a hard time understanding what the author was trying to say until I used the guidebook along with the reading.
The companion materials, The Leadership Garden Guidebook and downloadable children’s activity guide are very well done. I felt like the story itself was convoluted, but the guidebook helped me understand the points the author was trying to make and I enjoyed doing some of the activities to learn more about myself. I feel like it is a required supplement to the book to get the most out of this program, because some of the things mentioned in the book only make sense with the guidebook. For example, at one point in the story, Hugh makes a “Leader Balance Wheel” which you will make with the guidebook’s instructions. The materials in the guide book are a lot like you would find in a corporate self-awareness course, they are well done, and spot on for evaluating personality type and strengths.
I have really struggled with this review because I wanted to love this program. I feel like there is a strong need for secular character education programs, and I wanted this program to be a viable option for my family. It didn’t work for my young kids, but it has worked for some of the other Crew members reviewing it. If it sounds like something that may work for you, I strongly encourage you to check out more reviews from my other Crew mates who did have success with this program. I feel like they really show how adaptable and successful this program can be for the right family:
In a Nutshell
This book was not at all what I expected from the website descriptions of the product. This program, while marketed to children as young as 8, is really more appropriate for adults and teenagers. I didn’t find some of the statements and topics in the book (such as the overarching theme of his mother’s death, and the idea that there are no “bad” people) to be appropriate for children in the context of a leadership curriculum. This program is completely secular which does leave it open to use with many different types of families. I used what I learned from the adult materials as a jumping off point for conversations with Bug, but the metaphor remained over his head. We did have many good conversations about what it means to have integrity, and the nature of people.
The best part about a product being reviewed by the Schoolhouse Review Crew is the many different families who use the product- all experiences are shared honestly, and while this product was not a great fit for me, many people had different experiences- please do read more about this program to see if it would work for you!
$18.95 U.N.I.Q.U.E. KIDS: Growing My Leadership Garden
$18.95 U.N.I.Q.U.E.: Growing the Leader Within
$18.95 The Leadership Garden Guidebook
$8.95 U.N.I.Q.U.E. KIDS Activity Guide & My Leadership Garden Journal – PDF Downloads
$8.95 U.N.I.Q.U.E. KIDS Audio Book MP3 Download
$14.95 U.N.I.Q.U.E.: Growing the Leader Within – Audio Book MP3 Download
You can save even more by buying the books in a toolkit bundle, Leadership Garden Legacy is also offering the TOS Community a “Spring Special Discount” of 20% with the code TOS-SS20D upon checkout. This is a limited time offer and the code will expire on May 31, 2013.