PAM: Hi, everyone! I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and today I’m here with Lainie Liberti. Hi, Lainie!
LAINIE: Hi, Pam.
PAM: It is so great to have you on the show. Lainie is mom to 16-year-old Miro. She and Miro came to unschooling sideways back in 2009 in what was to be a one-year mother and son backpacking trip. She started her website, RaisingMiro.com, back then to capture memories of their travels.
Now in their seventh year of traveling, Lainie is co-producer and host of the weekly online show For The Love of Learning: Voices of the Alternative Education Movement and she and Miro host Project World School, inspiring temporary learning communities for teens and young adults around the world.
They’ve come to describe themselves as world-schoolers and together they recently gave a talk at TEDx Amsterdam, an independently-organized TED event focused on education whose theme this year was Born to Learn. Their talk was titled Unschooling: Making the World Our Classroom.
I have ten questions for Lainie, so let’s dive in!
Question number one. Can you share with us a bit about you and Miro, how you found yourselves unschooling, and how you decided to continue traveling?
LAINIE: Sure! We had decided to travel for one year and I had taken my son out of school. He was in traditional, conventional school at the time. And our intention was to travel from Mexico to Argentina. We figured, okay. It’ll be great. There were many reasons why we decided to travel, but really all the reasons that led us to that point were absolutely a blessing in disguise. We could talk about the economy crashing and business and our lifestyle but basically, we were at a point where we were just ready to go have an adventure. The challenges we were facing in the United States and in California led us to say, “You know what? We just had a year of a lot of stress”.
I was absolutely heartbroken every time my son said to me that I never spent any time with him and I was always working and that was absolutely true. When we decided to take this trip, I knew intuitively that when we traveled, my son would learn way more than he would in school. That was briefly, in a nutshell, what led us to go on our trip and the attitude that I had before we left.
On a side note, I was pretty much somebody who challenged the norms and challenged everything throughout my entire life. The crazy thing is, I had never challenged the idea of education. For some reason, I always believed it was somebody else’s job to educate my son. But when we you’re traveling, I knew intuitively that my son would absolutely learn way more through that one year of travel than he would in fifth grade. I didn’t really have to change my tune about that conventional idea of education. I never once challenged education. I challenged everything else, but that wasn’t one of the things.
So, as we began to travel, together we started to experience learning in the most profound way and we were present and doing it together. Everything was new and exciting and we were both so incredibly inspired to learn more about everything around us and it became an absolute passion to learn more as the world provided more stimulus and more experiences. The deeper we went into our experiences, the more we learned. The crazy thing was, I was learning, too.
Again, my thoughts and my attitude about learning was, you learn as a child and once you’re out of school, your learning is over. I really had conventional ideas about what learning meant. All of those things were turned over as we began to experience life and learning as one and that really defines the first year of what got us to the place that we are now.
PAM: That’s really fascinating. It’s such an interesting way to come at it. Like you said, you weren’t even questioning the education piece, but by taking the trip, that opened your eyes to it. I found that really, really interesting.
Question number two: what has been one of the more challenging aspects of your unschooling journey so far?
LAINIE: We were about three years into our journey and the biggest challenge that we came across was Miro has 13 and he had a desire to be in community. He fell in love with the lifestyle that we were living. He was learning. We really decompressed ourselves from the role of consumer and that’s huge, we could talk about that. But answering this question, it was almost a side note. We loved the lifestyle. We loved living minimally. We loved being present. We loved not having any plans. And we loved being outside of the United States. There was so much that we connected with from the cultures and communities that we were visiting.
But on the other hand, Miro was feeling isolated and lonely. There was a conflict. He really loved and was committed to what we were doing. He was committed to this minimalist lifestyle. He was committed to all that we had built and created together, but he was also, on the other hand, feeling this sense of isolation and loneliness. So, we traveled back to the United States for an unschooling conference. That was the very first time that we had met other unschoolers, although we had connected with them online as I reached out to learn more about the lifestyle that we started to live. I know I skipped a big chunk of how we realized we were unschoolers and what that meant to our lives, but you asked about the challenge.
So, at that point, we had already identified with being unschoolers and our lifestyle meshed up with the philosophy surrounding radical unschooling. And we were very clear that we were on the path, doing this. So, when we headed back to the United States for this conference, Miro and I shared about our lives and we received incredible support and response. But the best part was Miro hung out with other teens and he ran around. He had these really meaningful connections with teens that were free-thinking, that were out-of-the-box, that were non-judgmental, that really saw the world like he did, even though they were not traveling. And there was so much commonality.
That was the point where he said, “I found my people. I found my community. I know who I belong with, but here’s the conflict. I don’t want to go back to a lifestyle without these people.” So, because we were so passionate about the way we were learning, we decided to bring a group of teens to Peru where we were actually staying and loved and learning and living at the time. In fact, I’m speaking to you now from Cusco, Peru. This place has really become symbolic of our home and our spirit and our deep love of learning.
So, we started to organize a retreat to bring back a group of teens we met at that particular conference and organized our first retreat. At the time, we were calling it Project Unschool Peru. It really described the spirit of the feelings and what we were trying to do. We were trying to create community here in a place that we were passionate about, but it was for unschoolers. And Cusco, Peru was our main focus. Four years later, it’s really transformed into something else and we’ve transformed who we are and how we identify our learning styles. In fact, we call ourselves world-schoolers now.
PAM: That is really cool how much brainstorming it must have taken to come up with the idea. You wanted to keep your traveling lifestyle that you both enjoyed and now that you found this community that Miro really wanted to connect with. What a great idea to bring some of the community to you.
LAINIE: Well, I have to tell you, Pam, it was really about taking care of my child’s needs! That was the main reason. We loved our life, but I had to solve the problem. As a parent, I had to create an opportunity to solve a problem, to create circumstances that would help facilitate solving a problem. As parents, we don’t solve the problem, we just set up the circumstances. But I was passionate about finding a way that would answer the problem we were having together, because this was our problem.
PAM: Yeah. That’s brilliant!
This question is very similar, but just a little bit of a different perspective: what has been one of the more challenging aspects of your traveling journey so far?
LAINIE: I thought about this question and how to answer it and it occurred to me that, if we’re talking about the journey of seven years, the biggest challenge that took place took place within the first year. And that was the way my son and I established and lived our relationship to money and consumerism and to owning things. I can’t say it was a challenge. It was the path we were living and going through and it changed our perspective about owning things and the amount of money we spent on things and how we earned money. Just that relationship transformed throughout that first year.
I don’t think we could have started straight from Los Angeles. I owned a business and I earned quite a bit of money and I was accustomed at that time to be able to spend what I wanted, never looking at a price tag. I was known for going into a shop and dropping $400 in there and not even noticing and then seeing the cost when I got the bill, those sorts of relationships. It was a very different relationship to money that we had before.
But when the economy crashed and we decided that this was a journey we were going to take together. We had savings. We sold everything and we had enough money that we were not going to worry about getting by for one year. Plus, we had a little bit of a nest egg, so when we got back, we could set ourselves back up. But it certainly wasn’t the budget we were accustomed to living in the United States. But the good thing was, I didn’t have my rent. I didn’t have car payments. I didn’t have insurance. I didn’t have all those other things. I didn’t have credit card bills. I paid off absolutely everything before we left the States.
So, starting on this one-year journey with no debt and a limited amount of money. However, it was basically triple the amount that we live on now, per month. It allowed us to look at what we valued and what we spent and again, that relationship to what we value to money. I keep using that word, but it’s something that rules everybody’s lives. And that first year, moving from a big loft in LA and a Mercedes to traveling with our backpacks with a limited amount of money in the bank to support us for a year, we had to look at it very differently, because I wasn’t working and there wasn’t anything coming in. So, a regular working lifestyle, you work, you add more, you spend, you add more. It’s an ongoing process. This was finite.
So, we really looked at consumerism from a totally different perspective. As we started to travel through developing countries, we started to look around and see what people had. We started to look around and we realized what people really needed and we looked at what we needed. Where we are now, we spend a third of what our initial budget was. We live on a ridiculously low amount of $1000 US per month for two people in our travels now. We didn’t start out that way and that wasn’t our original budget for living in the United States. But that was the transition. We now are very clear about collecting experiences, not things, and especially with things you have to carry.
PAM: That’s really fascinating to hear more about. I imagine it’s probably something that quite a few of us think about. And with unschooling, I see more and more, there are people who are taking up traveling. There’s someone I did a podcast with at the begin2ning of this year. He and his family had sold everything and started traveling. It’s a way, when everyone in the family is interested in collecting those experiences. And even like you guys started, “It’s just for a year and we’ll see what happens.” It’s just something to try out and see if everyone really connects with that lifestyle.
Question number four: you and Miro identify more now with the term worldschooling and I love reading on your site how you distinguish between unschooling and worldschooling. You describe your day-to-day lives as radical unschooling with Miro’s self-directed learning being interest-led. But there is also the learning that comes from your traveling experiences, immersive learning that’s not necessarily driven by interest but rather by your environment, by where you are. Can you talk a bit about that distinction?
LAINIE: Absolutely. So, when I first discovered that we were doing something called unschooling, I had never heard of it before. I became so absolutely excited. I started to research everything I could and I read about all the different philosophies and I realized that it fit us like a glove. In fact, I realized on most levels, I didn’t even have to deal with deschooling all that much. I still had some schoolish thoughts about my life. Because I saw my son learning naturally, deschooling didn’t apply to him as much.
That was one of the areas that I learned so much just by reading, researching as deep as I could with blog posts, articles, and books and that’s when I came across your website years ago. One of the websites I came across was Sandra Dodd’s. She wrote about something called strewing and I thought, “Oh, this is brilliant. This is such a beautiful way for families to facilitate their kids without pushing, but just leaving little things in their path to see if their interests are sparked based on what their interests are.” Then I realized, wait a minute. The world is strewing for us!
And when I was sharing with my son everything I was learning about unschooling and everything about radical unschooling and how we defined our lives as a partnership before we even knew this was an aspect of unschooling, we had agreed that whatever I was interested in, as we started to learn, I would pursue and he would support me and vice versa. So, I would support him obviously through his path wherever his interests brought him.
But when I started to read about strewing and I realized that the world was doing it for us, it became a little bit bigger than just unschooling. It really was worldschooling and that’s where I really made that connection to that word.
PAM: I love that description. I love that you brought up strewing, as well. Let’s talk about that for a minute. I think one of the things, as people come to unschooling and they come across that word, they can initially be confused a bit, because what’s important is it’s the things that come to us and maybe the things we find we might want to drop around our children. But, as you said, things that are related to their interests. They’re not coming out of the blue.
I think the biggest challenge is sometimes parents will strew things and maybe without even knowing it, they’ll have a bit of an agenda behind it and they’ll be disappointed if their child doesn’t pick something up, or isn’t interested in this, that, or the other thing that they’re bringing into their lives. For me, that’s more of a clue that we may not be deeply understanding what their interests are now, because of our connections to this new thing we think they may like are a little bit off if they’re not interested in any of the stuff that we’re bringing out.
As you said, you guys were interested in travel and the cultures that you guys are seeing and the geography, the locations, and the whole world is just strewing all this interesting stuff in front of you and you guys can pick up on what connects with you.
LAINIE: Absolutely. And we come across certain cultures or cultural traditions that do not interest us. We come across certain ecology that does not interest us. But we come across much more that invites us to go deeper, because we are engaged and interested. So, there’s so much to see and again, part of the worldschooling process is really being present. There is an actual intentionality behind engaging in the world and not every aspect is going to engage or interest us. But those that do, there’s no avoiding it. We just go deeper. We’re having these experiences and we’re present.
There are philosophical discussions that can happen around worldschooling and around the process of doing it. Even though I’ve never had the experience of being an unschooler from the get-go, leading a conventional, stationary life, we identify with those particular philosophies. But, for us, in everything that I’ve read, it just goes so much deeper.
PAM: That’s awesome.
And that leads very nicely into the next question, because I’m sure you have lots of wonderful stories to share from your worldschooling travels and I was hoping you might share one of your favorites.
LAINIE: Pam, I had such a hard time figuring out what to tell you. I know you’re going to ask about the TED talk and I will address that a little bit later on. But we had written a script for it and it took us quite a while to really define what we wanted to share. When we got up there, four minutes were taken away from the amount of time that we had to share. So, I’m going to share with you one of the stories that actually didn’t get told during the TED talk, because we cut it on the fly on stage!
Miro and I fell in love with Cusco. We fell in love with the Andean culture. We fell in love with so much here, the art, the tradition, the mysticism, the philosophy. It was so inspiring. So, we decided to make Cusco our home and we ended up living here for two years.
One day, we were at the market and we were having a juice served by Wilma, who is our favorite juice lady who we still go to, and right next to us sat down an indigenous man and his daughter and we started talking. It turns out that Edson lives here in Cusco, but his family is from a town called Chinchero, which is about 30 or 40 minutes away by bus. And the town of Chinchero is famous for weaving and I wanted to learn to weave.
So, we asked him, Edson and his daughter, “Can we come visit your family sometime?” and he said sure. So, it was about four days later. We received an invitation. We got onto a bus with Edson and his family and we visited his mother and his sister, who is this beautiful matriarch. And we sat at their farm and we were on the dirt ground. They had just harvested potatoes and they threw them in the fire. We all sat around in a circle and they all giggled and watched us peel the skin off the potatoes and we ate the potatoes. It was the tradition of sharing food and it was just so lovely.
The mother had hands that were creased and wrinkled, that were so expressive, that were the hands of an artist. I was mesmerized by her hands. And then she brought out wool from the alpacas near their farm. She taught us how to take the spool and pull it up and spin this little spool at the end and try and make these threads from the alpaca. All around, they had sheep and alpaca. There were all of these natural herbs and plants that they used for dyes. Throughout the entire day, sitting in the dirt in a circle with these beautiful women, they showed us little by little the whole tradition of weaving from making the spool, making the yarn, to dying the colors, to taking a stake and pounding it into the ground and then wrapping the threads around and starting to weave.
They showed us, of course, the most simplest patterns, but they also had these giant loom. To be able to have that authentic experience with this family, this really, really beautiful family, we all giggled and chewed on coca leaves. And after a while, it felt like we were sitting with family, our family, people that really opened up their heart and let us into their lives.
I have to tell you, Pam, every year, this is the fourth year we’re bringing a group back to Cusco, we keep going back to visit that family and they keep welcoming us. And they’re watching Miro grow up. I’m so excited. We’re going to go in one month to see them and this will be, like I said, the fourth group that we’re bringing of teens now that can experience this beautiful tradition, in a very authentic way.
PAM: That is such a beautiful story, Lainie. No comment needed. Very beautiful. It stands all on its own.
LAINIE: It was such a great experience.
PAM: Yeah. I can imagine. You’ve made enough of a connection with them that they’re excited to have you back and you bringing teens and young adults from your group with you and them getting to see Miro year after year, that sounds just awesome.
Question number six: I really enjoyed being a guest on an episode of your show, For The Love of Learning, and we talked about attachment parenting. That was so, so much fun. You’ve been hosting that mostly weekly show for over a year now. Can you share with us something you’ve learned that has stayed with you?
LAINIE: I am the person who always asks questions. I’m always curious. And I think that actually is one of the traits of being a good unschooling parent or worldschooling parent. One of the things that I just fell passionately in love with is alternative education. Once we defined, within our own lives, that education is really learning, I realized I had more questions than I had answers.
So, when I pitched the show to this network that I knew nothing about, it was because I wanted to have a forum where I can ask questions and then hear conversations, facilitate conversations based around the idea of learning. So, we approached it from a million different angles. For The Love of Learning: Voices of the Alternative Education Movement, there is no one right way of approaching education. There are so many ideas and people who are filled with passion about the topic, who are expressing it in their own way. I wanted to have the opportunity to sit in and listen to a conversation and ask a few questions and learn and learn and learn.
I’m humble in the sense that I don’t approach this as an expert of anything. I approach it from the position of wanting to learn and facilitate a conversation that will ultimately uncover all this new discovery. I’ve also noticed, when we put brilliant people together, there’s nothing but brilliance that comes out of the show. So, what have I learned? Everything! Oh my gosh. I’m just asking questions, sit back and listen, and discover and learn more.
PAM: I know. It’s amazing, isn’t it? I was excited to ask everybody that I could think of, everybody that I had come across over the years. I’ve always wanted to sit down and have a chat with them, yourself included, so when I started the podcast, I was excited. But, holy bananas! Being able to listen to people chat about their unschooling experiences, worldschooling, alternative education, even last week chatting with Carlo, it’s just amazing what you learn, isn’t it? It’s just so fun!
LAINIE: Absolutely. To have the empowerment to continue to learn! Oh my goodness. It just makes me want to ask more questions!
PAM: I think you’re right, that base curiosity about the world, about people, even that curiosity that drives you to watch your child and understand the messages and the ways you can support them and help them, back to when you were talking about you and Miro coming up with the idea to bring people to you. That curiosity is just at the base of all our days.
LAINIE: Absolutely. And I have to say that I felt like I got pretty good at facilitating discussions and conversations with working the teens. Like I said, we’re on our fourth year of hosting and facilitating Project World School Retreats. The teens are my best teachers. I’m telling you. They’re brilliant. They don’t hold back. And in order to facilitate a conversation with them, I had to learn all sorts of facilitation techniques. That also, I believe, helped me quite a bit with hosting the show, because it’s not about what I have to say, it’s about what the guests have to bring to the table and giving them the freedom and the space and the encouragement to share and then to build upon what the last person said. That creates beauty. That creates knowledge. That’s learning.
PAM: That’s beautiful. That’s something we continue to learn over time. That’s lovely.
We should probably move on to question number seven! When asked about traveling, I saw you’ve written, “My travel advice to you is the journey inward.” And as I was thinking about that, it sounds very familiar to the roots of the unschooling journey as well, because so much of that is our inner transformation. Can you talk a little bit about what you mean by that?
LAINIE: Absolutely. One of the things that keeps us going in our travels is the ability to look at worldviews. Worldviews are basically the lenses that we see the world through. If I, being a female, being born in California, being born in the United States, being born in the 60s, I have all of these circumstances and lenses just based on my circumstances, just based on the logistics of where I was born and raised. I also have cultural preferences. Every single person has these preferences that color the way that they see the world.
So, there are cultural, there are national, there are economical, every single filter that you can think of, you just put them on top of how you see the world. It almost reminds me of those machines at the optometrist where they slide another glass thing out in front of you and they’re checking your vision. That’s what it reminds me of. And most of the time, we don’t question those filters. We just see the world as we see the world.
But what travel does is it allows you to look at other people’s worldviews and examine why it either A, may be different than your own, or B, even be contrary to the way you see the world. It allows you to go inside and really define what works for you and get rid of what doesn’t. So, worldviews are something that we talk about a lot. We examine our own prejudices, our own filters. And in actuality, our outer experiences are really a way for us to develop who we wish to be internally.
PAM: That’s a great way of putting it and I love the way you talked about how seeing other people’s worldviews helps you or inspires you to question your own. When I’m thinking about my unschooling journey and what it was prompted by and how I started questioning those, for me, being in one place, it was looking at my children. Because they hadn’t yet absorbed a lot of the cultural or conventional messages. So, seeing them helped me start to recognize the filters and the judgments that I had just been taking for granted at first. Wow. That’s really interesting.
LAINIE: Yeah. It’s the same process, different words, different constructs, but it’s the exact same process. I think for us, travel has really become our vehicle for transforming who we are. And it’s our vehicle. You could do the same experience living a stationary life, but this just happened to be what resonated for us.
PAM: It’s a beautiful lifestyle.
Question number eight. In April, you and Miro gave the TED talk at the education-focused TEDx event in Amsterdam titled “Unschooling: Making the World Our Classroom”. And in the show notes, I will definitely share a link so that people can enjoy it, as well. I watched it and loved it. Can you tell us a bit about the experience? Just a bit.
LAINIE: Wow. We were asked to do the TEDx talk right before we were going into a retreat and heading into the Amazon jungle. We knew that when we got out of this retreat, we would have basically three weeks to prepare, rehearse, and deliver this talk. We had all this stuff we had to do between write the talk out, figure out our travel plans, raise money for our intern that’s been traveling with us. It was crazy, but we did it.
Miro will tell you the most stressful part about this process was rehearsing. So, I wrote the script. We worked on it together, but basically, I wrote the whole thing. And you would think, since I wrote it, I would remember it. So, what I discovered about myself is I do not memorize things very well. I did everything. We did over a hundred rehearsals. I recorded myself reading it and listened to it. I did everything humanly possible to memorize this thing and I couldn’t remember my lines. It was crazy.
So, the stress that led up to delivering the talk was there, because it was a lot to accomplish in a short amount of time. But when we got there, we got on stage. And the night before, I said to Miro, “Guess what? I’m just going to wing it!” And he’s like, “Right, yeah. Yeah.” And I’m like, “Yeah, I’m just going to wing it.”
But I had my cards and so I winged half of it and I was able to refer to the cards the other half. But right before we got on stage, we were told that we had 14 minutes and our talk was 18 minutes. I was like, okay. Miro was brilliant. He had the ability to memorize and deliver and, as I was there watching him, I was thinking there was no reason I needed to be up there! He was so articulate and wonderful.
So, we did a little bit of the back and forth, but it was basically edited on the fly. Not knowing any of those behind-the-scenes things, you probably wouldn’t know it, but that’s it! That was a little of the behind-the-scenes experience of what went into delivering our TEDx talk. When we got off the stage, we felt so good and I could not have been more proud.
PAM: Wow. None of that behind-the-scenes stuff was visible at all to me when I watched it. I thought you guys did great. Miro was just so fun to listen to. I could listen to him all day talk about the things you guys have done. It was really, really cool. So, congratulations!
LAINIE: Maybe he’ll have to do more!
PAM: Yeah. There you go! That’s brilliant.
Question number nine. I know you’ve talked a bit about how Project World School came to be, the inspiration behind it. I was wondering what kind of feedback you’ve been getting from past participants.
LAINIE: Incredible feedback. And in fact, we just realized that this year, we have more returning participants than we have new participants, which means people are coming to two, three, four, and five retreats. And we haven’t really done that many. So, that’s great. The feedback has been incredible. There’s something really contagious about having these really deep, out-of-your-comfort-zone experiences in a group of your peers that’s totally supportive. Oh my gosh.
I would just urge anybody who’s interested to go to our Facebook page and watch some of the video interviews of the past participants and you’ll hear from their mouths, their words, what they felt about the experiences. They’re incredible.
We are about ready to launch our third retreat in Mexico. We did one in the Amazon jungle. We are now going to launch our fourth Cusco Retreat, where we take a group to Machu Picchu and then, after that we’re heading to Wales for an organic farm retreat. Then finally, in November, we have a retreat in Thailand.
PAM: Wow! That’s great. I saw some of those announcements. It’s beautiful. And I will definitely have links for people in the show notes for all the websites and Facebook pages and you can sign up for the newsletter, too, so that people can stay on top of that.
LAINIE: Perfect. Exactly.
Question number ten. And this is one that I’ve been asking all my Ten Questions interviewees. Looking back now, what for you has been the most valuable outcome from choosing unschooling?
LAINIE: The relationship I have with my son and the beautiful relationship that I’ve been able to forge with all the teens that have come into our lives. I don’t think I would have been as open and respectful and approached life on such a partnership with this group of people, including my son of course, had I not discovered unschooling as a philosophy. Yeah.
I have to add, the permission to be a lifelong learner. It gave me back the permission to learn, to go back to worldschool, to go back to the natural learner that we’re all wired to be.
PAM: That’s a really great point. That’s true. When you think about it, conventionally those filters and messages we get, when we’re an adult, we’re supposed to have our learning done. And to realize that, no, this is something that we’re doing. This is a lifelong thing. That’s not just a message that we want our kids to get. We want to be that lifelong-learning person. That’s what we discover when we get there. And teens are awesome! We’ll just say that!
LAINIE: I love it! I feel so blessed to be able to be working with this incredibly dynamic group of learners. Oh my gosh. I am so blessed to have this opportunity.
PAM: That’s awesome. Well, I want to thank you so much for your time, Lainie. I really enjoyed speaking with you. And before we go, do you want to let people know where they can get in touch with you online?
LAINIE: Sure. You can just type into your browser ProjectWorldschool.com and that’s where you’ll find all of our retreats. For our personal blog, please visit RaisingMiro.com. Also, I’ve been facilitating a worldschooling group on Facebook. We just passed over 10,000 members. And so, this is a movement that’s growing and if anybody is interested in combining learning with travel, please join us there and that’s We Are Worldschoolers on Facebook.
Besides that, just Google me and I’m available through social media everywhere. Thank you, Pam, so much for asking me to be a part of your show. I’m really, really honored.
PAM: I’m honored that you came on, too. It was an amazing conversation. Have a great day!
LAINIE: You, too. Thanks! Bye!