PAM: Welcome, I am Pam Laricchia from LivingJoyfully.ca and today I am here with Adrian Peace-Williams. Hi, Adrian!
ADRIAN: Hi, Pam. How is it going?
PAM: It is going wonderfully. Adrian, if people do not know, is one of my friend Alex’s daughters. I have enjoyed getting little updates over the years as to what she has been up to. I am thrilled that she agreed to come on the podcast to talk about her experience growing up unschooling. So, to get us started Adrian …
Can you share a little bit about you and your family?
ADRIAN: Yes. I grew up in Nova Scotia and I have two sisters. I am the middle child and I am twenty-four at the moment. I was homeschooled up until I was fifteen then I decided to go to public school. I did that and that was a whole adventure. I am attending university. We live in the woods. I love being outside and reading books and learning and I love my sisters dearly and my parents as well of course.
What were some of your interests growing up and how did you pursue them?
ADRIAN: It changed of course as I grew up but a theme for my whole life has been the outdoors. That was a big one for me when I was little too. Luckily, I did grow up surrounded by woods in a pretty rural location. I was able to go outside all the time and play in the woods.
My parents would facilitate that and bring home books on trees and birds and plants. I would kind of look at them and think this is cool but mostly just wanted to be outside. Now I am valuing those books a little bit more and turning more towards the books. I want to know all the details now.
Being outside was kind of an easy one. I could just be outside. I also loved drawing and painting and so I would do that a lot as a kid. Mum would often take us to art galleries so I could see different paintings. We had painting board games where we could pretend it was an art auction kind of thing. We actually did that the other day too.
PAM: Masterpiece, we loved that game.
ADRIAN: Yes, Masterpiece.
We would just draw and paint a lot. I went to a lot of art camps as well. We could choose what camps in the summer we wanted to go to and I would usually go to the visual arts and also theater too. I really enjoyed being in theater so I took some improv classes.
Again, mum and dad would say, “Okay these are all these classes you can take and here are your options.” I would always choose an arts one. I took painting classes. As I got older, I got involved in community theater which was amazing. One of them is just a woman’s group where they put on a variety show every year. The profits go to woman’s charities that they pick. So, I love that.
I liked to read too, so I would read a lot or get mum and dad to read to me. I loved reading so much. I would actually sit for so long and being read to, that mum and dad were like, “Okay I cannot read to you any more I am too tired.” I would want them to sit there for like six hours and just read to me. So, eventually I got more into audio books and then just reading to myself.
PAM: I remember that transition for my daughter, Lissy too. I was reading the Harry Potter books to them for the longest time, for hours. Then my voice would go and even water was not helping it. Then we found the audio books at the library and then, she could just go for hours and hours and hours.
ADRIAN: Yes, same. I think those were my main things that I love. Of course, just playing games and hanging with family. Canoeing, I loved camping too. I would always if there was an option of, “Hey what do we want to do as a family?” I would always choose to all go camping together and be outside. Nature awareness camps too, those I loved. I learned a lot through them.
PAM: That is awesome.
Was there a time over the years that you found your unschooling lifestyle challenging?
ADRIAN: Yes, I was thinking about this question, because of course life is challenging. And it is also hard to separate okay is this because I was homeschooled or unschooled or is this just because life is hard.
PAM: It is true, it is just about living, it is true.
ADRIAN: I think I thought about my transitions in life. And those, I think have been the hardest times for me. Transitioning from when I chose to go to high school. I was fifteen and kind of felt I needed something more but I did not know what that was. And so how do I move forward through that? Okay, what I am doing now is not quite working, how do I figure that out?
Then once I did graduate high school and was like okay, I have done this stage of my life, what is next? Then after traveling a lot I am like, okay I am ready to not travel but what is the next thing? It was these transitions I think, that have been the points in my life that was kind of hard to go through.
I think the things that helped me were remembering what brings me joy and what my values are and giving myself time to listen to myself. I think I learned I personally take a lot of time to come to decisions sometimes. It is important for me to give myself that time. And to remember that is okay to make a mistake and decide something and start it and then no this obviously is not the right thing. Then do something else and maybe that keeps happening and then eventually you will find it and you will love it.
PAM: Yes, you hone in on things over time but through your experiences right but I think that time piece is such an important point. Because you do have to keep giving yourself permission because that is not something society kind of in general supports, does it? It is like boom, boom, boom, right?
ADRIAN: Yes, and I think during those transition periods, sometimes I can feel this pressure. Okay, what are you going to do, what are you going to do now? I think remembering to protect myself from that and realize I am going through my own journey right now and that is okay and I do not need to please these people in society that think I need to being doing this or be doing that. I think giving myself time and just remembering yes, what brings me joy and trying to follow those things, trying to follow those paths.
PAM: I think that is such a great observation about what works for you. Knowing that it is okay to not know and that is okay to just kind of follow that joy. And say okay, ‘I think I am going to try this that might bring something into my life that I will value.’ Then it is like, no, that is enough. That is not what I was looking for out of that experience, right? We are, as a society, goal obsessed. I need to know where I am going and I need to doggedly pursue that all the time. And to change my mind or make mistakes are some horrific thing, you know.
PAM: Rather than just life experience and me getting to know myself better and what brings me joy better.
ADRIAN: I think I always thought if I am doing something that makes me happy, I will probably make the world a little more happy because I will be happy and that will just be spread.
PAM: It trickles out.
ADRIAN: I thought that was a good way to guide myself. But I think it might be different for other people too.
PAM: Oh yes and all you can share is your own experience, right?
PAM: So yes, you mentioned that you know it was one of those transition pieces where you decided to try out high school.
Could you talk a little bit more about that experience? Parents might be curious about how you found that transition.
ADRIAN: Yes, it was really interesting actually and relatively easy, I guess. I think I was at a point where I had a couple of friends that had moved away and I was kind of lacking in my social community. I had a couple of friends who were in high school and thought you know what, this could be interesting, why not just try this. I think I went into it with a very casual mindset.
Which going back is a really interesting thing and not a lot of people have that experience with high school. It was like a summer camp or like a class, you know. I thought, I will just try this and see how it goes and if I do not like it, I can just stop because I am getting a perfectly great education.
PAM: Because you just can.
ADRIAN: Because I just can and so I think just having that relaxedness or relaxation around it was really helpful. I did not feel a lot of pressure necessarily. I think I had some misconceptions about high school. Like I thought okay these people have been in class learning their whole lives. I was curious to see what my skill level would be. Because we were very free in terms of our structured learning which is very different from high school.
When I went, I picked classes that I thought I would be interested in. Which were some art, some drama and some food science I think and an ocean science class. I realized that I know how to learn and they are teaching and so it was actually really easy. Oh, I just need to know how to listen and how to take notes or how to ask questions, how to talk to people and have fun. I got this, I know these things.
PAM: I love that.
ADRIAN: Yes, so it was really cool that I got to have that experience. I also had a lot of help too. My older sister also transitioned to high school and she was there and I had some good friends there so they were kind of able to help. I did know people so I was not going into this totally new space. And my teachers also were amazing.
My spelling and reading was not at the level of my other peers and they could have been much harder on me about my spelling but I think they knew that I understood all the material and they could see it was getting better and it was. I found that it easily got better really quickly and was fine. I also had lots of help from my community with that transition. I met lots of great people too. It was interesting to get to know a lot of people my own age. I think homeschooling I had a lot of friends that were a bit older and a bit younger and kind of usually hang out in a group of multi-aged people.
And so, then we were all the same age and it was interesting. I think I realized that Nova Scotia where I grew up is a different too. I was exposed to a very different community which I really valued. I think it made me realize that I knew myself a lot better than I thought I did. Or I did not even realize that I knew myself but when I was with a lot of other people that were still learning who they were it made me realize, ‘Oh, I have had this time to just be with myself and not always be comparing myself to people.’ Yes, I think I realized I had a bigger sense of self than I knew I did.
ADRIAN: Which was really interesting. Yes. I went in at half way through grade ten and then I did eleven and twelve. By year twelve, I think hard part for me, I lost a bit of the mentality that my parents tried to teach me through homeschooling. I think I started caring too much about the things I did not actually care about. If that makes sense.
PAM: Yes, yes.
ADRIAN: Yes, but I am also glad that I had that experience too, I also learned from that. I think now I know a little bit. Okay this is what a public school can be like and this is what homeschooling can be like. Now I have these two perspectives which have been really valuable in my life as well.
PAM: That is so interesting. I love the way you were able to articulate that. Those are really great pieces to differentiate between the different kind of lifestyles and be able to choose it. And to choose to stay, to know that you could leave if you wanted to helps you almost be there to observe and to notice those things. You knew. It just feels like it is a choice. You come to the whole experience with a different mindset. A more open kind of mindset. It sounds like that helped you.
ADRIAN: Yes, completely.
PAM: Became more self-aware too about yourself within the bigger picture of it all, right?
ADRIAN: Yes, and I think it was a concept that a lot of my peers had never considered. When I was explaining, I am here to kind of try it, they were like, “What? Oh my god.” Some really interesting, fun conversations came out of it. It was almost comical because I am just doing this. It was good.
PAM: Oh yes. That is so interesting, so interesting. Okay so after your high school experience you ended up doing some extended traveling, right? And that was part of that transition out again.
I would love to hear a little bit about your traveling time. What is it that you loved about it? And maybe a little bit about the trips that you went on.
ADRIAN: Yes. I did a lot of traveling and I guess it was a transition. I was done with high school and I think I knew that I needed to ground myself a bit from that experience because towards the end I was feeling not quite myself. I was ready for a less structured learning environment.
I just got caught up and I was like, ‘Okay, I just need to see the world a little bit.’ Because I traveled a bit with my family when I was young and really liked it. Liked seeing new places and learning new things so yes, traveling sounded really good because what is the rest of the world doing. I am here but what else is going on.
So, I went to New Zealand with Unschooling Adventures which is run out of the states. I went there for six weeks. It was with a youth travel program, they organized the trip. We were in charge of certain things. The goal of it was to learn how to backpack and hike and travel as a young person and how to do that. And how to meet other young unschoolers or people who had been in public school—other young people who were wanting to travel and learn more about the world.
It was fantastic. We backpacked across the south island of New Zealand. I learned how to live out of a backpack and hike with one and how to cook on the trial and how to navigate from different places. How to stay in a hostel and all these traveling skills and also it just really reminded me that there are so many different ways to look at the world and be in the world.
It was really lovely after high school where I think my world view narrowed at the end. This really broadened it and my leaders especially were just amazing people and had great stories and great experiences that they shared with me. I was like, ‘YES! This is fantastic!’ It was perfect. It was what I needed. We were outside all the time hiking in the woods, which I loved.
So, that was a great experience. After I was like okay, I want to keep doing this. I was not done with this style of learning and traveling. I guess I thought this was really cool to just be able to live out of a backpack and this is all you need. I liked that idea of being really minimal because I think when you have less stuff you are able to see more and experience more because you are not caught up in a lot of the things that you have. But I wanted to challenge myself a little bit so I said okay, let’s do this on my own. Let’s not go with a travel program.
I thought Europe was a good place to start because a lot people speak some English but I also want to learn a bit of French and Spanish. My ancestors are from England and Whales and I thought it would be really interesting to go to Europe. So, I worked at a farm for a season and went in the winter. I booked my flight and packed by backpack, just one. I went to Europe for three months and booked some work stays, some work exchanges I should say.
I did that in New Zealand and was like oh this is a really cool way to get to know a place because I think it is really nice to stay with someone who lives in the place that you are visiting. I find it gets a more local perspective and you do not just feel like a tourist. You actually get to be in the place. So yes, I did some work exchanges on a farm and with a couple of families. I did some hiking and sight-seeing. My mom and my younger sister came to visit me for a little bit. I went to Spain and France and Italy and England.
ADRIAN: It was fantastic. It was probably one of my most challenging trips. I learned a lot about myself because being alone in a foreign country with just a backpack you just, it is just like, ‘Okay…I am just doing this I guess and I need to figure it out. Where am I going to stay? How am I going to get there? How am I going to afford that? What am I going to eat?’
I feel like I started to connect more with my cooking because that was probably the first time that I was like really totally in charge of my own food. Which was interesting because before I was either living with my family where it was more collaborative or traveling with a group where it was more in a communal way. So, this was like, ‘Okay yes, I need to figure out how I want to eat and cook. Where am I going to do that, in hostels?’ You know and trains and meeting new people and speaking new languages. I definitely learned a lot.
I think my most important lesson from that trip was that people really matter to me. I went alone and I had this idea about proving something to myself, that I can do this alone. I remember standing looking at the Colosseum in Rome and being like okay this is really cool. I have seen this in tons of movies, this extremely famous thing, so much history. But I do not have anyone to share this with. So, what does this mean? It was kind of like, not much. This doesn’t really mean anything right now because I miss my sisters and yes, I just missed that connection of sharing with people.
PAM: Sharing an experience.
ADRIAN: It was really interesting, yes. But I think it was really good for me to go through those things alone and to realize those connections are really important to me.
PAM: Isn’t that a wonderful way to learn these things about ourselves, right? Is to have experiences. To have experiences that like you were talking about before, these are not mistakes or wrong. These are things we are learning along the way. That make us more whole because we are learning more about ourselves. Now that we know more, our next step can be closer toward the stuff that we know more about. Does that make sense?
ADRIAN: Totally, totally and so yes, my next traveling, I knew I wanted connections. I also realized that I really enjoyed learning Spanish. So, I went to Nicaragua and volunteered for about six weeks in the same place. Because I was also moving around a lot in Europe and that ended up being exhausting. I wanted to connect with one place and so I went and volunteered and got to know a community and people and took Spanish lessons and that was incredible.
It was awesome to really see into a different kind of world and speak a different language. It was on a permaculture farm for a bit so also following my interest of being outside and working with my hands. Then also working with kids a little bit and doing art too, I also like doing art. So, it was teaching art classes for about week and then working on a permaculture farm for about a month. It was lovely. I was like, ‘This is it!’ Because I am coming to this place and actually feeling like I am contributing to the community a little bit. Instead of just being a tourist. Which is also great to do sometimes; but it felt more meaningful to me to make those connections.
PAM: Yes, exactly it is all about the stuff that we are learning about ourselves and what is meaningful to us. Like you said before, it is not a judgement on other people making other choices because those are the choices that work for them. It is that whole piece that you figure out that we are all individuals and as we you know step towards our joy, does not mean that everybody else’s steps need to look same or that our steps are wrong because they look different. It is a bigger picture appreciation, isn’t it, for everybody doing what they love.
ADRIAN: Yes, and I think I came across, like you were saying, like everyone is following their own joy. Because a lot of my peers were going to university or college at that time and that was the mainstream that everyone was going towards. But, I kept choosing to not do that I guess and to keep working and traveling. I was working really hard in between all my trips. I think that was kind of cool for me because it taught me that I can keep making my own decisions and that is okay.
And to keep following what I love has turned out really well. It was nice, it was like a continual affirmation of yes, you can keep making your own choices and everyone is doing what they want to do and you do not have to do what other people are doing. Or you can and that is great too but as long as it feels right in your heart.
PAM: Yes, as long as it is your choice. Because now you have made the transition right now you are going to university, right?
So, do you want to talk a little bit about that transition and how that has been going for you?
ADRIAN: Yes, yes for sure. Now I am in university and there is also a certain relaxation about that. It is interesting to have been doing something that not a lot of other people are doing for it was about five years that I was working and traveling and now I am doing something where a lot of other people are doing that. And to notice being in those two different worlds is really interesting.
After traveling and working, I had been working was on organic farm and I loved it there. When I first started working on farms, I think it was my first job when I was twelve or something which was mostly weeding or mowing a lawn, it was just for pocket change.
I live in a rural place too so there are not a lot of other jobs available. But over the years I kept working on farms and a couple different farms and this one that I worked at for about five seasons now, I do not work there anymore but I did. Something about the farm, I think it was the perfect size and the family is amazing but I got to see the whole picture of the farm. I got to be a part of different parts of it which is something that I really like.
I think my brain likes to look at the big picture and then put different pieces into it and see how it all works together. I love being outside and working with my hands and I got to work at the farmer’s market where we sell our products and see how my work was connecting to the community. Which is something also I learned that I really value. Feeling like am helping my community and contributing to the world in a positive way.
Because I love being outside and I love being in the natural world I realized I guess, by working through this farm that it’s connected to a lot of the things that I love. I took a summer off and did more traveling in Canada. I did a road trip with my friend. The whole summer I was thinking about the farm. What is happening and what is growing and is this turning out? I miss it so much. I just realized that I love it but also that I had been working at this one farm for a while and feeling like, I wanted more of a challenge.
I need to make a shift so I am taking on more responsibility or like I am learning more. Because I feel like I know how to weed really fast and I know how to harvest but I want to know how do I plan this and what is happening in the soil. How do I market my produce or these more theoretical or different than just the day to day stuff? I was thinking bigger picture things and I was thinking I like learning with a group. I kind of just came to where yes, university is the way that I want to learn about this.
I also thought that I could just start reading books and start farming because you do not really need a degree to farm you can just do it and it will work or it won’t. I was kind of like, ‘No, I think I want this more structured way.’ I do like some structure in my learning. Yes, I wanted to be with other young people who were into farming. I knew we could have lots of conversations.
So, now I am going to Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario. I chose that program because it focuses on sustainable and alternative forms of agriculture which is what I am interested in. Instead of the more large scale industrial farming. I really, really like it. I was a little nervous but more just because I was moving to a different town and community. Also, because I have not been in kind of this system for a long time and how is that going to go. But really it was fine because I think I know how to learn and I know how to reach out for help.
Luckily, I have amazing parents that help me a lot and the school is great too. There are so many resources that I can use. It has been really good. I think the thing that has been important for me is to find peers that also have a similarish mindset around school. I was kind of like okay, what are my peers going to be like are they all going to be younger more like eighteen coming right out of high school? Will they be older, will they be mixed? But I found that it is more diverse actually with my program. I think a lot of people come to agriculture maybe at a bit of an older age instead of right out of high school. But, it is a diverse group which I really appreciate because they have lots of different perspectives that we can talk about. Not everyone wants to farm, some people are just interested in agriculture and food policy and some people do want to farm and some people they want to do livestock or vegetables so it is diverse which I really appreciate.
PAM: That is lovely. So, it sounds like you are enjoying that so far.
ADRIAN: Yes, I feel like the program has been really perfect because it is not very hands on but that is kind of great because I have already had a lot of hands on experience. I am taking an organic agricultural class next semester which I think is going to talk about policy and certification methods and then environmental implications of agriculture. So, how are agriculture and the environment related, which they completely are.
Last semester I took world food systems so looking at how does food move globally and how is it traded. I think that is really important for me to know. All the classes so far have been like, ‘Yes! This is what I need to know, this is important for me to learn.’ But I still do question how important graduating is to me. Because there are some classes that are required for my degree that I do not necessarily think will be extremely interesting. So, I am still trying to figure out, how important that piece of paper is to me and how valuable those classes will be. Is it not interesting because I do not know anything about it or because I haven’t tried it or is it because I really just do not want to take this class? How do I work with this? Because there still is a lot of pressure from within the university to get that degree. That is the whole program is setting you up to do, that is the point.
PAM: That is their job.
ADRIAN: Right that is their job but my point is learning and using this information to hopefully one day apply it to my life as a person growing food for my community. So, there are slightly different agendas happening here. It is sometimes tricky to balance that but so far it is good. I think it will be more towards the end of my degree when I how it will work. I do not ever want to sacrifice my time for something that I won’t necessarily care about because I think towards the end of high school that was what was happening. It was just doing this for someone else now not necessarily myself so it did not feel good. So, I am wary I guess and cautious to observer, this is what the university wants or this is what I want? Just make sure I keep on my path here.
PAM: Oh, Adrian I love all those questions you are asking yourself. That is perfect and that is how you are going to kind of feel your way through it. I mean, that is how you feel your way through life, right? Really because there are always pushes and pulls and things from various directions. You know, what it’s like to really get clear on what we want out of it. What you want out of it and the implications as you said, you know that tendency to easily get sucked into someone else’s agenda. That even sounds too harsh but other people’s agendas, they are everywhere. It is not necessarily a bad thing but being aware of it so that even if you choose to not lose sight of the fact that you are choosing, right?
PAM: Because you can easily kind of slip over into, I know I am not making these choices from a personal perspective anymore they are choices that have showed up here and I fell into it. You are asking yourself such wonderful questions, it is fascinating. Thanks so much for sharing.
What do you appreciate now, from your perspective at this moment, most about living an unschooling lifestyle growing up? Or just being free to live because like we were talking about before to label what is unschooling versus you know what is living, eventually it is just living your life doesn’t it.
ADRIAN: Yes, it does.
What do you appreciate most about just being able to live your life just growing up?
ADRIAN: I think it is time and space that was really important for me. And freedom and not being constantly judged and evaluated on my decisions and choices. I was really, of course when we were working as a family so not totally free like I had to work with my sisters.
PAM: Yes, in the context.
ADRIAN: Yes, within the context but yes, the freedom to get to know myself. And I did not even know I was getting to know myself. I did not even realize that was happening until I was in a situation where that had not happened for people. I think yes, the space to just be, the space to have time to listen to myself and know and learn how to listen to myself. Learn how I work and how I learn what brings me joy, what does not, how do I deal with making these decisions? Having the time to even think about that. I do not want to take this class, okay why do I not want to take this class? So, the time; the time is so amazing. The time to just be and learn how to be. Be in relationship with nature and my family and my community. I think if I just explore, time to be a kid a play.
PAM: That leads nicely into our last question.
As a grown unschooler, what piece of advice would you like to share with unschooling parents who are maybe just starting out on this journey?
ADRIAN: I thought about this question and it is tricky because I think every parent and every kid and every community and every environment is different so it is going to look different for everyone.
I think what I came to, the things that I have valued the most from my experience of being unschooled was the tools that I have now. I think being an unschooler got me and the parents that I have got me those tools. Like how do I listen? How do I communicate my needs? How do I listen to other people’s needs? How do I know how to ask questions when I do not know the answers? How do I go into a new situation feeling okay and feeling that I can do this?
Even if I do not know how to do it, I know what next steps are; how to figure it out. Okay, this did not work where do I go from here? How to live and how to love too. How to love myself and how to love other people. How to figure my way around a city and how to take care of other kids. How to have a conversation with an adult when I am there. I think knowing how to learn is much more important than knowing math or knowing how to write an essay perfectly.
Because if you know how to learn then you can go into most any situation and figure it out. And know how to have the confidence that that is okay. You know, teach your kid that it is okay to not know something, it is okay to be wrong or make mistakes and it is okay to do these things. Those are the situations where you learn.
Because if you know how to learn and you know how to fail, then you can do anything, I think.
Because if it is okay to keep failing eventually you are going get it and you are going to learn. How to love and work in a team.
And listen to your kid because they will tell you what they need even if it is not verbally. I think that yes, letting them be the leaders is really important too. Focusing on skills instead of specific things and then just following your kid I think are important things.
PAM: Oh, my goodness Adrian, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today. It was so much fun, thank you, thank you.
ADRIAN: Yes, thank you too Pam it was really, really nice.
PAM: Oh, good I am glad you enjoyed it.
ADRIAN: Yes, it is fun, it is.
PAM: Best of luck next semester. I hope you really enjoy your classes.
ADRIAN: Thank you, thank you. Yes, I am excited.
PAM: Thanks again.
ADRIAN: Thanks Pam, bye.