Walking up Los Nevados hills in central Colombia, our guide had slowed down his own pace to keep up with those of us who were still acclimatizing to the altitude. With the clouds below, most of us were too focused on our breathing to talk, and even the guide's descriptions of the volcanic landscape had slowed to a halt.
Miro was not so easily deterred. At 11 years old, his backpack swung off his shoulders as he told the group about his current favourite tv show. He had downloaded Stan Lee's Superhumans series from the History Channel, and he was telling us about one blind man who visualized the world using a form of sonar. As we huffed and puffed our way up the hill, Miro explained how echolocation works, how this man was using the same techniques as dolphins and bats to navigate his world. His mum, Lainie, smiled and laughed as he closed his impromptu lesson with a litany of knock-knock jokes.
It was clear that Miro was no ordinary kid and his mum was no ordinary parent. Mother and son had left their home in LA back in 2009 in order to travel the world for eight years. They had left behind all the traditional models for parenting and education in search of a nomadic existence. They were currently staying in a hostel in Manizales, Colombia. They were my first introduction to the concept of world schooling and I was fascinated to learn more of their story.
What had sparked their decision to leave LA and make their home on the road? In 2008 Lainie Liberti had been running her small design agency Jungle 8 for eight years and she had eight employees. Eight seemed to be her magic number but, by 2008, the magic was wearing off. The Californian economy was tanking and she was exhausted. She was working long hours to keep the business afloat and she never had enough time with her son, Miro. It was a story we know all too well, but, in September 2008, mother and son made a life-changing decision.
They decided that they wanted to leave their home and take off on the adventure of a lifetime, a worldwide trip with no definitive end. They wanted to get back to spending time with each other and enjoying life. Their preparations for the trip began by selling most of their LA possessions. They were shocked by how liberating it was to simplify their lifestyle and live more frugally. Six months later they had shed most of their stuff and were ready to set off. Almost ready. They decided to do a test run, a trial trip to test the waters. They spent six weeks exploring Mexico and Belize. At the end of the trip they were hooked and returned to America to say their final goodbyes to friends and family.
When I met Lainie and Miro they had been on the road for close to two years. They had travelled through every country in Central America and were looking forward to slowly exploring South America. I thought of all the children I knew, of myself at Miro's age, and I wondered what life was like for Miro without stuff and without friends his own age. According to Lainie, he did not get to spend as much time with people his own age but he had always related easily to all ages, and he had always been mature for his age. Both mother and son tried to make friends of their own age and they often put down roots in a certain town or village for months at a time. They told me the story of how difficult it had been for Miro to give away all the Legos he had collected while he was in Guatemala, and how amazing he felt to give them to the children of San Miguel Escobar.
As we hiked up the hill, Miro told us all stories from mythology and attempted to teach the group some Spanish. His knowledge seemed to skip from subject to subject, informed by everything from museums to Google research and people he had met on the road. I asked Lainie how she kept up his schooling on the road. It turned out that Lainie let Miro lead the way. Unlike the formal curriculum that dictated the class schedule at my boarding school in England, Miro's education was based on the concept of unschooling or world schooling. The world that they were exploring had become Miro's classroom, and Lainie put her trust in the philosophy that Miro would learn what he needed to know when he was ready and willing.
After a day hiking in the hills, exhaustion had started to weigh down our legs and Miro was struggling to keep up with the group. As we climbed up the final trail, I could hear Lainie telling him jokes to keep him moving. When we finally fell into the truck to take us back to our hostel, Lainie shifted from being a giggling friend to a supportive mum as she hugged Miro and told him how proud she was of him.
Although Lainie's nomadic lifestyle, parenting approach, and educational values may not be for everyone, they do teach all of us about the beauty of letting go. The beauty of letting go of the rules we think we have, and the stuff we think we need. The beauty of allowing our instincts, and our children, to lead the way now and again.
You can read more about Lainie and Miro's adventures at Raising Miro.