Why We’re Not Going Back To School in the Fall

by Tracy Barsamian Ventola 

Last fall, we quit formal schooling. We stopped dragging our seven-year-old daughter—kicking and screaming—out of bed each morning. We no longer held our breath each afternoon as we drove up the school’s driveway, where the teacher would hand us a physically, emotionally, and spiritually depleted child. A child who held it together all day at school and unraveled as soon as she entered the sanctity of our minivan. That unraveling would take the form of tantrums—screaming, hitting, kicking, and punching at home. Somehow we’d survive the afternoon and early evening, only for our daughter to struggle to fall asleep for hours, tossing and turning in bed. And the torture would begin again the next morning when we’d wake her from a dead sleep and fight the battle required to get her to school by 8:20.

Friends and family, with varying degrees of eloquence, warned my husband and me that we were shirking our parental responsibilities. Children must be socialized! Children must go to school! It was our responsibility as parents to endure this hellish lifestyle and get our kid to school, damn it! But the more that we thought about the situation, from our daughter’s perspective and that of our family as a whole, the more we questioned whether going to school (an institution created by the state) was in our child’s best interest? We wondered, what if we stopped imposing society’s rules on our child, who was so clearly suffering? What would happen if we listened to our daughter? She could not have sent us any clearer message: school was not working for her! And the transformation that would occur, as a result of withdrawing our daughter from school, would be more remarkable than we’d ever dared to imagine…

It was a slow process. It started over the summer, once school ended…but, by the end of the fall, our girl was back in her body. The hitting, kicking, and screaming all became things of the past! The tantrums stopped completely. Our home went from a war zone to a place of peace and quiet. The three-year-old little sister got back her big sister. The explosive big sister was replaced with a gentle girl who played kitties and puppies with her little sister. And the sleep! Our daughter who’d struggled with sleep for years began to easily drift to sleep at night. Replacing the stress of school with a slower pace and unstructured time was healing our seven-year-old.

Before deciding to homeschool, I conducted hundreds of hours of research, during which I met two homeschooling moms whose stories took my breath away.  Both moms had sons who, when in school, had experienced behavioral issues very similar to those of my daughter.  Both mothers vowed that homeschooling was the tantrum solution!  And so, I’d hoped—dreamed!—about the behavioral changes that would occur once we started homeschooling, but what I had not anticipated was how my daughter’s inner light—her natural curiosity and her joy of life and learning—would be rekindled by the slower pace, by the days tailored to her needs and interests.

At the beginning of the year, our girl was not interested in much. She wanted only to stay home. To play in the playroom. To lounge on the couch. To lie in bed, looking at books. I religiously planted seeds all fall. I littered books that might interest her around the house. I told her about new, exciting homeschool classes that were forming. I suggested homeschool park days and games days. Nothing sparked her interest. Nothing. This flat stance would continue through the fall, but in December the most amazing thing happened: the lights came back on! She was interested in everything: learning to read, to skate, to dance, to design and sew clothing, to bake her own recipes. You name it, it interested her! Enough time had passed. She had, in a sense, rebooted her feelings about learning…and about life in general.

Art is another way that we witnessed this huge shift in our daughter. Our girl has always been a talented artist, but once she started going to school every day, she all but stopped drawing. Now, as a homeschooler, most of her quiet time at home is spent with a pen and a sketch book in hand, perfecting some aspect of her drawing. She’s currently working on getting the fingers on figures to look just right.

A year ago, I experienced many sleepless nights, worrying about our decision to quit school. I was a Spanish teacher before becoming a mom. My mother was a classroom teacher before she became a mom. My father taught special education for over thirty years. I’d never considered homeschooling until faced with my older girl’s emotional and behavioral struggles. Now, a year later, I am so grateful for those tantrums! Our daughter’s outrageous behavior gave us the courage to homeschool. And homeschooling truly has changed everything. And so, this summer, I  sleep soundly knowing that we’re on the right path, knowing that we’re not going back to school in the fall.

Tracy Barsamian Ventola writes about her family’s adventures in unschooling on her website Off Kilter – Holistic Parenting for the Rest of Us (www.offkltr.com). Her blog focuses on alternative education, holistic health, and conscious parenting.  

Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing your adventure.
    I’ve shared this entry in the Facebook page: Common Core Critics – Home Schools: https://www.facebook.com/groups/CommonCoreCriticsHomeSchools/
    Due to this curriculum, many parents are leaving the public schools system and will need all of the help they can get!
    Your’s is a great testimony!

  2. While I’m glad your daughter is doing better, I’m not quite sure from this article what the problem was with school. What was it about school? Was it the classroom itself – could she not be at a desk? Was it being around so many other kids? Was she being bullied? Was it the format or the structure? Was the pace of learning too fast or too slow? Was it the teachers? Was it getting up early? What?

    • Hi Mary, The problem wasn’t any one individual item on your list…the problem was the system. “The problem is not…(the parents or students), or even the teachers or administrators. It’s the system. The way…(parents and children) feel about school is the direct result of a system that cannot support individual interests and learning styles.” (http://alternativestoschool.com/articles/how-school-wounds/) One of the main ideas developed on the Alternatives to School site is that “Coercive schooling is not good for children. Schooling that children are forced to endure—in which the subject matter is imposed by others and the “learning” is motivated by extrinsic rewards and punishments rather than by the children’s true interests—turns learning from a joyful activity into a chore, to be avoided whenever possible. Coercive schooling, which tragically is the norm in our society, suppresses curiosity and overrides children’s natural ways of learning. It also promotes anxiety, depression and feelings of helplessness that all too often reach pathological levels.” (http://alternativestoschool.com/) Spend some time on the site. It’s an amazing resource! Warm Regards, Tracy

      • That’s a great way to put it. We pulled my then six year-old son out of school after a couple months of school last year for similar reasons. We couldn’t really put our finger on the exact problem back then, and we still don’t know precisely. What we know is that he needs certain conditions to learn effectively that simply aren’t feasible in a classroom setting. For example, in groups larger than 3 or 4 he gets so distracted it’s like he can’t hear anything. For another example, his brain relies more heavily on memorization than most people’s, so he needs instructions repeated multiple times and in smaller doses.

  3. Question: Can I homeschool my 11 year old in just the core subjects but have them attend the public school for P.E., music (she plays sax) art classes only?

    • Hi Jean! My family doesn’t follow a “school at home” model of homeschooling; we consider extra-curriculars like art and music and movement to be the meat and potatoes of our curriculum! So we take classes like art, music, and movement (usually with other homeschoolers) at art and ballet studios in our community — or in a friend’s living room! Within the umbrella of homeschooling, the model we follow is called unschooling (or home-based, self-directed learning), you can learn more about this alternative type of homeschooling here at: http://alternativestoschool.com/articles/home-based-learning But, to answer your question about homeschoolers taking classes at the public schools, I did a little research and it appears to vary by state, so I’d recommend getting in touch with a local homeschool support group to see if it’s a possibility. Best wishes on your journey! Tracy

    • Jean,
      You should check with your local public school to see if they will allow your child to take just certain classes offered at the school. You won’t know unless you ask. I’m not sure how it is in RI, but in MA our local schools have the option to allow this to happen. One of our daughters was able to take just Spanish class at our local elementary school. She signed in and out at the principal’s office when she came to the school. Then, a few years later, another daughter was not allowed to do so—a new principal decided to stop the practice. So it varies based on a number of factors. For instance, one homeschooler was an excellent wrestler and his local public school had no difficulty adding him to their wrestling team!

  4. Nicely written Tracy. I now have yet another reason to be skeptical of the “teach to the middle” approach of public schools.

    Also, this:http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity

    • Matt R! So nice to see you here on Alternatives to School!! I, too, am a Sir Ken Robinson fan. Maybe we’ll show his Ted Talk at the next neighborhood porch party?! Thanks so much for your comment! Tracy

  5. Some kids just don’t do well in school. I have one of those.

    I totally “get” how schools need to teach. There are a lot of kids so you have to run down the middle and hope you catch the outliers. The problem is that my kid is a way-outlier, and he was missing tons of things. He’s not “special,” he’s not “entitled,” just “not in the middle” and can’t learn by reading a textbook and answering questions. We had the dragging & screaming every morning, the fights over homework, and the barely-passing grades. We were all “done.” It wasn’t them, it really was him. We finally accepted this last spring, and pulled him from a wonderful private school this past June.

    Homeschooling has been a total 180. I have two others who are homeschooled for other reasons, and we go year-round, so he got pulled in almost immediately. Yes, it’s still new, so a little shiny, but now he does work without fighting. He works AHEAD because he wants to keep learning. I tried to “punish” him for something else by making him do an extra spelling activity I would normally have skipped, and he did it and another because he was having fun after all. The difference is being able to use curricula that suits his learning style and fits HIM, not the “one size fits most” of where he was. My daughter is staying in that school- she is thriving, and wants to be there. He didn’t, so we did what was right *for him*.

  6. Stephanie says:

    Love it! I homeschooled since the beginning, so I don’t have a transformation story like this, but I definitely see the difference when I look at my daughter’s peers. Schooled kids are, in general, very disturbed and broken people. The older they are, the worse it is. I am so glad I avoided that mess, and so proud of you for stopping the destruction in its tracks.

    • Stephanie, Thank you so much for your encouragement of my family’s homeschool journey! I agree wholeheartedly that the school system is broken. And that broken system makes it incredibly difficult for students to grow into their full potential. And that is why this site – this movement – is so important, to show families that there are alternatives to school. Alternatives that foster children’s inner light. And I am so proud to play my tiny part in that movement. Warmest Regards, Tracy

    • Way to generalize Stephanie. I was homeschooled and now my children are public schooled. They are in no way “very disturbed and broken people.” Come to think of it, none of their friends are disturbed or broken either. Sounds like you have a rough neighborhood. Please don’t label those who choose public school with the same ignorant brush that they usually use for the homeschooled. It makes you sound just as ignorant. Both choices offer pros and cons.

    • Jennifer says:

      Stephanie

      My kids have been to public, private and been homeschooled at different point in their lives for different for different reasons. All have their plus and minuses and are right for different people for different reasons. It is ok to walk your own path and encourage other on theirs without being critical :( My kids are not at all broken and have seen very few that are I feel sorry if that is what you see. Either you are being very judgemental or your live in a very rough area.

  7. Good on you! My eldest went to school briefly, the younger one has never been. Their life, our life, is wonderful, we live in total freedom. We travel, they learn, they play, we meet people, have experiences. That socialisation thing is a load of old rubbish, people have no idea what they’re talking about. Good luck!

  8. Michele says:

    I regret how long I suppressed that little voice telling me to homeschool. Way to go! It took me 6 years to get there!

    • Thanks so much for your comment, Michelle! I wish that I’d homeschooled my daughter sooner, too. But, on the bright side, families like ours – that have experienced life with school and without school – are in a unique position to help other families considering homeschooling. Our stories make a difference. Thanks for being such great company on the journey, Tracy

  9. Patricia Nepean says:

    I took my son out of the public system the February of his Junior year in High School. I had offered, every year from the time he was in middle school, to home school him, because I sensed it would be more beneficial to his insightful personality and kinetic learning type. He refused, plugging away, with me feeling like I was dragging a weight along just to keep him motivated. This past year was a different matter. He came home one day nearly in tears (and this is a tough kid!) and practically begged me to home school him. His reason? Because he was sick of never learning anything useful! He WANTED to learn, and it wasn’t happening, at all, where he was- and certainly NOT because he wasn’t making an effort. So I un-enrolled him from the school district. I told him he was at an age where he’d have to be self-directed and motivated, and I’ve been amazed by his level of maturity. He did all of his own research for what he wanted to learn, and delved into it. And I discovered what an amazing writer he is! I would likely have never known that had he stayed “in the system,” where his abilities had never been explored or realized. The biggest regret I have is that we didn’t do this sooner! As a side note, a really great, very informative video to watch regarding the “Home School vs. Public School” debate is “Indoctrination.” I highly recommend it, as it is put together very professionally without coming off as combative or inflammatory. More power to our children, parents, and more power to us! Happy learning!

  10. Jens Peter says:

    This is exactly the story of my daughter! Same age, same behavior. Same progress after she got back control over her own life. I wish more people would listen to their kids if they have the possibility to not have them in school. It’s difficult to go against society which says all kids should be in school. But once you dare, you win!

    • Jens Peter, you are so right! Once we dare to swim against the current, we (our children and our families) win BIG! So happy to be on this journey with you and so many other amazing families! Warmly, Tracy

  11. I am utterly amazed at how this article is exactly like my family. Last year we quit school for homeschool for our then 7 year old too! Everything you wrote about…it’s like your me! I would love to chat with you about your learning experience sometime! Our daughters are just alike. She even has a 3 year old sibling…a boy though. She has changed so much for the better!!

    • Yes! Let’s get together for coffee, Ashley! I live outside of Boston – are you close?!?! It’s a pleasure to be in such good company! Hopefully both of our stories will help give other families (like ours), who are still on the fence about homeschooling, the courage to take the plunge in the fall!! Thanks so much for your comment. Best, Tracy

  12. Thank you for such a wonderful post. My son is 6, and has been diagnosed with many neurological issues, and anxiety. When we made the decision to homeschool for kindergarten after a disasterous two years at preschool, I was so nervous, but my son is so much more content, motivated, and actually learning the things he both needs and enjoys (not always the same things).

    I want the message to continue to get out there that if your child is suffering at school, you do NOT have to continue down that path. There is a better way for them! :-)

    I can’t wait to hear more about your journey. :-)

    • Hi Tracy! First, I love that we have the same name (ha!). Thank you so much for your comment. I totally agree – it’s so important for us to spread the word about homeschooling…and about the magic of homeschooling…and about how completely it changes our children’s lives (and our families as a whole). I am just thrilled to be a contributor to the Alternatives to School movement! Thank you again! Warmly, Tracy

    • Jennifer says:

      Hello,

      :) I’m a homeschooling mom and just wanted to respond to a comment often made about taking your children out of school if they’re outwardly struggling or having trouble. Well, I spent 12 years in what I would describe as two different, but typical public schools. My mom was a fine teacher and I was in honors classes, etc. No one would think I was ever really “struggling” even though by high school I had grown to hate school and was often so stressed and miserable that I sometimes fought back tears and skipped classes. It was too much of an artificial, competitive, high-pressure, stressful, uninspiring, immoral, and forced environment and I just learned to play the game and get through each week. My mom mentioned the possibility of graduating early and I jumped at the chance.

      My point is this, there are many who are struggling inside but have learned that their needs will not be met or listened to by the authorities around them so you just push through the drudgery and accept your fate (or act out and rebel).

      Before my daughter (now 9) was born I knew she would not attend a government school. I knew nothing of homeschooling, I just knew THAT. I knew she was my child, my responsibility, and we would stay together as a family. And why wouldn’t we? It only seemed natural and I’m glad for the freedom to live and learn naturally in the world. I’m finally learning, along with and often FROM my daughter, all the things that I was supposed to learn in school and so much more. Anyway, I’m rambling. :)

      My comment is not meant to condemn anyone for their choice, but to share my perspective and experience that many children (and adults) don’t know that they may have options and so resign themselves to their present state without question.

  13. Chelsea says:

    This article did me so much good to read! Thank you for sharing! I have recently decided not to send my daughter to preschool, and rather homeschool- and of course, I’ve wondered if that’s the best decision- what about social life? What about stimulation? This article answers both of these questions with excellent answers!

  14. What an amazing article! Thank God for giving you the strength to listen to your daughter. She seems very resilient, and will heal in time. Enjoy your journey, because the best is yet to come!!

    • Hi Laura, Thanks so much for your kind words. I often think about how lucky we are that our girl wouldn’t take no for an answer! She never stopped showing us (as loudly and passionately as possible!!) that school wasn’t working for her. She’s one strong kiddo – and sooo resilient! Kids are remarkable, aren’t they?! Thank you again! Warmly, Tracy