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.