Caterpillars to Butterflies

Column by Retta Fontana.

Exclusive to STR

My brilliant daughter scored 4.0 in her science classes in college! I'm feeling so happy and proud. This, however, is not about grades. It's about transformation.

When she was a small child in school, she often seemed anxious. For a long time it was worry over what to be when she grew up. Telling her that she could be anything she wanted to be didn’t assuage the pressure she was under in the classroom. Telling her not to worry and that she could wear any number of different hats in life and change her mind any time did little. I was happy to tell her that what you do is not who you are, and that if she couldn’t provide for herself that her Dad and I would provide for her, but it didn’t help either. I knew that I was not getting to the heart of the matter, but I didn’t realize that I was not addressing the anxiety of psychological pressure from the system, which was enormous.

I’m glad those days are over! I took her out of school when she was almost nine. She began to ease out of bed in the mornings naturally, instead of resisting the clock. She ate when hungry (what a concept) instead of me begging her to take one more bite. I saw her take pleasure in grooming herself rather than me nagging her to please brush her teeth and hair or we would be late. (I never wanted to grow up to be anyone’s ball and chain how did this happen to me?)

At first I felt compelled to "teach" her at home, but we both suffered. I pared it down a few times until I at last just dropped the whole thing. While holding my breath, I let go and we tried "childled learning" or "unschooling." It was psychologically difficult for me, but I knew intuitively that it was the right thing to do. Slowly the organic joie de vivre we had known prior to “school” returned to our life.

Each day she would dress herself at her own behest and go outside and climb a tree. She'd sit up there swinging her legs for the better part of an hour while mother wrung her hands, worrying that some busybody would call social services to report a neglected child. I had to force myself to leave her be and get busy with my chores. One day she came down from the tree and asked me, "Mom, how does the world work, anyway?" My heart swelled with happiness! I'll never forget that moment. How often does a child have the opportunity to pause and consider the world around them, to formulate a big question like this? Not often enough. Aren’t we all just too busy? I found out that this question was a typical mark of successful recovery from being "schooled." With her budding curiosity, her schooling ended and her education began.

In answer, I explained to her that everyone needs things food, shelter, clothing, etc. Her dad went to a job and they paid him money to do the work. He took that money and made the house payment, bought groceries and shoes for us. In turn, those people that he paid took that money and bought what they needed.That money went around and around the world. (If you can’t explain something as an brief elevator ride, you don’t understand it. I was also a firm believer in letting a person ask if they wanted more information. Clearly she was not shy.)

She seemed satisfied to operate from the premise I offered and then slowly began pursuing things of interest. Thanks to her father, I had the luxury of that time to spend with her. We read a lot and I treasured every moment. One day she asked me to teach her times tables. I remembered how my mother tortured me with them and made me feel stupid and angry. I
determined, as always, to give her a much different experience.

We bought a poster board, drew lines and filled in the numbers of our times table. I showed her the number patterns, which she seemed to find as delightful and sensible as I now did. The chart disappeared into her room, and I'd sometimes overhear her whispered repetition of the numbers, committing them to memory. The information became a useful tool for her rather than a point of contention between us or a lightening rod of negative feelings. Learning†occurred. No one suffered and her desire†to†learn†continued. At 16 she tested into college English and off she went. She loves to learn and has aspirations.

I'm so thankful for all the loving and freedomloving people whose ideas I'd discovered along my path. Each one helping me understand more and more the importance as well as the integrity of freedom and love rather than force. If I accomplish nothing else in my life, by raising my children without coercion I have given my greatest gift to the world two
more free souls.

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Retta Fontana's picture
Columns on STR: 59

Retta Fontana lives in the Great Smoky Mountains. Children are her favorite people. She loves to connect with readers - please writer to her here:


Samarami's picture

This is a good article, Retta. Taking the time, the effort, and the emotional risk to homeschool is truly admirable.

I'm due for my 26th grandchild (yeah, that's Twenty-Six, with a capital "T") in September (doubt any of y'all even knew I was expecting :-]). All homeschooled. That is, the ones still in their youth. I've some great-grandchildren (expecting my 6th in June) I don't talk much about. They make me look old :-[.

Here are a couple good articles from my homeschool archives:

Keep up the good work.


rettafontana's picture

Thank you so much! Congrats on the grandbabies! I hope to have some one day.

Jim Davies's picture

Retta, welcome back! It's been a long wait, but this fantastic article made it worth while.
"With her budding curiosity, her schooling ended and her education began." Superb.

rettafontana's picture

Thanks, Jim! It's great to be back.

Glock27's picture

I am curious. You don't mention anything regarding a curriculum and all states I am aware of the government intrudes with guidelines and periodic testing to see the child is up to par. I am confused and curious about many things regarding the article of which I co not understand. Also the schools have record of your child and after so many misses they would have sent someone out to check up. I am curious on how you evaded this intrusion of the government. I am one who believes that State Department of Education needs to be removed, it is useless and filled with morally corrupt people. They make up their own rules, laws, regulations and guidelines that have to be followed, so you can, I hope, see my curiosity. You have two admirers here plus one very curious one. Please don't think I am attempting to be disrespectful here, I am just curious in how you managed to evade the government all that time.

rettafontana's picture

Thank you for commenting. Those are good questions. Some U.S. states have much more lenient rules for home education than others. You can find them all at a website called: "Homeschool Legal Defense Fund." Just click on the map for any state you like. California would be among the worst, Michigan would be among the best.

At the time, I happened to live in a state with almost no oversight (Michigan.) When I took my children out of public school, they went to a private school for a couple of years. When I took them out of private school, I answered to no one. In fact, when we homeschooled, my daughter wanted to "opt-in" to non-core classes at the public school, which she had the right to do in Michigan. After all, they were still soaking us for the taxes to pay for all of it. She took art and gym classes for a short while, until the oppression she felt was outweighed by the fun. I have heard that in Alaska, the state pays remote homeschoolers to learn at home! Any way you can get a refund of your money from the state has some merit.

Having said this, I have to say that no one has any business testing my child to see if she meets their standards, even if they were not morally corrupt, self-serving thieves, which they are. When my child was young, she was my business. I gave birth to her. I put food in her belly and shoes on her feet. I stayed up all night when she was ill. Now she is her own business. They can go fly a kite!

Glock27's picture

RettaThank you for your reply. I too am a resident of Michigan, but it required both my wife and I to work to survive as a family. I going to college to get a teaching certificate to teach in Special Education. Not many good options to home school a child with special needs, however, the students I worked with were violent students and the State Institutions were their last ditch effort; now they have none because they closed all these schools leaving them in the hands of public school (totally ill equipped to handle these kids).
Again, thank you for the information, as I was merely curious.

mjackso6's picture


Take a look on the search engine of your choice under "unschooling". There are some pretty good articles out there that explain the basic concept and the legalities involved.

Mike Jackson

Glock27's picture

Thanks mjackso. I was just curious and wondered about how she was escaping the social/progressive government guidelines.

Paul's picture

Actually, a fair percentage of homeschoolers have been motivated to remove their learning-disabled children from the government schools because those schools were serving their needs so poorly.

As to evading state control, a lot can be chalked up to bureaucratic incompetence. Also, even if they are competent, the last thing they need is to deal with irate parents; they want an easy life. Oregon has a long tradition of noncompliant homeschooling. We never bothered to register my son. My family is none of their business.

mjackso6's picture

How did you pull that off in "upper northern Kalifornia", Paul? I grew up just outside of Salem, and even back in the '70's and 80's I can't imagine being able to slide that past TPTB™ (high five!).