Posted by: Tracy Barsamian Ventola | November 20, 2015

What if they spend their whole childhood playing?

happiness is here

Oh dear, sweet Happiness is Here blog.  Thank you so much for this post…I needed it!

I ran into a neighbor today and her son is struggling in full-day kindergarten.  Not so much in the classroom…he holds it together all day and then comes home and tantrums.  The usual stuff:  screaming, hitting and kicking.  Just like my big girl did when she got home from kindergarten.  My neighbor explained how she knows it’s too much for her little boy.  But he’s thriving in the classroom.  The tantrums are the price to be paid at the end of the day.

But wait.  The price to be paid for what?  For being trapped in a classroom on a 60 degree mid-November day (instead of running and jumping and climbing trees)?  The price to be paid for being forced to learn letters and numbers at a developmentally inappropriate age (instead of simply being surrounded by books and magazines and maps; instead of being allowed free choice in reading materials; instead of simply being read to)?  The price to be paid for doing pointless things like worksheets?  And growing to dislike “subjects” like reading or math (subjects that cannot exist on their own in the real, interconnected world).

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that some lucky kids come out of school unscathed.  These super-kids go to school and still come home and read for pleasure.  They still even like to learn about new things that interest them (just for fun).  Even those “success story” school children are at a minimum missing out on unstructured play, downtime and daydreaming.  Free-time and free-play enable children to really get to know themselves and who they are.  The luxury of time allows children’s own unique talents to naturally unfold.  Freedom is required to discover one’s interests and passions.  Isn’t childhood the time to nurture our children’s innate gifts that they are meant to share with the world?  What could be more important than a happy, unhurried childhood?

So thank you Happiness is Here for taking a much better approach.  The higher road.  And focusing on the positives of homeschooling and the incredible power of play.  What could children be doing if they weren’t in school all day?  What great things might they be experiencing, creating, doing if their childhoods were no longer defined by school?

Here is that beautiful post:  What if they spend their whole childhoods playing?

Posted by: Tracy Barsamian Ventola | November 14, 2015

Holistic Practitioners We LOVE!: Diane Iuliano


Diane Iuliano

I haven’t done a Holistic Practitioners we LOVE! profile in a long time.  And I’ve been seeing an acupuncturist who I LOVE! for a while now…so this post is overdue!

I’m pleased to introduce my acupuncturist, Diane Iuliano.  Diane is on the faculty at New England School of Acupuncture (NESA) and practices Japanese acupuncture at her private practice in Cambridge:  Acupuncture Therapy.


I’ll include the lovely explanation of Japanese Acupuncture from Diane’s site, but here’s what you really want to know:  Japanese Acupuncture uses smaller needles than Chinese Acupuncture!

Japanese Acupuncture is a system of health care that has developed over the past 1800 years. The foundation on which it is set is based on the concept of Qi (pronounced chee). Qi is the life force that circulates though all parts of the body via energy channels, called meridians. These meridians may be thought of as similar to the lymphatic or vascular system in the body. Each meridian is responsible for the physical and emotional balance in the body.

There are points located along the meridians that have specific actions and effects. These points are where the acupuncturist will gather the Qi. Hair-fine, sterile, acupuncture needles are inserted into points along the meridians. This helps smooth the flow of Qi and restore balance, allowing the body to work at an optimal level of health.


The treatment begins with a complete intake of information regarding current and past health conditions, allergies, medication taken, diet, work, and exercise and lifestyle habits.

Next, the acupuncturist will palpate the pulse at the wrists and abdomen.

Finally, the acupuncturist will place or insert needles or other tools at specific points. This should not be painful at any time. Most patients feel deeply relaxed and may fall asleep during a treatment. The treatment time is approximately 45 minutes.


The cost is $85.00 per treatment. Some private insurance companies cover acupuncture. Some HMOs offer a discount for acupuncture treatments. Please check with your individual insurance company for information.


I love Diane’s sense of humor and she is incredibly responsive to appointment requests.  And, in addition to being a joy to work with, Diane has done something truly miraculous.  She’s helped with my head aches!  I’ve been on a twenty year journey to cure my headaches.  I used to have headaches five to seven days a week (it was truly awful).  And while I still sometimes get head aches these days, they are occasional.  Head aches are no loner my lifestyle!  And I attribute much of my relief to Diane.  Her work, in conjunction with my ongoing work with Joy delGiudice, has been life-changing!  And I am so incredibly grateful.

I’ve worked with many holistic healers in search of headache relief.  And while (before Diane), I’d never found any relief, I did always receive some unexpected gift from each healing modality that I tried.  But acupuncture has been the jackpot!  In addition to relieving my headaches, I’ve also received another unexpected gift.  A bonus gift, if you will!  Sessions with Diane greatly decrease my PMS and menstrual symptoms.  Yippee!!  I now see Diane a few days before my period starts and those five to seven days of my life each month are a completely different experience.  Just so toned down.  It’s truly amazing.

I LOVE! Diane and cannot recommend her highly enough.

Posted by: Tracy Barsamian Ventola | October 24, 2015

Celebrating Samhain

celebrating the great mother

Last fall, as a result of some divine intervention (and a little research!), I found the wonderful book Celebrating the Great Mother: A Handbook of Earth-Honoring Activities for Parents and Children.  In the beginning, when I started reading it, I felt as if I couldn’t look directly at it!  Like it was too perfect.  The book was exactly what I’d been looking for!  A blueprint to re-focus our lives around the seasons and to live closer to the earth.  This is no easy task living in our hurried culture.  And in an urban area, no less!  But, I’ve been taking baby-steps.  I’m trying to loosely follow the seasonal festival schedule and put a little magic in our lives!

The next Pagan holiday is called Samhain…and it happens on October 31st.  “Our cultural Halloween still has the shreds of this ancient festival of the dead clinging to it…  Samhain teaches us to make death less terrifying:  we prepare special foods and set a place at our table for dead loved ones, remembering them with reverence.  Our ancestors knew that on Samhain the veil separating this world and the next is thin, making communication between the worlds a real possibility.  …Samhain encourages us to listen to the wise voice within, to trust our own ability to see into, and shape, our futures.”  (Celebrating the Great Mother, p. 7)

Both of my husband’s parents and my mother have passed away.  So, Samhain is a really lovely way for us to remember them and for our daughters to hear some of our fond memories of our parents (and our childhoods).  We remember my mother’s mother as there is something powerful about the matrilineal line.  And it is especially joyful for me to tell the girls stories about my father’s parents and how my beloved grandparents used to shower my sisters and me with love and attention (and sweets!).  Celebrating Samhain has been a lovely gift to my family, and so I share our Samhain altar with you…


OFF KLTR Samhain Altar

Posted by: Tracy Barsamian Ventola | October 9, 2015

DON’T spend all the money on the kids!


My Grown-Up and Five-Year-Old Healers Hard at Work!

Back in February, I wrote about being a selfish mother and how the patriarchal tenet that mothers must be selfless hurts women and damages families.  I talked about how, by taking time for myself and filling up my own cup,  I am a better mother.  With a full cup, I am better able to love and nurture my children.

And today I’d like to broaden my selfish statement.  In addition to needing to take time for myself, I also focus on my own emotional and spiritual healing before my children’s.  Yup.  You read that right.  If the household is a wreck, I get myself back on track first, then I deal the rest of the lot.  Selfish?  Yup.  Best thing that I could do for my children?  Double yup.  These statements go against the cultural norm.  Mothers are still expected to sacrifice themselves for the “benefit” of their families (their children most certainly, but often their husbands and parents as well).

I have heard so many friends say that they don’t do much healing work on themselves, preferring to spend all the money on their children’s therapies.  This is a selfless act.  As little girls, we are taught to grow up to be selfless mothers.  We are taught that by ignoring our own needs and focusing on our children’s needs that we will raise happy and healthy children.  But this selfless strategy always backfires because our children’s issues are a reflection of our own issues.  Until we do our own personal work, our children’s happiness and freedom remain an unattainable dream.

“Our children are responding to us all the time and are often demonstrating to us what we are not dealing with. When we work on ourselves as mothers and fathers, we allow our children to shift to a new position. We are constantly teaching our children what the world is like. We must clear our own fearful responses so that our children have an opportunity to live a different world.  And more importantly, we need to honor them for showing us our own blind spot.”  –Joy delGiudice

When mothers heal themselves first – often without even directly treating the children! – our own wholeness heals our children.  This is because our children serve as our mirrors, and they are quite literally mirroring our own traumas and our greatest fears.  As adults we have buried these traumas and fears deep in our subconscious, but while they are out of our minds, they are most certainly in our energetic fields.  And to our children, our energy speaks much more loudly than our words.

When we see unsavory behaviors in our children, we want to pour all of our time, energy, and resources into healing our children.  We know this pain.  We are actually feeling (what we believe to be) their pain.  But it is not necessarily their pain.  It is most likely just a mirror of our own pain.

As I’ve explained in the past, when my big girl is most out of her body – when her behavior most dizzies me – it is because she is mirroring a trauma or a wound in my energetic field.  In these instances, she is clearly not happy and her behavior is making the rest of us very unhappy.  In an effort to stop the behavior, I could fill her day with therapies.  I could spend half of my family’s income at the Lydian Center – chiropractic, homeopathy, kinesiology, acupuncture, cranio-sacral, brain gym.  In fact, I have done all these therapies for my big girl in an effort to heal her.  But time and again, we see the biggest, most life-changing results when I spend the money on my own therapies.  In fact, I rarely schedule any appointments for my children these days.  If they take a nasty fall off the jungle gym, I do get them right into the chiropractor for an adjustment.  If they are physically sick, I take them to our MD/homeopath.  But, when their behavior is out of whack, I schedule an appointment with Joy delGiudice FOR MYSELF and we clear MY issue that the girls are mirroring for me.  And by clearing my wounds, I free my children from having to carry these burdens (on my behalf).

I’d like to share another example – this time of my fears affecting my little girl.  If you know me personally, you know that my little girl is attached at my hip.  She is five years old and at park days she can always be found with me (most likely snacking!).  She rarely plays with the other children at the park, preferring to spend the whole time by my side.  She is an incredibly capable five year old.  She plays independently better than any other child I’ve ever met.  But she never chooses to play with the other kids at the park.  I kept thinking that she’d grow out of it…but she hasn’t…and so recently, I marched into my healer’s office, ready to treat the five year old and resolve this situation once and for all!  Well…guess what we found out?  I am scared sh*tless that my sweet little girl with poor vision is going to get hurt at the park.  Park days can be really busy.  There can be lots of kids running around, playing tag, climbing and bumping into one another.  What if my little girl gets hurt in the midst of all this commotion?  What if she gets pushed off the jungle gym?  I’m scared that it’s not safe.  I NEVER SAY it’s not safe for her or insist that she sit by my side where I can keep an eye on her.  But in my energetic body, I am scared for her safety and she reads my unspoken fear-based message loud and clear.  She obeys my unspoken warnings and stays close to me.

So what can my healer really accomplish by working on my daughter?  Not much since MY fear is causing her behavior.  But if I resolve MY fears, I can free her of my baggage.  I had one session on this issue, but there’s more work to be done.  Only by clearing my own fears can I free my daughter – so she can run, jump, skip, and play tag with her big sister and all the other kids at park day.  But I’m not gonna lie, it’s hard for me.  The charge is huge.  It’s gonna take a lot of work on my part.  And in the meantime, I have to really be careful not to take out my frustration on my little mirror when she is trying to crawl into my womb at the park.  She and I are stuck in my energetic muck.  She is my mirror.  And, it’s my job to work through this fear in order to set us both free.

I share this story in hopes that my experience might help other mamas working tirelessly to help their children who are suffering.  It is tempting to funnel all your time and resources into your children’s therapies.  I know that you just love them so much.  But don’t do it.  Spend the money on yourself – on your own healing – and your children will be healed as result.

Posted by: Tracy Barsamian Ventola | October 5, 2015

The Gift of My Mother Wound

My mother never scooped me up in a hug and covered me with kisses.

My mother never whispered softly in my ear that everything would be okay.

My mother never told me that I sparkled like the stars in the night sky.

As a result, I felt unloved.  Unwanted.  Broken.

But from my experience of childhood, I learned to be a warrior.

I learned to take care of myself.  To meet my own needs.  To rely on only myself.  I learned to assess a situation, determine what needed to be done, and to do it.  By myself.

warrior position

This weekend I attended a Shamanic(ish) workshop.  The teacher showed us ways to clear our old stories – our traumas – our wounds.  To clear our fears in order to stand in our power.  In the light.

I felt the teacher’s words physically resonate in my body.  I felt my heart fill with hope.  And then, I assumed the position that I’d learned as a little girl and mastered as a young woman:  warrior.  I set to work…to do what needed to be done.

Some of my classmates wanted to dissect the teachings.  To clarify every step of the process.  To acknowledge the difficulties associated with accomplishing the task to which we’d been challenged.

Perhaps if I’d had a mom who loved and supported me unconditionally, I would have needed to join in the group’s processing.  But, I had my mom.  So I assumed the warrior position without hesitation.  I did what needed to be done.  On my own.  And there in lies the gift of my mother wound.

Posted by: Tracy Barsamian Ventola | September 10, 2015

Actually Letting My Child Lead…

library 1

Unschooling is a beautiful life.

Allowing children to follow their interests.  To learn about the world naturally, on their own time table.  I am sold on this lifestyle.

And then my nine-year old child announces that she only wants to go to park days this fall.  No other activities, thank you very much.  She needs a break.

Wha?!  She needs a break from the rigor of our summer at the beach?  I was annoyed.

But then I thought about it.  Sometimes I need a break.  Sometimes I don’t even pick up a book for a couple of months.  But at the end of my hiatus, something big happens.  I start a blog.  We go on a trip.  I start cooking with recipes (instead of the prepared bar at Whole Foods).  We all need to percolate.  And why shouldn’t children be allowed to do this?

And so I agreed to my nine-year-old’s demands.  No other organized activities, just two park days.

And then I sat down and looked at the situation on a calendar…

2 days at the park.

1 day at the library.

1 afternoon with our beloved teenage babysitter.

1 afternoon (every other week) with the big girl’s art mentor.

If we had a class or two thrown in there, we’d be more rushed.  And as I am always saying, pace is our family’s main homeschooling thing.

Rushing ruins my family’s peace and happiness.

NOBODY likes a hit and run at the library!  That is my girls’ bread and butter.  They LOVE that place.

We could leave a park day early to fit in another class.  But why would we rush the best part of our week to fit in something that doesn’t particularly interest my girl at the moment?

Sometimes we well intentioned homeschool mamas can get caught up in the excitement of the amazing world of homeschooling.  So many classes!  So many activities!  So much fun!  Or it seems like fun ’til there’s no time for play dates.  No time for snuggling up on the couch and reading all day together.  No time for apple picking.

When we think of child-led learning, we think of finding ways to facilitate our child’s learning on a topic or skill in which they express an interest and or an innate talent.  We unschooling mamas are vigilant about this.  But I am realizing that it’s more than academic.  It’s also personal and spiritual…allowing kids to get to know themselves, their own rhythms and to trust their own innate wisdom.

It took me a few weeks, but I am (now!) grateful for my girl’s wisdom to “take a break”.  And I must admit that I’m quite proud of myself for listening and allowing her to lead.

library 2 (4)

Posted by: Tracy Barsamian Ventola | September 3, 2015

Another Awesome Homeschooling Article!!

cincinatti unschooling

Illustration by Andrew Rae

Another Awesome Homeschooling Article!!  This one’s about unschooling, in particular.  So much great press for homeschooling during our not-back-to-school season!!

Check out Jenny Burman’s article Class Dismissed: It’s Not Homeschooling, It’s Unschooling! in Cincinnati Magazine.

I especially LOVE how she closes her article…

When considering unschooling, “College is the big question for many parents, of course. They fear their child will not gain entry without access to Advanced Placement courses, without the preparation conventional schools offer, not to mention college prep schools.

UC’s <University of Cincinnati’s> Stackpole, who has worked admissions, says one aspect of his job is to bring more homeschooled students to UC. Stackpole is considering dissertation research on college outcomes for homeschooled students, and he believes “nontraditional” students of all types tend to be prepared for college because they also tend to be focused and self-motivated. “People who are unschooled or homeschooled,” he says, “if they’re motivated to get into college, they’re going to make it into college. With all the options that they have, they are going to do what they need to do to get admitted to their choice of institution.” Which is to say, without AP classes, extracurricular clubs, grades, or even transcripts.

All of it brings to mind the children’s story Henry Hikes to Fitchburg, in which two bears agree to meet in the town of Fitchburg. One works his butt off in order to buy a train ticket, while the other walks the 30 miles, splashing in a river, learning about nature, enjoying himself.

And guess what? They both get there.”

I gotta read Henry Hikes to Fitchburg!

Posted by: Tracy Barsamian Ventola | September 2, 2015

Getting Started Homeschooling

Girls at Walden Pond

Girls at Walden Pond

Lots of kids head back to school this week!  Three Septembers ago (our first year of homeschooling), I remember sadly watching all the kids on our street skip off to school, hand-in-hand, with their moms and dads.  We’d committed to homeschooling.  But we weren’t yet proud homeschoolers.  We didn’t yet know that we’d be splashing in Walden Pond in early September instead of spending those last precious hot days cooped up inside!

So if you are new to homeschooling, fear not!  This year probably feels scary, but by the end of the year maybe you’ll even have a blog where you chronicle your own family’s adventures outside of school!  This post is dedicated to all of you new homeschooling families.  Welcome!

Here are five suggestions for getting started this fall:

#1.  Join your state and local support group.  In Massachusetts, our state support group is Advocates for Home Education (AHEM).   And, you can find your local support group here.  Homeschool Together supports home learners in Arlington and surrounding towns.

#2.  Go to a not-back-to-school picnic.  In Massachusetts, AHEM hosts a picnic on Wednesday, September 9th in Hopkinton.  And Home School Together hosts another picnic on Friday, September 11th at Walden Pond.

#3.  Commit to finding and regularly attending a park day!

Using your local homeschool group as a starting point, start shopping for a park day.  Homeschool Together has a park day almost every day of the week!

Don’t get discouraged if you don’t meet your BFF at the park the first day!  Consider overall how you like the vibe.  Do the other moms (and maybe even a few dads) seem like people you’d like to get to know?  Does it seem like a good fit for your kiddos?  For example, if your family is low-media and all the kids are playing with handheld devices, then grab your kids and run away!  Try another park day next week!

If you do like the vibe at the park, commit to going every week!  Some of the families have been going to this park day for many, many years.  They know one another well.  They’ll welcome you, but you have to keep going.  Only by consistently attending the park day will you really build community there.  And when you do connect with another mama or your kiddo hits it off with another kid, invite the family over for a play date or for dinner!

#4.  Don’t overcommit.  If you were in school last year, you may be planning, “park on Mondays, Revels on Tuesdays, Math on Wednesdays, Habitat on Thursdays, and soccer on Fridays.  Done!”  Something everyday like when you were in school.  But I suspect that you left school for a reason.  You don’t have to recreate school at home.  If you are busy everyday, you won’t have time to enjoy all the treasures of homeschooling.  If you’re busy everyday, how are you gonna enjoy those last hot days of late summer, splashing at Walden Pond?  How will you have time to go apple picking during the week (when you’ll have the whole orchard to yourselves!)?  What about spending a day baking and reading in your pajamas with your kids?  Slow down, friend.  Enjoy your new lifestyle!

#5.  If you are using a curriculum and your kids are really pushing back…  fighting you every step of the way…or if you are just not enjoying yourself, consider pulling back and taking some time off from the curriculum.  Explore the city this end-of-summer/beginning-of-fall.  You might be surprised by how much (you and) your kids learn without any workbooks (wink-wink).

Happy Not-Back-to-School!!

Posted by: Tracy Barsamian Ventola | August 25, 2015

Boston Magazine – Best (Home!) Schools Issue

September Boston Magazine

I am thrilled to be quoted in the homeschooling article in September’s issue of Boston Magazine!  How amazing is it that a life-long homeschooler is on the cover of the Best Schools Issue?!

I’ve read the article multiple times and I love how well the reporter describes all of the opportunities available to homeschoolers in the city!  It’s truly great to be a homeschooler in the Boston area!  But, the more times that I read the article, the more I wish that the reporter had explicitly outlined the difference between the two homeschool methodologies intertwined throughout the article:  (1) the whole-life learning approach (also called unschooling) and (2) the school-at-home model.

Claire Dickson, the lovely young woman in the cover photo (who will attend Harvard in the fall) and her family are unschoolers.  My family also follows a whole-life learning model.  Our children are encouraged to follow their own interests and passions.  We parents serve as our children’s guides.

The unschooling model is in stark contrast with the school-at-home, teacher-directed model that the reporter describes through her visit with the Holzbach family (in Winthrop).  The article contained a “sample task list from a recent day of homeschooling: two hours of math, a one-hour history lecture, 40 minutes discussing the Brooklyn Bridge, time spent on Portuguese, 90 minutes of history reading”.  In this school-at-home model, the parent assumes the traditional role of teacher and sets the educational agenda.  The parent drives the child’s education.

I support every family’s right to choose the best educational philosophy for educating their children.  Period.  No if’s, and’s or but’s.  However, taking school out of the classroom and simply moving it to the kitchen table (or bean bags or couch) wouldn’t have worked for my family!  We needed a new model.  A not-school model.  An unschooling model.

Unschoolers are encouraged (and guided) to explore what interests them.  For example, my older daughter loves sewing and fashion.  She takes a sewing class (math and measurement) and we do lots of reading about historical costumes and the lives of children living in the corresponding time periods (history and reading).  My big girl loves being a homeschooler.  She loves to read.  She is quick to delve into researching anything and everything that interests her.  She is a self-directed learner and I am her guide.

To learn more about the whole-life learning/unschooling model, check out the following blogs.  Like my family, these three homeschool moms (all quoted in the Boston Magazine article) follow a whole-life learning/unschooling model:

Milva McDonald (West Medford):  A Potluck Life

Kerry McDonald (Cambridge):  City Kids Homeschooling

Deanna Skow (Cambridge):  Adventures in Teaching my Own

And here are my very favorite unschooling books/movies:

Free Range Learning: How Homeschooling Changes Everything

The Well-Adjusted Child: The Social Benefits of Homeschooling

Class Dismissed Movie

Happy Reading/Viewing!  Tracy

Posted by: Tracy Barsamian Ventola | July 4, 2015

When Teachers Homeschool Their Own Children

Bella Wang Photography, LLC

Former School Teacher’s Two Homeschooled Daughters

School teachers run in my family.

My dad was a special ed. teacher.  My mom was a second grade teacher.  My aunt and uncle (a husband and wife duo) were both teachers.  My sister is a kindergarten teacher.  Two of my cousins are teachers (and I only have three cousins!).  I was a Spanish teacher.

I was taught to support public education before I learned to brush my own teeth.  And yet, when I had my own children, I opted out of the system to which I’d pledged allegiance.

My story is not unique.  Many former teachers opt to homeschool their own children.  The idea was formally introduced by David Guterson in his book Family Matters: Why Homeschooling Makes Sense in which he grapples with the inconsistency of his choice to homeschool his own children and his profession as a high school teacher.  Guterson explains,

“Learning theory tells us to teach children as individuals who learn in their own unique manner. The finest possible curriculum is precisely the one that starts with each child’s singular means of learning. Instruction and guidance are best provided by those with an intimate understanding of the individual child and a deep commitment to the child’s education. These principles derive not merely from the homeschooling movement but from contemporary research into how children learn. They are not merely adages fabricated by homeschoolers but precepts grounded in a science that should inspire us to reconsider both our roles as parents and the shape of public education.”

I think that it’s easy to call teachers (and former teachers) traitors for homeschooling their children.  But if, instead of going to a place of anger and judgment, we really sit with the idea that teachers are choosing to homeschool their own children, we discover a profound message.

The majority of teachers go into teaching because they love children.  That’s certainly why I went into teaching.  So all of these teachers (turned homeschoolers) took their responsibility to educate the children in their classrooms very seriously.  They didn’t just work 180 days a year.  In addition to all of the lesson planning, correcting, book keeping, and report card writing, they dreamed about their students at night.  Outside of their classrooms – in the car, on the subway, at the movies – they struggled to come up with new ways to reach their students.  New possibilities for teaching multiplication to those three kids who just couldn’t seem to grasp it.  How to engage Jamie with the other kids.  How to best approach a parent with the recommendation that her young daughter repeat kindergarten.  Teachers pour their heart and souls into their work.  And these same people, having made their living by teaching other people’s children, opt out of that system for their own children.

Teachers turned homeschoolers sought a different educational model for their own children.  An educational model that better supported their children as learners…as individuals.  One that better supported their families.  They chose homeschooling.

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