Natural Life Magazine

Leaf Jumpers
A Journey from Home to School and Back Again
by Nikki Schaefer

A journey from home to school and back again.
Photo Richard A. McGuirk/Shutterstock

“Mom, there’s just seven more days until the first day of fall!” My six year old son announced, giving me the usual morning fall countdown. “How are we going to celebrate? Can we jump in the leaves?”

“You bet!” I responded. “How about jumping in the leaves and making caramel apples?”

“Hurray!!!” He cheered, with his younger sisters jumping in on the excitement…

That was autumn – two years ago.

This was autumn last year….

“Look, Ben,” I said. We just raked the first pile of leaves. Would you like to jump with us?”

“No. I don’t want to jump in the leaves.” My son responded flatly, barely looking up at us or the giant leaf pile. His sisters and I played while he just looked at his feet. My heart broke to see a boy of such enthusiasm and spirit become a boy filled with disinterest.

What happened? Is the age jump from six to seven so drastic that a boy who once got so excited about jumping in the leaves with his sisters no longer cares? I doubt it. In my opinion, what happened was school.

My son was learning at home until last year. He learned to read on his own out of love for reading; he had a natural passion for numbers and facts and an innate zeal for life. Yet I started to question if I could continue to meet the needs of this growing boy. Does he need more? Can I give him enough? Does he need more social interaction? Then I started to answer: He loves structure. He loves activity. He is so social. The conclusion: He was made for school. It just seemed like the “right” thing to do…and so we put him in.

Ben went from playing half of the day in the leaves with his sisters to playing half of an hour on blacktop. He went from cuddling on the couch with his family sharing his self-invented number games, reading and storytelling, to sitting in a classroom in a hard desk with 31 other kids, filling out worksheet after worksheet, raising his hand to talk, standing in line – a lot – and keeping his mouth shut.

He went from lingering over lunch in his kitchen while talking about the latest topic of interest, to gulping down his food quickly in a loud lunchroom with concrete walls and little windows. It’s no wonder that in just a short two month period this boy no longer wanted to play in the leaves…his spirit had forgotten how. It just didn’t “fit” anymore. He went from actively experiencing the wonders of life with his family, to mundanely learning about his world on paper – with strangers. That was the difference and what a big difference it was, indeed.

"It’s no wonder that in just a short two month period this boy no longer wanted to play in the leaves…his spirit had forgotten how."

Currently, with the way traditional schooling is run, teachers are, for the most part, locked into a certain system. With 32 kids in a classroom, it is impossible to cater education toward each child. Children have to “wait” a lot because there are a lot of other kids to “wait” for. It seems necessary to provide tight order and structure with that many kids or chaos might take over. School must start at an early time with a full seven hour day in order to fulfill government requirements. This is the reality of most schools. And for some kids, school could be the best place. For some families, school is the only choice believed to be right. But for our family, it was not.

We went from sharing a peaceful breakfast with classical music in the background to the frenzied sound of my own voice shouting, “Hurry, Ben! We’re going to be late!” Dishes piled up in sink. Baby was pulled out of her crib to get to school on time. We went from enjoying the presence of a delightful boy, helpful leader and friend to his sisters, to feeling a huge hole in his absence. We missed him and he missed us, and what took the place was disconnect.

I took all of this in. I prayed about it a lot. I listened. I journaled. I sought advice. The conclusion: I can choose something different for my child and for my family. I can choose to life learn, and I can choose to do it in a way that gives my child the freedom to be a child and to actively celebrate and experience life within his family, his community and within his world. I can choose to tell silly stories and read fantastic books while snuggling on the couch. I can choose to allow measurements to be discovered while baking cookies or making sand cakes at the park. I can choose to trust in my own child’s creativity and capacity to learn and in myself to provide a loving space for his spirit to unfold. In doing so, my child will stay connected with himself, his family, his world and his Creator in a deep and meaningful way. He will keep his “childhood” vigor and joy, and his innate love for learning.

It is clear that we were meant to put Ben in school last year. In doing so, we were able to see the change in our son. We were able to feel the effects of school on our family. Because we put our son in school, we can now “get off the fence” and jump in the leaves with home schooling once more….

It is now autumn again and the school year has begun. My son and I were just saying our night time thanksgivings after a day of reading books, dancing in the kitchen and playing at the park. “What are you thankful for today?” I asked.

“I am thankful that it’s getting colder,” he said, as his eyes lit up. “Because that means we can jump in the leaves again!” I smiled a deep smile and gave him a big hug. “I am thankful for that too, Ben…I am thankful for that too.”

Nikki Schaefer is a wife and mother to four life learning children who were ages 8, 7, 4, and 8 months when this article was published in 2008. She is also a licensed clinical social worker and former art therapist. Currently, in between doing loads of laundry, diaper changing, song singing and park playing, Nikki writes and illustrates articles and stories. She has written for several parenting and homeschooling publications, illustrated for authors, and has five picture books of her own that she is seeking a publisher for. To view Nikki’s work or read her home schooling blog, go to

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