By Nikki Schaefer, staff writer for The Attached Family
**Originally published in the Fall 2008 Growing Child issue of The Journal of API
“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?” he asked.
“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, we just raked the first pile of leaves. Would you like to jump with us?” I asked.
“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 that a boy of such enthusiasm and spirit had become a boy filled with disinterest.
What happened? Is the jump from six to seven years old 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.
Some Children Don’t Do Well at School
I was homeschooling my son until last year. He learned to read on his own out of love for reading, had a natural passion for numbers and facts, and had 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 I put him in.
Ben went from playing half of the day in the leaves with his sisters to playing half of an hour on a black top. 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, and keeping his mouth shut.
He went from lingering over lunch in my 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 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.
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 on. It seems necessary to provide tight order and structure with that many kids, or chaos would take over. School must start at an early time with a full seven-hour day, in order to fulfill state requirements. This is the reality of most schools.
For some kids, school is the best place. For some families, school is the only choice believed to be right. But for our family, it was not.
School Put Stress on the Family
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 the sink. Baby was being 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. What took the place was disconnect.
The Decision to Go Back to Homeschool
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 homeschool. And I can choose to homeschool 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 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 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. 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 into homeschooling once more.
The Right Choice
It is now autumn again, and the school year has begun. My son and I were just saying our nighttime 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 that fall is coming soon, and 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.”