Today is Day 13 of 31 for 21, a blogging effort to promote awareness about Trisomy 21. The potential of children with T21 is amazing and you can click here to find other bloggers sharing their experiences!
>>do you know anyone from the US that successfully homeschooled their children in Israel? I am feeling more and more like homeschooling is right for our family, and now it is one of my greatest fears of living in Israel. I’m nervous my kids will always feel like outsiders and not integrate properly. Are you kids missing homeschooling? do you think the transition would have been harder for them had they homeschooled?<<
This has been a long overdue post since I told the person who asked this back in January that I would answer it a week later. Yes, that’s embarrassing- I did start writing this then – but at least I’m getting to it eventually!
There are absolutely native English speakers who are successfully homeschooling in Israel all the way up through high school. So if homeschooling is important to you and so is living in Israel, they aren’t contraindicated.
Homeschooling has been something I’ve been passionate for so long, and continue to feel is the ideal option when the factors are right. I didn’t have the factors in place in Israel to provide my children with the kind of homeschooling experience I wanted to give them, that I was previously able to provide for them. I haven’t changed my beliefs about education, but since my circumstances have changed, I’ve had to decide in what framework I can now give them those things that are most important to me.
I’ve been hesitant to write about this because I’m the last person to discourage someone from homeschooling. Realize this decision was personal and specific to me and the ages/stages of my children, as well as to our values.
Linguistically – Speaking the language of the country in which you live at a native level is something I value. When we were in the US, I expected my children to know how to read, write and speak at a level that would allow them access to higher levels of learning. Now that I’m in Israel, Hebrew is the language in the country in which I live and my expectations for my children in acquiring the language it to communicate at a native level, again with the ability to integrate into higher levels of learning. I know a lot of Anglos are okay living in an Anglo area and if their kids don’t learn Hebrew well, that’s not problematic for them. And there are Anglo homeschoolers for whom this likewise isn’t a priority. That would be very problematic for me. I don’t want my kids to be immigrants here long term. I chose to move to a part of the country that doesn’t have a lot of English speakers, knowing this would make our short term adjustment to living here harder but it would be easier for my children in the long run. Although my spoken Hebrew is good and my reading and listening comprehension is very good, I don’t have the ability to teach them Hebrew as a native could. Though I don’t believe school is the only way to learn a language through immersion, it was an easy way.
Being put into a school environment as an older child who doesn’t speak the language is very challenging. I had children in mid elementary and high school who had to deal with this, and saw even my social and confident five year old in kindergarten struggle with this in the beginning. As much as I would have loved to have homeschooled my younger children until at least first grade here, I decided against it due to the language factor. After a lot of thought, I put my ds3 into gan this year. It’s so much easier to learn the language at this age when even some children from Hebrew speaking homes aren’t yet speaking well than a year later as a four year old and I felt it was the kindest thing I could do for him. (This wasn’t the sole reason or even the most important reason, but this is what I see as the main benefit.) He enjoys going to gan but would prefer being at home, as would ds5, and I could certainly teach them much more. But the quantity of what they learn wasn’t the issue.
Even though they are learning Hebrew at school, I still do some things at home with them to help them enhance their language acquisition. The main thing I do at this point is that I read books to them in Hebrew – I read a sentence in Hebrew, then translate, then read the next sentence, etc. This enables them to hear a range of vocabulary and to learn what it means in a safe environment when there’s no consequence to not understanding it. It’s low pressure and we all enjoy it. The key to this is to get books that are at a high enough level to be interesting. The one that so far worked best was a novel in comic book style, so there were lots of illustrations to hold the interest of the younger ones while they listened (ds6 is the youngest for these books, I read simpler books with ds3 and ds5) and the plot line was sophisticated enough that one day even dd16 was sitting in on it!
The other thing is that we work on Hebrew reading – we took a long break from this but this past week we got back to it. Reading well is a big part of academic success and though it’s normal for kids who are olim to take a while to catch up in this, I’d like to help them minimize the time that they’re academically struggling.
Socially – When we arrived, I saw that my neighborhood had very few children, which meant that meeting other kids at the local park just didn’t happen. I quickly learned that social connections happen almost exclusively through the schools – meaning those who aren’t part of the school aren’t part of the social group. There were almost no extracurricular activities where my kids could meet other kids in the charedi community. I spent years building a social network for my homeschooled kids in the US, and there was no way that I could create something overnight for kids who were already in middle and high school. While I think that peer socialization is drastically overrated, raising my kids in a new culture in isolation wasn’t something I felt was in their best interest. I also live in a community where even very small differences make a big statement – big differences put you outside of the community altogether.
It’s interesting how many teens have told my kids they don’t seem like homeschoolers. Why? I don’t know where they got these perceptions since most of them hadn’t met homeschoolers personally and I’d like to think if they had, they wouldn’t have made this comment. But the response my kids have gotten is that, “You’re not a nerd/you’re so with it/ you don’t dress like homeschoolers” etc. I am bothered the assumption that homeschoolers will be social misfits because it’s just so inaccurate. Sure, there will always be quirky kids who won’t fit into the standard peg of society, regardless of where they are educated. The assumption that kids who are homeschooled are losers or their parents are losers and that’s why they homeschool is just flat out wrong. My kids – as do most homeschoolers – had a variety of experiences with people of different backgrounds and ages, and I felt very comfortable that they were socially integrating in healthy and appropriate ways. However, when moving here they needed to learn not only a new language, but a new culture. This is something I absolutely can’t teach them because it has to be experienced.
Now you could tell me, but there are other homeschoolers in Israel – your kids don’t have to be isolated or removed from Israeli society! That’s true, but without a car and with a limited budget, getting together with other homeschoolers would be difficult and expensive. There are no other homeschoolers in my city of over 50,000, certainly not any in my religious community where our children would most naturally seek out peers. I didn’t want my childrens’ only social contacts to be with other kids that they could see – at best – once a month. Since those contacts would be with English speaking children, it wouldn’t help them learn the language or culture. And once again, without a car and a large budget, I knew I couldn’t provide them with the many enriching activities that were an integral part of our homeschooling for over a decade. If I had a very different budget, this would shift things dramatically but I don’t and that’s my reality.
I miss homeschooling. But I feel that I did the right thing for my kids, and they agree. One thing that’s good about the school day here is that it’s much shorter than in the US. Now that we’re over the first year of our aliyah, a question that I’m actively working on is, how to provide my kids who go to school with what I felt were the bigger advantages of homeschooling? I’m working on this but probably won’t share about this for quite a while since it’s obviously going to be experimental!