31 for 21 – Why we chose not to homeschool in Israel

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 taking into account the limitations of where we live, 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!

(Edited Aug. 2017 – we began homeschooling ds5 and ds10 towards the end of the 2012 school year; they were joined by dd12 and ds7 for the following school year and all have been homeschooled since.)


11 thoughts on “31 for 21 – Why we chose not to homeschool in Israel

  1. Thank you so much for this post- I’ve been eagerly waiting a long time for it :) Your points are very thought-out. I read the original question at the beginning of the post and I could have written it myself. My husband and I have very similar thoughts, although we’re pretty optimistic it could work out.

    Can any Americans who homeschool (past or present) in Israel weigh in on this question? How do your children acclimate to the Hebrew language and Israeli culture without being in school? Like you Aviva, our spoken/written Hebrew are pretty good but definitely not native. I would like to think that we could successfully homeschool by speaking English with our kids for most subjects, but hiring tutors to work on higher level Hebrew writing, comprehension, and maybe even to just speak Hebrew with the kids. Hopefully we would find native Israeli homeschool families to get together with as well, which would help. My inclination is that it isn’t necessary to study non-language subjects in the native language of the country, even if the kids will later pursue higher level education in that country. I feel that the most important thing is to transmit a love of learning, critical thinking skills, etc etc– and these are not limited to language and are totally transferable. And we would definitely choose a place with lots of little kids around so they would pick up Hebrew socially (we’re hoping to make aliyah while the kids are still little…) Anybody- any thoughts?? Am I being too optimistic?

    thanks again Aviva!

    1. No, I don’t think you’re being too optimistic. If you begin when your children are young, live in a place with lots of kids, and have the funds to enrich the language and social aspects, then I think homeschooling is wonderful and would work well! And if you are here a while and have the first two and at some point don’t have the funds, I don’t think it’s a deal breaker by any means. But we were at the opposite end of the spectrum.

      As long as you consciously attend to language and social integration, then you’ll do great!

  2. We are a homeschooling family in Israel whose home language is English (though my kids were all born here.) My kids are also fluent in Hebrew, to a greater or lesser extent. (The older ones are fluent at reading and writing as well as speaking, the younger ones are fluent at speaking but not yet at reading and writing.)

    I’d be happy to talk with anyone interested in homeschooling in Israel. There is so much going on here and so many options – way too many for me to start enumerating here. Email me at fox.louise @ gmail.com and I’ll send you my phone number so we can talk properly!

    There are lots of native Israeli homeschoolers, as well as anglo homeschoolers here. You have to know where to find them :-) I agree that without a car and a budget for fuel, it’s very hard to be homeschoolers in this country, unless you live in one of the very few places with a whole lot of homeschoolers in your neighbourhood.

    The majority of Israeli society still has no concept of homeschooling and thinks homeschoolers must be weird and social misfits, but homeschooling is growing here every year, and we are (slowly) changing society’s perception of us :-) Until about 6 years ago, the army would refuse to accept homeschoolers, now they welcome us with open arms! Similarly the universities are coming round…

    Avivah, I totally respect your reasons for sending your kids to school – you don’t make any such decisions lightly. And I think homeschooling in the Chareidi community here must be very very hard (though I know a few who do it). But if someone wants more info on integrating into Israeli society *despite* homeschooling, please put them in touch with me :-)

    1. Louise, I’m glad you weighed in and would happily refer people to you. As I said, there are Anglos who have been doing this a long time and doing it well, and you’re one of them!

      By the way, most of the comments about my kids being so ‘normal’ were made by Americans, not Israelis. I have gotten a few comments from Israelis and there was even one teacher/principal who told me that meeting my older girls caused her to rethink all of her previous beliefs about education. But most of them don’t know enough to even have an opinion.

  3. Thanks Avivah for your feedback and Louise as well- I’ll definitely be in touch! I guess we’ll have to see what happens, ie when we are actually zocheh to make aliyah….but it’s good to know that it is possible.

  4. I think it is time for a learning program once a week 10 years old to 14 years old. I also think maybe a father son trip to Meron with your 13, 11 and my 13 who is in class with 11 and 12 year olds. I would also also like to see if the boys can create a kesher on their own, with a little help from the parents! It is a shame we live on the sides of the neighborhood. If DS gets into the chedar what grade would he be in?

    1. We decided that we won’t be moving the boys to the cheder even if they’ll be accepted. I hope to post about the details of that decision soon.

      Did you know that they have ‘masmidim’ (the boys learning together) at the kollel, I think it’s every day after school. Ds13 isn’t yet back from the US so I can’t ask him about details like time but he goes on a regular basis.

  5. Ronit who probably posts here, homeschools in Israel. her kids are about 3 and 5 yrs old, but she’s planning on homeschooling long term. Maybe your questioner could get in touch with her.

    1. I think it’s a good idea for people interested in homeschooling to speak to those who have been doing it successfully for a number of years. People in the earlier years are good to connect with for camaraderie but often are struggling to figure out things themselves and don’t have the long term experience of having negotiated the issues that people are concerned about.

  6. Avivah, you wrote: 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.

    This post had me nodding my head in agreement, over and over again. 3 years ago, we also went from long term homeschooling back into the school system. Our thinking very much reflected yours, as you so beautifully stated. Yes, we also encountered a lot of assumptions about what homeschoolers are about (social misfits, just plain weird, etc). For the most part, my kiddos acclimated beautifully to their school situations, and the glitches and bumps along the way most likely reflect the profound systemic differences in educational approaches for boys versus girls in our community. My kids still intensely dislike when they get comments about how “unhomeschooly” they seem despite having been homeschooled! Of course, the most homeschooly of all my kids, ironically, is the one who went all the way through the traditional educational framework and NEVER homeschooled, but was there out of a profound desire to be there, the choice being well thought out. (By homeschooly, I mean goal oriented, self motivated, self directed).

    No great insights here, no secret recipe, no magic wand. Just a willingness to roll up sleeves, get in the trenches and wrestle with the hard work of parenting, not just follow the crowd and phone it in.

  7. Thank you, Avivah. Your post is extremely thoughtful and helpful, and if that took three extra months, so be it. :-)
    These are basically my reasons for choosing not to homeschool when we finally make aliyah next summer. Additionally, I see a greater need for me to be in Ulpan and probably working outside the home, so the school system will iy”h allow me to do that AND spend time with the kids after school and evenings doing some English subjects with them so they don’t lose their reading, writing, world history etc. I plan to pick and choose the subjects we love doing together so it’s a time we can all look forward to.
    Like you, I haven’t changed my beliefs about education. I hope the Israeli schools won’t have the same problems as the ones here (though I realize they will have different ones!). I hope they won’t mind my being an “involved” parent, in all the ways that sometimes drive schools here crazy.
    One major reason I wanted to homeschool is because I’ve seen the way the system drives a wedge between parents and kids – convincing parents they’re not “qualified” to educate their kids, convincing kids they need peers more than parents. When I hear Nefesh b’Nefesh saying basically these things to us, and I must assume, to every prospective oleh, I want to scream. They hear “homeschooler” and without even knowing us, rush to tell me why it won’t work.
    I wish they and others who naysay – here and in Israel – could understand and emphasize that quality of closeness between parents and their homeschooled kids and work to create a school system – and ideally, a support system for olim who do choose to homeschool – which emphasizes family relationships over all others.

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