Tag Archives: jewish homeschool

Torah Home Education cds available

This morning I reminded myself that I needed to notify you that the recordings of the conference are available for purchase, but before I did this evening I got an email from a blog reader wanting to know if there would be cds! Sorry to keep you wondering and waiting! I haven’t even contacted the conference attendees who requested to be notified when they were available – I’ve just been so busy.

But the recordings are available on cd or mp3, and they’re great! You don’t know what a source of pleasure it is for me to make these available, since there isn’t anything available for the Orthodox community except for these. I love knowing that people all over the world who can’t come to the conference in person can still benefit from hearing these in their own homes!

Here’s a list of all the recordings available, from last year and this year. As you can see, different topics were covered each year so they reinforce and complement each other.

– “Minimizing Outsider Syndrome” – Mrs. Malky Adler (2010)

– “The Challenges In Our Yeshivos” – Rabbi Yosef Bentzion Bamberger (2010)

“The Myth of Socialization” – Dr. Nechama Cox (2009)

“Teaching Tefilla (Prayer): More than Technicalities” – Mrs. Yehudis Eagle (2010)

“Homeschooling and Marriage: Stressing or Strengthening?” – Mr. Mort Fertel, author of Marriage Fitness

“Home Education and the Oral Tradition” – Rabbi Simcha Feuerman (2010)

“Chanoch l’naar al pi darko – What does it mean for us?” – Rabbi Menachem Goldberger (2009)

“Teaching Chumash with Rashi” – Dr. Russell Jay Hendel (2010)

“When the Torah Directs: ‘And You Shall Teach Them to Your Children’ – Does it really mean what it says?” Rabbi Daniel Lapin, author of America’s Real War (2010)

“Life After Homeschooling – How Do Kids Integrate?” Mrs. Susan Lapin (2010)

“Learning in Their Own Way – Home Education for Different Learning Styles” – Mrs. Chana Lazaroff (2010)

“Strengthening Your Family Through Homeschooling” -Mrs. Rivka Malka Perlman (2009)

“Don’t Break the Bank! Home Education on a Shoestring” – Mrs. Avivah Werner (2010)

“Teaching the Multi-Age Family” – Mrs. Avivah Werner (2009)

“Yes, You Can Be Your Child’s Rebbe – Teaching Limudei Kodesh” – Rabbi Osher Werner, author of Pharoah and the Fabulous Frog Invasion (2009)

The mp3s are $7 each; (edited to add – cds are no longer available except at the Torah Home Education Conference). If you’re interested in any of the recordings, let me know (avivahwerner at yahoo dot com – replace the ‘at’ and ‘dot’ with the normal punctuation). You can pay via Paypal or check.


Ds11 completing tractate of mishna

Earlier this year, my ds11 (who was then 10) and his best friend initiated their own learning time together each morning after davening (morning prayer services).  They did this entirely on their own initiative, and decided to learn Seder Makkos (tractate of mishna), using the Artscroll English translation to help them understand the Hebrew wording.

This morning we made a private kiddush together with the family of his friend (our two families were over 20 people!) in honor of them completing the entire seder Makkos.   What was so nice wasn’t just that they did the learning, but that they wanted to do it.  Over the past months my ds hardly mentioned anything to me about it except in passing, but they kept it up, morning after morning.  His friend’s mother said she felt the push to do it was from my ds (because  every morning at 7:30 am his name showed up on her caller id to be sure his friend was awake on time :lol:), but my ds said it wasn’t true, that they encouraged one another equally.  It’s heartwarming to see our boys voluntarily wanting to spend their time increasing their Torah knowledge, not to get pats on the back from the adults around them, but for their own sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.

You know, kids want to do the right thing.  They want to be knowledgeable, and grow in their competence.  They want to develop their character and become better people.  We adults tend to think we have to push things down their throats, that we have to make them be responsible and do what we want.  And it’s true that sometimes left to their own devices they’ll make different choices than what we’d choose (though different doesn’t mean bad).  But overall my parenting experience has been that kids do more, and do it better, when they’re listening to their own inner conscience.  When kids develop their own sense of internal motivation, it’s powerful, so much more than something imposed on the outside can be!

By the way, this morning ds16 mentioned to me that he and ds11 are almost finished with a different tractate of mishna(they learn together immediately after morning davening, and then ds11 learns with his friend while ds16 learns with his adult chavrusa/learning partner, then come home late in the morning for breakfast).  So it looks like the two of them will be making a siyum very soon – BH no shortage of occasions for festive meals around here!


My poor unsocialized homeschooled child….

Sometimes I don’t know whether to laugh or shake my head at questions/comments like below.  They aren’t uncommon, so I’m going to answer it here.

>>The only concern I have is the culture shock she will experience from being homeschooled and around you every day, to going away for (a year? how long will it be) a long, long time away from her family, and having this as her first real social experience. Wont it be a huge transition and a huge jump? Instead of local school, which you eschew for personal reasons, she’s jumping all the way to going to another country, away from her family? I’m confused, there’s a dichotomy here.<<

I’m not sure what you mean by dichotomy in this context, but what I think you’re politely saying is that I’m not consistent, correct?  This sentiment reminds me of people who feel I’m hypocritical because I don’t send my kids to school but I allow them to go to summer camp.  Because 12 – 15 years spent daily at school regardless of the child’s interest, and short term experiences at camp when the child chooses to be there, are obviously exactly the same thing.  :roll:

The trust people have in schools to build healthy social skills in children is beautiful.  And so well-earned, too, since schools do a magnificent job in developing children with self-acceptance, confidence, and emotional maturity.  That’s why all kids who go to school are so well-balanced and socially adept – it’s because the framework has been thoughtfully created with the deep and sensitive needs of a child in mind, and much study has been done about the most effective way to help each one blossom in his own individual way.  Institutions are known to be deeply concerned about the individual and accomodate them even when it’s inconvenient.

Unfortunately, being the overprotective and shortsighted mother that I am, I keep my child out of school and thereby from any and all social opportunities that would allow her to develop independence and maturity of any sort, preventing her from being able to appropriately function in society.  If only she had the support of the school system instead of actively involved parents, how much better prepared for life she would be.  😆

In all seriousness, the unquestioned assumption that I’m seeing here is that school is where kids develop good social skills.  What support do you have for that position?  I strongly disagree with school as a positive breeding ground for good social skills, and believe that when kids develop good social skills, it’s in spite of being with their equally immature and inexperienced peers all day, not because of it.  Healthy social skills are developed much more effectively by the constant role modeling of adults.  Interesting that gang behavior, teen pregnancies, bullying, etc – are all found in significant numbers in schools – but very few take this path who have close ties with a parent.  Are the schools really getting better results than involved parents?

The next assumption is that schools prepare children for life because they are offered more opportunities to have new experiences.  This is almost breathtaking in its inaccuracy.  The kids in school have an incredibly limited life – dd has sometimes commented that when her schooled friends get together, there’s only one topic of conversation – school, which means talking about the students and teachers.  That’s it. They literally don’t have enough other experiences to draw on to keep the conversation going more than ten minutes or so before it comes back to school.

On the other side is the homeschooled child, who is much less limited in the experiences they can have.  Their learning can be more creative, they can have more trips and outings to interesting places, they can interact with those outside of their immediate peer group.  When dd gets together with friends, she always has plenty to talk about – her first year in camp (I think she was ten), it was a bit unsettling to her when girls would suddenly stop talking to their friends to listen in on her conversations because what she had to say was so much more interesting than the conversations they were having.  I realize this is hard for those who went through the school system to conceptualize, since our lives revolved around school – so it’s very hard to picture anything but a lonely child sitting at a dining room table when thinking of a homeschooled child’s social opportunities.  The inability of adults to picture the possibilities outside of school is a reflection of how stunted our imagination in this area is.

I believe that homeschooled children tend to be much more prepared to effectively interact with others in the real world, because they’ve had so many more chances throughout the years.  The opportunities will be different for different people, but there is always much more than the home itself to draw on if that’s what the family desires.  Outside of school, children learn to value others based on who they are, not how exactly they fit the ‘ideal peer profile’ (ie who’s cool).  They can become friendly with those of all ages – on Weds. when I wrote this, dd13 spent an hour shopping with a 20 year old for a family who needed the help, then babysat for several hours for a 9 year old who was home sick from school, and still had plenty of time to interact with her siblings when she returned.  Our recent Shabbos guest was someone dd introduced herself to in shul and invited over – she is in her mid thirties- and dd was able to have relaxed and friendly conversations with her week after week without either of them ever discussing age.  How many hours in school are spent having meaningful conversations or really getting to know someone?  How many 13 year olds are comfortable socially with a 35 year old – or a 9 year old?  Or their siblings and parents?  Do you think that someone who has more breadth of experience socially will be more prepared for new social situations?  I do.

By the way, I don’t ‘eschew’ schools.  I choose to focus on the positives homeschooling has offered our children rather than to make negative judgments about the educational alternatives.


Homeschool Do’s and Don’ts

Last night this question was sent to a homeschooling list that I’m on, and since I was told my response was helpful am sharing it here.

>>I was hoping to find out some more information about how some of the veteran homeschooling parents have done things in the past, and if there is an umbrella program? My mother homeschooled my siter for a year using the Calvert School system. Is this a good route to take or is there something better? Just looking for some pointers and maybe some Dos and Don’ts. Also, are there any good resources / curriculums that are available for 1st grade and on?<<
There are loads of great curriculums out there – the question is which one is a good fit for you and your child. Something can work great for one family and be a disaster for another. Calvert is highly structured and school-like; if that’s the kind of thing you’re looking for, it might be a good fit for you. Programs like this tend to have a high burnout rate.

However, I’d encourage you to consider why you want to homeschool and what you want to achieve. It’s easy to fall into the automatic mode of doing things at home in a school-like manner, which tends to not work with the goals most parents have in homeschooling.

Do and don’ts:

Don’t: spend a lot of money on curriculum when you’re starting out – you’ll probably end up regretting most of them.
Don’t: use whatever program someone else you know is doing without taking time to evaluate it on its own merit.
Don’t: kill the joy of learning by pushing too hard, too soon.
Don’t: take yourself or homeschooling too seriously.

Do: take lots of time to read and reflect on what your goals are
Do: remember the joy is in the journey, and if you and your child are enjoying yourselves, you’re on the right track.
Do: realize that it doesn’t matter what everyone else does and what works for them – it only matters what is right for you and your child/ren.
Do: follow your child’s lead; support them in their interests.
Do: attend the fabulous homeschooling conference in June that will be a way to get all of these questions and lots more answered in person by veteran homeschool parents.


When I shared this it was off the top of my head, literally written in five minutes.  So it’s far from a comprehensive list.  Please share other do’s and don’ts that you’ve found valuable in your homeschooling journey!


Torah home education and conversion

I received the following two questions within a few days of each other – since they deal with very similar concerns, I’ll respond to them both here.  (I apologize that I wasn’t able to answer these before Pesach, as I intended.)

a) >>I’m writing to ask what the general Orthodox Jewish opinion is on homeschooling. You see, since starting to read your blog, and meeting a homeschooling family in person last year, I’m really interested in the possibility of homeschooling my future children. However, I’m in the process of converting to Judaism, and most people with whom I’ve talked about it tell me that at the time of conversion I’ll have to commit to sending my children to day school and homeschooling will thus not be an option. I was wondering if you knew anything about converts and homeschooling or if you had any any advice or reading material or knew anyone I could talk to about this.<<

b)  I am curious about home schooling as a frum (my translation:Orthodox) family. We are frum and I am actually in the process of conversion. We used to homeschool before we started the conversion process and we miss it terribly. My daughter is doing well academically but she just wasn’t designed for “school.” I guess I am wondering how you deal with the people who think that you MUST send your children to a religious day school. Also are you part of a frum community, are there others that homeschool as well?<<

The Jewish Orthodox community has more to gain potentially than any other community in this country by embracing home education, in my opinion.  I believe that the single biggest stressor on the community is paying tuition for children to attend religious schools, schools which are viewed as an absolute necessity to raising children with Torah values.  However, despite the potential gains in many, many ways, there generally is a negative view of homeschooling in the Orthodox community.  This isn’t reflective of the results homeschooling families have had – the mindset comes from ignorance for the most part – but it does reflect how important the schools are in our communities.

Someone who is converting to Judaism will be asked to commit to living a Torah life and educating their children according to Torah guidelines.  When potential converts are asked to commit to sending their children to yeshivas, I believe it’s important to understand the intent and spirit of the request.  They can ask about other ways that they can honor that intent, such as by home educating.  The rabbis involved in conversion recognize the huge changes the convert is willing to make in his life, and also recognize that a parent who hasn’t grown up with certain knowledge will have a hard time conveying that to a child without outside support, regardless of his level of commitment or desire.  Sending a child to a yeshiva is widely considered the way all children in our community can best be educated in the Torah way.

Now, I obviously don’t agree that it’s the only or best way, and I also believe that educating one’s child/ren at home is fully in accord with a Torah world view.  There are rabbis spoke at last year’s Torah Home Education Conference, and others who will speak at this year’s conference.  I’d strongly encourage you to attend if it’s at all feasible – all of the speakers are Orthodox and you’ll be able to hear rabbis strongly promoting home education.  You can also approach those speaking or in attendance and get feedback about your personal situation.  It will be hugely encouraging to you to meet families who have made this choice and hear how they deal with the concerns of making a non-mainstream choice that tends to be frowned upon.

It is very, very important to have a solid relationship with a rabbinical advisor, someone who knows you well.  This is because if your rabbi understands who you are, what your motivations are, your level of commitment to a Torah life, and knows you are sincere in all of this, he is more likely to be open to dialogue with you about home education.   The rabbis simply want to ensure that your children will be learning what they need in order to feel like members of the community and later give that over to their own children.

I know personally an instance in which a family had been homeschooling their  children for a number of years and one parent wanted to convert (the other was Jewish and had become more observant).  They were philosophically committed to homeschooling and didn’t want to send their children to school as a proof of their commitment to live a Torah life.  This was somewhat a deterrent to the conversion, but the rabbis took lots of time to ascertain the intentions and sincerity of the parents and eventually agreed.  They had the support of their rabbi, which was critical. (To the person who asked question A – email me at avivahwerner AT yahoo DOT com and I can send you the name and number of the rabbi who guided them.)

As far as my personal experience: yes, I do live in a large religious community.  There are other home educating families here, which is part of why I chose this community when we moved here eight years ago.  However, we are very much in the minority and homeschooling still is widely misunderstood.

How do I deal with people who believe you have to send your children to school?  Pretty easily :lol:.  It’s helpful to learn to be an advocate for yourself and that means being able to effectively communicate your position – or choose not to engage in conversation when it will be unproductive.  Though I generally get a lot of positive feedback regarding our choice to educate our children at home, not all homeschoolers share my experience.  It depends a lot on your confidence, and honestly, how you and your kids present.

Just tonight someone called me who I haven’t spoken to for a couple of years.  She told me she recently saw my oldest son (age 16) and he made such a good impression – she “can’t believe a homeschooler looks like that”, and went on to detail some positives about him.  :roll:  Yes, this kind of comment reveals the perspective towards home education of the person speaking.  This particular woman is a teacher in a local high school and as she was speaking recognized how close-minded she sounded, and told me that people like her are very skeptical about homeschooling.  But when people see home educated kids who are friendly, well-behaved, and well-educated, it starts to change their perspective.  (This particular person even said she wants to get parenting lessons from me, lol!)

So to sum up, if you really feel that home education is a path you’d like to explore for your family now or in the future, I don’t think that conversion necessitates giving that up.  It will be challenging – very challenging – to pursue homeschooling in the context of conversion, but it’s possible.


The crowd isn’t where you want to be

Last night I took three of my older children to a magnificent recital by Leon Fleisher.  The story of Fleisher is very inspiring – he was a child prodigy and at age 16 was singled out as by a famous conductor as being ‘the pianist find of the century’.  But in 1965 he was struck with a neurological affliction known as focal dystonia and lost the use of two fingers on his right hand; he was told he would never regain use of this hand.

He mastered a number of difficult piano pieces using only his left hand (one of which he performed last night), and after four decades, regained the use of his right hand.  He is now 82 years old.  Can you imagine what it must be like after so many years to regain the use of your hand – particularly for someone whose life passion was the piano? A film was made about him called Two Hands, which was nominated for an Oscar and an Emmy.  I’m going to see if we can find it at the library, since I’m sure the kids would enjoy seeing it after hearing him play.  We also stayed for the question and answer session with him afterward, which added more perspective to our view of him – it’s nice to see people who have accomplished great things and remember that they are simply people.

On our way out of the packed parking lot, there were many cars waiting in line to exit.  We noticed that despite the efforts of the man who was directing the traffic out of the lot, all of the dozens of the drivers were turning right, though the attendant was vigorously indicating they needed to turn left.  When it was finally my turn, I broke with ‘tradition’ and turned left.  After a couple of minutes as I tried to figure out where I was going, I saw this allowed me to quickly get to the main street, rapidly bypassing all of those who had turned right and were backed up, still waiting to get onto the main street from the second exit.  Right after we got onto the main street, one of the kids glanced behind us and were shocked to find that there was a long stream of cars who followed me.  I explained to them the proven psychological phenomena they were witnessing.

People take their social cues from those around them, regardless of the evidence to the contrary.  The social reasoning is, if everyone else is doing it, it must be right.  The attendant couldn’t have been more clear about what direction they should go in, and intellectually it’s reasonable to assume he’s been hired to make your life easier by keeping traffic going smoothly.  But when people see all of those in front of them doing one thing, it’s very difficult not to follow – you start to think there must be something that everyone is aware of and are appropriately responding to, though you don’t see it.

But I was willing to take a chance going in a different direction, since I couldn’t see how it could negatively affect me – after all, this person’s job is to make my experience there pleasant!  And once I was willing to go in a different direction, the cars behind me were willing to follow my cues.  Had anything else changed? No – it was the same parking lot, same attendant, doing the same thing. The only thing that was different was the reaction of the driver in front of them.  All it took was one person willing to turn in a different direction, and suddenly the drivers behind me were willing to pay attention to the energetic efforts of the parking lot attendant and go in the direction he indicated.

As I pointed out to my kids last night, “you can see what happens to those who follow the crowd without thinking”.  Following the crowd generally isn’t what you want to do in life.  Happiness isn’t there, peace of mind isn’t there, meaning and joy aren’t there.  Conformity and social approval are there, though – and in a society that values conformity more than critical thinking skills, that’s of primary value to many people.

Many things I believed to be facts have been turned upside down after significant research (birthing practices; parenting; nutrition – many, many aspects; health – eg role of vaccinations; education).  Despite being a conservative person by nature who doesn’t like to stand out or make waves, I’ll make what is a very strong statement, but over the years I’ve become increasingly convinced it’s true.  If you’re following the crowd, it’s a good clue that you may be going in the wrong direction, and need to closely examine what you’re doing to be sure it’s in alignment with your true values. The crowd is heavily peer dependent and doesn’t make choices based on individual needs or intelligent though, and group think is a reality in almost every area of life.

Life lessons can be found everywhere, can’t they? 😆


2nd Annual Torah Home Education Conference schedule

The Second Annual Torah Home Education Conference will take place on June 13, 2010 from 8 am – 5 pm in Baltimore, MD.  There are childcare options for infants – age 3, a day camp for children ages 4 – 10, and a teen girls get together for ages 11 – 17. This is the only event of its kind taking place anywhere in the country, and will be just one day, so don’t miss your chance!

The schedule and brief bios of speakers are below, and if you want more info you can visit http://jewishhomeschooling.wordpress.com or be in touch with one of the contact people listed at the bottom. Please share this with anyone you know who may be interested!

Second Annual Torah Home Education Conference Schedule

8:15 registration

9 – 9:15 – Introduction – Mrs. Avivah Werner– “The Road Less Traveled”

9:15 – 10:15 –

keynote speaker – Rabbi Daniel Lapin– “And You Shall Teach Them to Your Children – Does it really mean what it says?”

10:25 – 11:15 –

a) Mrs. Susan Lapin – “Life After Homeschooling – What does it look like?”

b) Mrs. Yehudis Eagle – “Teaching Tefilla (Prayer): More than Technicalities”

11:25 – 12:15 – general session – Rabbi Yosef Benzion Bamberger– “The Challenges In Our Yeshivos”

12:20 – 1:50 Lunch (enjoy fellowship over lunch in the Eating Together Room, browse curriculums in Center for Jewish Education)

1:55 – 2:45 pm –

a) Mrs. Avivah Werner – Home Education on a Shoestring

b) Mrs. Chana Lazaroff – Home Education for the Special Needs Child

2:55 -3:45 –

a) Dr. Russell Hendel – Teaching Chumash and Rashi

b) Mrs. Malky Adler – Minimizing Outsider Syndrome (women only)

3:55 – 4:45 – general session –

Rabbi Simcha Feuerman – Home Education: The Way of the Future

4:45 – closing

In alphabetical order is a brief bio of our speakers:

Mrs. Malky Adler is the mother of nine children living in Detroit, MI and has been home educating for six years.  Her children range in age from infant through high schoolers.  She will talk about the challenges of homeschooling when living in a community that views you as an outsider because of your unusual education choices and how to effectively deal with that.

Rabbi Yosef Bentzion Bamberger is an experienced educator with over 25 years of experience and has taught every grade from third to Beis Medrash, as well as Girls in Seminary.  He has served for five years as a high school principal, is currently the Mashgiach Ruchanni and 9th grade Maggid shiur at Yeshivas Ohr Reuven in Monsey, and the Rav of Kehilla Kedosha Yad Halevi of Wesley Hills.  He has spoken nationally about various aspects of chinuch.  He is now homeschooling his youngest child, and will speak from his experience inside the yeshiva system for two and a half decades about the challenges our schools are facing.

Mrs. Yehudis Eagle is the mother of 11 children, several of whom are grown, and has been homeschooling for over 15 years.  She has an integrated and holistic approach to home education, and will speak abouthow to approach tefilla as a home educator.

Dr. Russell Hendel, Ph.D, A.S.A., has taught chumash to homeschooled children from the ages of 5 – 11 and produced over 400 worksheets.  He has developed a unique and effective approach to teaching Rashi, is creator of www.rashiyomi.com website, and will give an interactive presentation to help parents teach chumash and Rashi.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin, known world-wide as America’s Rabbi, is a noted rabbinic scholar, best-selling author and host of the Rabbi Daniel Lapin Show on San Francisco’s KSFO. He is one of America’s most eloquent speakers and his ability to extract life principles from the Bible and transmit them in an entertaining manner has brought countless numbers of Jews and Christians closer to their respective faiths.   In 2007 Newsweek magazine included him in its list of America’s fifty most influential rabbis.  Rabbi Lapin will be our keynote speaker for the conference and will talk about the Torah view of home education.

Mrs. Susan Lapin now is involved full-time in the her husband in his business and writing endeavors, after years of homeschooling their seven children.  She is a wealth of practical knowledge regarding home education and family life, and is now the grandmother of children who are being home educated.  She will be traveling from Seattle, WA, to share with us her experience and long term perspective on transitioning from home education to schools, yeshivos, seminaries, and college.

Mrs. Chana Lazaroff is the mother of two married daughters and two sons with Down’s Syndrome.  She has been home educating them from birth, drawing on her background as an occupational therapist but even more from her ongoing learning about how to help her children reach their potential.  She will speak to us about home education for the special needs child.

Rabbi Simcha Feuerman, LCSW-R maintains a private practice specializing in high conflict couples and families.  In addition, he serves as Director of Community Mental Health Services at Ohel, and as President of Nefesh International.  He is the author of 2 books, numerous professional articles, and along with his wife, a weekly column in the Jewish Press on matters of family relationships, religion, education and psychology.  He has also home educated two of his children and will share about creating a dynamic limudei kodesh curriculum and his belief that home education is the way of the future.

Mrs. Avivah Werner is the founder of the Torah Home Education Conference, founder of J-LIFT, a Baltimore area homeschool group, moderator of Torch-d, international listserve for Orthodox homeschoolers, and frequently blogs about home education at www.oceansofjoy.wordpress.com.  She has written about home education for national and local publication, and has been home educating for ten years.  The oldest of her nine children will be graduating from homeschooling this June.  She will share about how to make homeschooling effective without breaking the bank.

For registration – Alisa –  apmandel@yahoo (dot) com, or 410-963-2977; or Sara – srayvy@yahoo (dot) com.  The advance registration fee is $25 per person, $40 per couple until May 1, 2010.  After that, the regular pricing of $50 per person, $90 per couple will apply.  So don’t get so busy with Pesach preparations that you miss your chance to save big by registering in advance!  You can go to http://jewishhomeschooling.wordpress.com for more details.

**We are incredibly fortunate to have the speakers of the caliber we do, and realize that there will be interest in attending from those who aren’t Jewish or interested in homeschooling. As much as I hate to disappoint anyone, this conference is open only for Jewish homeschooling families, or Jewish families interested in homeschooling.**


Do you have to be ‘smart’ to homeschool?

>>i have always been a a poor student myself and am scared therefore to homeschool. would you say that being “smart” is a requisite to homeschooling?<<

Does being a poor student mean that you’re not smart?  Absolutely not – I reject that!  Similarly, I reject the idea that the kind of intelligence needed to do well in school is more valuable than other kinds of intelligence.  There are many kinds of intelligence and every single person is uniquely gifted in some way. Many people did fantastically well in school but weren’t successful in life, career, relationships….  School based success is very limited.

Having said that, I understand that the question is being asked because of the insecurity that as a poor student, you might not be able to meet your child’s academic needs.  Parents who haven’t completed their high school education (sometimes only up to 8th grade education) have successfully homeschooled their children past the point that their education was completed.  If they needed to know what their children needed to learn, there’s no way they could have been successful.   I can say with confidence that you can go beyond your school experience and support your child/ren effectively and watch them thrive while homeschooling.

How so?  There are a number of options.  First of all, there are other resources out there except for you – you don’t have to know everything!  There are books, dvd programs, classes, mentors, and paid resource people.  I love the library; it’s free and has a huge variety of materials for you and your children to access. Many who did do well in high school still don’t remember the information well enough to effectively teach it to their children.  I have two children homeschooling high school now, and their interests and my strengths don’t always line up. But they aren’t limited by me and my knowledge base – I’ve encouraged them to develop  independent learning skills, and they’ve been able to explore their interests and gain skills beyond me.  (They already know not to bother asking me for help with math at this point! :))

Second of all, a fun aspect of homeschooling is that you can learn along with your children!  There’s so much to know out there and it’s ridiculous to think that anyone covered it all in four years as a teenager, no matter how high their report card grades were.  My kids are constantly sharing new things they learn with me, and as I learn new information, I share it with them.  It’s invigorating and exciting to expand your knowledge base, and being a parent doesn’t mean it’s too late to learn more.  It’s never too late!

What’s more important than your academic success in school is your willingness to tune into your child’s needs and find ways to support him.  It’s not really any different than what a parent who was ‘school smart’ needs to do.  Don’t be afraid, and don’t think you’re unusual – we all have areas we feel inadequate about.  You can homeschool and you can do a great job!

(This post is part of the Carnival of Homeschooling.)


Making plans for college

Today I finally got myself down to the community college to speak to an advisor regarding my kids.   I didn’t have a huge number of questions, but the questions I had were significant enough that it was keeping me from being able to firm up a plan.  You know, when your kids are at school, the need for parental involvement (and knowledge) can be less important since there are guidance counselors and teachers your children can turn to for college guidance.  That’s not to say that it doesn’t matter if parents are involved – of course it does! – but if your child is homeschooled and you don’t get involved, they’re really on their own. So I needed to get some clarity so I could better guide them.

Of course, since the winter semester begins really, really soon (as in tomorrow or the next day), the place was packed.  After I signed in to see an advisor, I went to wait in a room with at least thirty others.  Whew!  I used the time to read through all those handouts that I had picked up, which helped me focus my questions.   They will allow students in 8 – 10th grades in for up to two classes a semester, but they have to be labeled gifted and talented, and I’m not interested in trying to jump through the hoops to get dd labeled for that (besides the fact that I don’t really care for labels like gifted).  They allow early admittance for 11th and 12th graders, but they still would be limited to taking 2 classes a semester and as high school students, we wouldn’t be able to apply for any financial aid. At about $600 a class, paying the full costs out of pocket for two children would add up very quickly!

My initial thought was to enroll each of them for the winter semester for a couple of classes to ease them into college, but that’s not worth the effort involved at this time.   So after considering all of the options, I asked the advisor if they officially graduated at the end of this year, if they could be admitted as full time students in the fall.  She said that it was fine, that once a child has a high school diploma, they aren’t concerned about his/her age anymore.

This doesn’t make a huge difference to their homeschooling schedules, which will pretty much stay the same except that I’ll increase the science and history for them so that they have the full amount of required credits for high school graduation.  It does mean I need to get myself in gear to start organizing the paperwork – I don’t enjoy officially documenting all that we do!  But I’ll need to put all my notes together for their official transcripts.  I’m also thinking that they can both look into earning credit by examination between now and the fall if they are so inclined, and then when they enter, they’ll have some credits under their belts. That will help them maximize their time and energy.

Though this isn’t written in stone and things can (and probably will) change somewhat, it’s nice to have a direction to move in.  Now dd13 is asking me to help her get started on college preparatory work – yikes!


Waiting for interest the early years

>>After listening to your lecture, I have some questions, especially about the early years of “schooling.” You seemed pretty “un-schooly” at first, and I’m wondering how this works for Judaism-related things. Like for instance, wearing a kippah, or washing for bread, or wearing tsit-tsit, etc. Did you just wait for interest, or how did it work? <<

Yes, I do take a very relaxed approach in the early years!  But it doesn’t mean that things aren’t taught or done as much as we integrate them into daily living instead of creating artificial lessons.  There’s a general tendency that isn’t positive to push our very young (and even not so young) children into formal learning despite the well known fact that formal learning isn’t generally the most effective method.  Too many parents imitate the weaknesses of daycare/school programs (usually because they don’t have other models of how learning happens), rather than building on the strengths of a warm, family centered setting.  We prefer games, activities, outings, reading books, listening to cassettes, etc, knowing that learning is then fun and natural. 

When it comes to mitzva observance, there’s the passive aspect of being a role model of the habits you want your children to learn. That’s crucial – it would be unreasonable to expect our kids to take mitzvos seriously if we don’t.  But I don’t rely on role modeling alone to teach our children to keep the mitzvos.  It’s like kids don’t learn to clean their rooms by watching you clean (and if this isn’t obvious to you yet, speak to mothers of older children and listen to them bemoan how their kids just watch them work and never help) – they need to actually get hands on practice to internalize whatever they’re seeing.   

The second aspect is actively teaching them the things you want them to know.  I don’t wait for interest, but generally littles want to be like you and do what you do, so the interest is pretty much there without you having to do too much.  A young child will naturally imitate a lot of things – our littles learn very young to answer ‘amen’, sit quietly for kiddush, hold up their hands to a havdala candle, just by watching all of us.  When they start washing for bread, we teach them the bracha (blessing) to say, usually starting at about 18 – 24 months.  The same with other foods – we start with the first three words and last three words of a bracha. The boys get tzitzis and kippas when they are three – this is something they look forward to for months and is a source of a lot of excitement.  With older siblings, this has become even more exciting for the littles – not only are there more people who build up what they have to look forward to, but there are more big people they look up to and want to be like.

I’m not of the mindset that I have to wait for interest or desire by my children.  If they have  an interest or desire to learn about something or explore an issue, I’ll try my best to support them.  I do, however, believe it’s valuable to get your kids on board with the ‘program’, so they they support the direction you’re leading them in.  This is one of my strengths as a parent – my husband once told me I’m a good salesman when it comes to getting my kids to go along with my ideas, and though I never thought of it in those terms, he’s right.  I don’t coerce them or try to convince them that my way is right.  When they are little, there’s not much value in discussion – parents make the mistake of trying to get their little children to give them approval or permission for what they’re doing.  It might sound laughable or extreme but if you think about it, you’ll realize that it’s not uncommon. That’s an unfair burden to place on young shoulders. We’re the ones with life experience and the concurrent wisdom that comes with experience, and it’s our job to shoulder that responsibility.  I make the rules, but I  try to make the rules reasonable and fair – firm guidelines don’t need to be harsh to be effective.  

As they get older, I often share my thoughts and why I want to do whatever it is, or why I believe whatever the issue at hand is.  When they are on the younger side, this is about smaller issues.  As they get older, the issues I discuss with them become more serious and important. I usually ask for their thoughts and opinions, and whether they disagree or agree with me, ask them to explain how they came to the conclusion that they did. This works because I discuss things with them from a position of respect.  I honestly don’t mind if they disagree with me and enjoy hearing their perspectives.

This approach has worked well for me – our kids are generally supportive of what we do and how we do it, and it eliminates many of the tensions that so many parents experience between themselves and their children, which make raising children of all ages much easier and more enjoyable!