I sit down and complete the work on my own grounds while my son M works on Yom Ha’Atzmaut leaves, after making a page in his Hebrew exercise book. We listen to Debbie Friedman, and M occasionally gets up to dance, then gets back to work. We are exhausted after spending the morning at a local wildlife refuge.
This is our home school.
I attended Jewish day schools for nine years, all the way through high school, and part of me always assumed my kid would be too. The truth is, I never really thought about the education system — because I never had to. I excelled at it with minimal effort, even in graduate school. The system worked for me.
But after having my son, everything changed. My son was diagnosed with infantile apraxia of speech and did not speak until he was almost 3 years old. Many kindergartens – secular and Jewish – refused to admit him. When I tried the local public school’s half-day inclusion program, I ended up pulling it out after two months. I began to realize how widespread the push was for early scholars in many schools, and especially in my city. (The public school social worker told me I was in the minority for wanting a play-based preschool program and no formal academics.) As we continued to look at options, I started to see how the system was not made for children deemed “atypical” in any way.
That’s when I started to learn about unschooling and homeschooling, and although I was intrigued, I couldn’t see how I could do school at home. home while being a single parent and working full-time (remotely, but still). Eventually we found a Jewish kindergarten, and my son happily attended it until the pandemic hit.
COVID-19, in essence, forced my hand. We pretty quickly gave up distance learning and did our own thing, which was a lot less stressful. Suddenly I had to figure out how to make full time work and home school work. And I did. Now, over two years later, we are still happy to be homeschooling and finishing kindergarten.
While our “school subjects” are all completely secular, and I don’t see that changing at all, I hadn’t anticipated how Judaism would also be part of our home schooling, and how wonderful it would be for our Jewish lives and education.
Although my son goes to Hebrew school on Sundays, we also learn about Jewish holidays, Jewish music and Shabbat at home. While this is largely what my son would get from any Jewish kindergarten or day school, homeschooling allows me to do it a little differently.
For my son, constant repetition, especially at his own pace, is the way to go. Homeschooling means we can take our time with the alef bet and repeat it as many times as needed. My son works with a Hebrew moveable alphabet (we are Montessori home students, so that was a natural extension), and he can verbalize the letters without being nervous to say it wrong because of his apraxia, and we can also incorporate sticker work from LeeLaaLou for the tactile/kinesthetic learning that works so well for him. We have several workbooks and I know that over the summer we will be revisiting alef’s bet several times so that he gets it for the fall. You can read “Sammy Spider” books and watch “Rechov Sumsum” or “Shaboom” on your iPad. When we need a hectic break, we can put on Jewish music and dance for a few minutes. To inspire me, I look With love I am website or Instagram, and always come away with ideas for books, homeschool activities or lessons.
I can also shape the program to reflect our Jewish values. The Jewish books we read include books like Sarah Aroeste’s “Buen Shabat, Shabbat Shalom”, by Aviva Brown “Ezra’s Great Shabbat Question” and Ruth Behar “Tía Fortuna’s New Home: A Cuban Jewish Journey.” I want him to see that Judaism is diverse, and that our diversity makes it all the richer. During Passover, I told him explicitly that Moses sometimes had a little trouble speaking, just like him. We read books about social justice and community action, because that’s part of tikkun olam, or fixing the world. I know diversity and inclusion is a goal of many Jewish preschools and day schools, but it doesn’t always happen in the classroom – here it does.
Homeschooling also means that Judaism is an integral part of our lives, not something that happens for an hour or two somewhere else, once or twice a week. We can make holiday sensory bins, fun jewish food sticker collages (my son loves cooking and baking), and if the mood strikes, decide to take a trip to a local falafel and incorporate it into our classes. With this fluidity, I hope my son will see that Judaism is an integral part of our lives in every way, not just something he learns. The two cannot be separated, in the same way that homeschooling is just an extension of our lives, which is a sentiment expressed by many homeschoolers.
The wrong side? Jewish homeschoolers still feel visibly absent. Homeschooling has the stereotype of being a fundamentalist Christian thing, primarily, and while there is more than a grain of truth to this (see: the plethora of Christian programs and the number of local co-ops in homeschooling that require a statement of faith, plus the complete absence of secular co-ops near my home), it’s also a lot more diverse than many realize. Jewish, Muslim and atheist families are choosing to homeschool, and while our voices may not be as represented, we are there. Having a stronger and more visible community of Jewish homeschooled students would help round out the experience of Jewish families like mine who would truly benefit from this educational model.
When I first chose to homeschool my son, I didn’t think about the impact it would have on our Judaism. But the more we homeschool, and the more I learn and the more I see how my son learns, the more I realize how much meaning it has for us. My own day school education was fantastic, but there were gaps (especially with diversity and inclusion) and it wasn’t good for all learners. With homeschooling, I can not only ensure that my son retains his love of learning, but also enrich his knowledge of Judaism in a way that reflects our community and our wider world. I wish more people realized they have that option too.
While home schooling may not be accessible or suitable for everyone, I hope more curious people will take the plunge, even if only for a year. I know there are other Jewish students homeschooling – I see you all on Instagram – so let’s start conversations in our communities. If this is your world, consider creating a Facebook group for your community or a local co-op, especially if your homeschooling is secular. (Secular co-ops are very needed!) I saw a Jewish home schooling group occasionally, but the one I was in was very religious – maybe secular Jewish home schooling groups are also needed . If there’s anything we’ve seen over the past few years, it’s that education is more fluid than some of us might have thought, and we can do more to help create the educational environments what we dream of for our children.