January 17, 2020

Bringing a Jewish-based education back home

Jewish parents interested in home schooling their children may find the process of implementing the religious, cultural and language elements of Jewish education to be daunting. Yet numerous resources and groups are available to help structure a curriculum that fits a child’s individual learning style and special needs.

“The first thing new home-schooling parents should do is let go of the conventional school mindset and be prepared to be there for their child, taking notes of what things work and what doesn’t,” said Yehudis Litvak, moderator of the LA Jewish Homeschoolers group on Yahoo. “You don’t have to stick to in-the-box curriculums the way you would by sending kids to Jewish day schools or public schools.”

Membership in the group is limited to families already involved in home schooling, but parents considering whether to teach their children at home can post questions on the group’s Facebook page (www.facebook.com/lajewishhomeschool). 

“We also invite prospective members of the group to a ‘Park Day,’ which takes place every other Tuesday,” said Leat Silvera, a former moderator and current member of LA Jewish Homeschoolers. “They will get to meet home-schooling families and get ideas from them on how to make home schooling work for their household.”

Silvera said that when she speaks to parents about home schooling, she encourages them to reflect upon their own childhoods to determine which elements of their Jewish education stuck with them, or what they felt they missed.

Although parents who contact the group often express concerns about the possible high cost of home schooling — and some families do hire rabbis or teachers and purchase books — Silvera said excellent free or inexpensive materials and resources can be found online or in person that will suit families of various backgrounds. 

As an example, Silvera cited the Los Angeles Teacher Center of Torah Umesorah, (torahumesorah.org) an education lab where a parent can come in to talk to a staff member about a given Jewish subject they want to teach their child. A staff member at the center will suggest a variety of booklets and materials appropriate to a child’s age and learning style.

The Nagel Jewish Academy (nageljewishacademy.org) offers free, after-school classes to Jewish children between ages 5 and 11 who do not currently attend a Jewish day school, including those getting their general education through home schooling. 

The Hillel Hebrew Academy in Beverly Hills, meanwhile, has programs open to home schoolers, including teen and after-school programs available to home-school students. The programs include free, college-level Hebrew classes that qualify for credit at Santa Monica College.

Room613.net, founded by Monson, Mass.-based Yosef Resnick, is another affordable option structured to ease the transition to home schooling while connecting Jewish home-schooling families throughout the country. Resnick also uses social media to support students and their families, answer questions, and respond to inquiries from parents interested in enrolling their children in his classes.

“Once parents pay the tuition for their kids to participate, they don’t need to buy books or many other additional supplies,” Resnick said. “I recommend parents invest in small things like a Hebrew-English dictionary, but the books and seforim many parents have at home are usually adequate. Lessons, texts and classwork are presented right on the screen and can be printed out. The curriculum is designed to replace any Jewish day school program, and real-time classes will feature a full, robust set of Torah lessons, as well as Tanakh, halachah and almost every other topic covered in a day school.”

Resnick emails weekly newsletters to keep parents informed about class topics and to address common questions about home schooling. If a student has to take a few days or a couple of weeks off, Resnick offers recordings of classes that enable students to keep up.

Exact data on Jewish home schoolers could not be found for this article, but the National Home Education Research Institute estimated in March that there were 2.3 million home-educated students in the United States, with that number growing 2 to 8 percent each year. A demographic study by the institute in 2010 estimated that 0.4 percent of home-schooling parents were Jewish.

Silvera said the LA Jewish Homeschoolers group, which has 142 members, has been growing steadily since its launch in 2009.

Litvak, the group’s moderator, also maintains the TorahThroughLiterature.com blog, which offers home-school parents lists of recommended “living” novels and nonfiction books, along with guidance on how to connect the books to the lessons and values of the Torah and make them relevant and relatable to kids of different ages and abilities.

“In contrast to multi-subject textbooks used in many schools, ‘living books’ are written by people passionate about a given subject who truly bring it to life,” Litvak said. “You want learning to be alive, relatable and meaningful, not broken down into multiple-choice exercises. The goal is to help the kids retain information in the long run.”

And, she said, home schooling allows parents to teach their children as they want them taught.

“The approach is different for each of us. However, one thing I know for certain is that home schooling affords a family the ideal of surrounding their children with their own family values, living the learning and bonding while spending time together. You and your child can experience Judaism in a way that it was intended to be lived and experienced.”