Want to learn more about Jewish homeschooling? In this interview, Jewish homeschool mom Danit Schusterman talks about her holistic approach to Jewish education and shares her favorite resources.
1. Please tell us about your family.
My husband and I have been married for just over 7 years. We had 5 amazing kids in 5 pretty hectic years and they have kept us on our toes ever since!
My husband is a Chabad Rabbi and we run a Chabad Jewish Outreach center in Hawaii. (Chabad Lubavitch is a worldwide Jewish Outreach Organization with hundreds of Chabad families teaching and spreading Judaism in thousands of cities all over the world, from Beijing, China to Cape Town, South Africa.)
2. How long have you been homeschooling?
Upon moving to Hawaii seven years ago to open our center as a newly married couple, we were well aware that there were no Jewish schools for our future children. So from the moment I became pregnant with our first child, we, in essence, began homeschooling.
3. Why did you decide to homeschool?
The only reason that our family homeschools is that there are no Jewish day schools or yeshivas on the entire island.
4. What are some other reasons Jewish parents decide to homeschool?
There are many different reasons a Jewish family will decide to homeschool their kids. Just like us, there are many Chabad families who live in different parts of the world where there are no Jewish schools available for their kids to go to. Since a Jewish education is so vital to our families, public school or non-Jewish private school is just not an option, and so we have no other choice but to homeschool.
Then there are many Jewish families who live in a Jewish community with many different Jewish day schools or Yeshivas available to them, but for their own reasons, such as the high price of tuition or their child is not thriving in that specific school due to social, educational or emotional reasons, they will opt to homeschool.
There are also Jewish families who will homeschool one or two of their kids who seem to thrive on the homeschooling experience while the other siblings, who are doing well at school, will stay in the Jewish day school or Yeshiva. And there is the Jewish Homeschooler who chooses to homeschool their kids because that is what they think is the best way to educate their child/ren.
5. What are the main components of a quality Jewish education?
Judaism is not a subject. The Torah is not a book that you learn, write a test on and then move on to the next. Judaism, for us, is a way of life and the main component of a quality Jewish education is to instill in our kids a love for living and learning about it. Celebrating the Jewish Holidays, giving them the ability to learn about the weekly Torah portion and adapt it to their own lives. We want them to not just be able to read Hebrew, but to be able to appreciate the amazing depth of the Alef Bet and how each letter has so much meaning.
A true Jewish education begins at home, where the parents live it with their kids. It is all very well learning about Shabbat, about all the things one can and cannot do. But to actually celebrate Shabbat is priceless. The same goes for the Jewish holidays. The kids can do arts and crafts and sing songs about each holiday, but the important part is to actually celebrate it and live it, so it becomes an actual part of our lives.
6. What should Jewish parents look for in a homeschool curriculum?
Like I said before, by incorporating proper Judaism into our daily lives, we pretty much have our curriculum laid out.
From the age of three, one can start teaching their child the Hebrew Alphabet which leads to reading Hebrew. Every week you have the weekly Torah portion which is always so interesting and has so many levels of depth with so many personal life lessons.
Then you have the Jewish Holidays throughout the year which are so rich in Jewish History and culture that they are their own curriculum in themselves. And of course there is Jewish History, the Profits, the Kings of Israel and the History of Israel itself as well as Jewish mysticism and philosophy.
There is the unit of Jewish milestones in a boy and girls life, The Jewish Home, The Kosher kitchen. And living all of this is probably the best Jewish education one can ever give their child.
7. Where can parents find curriculum for Jewish homeschooling?
At this time there is no specific Jewish homeschool curriculum. But there is a wealth of amazing books, workbooks, blogs and websites out there.
8. What are your favorite Jewish homeschooling resources?
Chinuch.org-This is an amazing website with tons of printable worksheets, project ideas, lesson plans, mini curriculums and more and has so much to offer the Jewish homeschooler.
Some of the Jewish curriculum books we use are:
Here are some more great websites with great ideas and information for Jewish homeschooling:
Here are also some fabulous Jewish homeschooling blogs:
And this is a GREAT website with hundreds of Jewish books, toys, teaching supplies and more: Classroom Judaica
9. What challenges do Jewish homeschoolers face?
Obviously, every Jewish homeschoolers has their own set of challenges as does every homeschooler. Generally speaking, Orthodox Jewish families tend to have many children, and so the one challenge I can imagine many Orthodox Jewish homeschoolers share is that as our families grow and the new babies arrive, there is always that transition period where everything gets put on hold and the whole family has to adapt to the new changes.
It is a big shift in any family welcoming a new little member, but usually big brother and big sister are at school for the day while mom gets to rest and spend time with the baby. In a homeschooling family, this change is magnified greatly as the children's entire lives are based around the home and the family, so they really feel the change.
10. How can parents overcome those challenges?
I think that one of the most important things in a child's life is stability and clarity. Each time we have brought a new baby home, we have completely involved the kids in as many things to do with the babies as we can. We have constantly prepared them for what lies ahead and are very open and honest about any questions they have. We have made sure to get lots of cleaning help and babysitters for the first few weeks so no one gets too overwhelmed. But like any change, it soon becomes day to day life.
11. How is homeschooling viewed by the Jewish community?
In the Chabad community, homeschooling is viewed as heroic. I often hear from my friends and family back home, "I don't know HOW you do it! To be home with your kids ALL day, I would go crazy and so would my kids!"
But we have such a solid support system, it's fantastic. We have lots of friends and family who live in Jewish communities who are teachers and are constantly sending me great lesson plans and ideas. I have lots of friends who mail me awesome Jewish teaching supplies such as Jewish arts n craft kits, Jewish posters and any other Jewish knick knacks I can use.
My son actually takes a class online through the Shluchim Online School for an hour a day, four days a week geared especially toward homeschooled Chabad kids. It is completely interactive with a teacher who is based in New York with about ten kids in his "class." It is done via webcam and the kids can all see each other and interact with each other. They need to "raise their hand" by clicking a button and the teacher calls on them to speak.
His classmates are all from Jewish Chabad families and live in far out places like Cancun, Mexico, Guatemala, Norway and St. Thomas, Virgin Island- and that's just to name a few. This school goes up to Grade 9 and the hours increase as the ages go up.
12. Where can Jewish homeschoolers find support?
There are a few support networks out there:
This website has lots of online Torah classes for all ages and is made especially for Jewish Homeschoolers: Room 613
Please share anything else that you would have liked to know as a new homeschooler or as a Jewish mom interested in homeschooling.
When, my baby was a few months old and the idea of Homeschooling started to become a reality, I felt very alone and lost and thought to myself, "How on earth are we going to do this? Take our child's entire education and carry it on our shoulders?"
But over the years, I discovered the different Jewish homeschoolers networks, the Jewish homeschool blogs and websites as well as regular homeschooling websites that I get tons of great ideas from and just give them a Jewish twist. I realized that there is no "one" curriculum for our kids, and they will ultimately learn their shapes and colors whether we teach it to them or not.
I also stopped worrying about their "socialization." I went to school for 12 years, plus college and there were students in my class who sat in the back corner for years, never speaking to a soul. I look at my kids and the confidence they have when speaking to adults and older kids, I realize that there really is nothing to worry about.
I also love the fact that there is no timeline for anything, and we can tie all different lessons together covering a lot of different subjects. I feel that we have opened the world up to our kids, and they are learning things out of love, not force. There is no pressure to study for tests or to memorize something they will never need to know again.
We have also developed such intimate relationships with each one of our kids, something I know we would never have had , had they been in school most of the day. We really are a family, a team. We discuss things with them and they know and feel that we respect and value them so much as the amazing little people that they are.
So although I never imagined myself homeschooling, it is something that I am actually thankful for and I know my kids will only succeed because of it, whether they choose to become a Rabbi, a doctor, a ballerina or a fireman.
Thank you for teaching us about Jewish homeschooling, Danit!
To learn more about Danit Schusterman and her family, visit her at Our Jewish Homeschool Blog.
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