Confessions of a Jewish Homeschool Mom
In 1998, my husband and I decided to do something unheard of — something that drew stares of disbelief and worry from strangers, relatives, and experts alike: We decided to home school.
Yes, 20 years ago, back when much of the available curriculum was largely Christian-based, our family made our own curriculum. Back then, this regular mom without a degree in education took the plunge into the world of “chinuch,” and learned much more than I could have ever imagined.
Here are some of them.
Lesson One: I am qualified.
Why? Hashem puts the miraculous ability to learn in each child. My job is simply not to mess it up.
Lesson Two: Sending children to school is giving someone your children.
That is the biggest tuition. Their values will be learned from their surroundings.
Lesson Three: Age differences are fine.
The same subject can be taught at different levels. The older ones, by sharing their knowledge with the younger ones, will reinforce their learning and their values.
Lesson Four: Teach by example.
Children will see and emulate the adults, and especially what their values are. Live for a higher purpose.
Lesson Five: Prayers and Hebrew first, and then the secular subjects.
All learning and blessings come from Hashem first.
Lesson Six: Love is the key.
Love is the difference between a wonderful teacher and an average teacher. Plants need sunshine, and children need love to grow. Love gives life and learning its wings: See the world through your children’s eyes. Experience obstacles as learning opportunities, setbacks as times to reflect, and stumbles as chances to get back up again. Truly love your loved ones unconditionally, and have fun.
Originally, homeschooling was not on my plan of things to do. My neighbor Caroline in Fort Benning, Georgia was a homeschool mom, and she made the pitch.
“Look around,” she said, as she glanced at our bookshelves with even more books stacked along the fireplace mantle. The TV was on “mute,” Debussy was on the stereo, and the kids were busy drawing, reading, doing the math, and playing. Caroline said, “You’re homeschooling anyway, you may as well actually homeschool!”
To me, this was just what an average Jewish mom does. “No,” I stated emphatically, “homeschooling is definitely not something that is for my family.” Then she observed, “If I were Jewish, it would not be a decision at all.”
Caroline was making a point: When we send our children to school, we get them dressed, fed, and ready to learn, and then we give them over to someone who will teach them something — but who and what? I was a good person teaching something good, I was sure. But I still was not convinced that homeschooling was something I would ever want to do — or even could do.
Then, over the next few days, a strange thing happened. It seemed that everywhere I turned, whether I opened a book, leafed through a magazine, or glanced at a poster, I came across the words from the Torah: “Teach your children diligently.”
After running into these words five or six times, I read them carefully and thought long and hard about their meaning.
As an army wife, I knew all too well about commands. When the Army ordered my husband to go where he was to be shot at by live gunfire, my husband obeyed the order and went — no questions asked.
The Creator of the World has commanded thus:
And you shall love the Lord
with all your hearts,
with all your soul
and with all your might.
Set these words which I command you today upon your heart.
Teach them faithfully to your children.
Speak of them in your home, and on the road,
when you lie down and when you rise up.
I could not avoid it, but even so, my first reaction was “that’s too big a job. Let someone else more qualified do it.”
I remembered the time when we sat down to talk to our kids about school. We explained how it can be a lot of fun. There’s a building, teachers, books, and lots of kids. Our oldest child wanted to know if school costs a lot. When I told her that it was free, she observed, “school is free, but you give them your children, that’s what the cost is.”
Those words rang true.
Many years later, when we were thinking about this same subject, our rabbi Moshe Feller said, ”After 120 years, Hashem is going to ask you: ‘I have given you these beautiful neshamas, how did you care for them?’”
As I thought about his question I opened my prayer book and, not surprisingly, the page which opened first was the Shema. My eyes focused: “Teach your children diligently.”
Tara Mizrachi is a former US Army wife and the author of “Software for the Soul: Psalms for Everyone – discovering the inner meanings.” She hosts www.psalmsonline.org.