In the age of coronavirus, being a homeschool mother has made me extremely popular among friends and strangers alike. I have received dozens of questions from friends and strangers alike about curriculum, time management and more.
That’s because there aren’t many Jewish homeschoolers, and few as outspoken and public about home education as I am. It is my sincere hope that everyone makes it through this experience not only intact, but feeling like the time was well-spent instead of wasted; meaningful instead of miserable; a time to grow instead of just muddling through.
My first message is this: You can’t fail, and it’s going to be okay. It isn’t easy, and it involves a lot of juggling, but it’s doable.
How do I manage to educate my kids while working part-time? How am I writing this column right now? I am standing at my kitchen counter, my computer balanced on my counter, as I type. In one browser tab is my daughter’s piano lesson and next to me is my baby, eating blueberries. I manage a sentence between opening a snack for my two-year-old, handing the baby more fruit, and giving my daughter her instructions for her next lesson.
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Other parts of the day I’m able to have more quiet, dedicated work time while some of my kids are napping and others are playing or reading quietly. But it is a constant back-and-forth between childcare, teaching and work. It’s one that I enjoy and the benefits outweigh the challenges, though there is a great deal of burnout involved by bedtime.
Many schools are sending students home with work, in the form of Zoom meetings and workbooks. But that doesn’t have to be the only “school” parents do with kids at home. Of course, your kids need to learn. And you need to do your work. But one of the amazing things about home education is the flexibility it can give you as you explore both secular and Jewish subjects with your children. .
In the face of challenges, the key to survival is to always see the positive; and in this case, parents should try the best they can to see the opportunities involved with an extended period of time home together. Those opportunities look different for every family, but you can make this time meaningful and productive.
That productivity can be adopting a family read-aloud time, absorbing the myriad benefits of reading aloud to kids of all ages. The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelese should be on every parent’s personal reading list.
That productivity can be working on a specific math concept or improving reading. It can be learning fractions through baking, fine motor skills by building LEGOs or learning how to sew a button on daddy’s winter coat.
This may be a chance to learn skills we once learned in home economics, like sewing, baking or balancing a checkbook, skills that schools have abandoned in favor of more testing. Whereas there is an entire generation taking crash courses in their twenties learning how to “adult,” parents could spend the next weeks or months of downtime teaching or learning alongside their kids. Is there a skill you think your kids must learn before they leave the house, or is there something you could start doing together?
Earlier in the winter I started doing watercolor with my daughter, and despite being the least artistic person on the planet, I’ve been surprised at how enjoyable and relaxing I find it. That’s another added secret benefit of homeschooling: it has the ability to enrich the lives of both kids and parents.
In a Jewish household, prayer and Jewish learning are wonderful ways to come together. This is what was commanded of Jewish parents; this is one of our most fundamental obligations raising children. Throughout the Bible, the home was considered the most effective environment for the transmission of God’s words. Parents were given the commandment and responsibility for their children’s education repeatedly.
In Genesis 18:19 we are told Abraham is responsible to train his children and his household to walk in the ways of the Lord. In Proverbs 22:6 it is written, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Every morning while we do morning time we listen to a Jewish or Hebrew song, say a prayer and recite a blessing over an item of food. Several days a week, we recite a prayer in Hebrew and English. Additionally, we read Jewish stories, learn Hebrew on our own and with a tutor, and do a daily study of the Bible.
In a boon for Jewish homeschoolers, coronavirus is inspiring Jewish parents and educators to come together to crowdsource education resources in a way I never could have dreamed of weeks ago. Whereas I was once scrounging through websites, trying to build my own worksheets and curriculum, the wisdom of hundreds of parents and educators is being posted hourly in groups like “Parenting under Quarantine” filled with Jewish parents.
And we are learning from each other; I am happy to share my tips about my favorite YouTube yoga shows Cosmic Kids and piano lessons Hoffman Academy, about the curricula I use that offer emergency lesson plans AmblesideOnline and Charlotte Mason Institute. I am happy to show Jewish parents the wealth of resources available to them, even before museums, zoos and opera houses started putting all of their content online in response to being forced to close their doors because of the coronavirus crisis.
I can only imagine how intimidating and overwhelming it must be for millions of parents to suddenly be thrust into the role of educator seemingly overnight; I spent years excitedly preparing and reading about homeschooling before taking the plunge. But while homeschooling is new to many Jewish families, it has the opportunity to bring families together and open the horizons of parents and kids alike. No day will look perfect at home, just like no day looks perfect at work or at school either. These are trying times, and the best each parent can do is more than good enough.
Bethany Mandel is a columnist for the Forward.
Help from a Jewish homeschooler: It can be great.