August 7, 2013
The many blessings of Jewish homeschooling
Shari Rosenman decided to homeschool her children because it gave her the freedom to set her family’s schedule. Leat Silvera does it because she wants her children to pursue their passions.
A few years ago they realized that, as Jews, they weren’t alone in making this educational choice.
“When we started homeschooling, there weren’t many Jewish families homeschooling, and then the economy changed,” said Rosenman of Carthay Square. “A lot of Jewish families could no longer afford to send their children to private Jewish schools, and they weren’t going to send them to public schools.”
The result, they found, was an increased desire for Jewish homeschooling, and about five years ago this led to the creation of LA Jewish Homeschoolers (lajewishhomeschoolers.com), a network of families seeking to connect for social and educational purposes.
“We put together a support network so people wouldn’t have to start from scratch,” said Rosenman, one of the organization’s founders, who homeschooled her daughter, Maya, 16, and son, Eytan, 14, for years.
The group ranges in size from 60 to 100 families at any one time and is open to all denominations. Members are located in the San Fernando Valley, Pico-Robertson, Long Beach and parts of Central Los Angeles.
The network exists for support, collaboration and more. Twice a month, members meet up for social activities, and there are informal classes that they’re welcome to join, although the group is not set up as a primary educator for the kids. Past instruction has included Bible study, writing circles, history classes and a course where instructors teach how to solve robotics challenges using Legos. There have been hikes, visits to a planetarium, a nature walk with a naturalist and a park day.
Among the members of LA Jewish Homeschoolers is actress Mayim Bialik (“The Big Bang Theory”), a Valley resident. She wrote in an e-mail to the Journal that she prefers homeschooling because it allows her two kids to learn at their own pace.
“Our sons love learning, they are focused and attentive, [and] they are respectful of others and see the world as an opportunity to constantly be learning,” Bialik wrote. “These are the gifts we have seen in our homeschooling experience and journey.”
Bialik — who has a doctorate in neuroscience from UCLA — has taught neuroscience, high school biology, chemistry and a specialty research development course for students through LA Jewish Homeschoolers.
An advantage of teaching her own sons, who are 4 and 7, is that she has control over the subjects they learn, she wrote.
“We love being able to teach our kids subjects the way we want them taught,” Bialik wrote. “For example: the notion of what ‘really’ happened when Columbus landed in America is quite easily taught in a homeschool environment, whereas it’s politically charged in other schools.”
One of Silvera’s motivations for homeschooling her five children is that the possibilities for learning are endless.
“Homeschooling is not taking a classroom and putting it in your dining room,” she said. “Once you’re outside the brick and mortar of the school building, your whole world opens up. You can really create a program based individually on your child that can inspire a lifelong love of learning.”
Parents — who are not required to have teaching credentials if they homeschool their children — sometimes choose to teach everything themselves, while others hire tutors and teachers to help out.
Beth Braunstein of Valley Village, who has homeschooled all five of her children, said that there is no typical day.
“Some days are outdoors-based, where we do field trips. I think you have to be part of the world by seeing and experiencing it. Some are more class-oriented, and then [my children] do whatever work we decide needs to be done that week. It’s more flexible according to their needs.”
Because her children have learning disabilities, they have performed better because of homeschooling, Braunstein said.
“Testing them in the standard way will never be beneficial. It’s part of the frustration they had in school.”
A personal issue that Braunstein said she has with traditional schooling is that it is based on a reward system — grades — as opposed to teaching children to learn for the sake of learning.
“My kids developed an intellectual curiosity. The schools have so many things to deal with, and the structures in place are in some ways outdated and obsolete,” she said. “It’s just not inspiring the kids to be prepared for an ever-changing world.”
Bialik, like Braunstein, likes that the schooling can be personalized and planned according to a child’s needs. She said it allows “your child to develop at their own pace rather than conforming to what the ‘norms’ are for developing speech, academic ability, etcetera.”
Although there are many positive aspects to homeschooling, it doesn’t work well for everyone, she admitted.
“You have to want to be with your kids a lot of the day,” Bialik said. “There is a lot of flexibility and open-mindedness you learn to have when you homeschool.”
Silvera said the perks are worth it.
“You get to see your children very relaxed, happy, picking up books and reading on their own or doing creative projects. Through homeschooling, you give your kids the gift of time: Time to explore their passions and what they love. There’s no limit.”
Through the Jewish homeschooling network, Bialik, Silvera, Braunstein and Rosenman have found similar-minded peers to whom they can turn whether they need advice, have questions or want to feel part of a community.
“The wonderful thing about the Jewish Homeschoolers is the resources available,” Bialik said. “I can ask questions and find people with kids like mine temperament-wise and ask what worked for them. It’s wonderful to be supported by a homeschooling community like this.”