How to Make Homeschooling Work – Crash Course

Now that almost all the schools are closed, I would like to welcome any parent with a child in (or was in) school to the wonderful world of homeschooling! I say that with a smile, but I totally understand what that means and know it is not an easy thing at all for almost every parent who has been forced into this situation.  It is not easy for us parents who have willingly put ourselves in it to begin with.  – Oh, and you are already a homeschool parent? This is definitely different (keep reading – we all need reminders sometimes and hopefully there are few helpful tips even for you.)  Activities are closed, many cannot even go outside. Just because we homeschool, we still take our children outside!

I want this blog to be helpful and give people chizuk – encouragement. There is so much information that one usually gets and needs before delving into homeschooling, but there is no time for that. So, to the best of my ability, I will try to give a crash course. I have written down 9 pointers to help:

1) Firstly, I want you to know that you are not alone! We are all there.  Some of us have some experience, but most, none. Like anything else, it is not easy, but we are told that Hashem only puts us in situations that we can manage. You CAN do this. (Perhaps you want to put this message all over your house to remind you!)

Everyone’s family works differently and what works for one family – or even one child, does not mean it will work with the next family, or even the next child in the family. Treat it like an experiment. “Hmm…. Well, that did not work, I wonder why that did not work,” or even, “Wow, that worked!  Let me try that again!” If we get into that mindset, even setbacks can be just a tad less harsh and easier to manage.

2) The second thing to note is that whenever a child starts homeschooling after being in a school, they need to deschool. Deschooling is letting the child learn to transition from a school learning environment to a home learning environment.  The length of time is generally around 1 month per year in a school.  Yes. I know what I just said.  I said it takes, about 15-30 days for each year a child was at school to learn to adjust. Don’t try to rush it. This is something that most likely all of you need to adjust as well.

3) The next thing I find is most important, and what it really means varies from family to family, but you need to create some sort of schedule. This could mean that children get up, dressed, and eat at a certain time and then there is davening and everyone is going to learn for 1.5 hours and then that is all you can handle so the rest of the time is “free” time, to something else. You just need SOMETHING.  Even in the summer when we are “off of school,” I found we have to do a subject of something each day – could be something really fun, but I needed to put that into our morning and then it did not matter what happened the rest of the day for we accomplished something. Our day was meaningful.

Many schools and yeshivas have transitioned to online schooling, which definitely helps, but comes with its own set of issues.  Please, just make sure you check up on each of your children a couple of times during the day so you know that they are where they need to be. It is good for the children as well, so they don’t feel so isolated and know you are around and care. You don’t have to talk to them, but just walk by and pause for just a moment. If they are doing independent work, just a quick hi and asking how they are doing can do wonders.

4) What if a school is not able to provide online schooling, or you have younger children who are not in school and now your attention is taken from them? You can go to my previous blog where I list a few suggestions here as starting places that can help.

5) Don’t forget about You. You are important. You need time out. You might even find you need to hide in the bathroom, with the door locked, for it is all getting on your nerves. Believe me, probably every single homeschool mom knows that trick and has made use of it more than once. When you are the only adult in the home and no one is there to relieve you so you can take a 15 minute break, you resort to what you have.  (And yes, it really does help!)

6) All the activities are closed. You are stuck in the house. Please follow whatever guidelines are found in your area at all times, however, here are some suggestions that might help.

                – go outside the door (while staying on your property!!!).  Take a chair or two and just sit outside of your front or back door. Even if you cannot leave your property, there is no reason why you can’t get some fresh air. It really helps everyone to feel happier.

                – you can do jumping jacks, jogging in place, jump rope, sit-ups, and many other exercises and stretches while staying in one spot.  Make a game out of it. Who can jog in place the longest, or do 5 minutes of jump rope? Make it as fun as you can. Get creative!

                – if you have a bit more space like a backyard, you can expand to tossing a ball, running around the backyard, potato sack races, 3-legged races, wheelbarrow races, and a variety of other things.

7) Schedule Quiet Time. Have 30-60 minutes a day where everyone is quiet to the best of their abilities. Have a baby or young child that naps? Great! Everyone will have quiet time at that moment.  They can read, rest, quietly work on a puzzle (jigsaw or puzzles on paper), etc. but it has to be quiet, and everyone should be by themselves. We all need time to decompress from our day. You can even call “Quiet Time!” whenever you feel the tensions rise and you find people need the break.

8) Assign one chore/task to each child, according to their ability, to be done at its proper time. Tasks can include wiping the table after each person puts their dishes away. One child is responsible for sweeping a certain room each day. Taking out the garbage, putting a bag in the garbage can, putting one load of laundry on on a certain day (older child), folding one pile of clothes, each child making sure their bed is made up, emptying the dishwasher, filling it up and putting it on, etc.

9) Tell everyone you love them. All the time. In the morning, when they have sent you to the ceiling, and when they go to bed.

Remember there will be hiccups and sometimes the day (or days) can get really stressed. It’s normal! Sometimes just surviving is the best that we can do. The internet is not working? Your children are getting way too much screen time – and that is the best you can do for YOU need a break? It’s okay! You are doing an amazing job. Tomorrow is another day.

My Children Are Bored (aka HELP!!!)

With all those children at home, it can be a bit overwhelming.  With schools and yeshivos closing, along with many public events, and children not being able to play with friends even, it can be hard to keep them busy and out of trouble; aka, hard for us to keep sane!

It is definitely a stressful time, never mind who has much time now to think about what all this really mean. For us homeschoolers, it is more like a huge winter storm when all the friends are home from school, but homeschooling families just chug along with school as if nothing is wrong. It does get a bit different when the storm lasts several days and normal out of the house activities are not available, so we can get cabin fever as well, just takes a bit longer for us.

I have our two boys who are in yeshiva, home with me, and very happy (in various ways) that they are able to keep up with their classes online.

To try to keep everyone sane, here is a very small starter list. (If you have anything else that would be helpful to others, let me know and I can add it to the list!):

(As with all things internet-related, even though I have been to these sites personally, please do your own research as well and only use what best fits your family.)

Room613 – Offering interactive, live classes for Jewish homeschoolers.

Yeshivas Mordechai HaTzaddik – Put on by the Chofetz Chaim. Call in Monday-Thursdays at 12pm, 1pm, 2pm and 3pm EST. 30 min presentations start on the hour and include recesses and raffles! 646-726-9977

They also have The Children’s Hotline available 24 hours a day
212-444-1119, 718-305-6960, 845-738-1066.

Torah Live – Torah Live is offering free access to their accounts on 60 day increments – If you or your school would like to take advantage of this opportunity, go to http://www.torahlive.com/schools and use promo code TORAH.
Aleph Beta – at the top of the page they have a link for those who are stuck at home for free access.a
Chabad.org – is a great resource to begin with, but they have a wonderful children’s site filled with games and videos.
Akhlah
Torahtots
Chinuch.org– Is a Torah U’Mesorah website that has resources available to download for all age levels and all Jewish subject areas.

Want to help with the secular side of things as well?

Khan Academy – Includes extensive interactive math classes, along with coding. It also has so much more available, and all for free!

There are many places where one can download out of copyright books to read on a computer or to print out for free.

Gateway to the Classics (used to be Mainlesson.com) Has a huge database of children’s books. Click on “Library” and then you can go to the “Browse” link to browse by author or by title.
Gutenberg.org
Manybooks.net
Google Books

Want audiobooks instead? Try:
Librivox
Gateway to the Classics – Click on “Library” and then go to “Listen”
Other resources can include Amazon Kindle books.

Great time to pick up some new language that sounds fun!

Duolingo – can be done on the computer or app. There are others, but this is the one that I use.

Other ideas:

Take the time to reconnect. About 4 years ago I bought a small spiral notebook for each of us in the family.  I tried to remember a few times a week to give each person their book and told them to write one thing they are greatful for.  We have not done them in 2.5 years. Tonight, I decided to bring them out again. IY”H, we will be using them most nights.

In a time of technology, some old forms have been forgotten.  Now would be a great time to bring them out. Have your children draw pictures or write cards or small letters to someone. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends.  It does not have to be long, just something small. The mail them. In the snail mail. 🙂 Maybe they can be “penpals” with their best friend who lives next door – if you can get out – paste the note on the front door in the evening and they can paste one on your door the next night!

Start a Reading Time (or Quiet Time), perhaps in the afternoon or evening after supper.  Take 30-60 minutes and everyone reads a book.

We might not understand exactly why Hashem has decided this was the best thing for us, but let us say “Thank You!” and take advantage of all that was thrown at us!

If you have any other ideas, please leave a comment, I am sure there are many other people who will be excited to hear about them.

Your Jewish Homeschool Curriculum Made Much Easier!

Hello Everyone!

I tried to write this post a while ago, but we have a new web hosting package and even though I was assured that I was not losing anything, I really am, and I was not able to write my post without my server resources being used up and having to wait and redo it all! So, I had to come up with another way of posting that will work until I get around to calling them and not having to spend $200 just so I can write text on my blog!

One of the big issues for Jewish homeschoolers has always been in creating a Judaic curriculum. After homeschooling for 12 years, I have finally put together a list of Judaic curriculum resources useful to Homeschoolers, and the grades they usually match up with. Most of the resources are free, and most can be found on chinuch.org. All I did was go through the resources to find the kinds of things that many homeschooling families are looking for – “What do Day Schools teach?” And then, the second question that most people do not get to for they don’t usually get the first question answered, but is in their minds – “How do I do it?” So, I went through tens of thousands of resources posted on chinuch.org and weeded out what I thought were the kinds of materials most appropriate in a homeschool setting. They are grouped by subject and then by grade range they are most suited for.

Firstly, please keep in mind that this is just a starting place! I have definitely included a lot that many people might be able to use my list to create a full curriculum for many years, however, please note that there will probably be some gaps that need filling in after a few years, so keep that in mind. There is still some information I want to include but is not on yet.

1. Most of what is posted are links to chinuch.org. Chinuch.org is part of Torah U’Mesorah. It is a teachers resource site where teachers can submit classroom ideas and worksheets for others to use. Teachers post their materials and someone at Torah U’Mesorah looks them over to make sure they are appropriate before making them available. Most of what is posted is supplementary material. Homeschooling parents are looking for complete programs or themes. I went through a huge portion of these materials to find complete “kits”. Bonus – Everything on chinuch.org is free. 🙂

2. There are other sites that I have listed. Many of those are not free but are definitely worth looking at if your budget allows.

How do you use my list? All you need to do is find the subject that you are interested in looking at, then go to the grade level (Elementary, Middle School, High School) and see if anything there fits your needs. I tried to find several options for each grade level, though I was not always successful. Just do this for each subject you are looking for.

Again, this was made as a STARTING place, and you might need to fill in the few gaps you may find. The link below will take you to a Google Document of my list. If you have any issues opening it up, please sent me a message. Extra bonus: My list is free, so please pass the link around to your friends who might need it!

Click here for the list

If you have a link that you think would be good, please let me know and I will take a look at it.

Hope you enjoy!

Ambleside Online – Why I’m so excited!

Over the years, we have had various kinds of curricula.  We started off with Calvert, an all-in-one curriculum that even includes crayons, pencils and erasers!  It is a standard school curriculum which includes the teacher’s guide, answers, and wonderful support from real teachers.  After using it for 3 years, I realized that other than it is quite expensive (it was costing me about $700 a year per child, but over 93% cheaper than private schools,) it was not working out for one of my children so I had to look for something else.

Money was a huge issue, as well as the fact that I was trying to teach and look after several younger children at the same time and I decided I was going to try to see if I could combine and overlap some of the teaching with the boys to help me out.  I spent a long time looking into Unit Studies.  Unit Studies take a topic and combine different subjects into one unit so you are teaching many subjects at once.

We have a yearly budget for school, which includes any camp, and two years ago, while our boys were at a much needed (for me!) camp, I spent several days searching the internet for unit studies that I wanted to do for the coming year.  With sending 3 boys to camp for 2 weeks each, my budget for schooling for the year was almost nothing, so I had to search for free stuff.  The problem was that I was not finding free units for the topics I wanted to teach.  The second last day of camp I was at my wit’s end.  I just did not know what to do.  Our schooling was suppose to start in 4 days and I had no clue what I was going to teach!  For some reason I clicked on a link that was a curriculum.  I did not want a curriculum, but I clicked anyways.  What did I have to loose?  I already exhausted all possible sites for what I was looking for anyways, and I needed a change of pace.  I started reading.  It was Ambleside Online, a Charlotte Mason curriculum.  A free curriculum, nice, but not for me (not that I knew anything about it!)  As I read all about the curriculum, I found myself liking and agreeing with what I was reading.  I emailed my husband some of what I read for I really liked it – not that I was going to do it, but it was really good stuff.  I kept reading.  And reading.  And reading.  By the end of the day I knew what I was going to do that year – with only 2 days to prepare (Shabbos was in the middle,) I was going to jump right into it anyways and figure it out.

Charlote Mason lived in England in the late 1800’s early 1900’s.  Ms. Mason was a teacher for many years and spend a lot of time trying to improve her teaching ideas and skills.  In a nutshell, she voted for short lessons, which equal to short school days so there is time for personal interests and hobbies (very important.)  However, she was an advocate for a strong education with knowledge in a wide range of topics and felt that children were capable of more than we tend to think of them as being capable of. She was an advocate for living books – books written by authors who were knowledgeable and passionate about the topic. At the same time, religion was very important and incorporated God into secular learning.  She was a huge advocate of sending kids outside for as long as possible with part free time and part guided time.  Middos (character traits) are very important.  And, don’t start children too early.  Let them grow, let them learn about nature, let them understand how a flower grows and how a squirrel lives.  Let them learn how to observe nature and then they can learn.  With four children, and with being religious, the idea of having time to teach all of them, give them a good strong educational background AND do it with Hashem in mind all the time, Wow!

The Charlotte Mason version that we use is an online version.  The advisory has tried to find as many of the books that fit the teaching style as possible that are out of copyright and available for free online.  This helps cut down the cost.

They have also set up a schedule for each year – broken down by week.  This makes it very flexible. Some children need to break readings down into multiple sections read over several days, and it gives the option of putting everything into a 4 day week instead of 5.  This is what we do.  I arrange almost everything into 4 days, and Fridays are left for other stuff (yes, cooking and cleaning is part of it, but that really is school for that is real life skills.)  I do not feel forced to use everything on the list.  Obviously, I replace the Bible with Torah study, Christian history with our Jewish history and hymns with davening and Shabbos songs.  However, I do not have to worry about reading that the world is millions of years old when I do not believe that.  The setup is just a nice guideline being flexible if I need to replace a book and letting me choose when to teach.  There are a few books that I have left out of teaching for they are too Christian based, but all in all, that is not an issue and we enjoy being able to easily see Hashem in all our learning.

The big difference that one will see when they go through the FAQ’s is that especially for the younger years, there is no writing except the copywork! None!  What is done instead is oral narrations.  The parent or teacher (if in a school) reads from the different books, then asks for an oral narration from the child(ren).  After the narration, the parent or teacher then uses that for discussions.  Why oral narrations? Talking is easier than writing, and if you cannot tell me what you read, then you do not understand and how can you write about it?  Starting in year 4, after the child has the idea of how to listen and read and understand, then they start with 1-2 written narrations.  The readings get very intense – starting in year 4 we add Plutarch’s Lives and Shakespeare (yes, the real thing – however, it did not work out for us too well, but I think it was mostly me and the scheduling mainly….)  Younger children have short attention span so the lessons need to be short – 10-15 minutes.  Older children about 30-45 minutes.  No longer.  Also, learn not to repeat (unless the child does not understand) for they need to learn to listen the first time, after all, their boss is not going to tell them twice to do a job!

The first year was a little strange.  It took a while before I got the hang of what I was suppose to be doing with the narrations.  This past year I had a much better idea and the discussions came a lot easier for me.  I will be entering year 3 with AO and am very excited.  I just placed the order for the year’s books – $160 for my oldest (the younger ones already have the books!).  Well, that is everything except math.  That will come at the end of the summer.  My oldest is going to be reading about all sorts of exciting stuff this year such as classical mechanics, relativity (yes, in year 6!!!), reading the Hobbit and the Animal Farm and all about the Greeks and Romans.  He has read the unabridged classics such as Robinson Crusoe and Oliver Twist, with more to come!  Oh, and Understood Betsy and The Little Duke are NOT to be missed!

I have my reading list for the summer set out for me, I can’t wait!  I think I will enjoy the books more than they will!

We made a decision…. Now what?

Firstly, I would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a wonderful Tu B’Shevat.  It is an especially wonderful chag (holiday) in our house.  Not only is it the birthday of the trees, it is the birthday of boy #2 and it is nice to take the day and make it even more special.  So, I am wishing my 10 year old a wonderful birthday!  (The cake is supposed to resemble a pomegranate cut open. 🙂  )

This post is actually a continuation of the previous posting.  The first step was coming up with our decision.  The next step was deciding what in the world I was going to do. Actually, these two steps were made simultaneously.  As I was investigating, I investigated different curricula, but it was not until I found the answers to my questions did I feel I was ready.  And when I was ready, I already had the material I was going to use.

As I mentioned, during the six months of research, I investigated all sorts of curricula and methods, and given the fact that this was the first year homeschooling, and I was not sure I could/would find the time to create my own, (and why should I re-invent the wheel anyways, if something else is out there?) I settled upon Calvert’s homeschooling package.  This appealed to me for Calvert sends everything one needs to start homeschooling, including pencils, paper and a pencil sharpener!  What more could I ask for?  And, at just under $700 (which included teacher support the entire year, and ATS – optional testing/grading by accredited teachers,) it was 92% cheaper than our day school.  What a deal!

At the time we had 3 boys, the youngest being only 18 months.  I was going to homeschool our oldest only, who was going to be almost 5, and entering grade 1.  (We felt that he had more than the mental capability at such a young age and with his personality it would be better to push him than keep him behind.)

Calvert lists the average amount of time required for each of their subjects, so before our new school year was to begin, I made a schedule – starting at about 9 am.  I quickly ran into a big problem.  For kindergarten, they were suggesting 2.5-3 hours of school work — Ok, so 9am-12pm.  BUT, that was not going to work!  I was going to have one boy at a playgroup, and I was going to have my baby (ok, toddler) at home, and there was nap time, as well as having to feed him and play with him – he was not a newborn, and so just having him sit next to us was not going to work.  I had to have everything done by lunch time, for that was when I had to go get my other child and spend time with him too!  How could I homeschool?

As with most people, I was never homeschooled and until this time, I do not recall ever meeting (let alone talk too) another homeschool parent/child.  People get used to a school setting: Go to school by a certain time in the morning.  Bell rings.  Take attendance, class.  Bell rings.  Change class/recess.  Bell rings.  Lunch.  Bell rings.  Afternoon classes and recess.  The bell rings for these as well.  We are conditioned with the bell.  Also, how we are taught is similar throughout almost all schools – Textbooks and worksheets.

Then the breakthrough happened.  I learned something very important to homeschooling, something seemingly so obvious, but not obvious to most people:

 You do not have to follow a standard school schedule.

What this means is that I do not have to do a 9-12 school, I can teach whenever I want/need/have time too.  If I want to start before the standard school starting time, then I can.  If I want to take the entire morning off for it does not fit our family schedule, and teach only in the afternoons, then I can.  If I wanted to teach a little in the mornings and then a little in the afternoon when the two younger boys went down for a nap, I was allowed that too.  I realized I was allowed to think out of the box.  I was free to be different.  There is no “one size fits all” approach in homeschooling.  As I was to find out over the years, this applies to the teaching style and materials used as well.

With this enlightenment, my eyes were opened, and all of a sudden this big heavy burden was lifted from my shoulders.  I was actually getting really excited.  I could see that I could do it, and I was not worried if things did not quite work out.  I knew that I was allowed to try things a different way.

This was not going to be the first time that things just “seemed to click”, and I am sure there will be a few more to come.  As I am learning more and more lately, homeschooling is learning for everyone in the family, not just the children.

How We Got Started

I figure I would start off by writing about how we began homeschooling.  That is usually the one of the first questions that we are asked, so, I’ll jump ahead and tell you about it so you won’t have to ask. 🙂

The last 6 years has been quite amazing to say the least.  Six years ago I could not imagine homeschooling.  Six years ago I could not imagine doing several things that I have found myself capable of doing.  With being married to a wonderful husband and being blessed with 4 wonderful boys, it is not surprising that I find myself going beyond what I thought was my limit.  Each day is a new day.  Each day we live and try to learn and grow.

Deciding to homeschool was not a simple and easy decision.  Homeschooling is becoming more and more popular within the Jewish community. As with most people, money was an issue with us.  However, we thought we should try the best we could and send our children to a religious Jewish school. With insight that many times only a parent can have with their child, we knew that after only having experienced preschool, the schooling had to be changed.  One night we sat down trying to come up with a list of options.  With public school out of the question, we found the only other option that we could think of was homeschooling.  My husband was so excited. I did not quite share the same level of excitement, probably because I would be the one teaching, not him! 😉

To make a long story short, after that one conversation, nothing more was mentioned for 2 months.  Then, one afternoon:  “Are you still thinking about homeschooling?”  “Um, yes.  You?”  “Yes.” Then nothing more for another 2 months!  One afternoon the question was asked again.  We both had been researching on our own for 4 months.  We then decided we were both serious about it and we should probably start talking to each other about it.  It took another two months before I finally got the big answers needed and I felt comfortable with the idea.

I am not going to say that was it.  Nor am I going to say we never looked back.  What I am going to say is that our decision was the beginning of a long ongoing journey; A journey that has had, and continues to have its ups and its downs.  There have been times when we have asked ourselves if we made the right decision.  However, when we look back and see how each of our boys have grown, we do believe we have made the right decision.

Have we always made the right choices and taught the things in the right way?  Of course not.  This is part of being human.  It is a learning experience for all.  We cannot always know the best way to teach each child, or even the best topics to teach.  Sometimes it is just trial and error.  There are times when I just want to pull out all my hair.  And then, there are the times when you see the sparkle in their eyes as something just clicks inside of them.

I think the biggest help that I have had was belonging to a few different email support groups.  It has been extremely helpful to not only have a group of people to ask questions too, but also to just read the questions and answers that others have.  You find out that your home is not unique – many other people have the same questions and issues as you.  You are not alone.  🙂

What I would like to do is write down some experiences we have had and I hope that others will get some benefit from them.