Posts in Practical Parenting

What Are You Really Teaching?

August 14th, 2018 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting No Comment yet

Each parent cares more about some areas of learning than others. If I want my child to be at home in many places, I may emphasize languages. Maybe I care more about English skills than science fluency or the other way around. Sports, dance, music and art are examples of other sectors that some of us care about more and others care about less.

For those of us who are religious, teaching Bible, Torah and religious texts is important. Herein lies a dilemma. We can sometimes forget what our goal is.

For Jews who are faithful to God, Sabbath observance is a core of our lives. Yet, my husband tells of men he observed when he was a young boy, who would smoke (a Sabbath violation) as they studied traditional Jewish texts with great erudition on the Sabbath. Their knowledge was intellectual but skipped their Jewish souls.

What I really care about when it comes to teaching Torah to my children is that they have a close relationship with God and His Word. I am not interested in their getting a PhD in religious studies; I want this relationship to be at the core of everything they do.

However, knowledge does matter. Their relationship is likely to be stronger if they are comfortable with Hebrew. Knowing verses by heart means that they can call on them as needed. Being familiar with texts lets them have a more mature relationship with the Torah as they grow rather than being stuck with juvenile Bible stories. The only way to achieve this proficiency is through often laborious study that will sometimes have them complaining and frowning.

I reposted a Susan’s Musing, Should I or Shouldn’t I, that is somewhat on this topic. The fact is that any worthwhile endeavor takes a lot of work. Yet, people who laze through their lives aren’t generally as happy or successful as those who learn to work towards a goal with diligence and rigor. “No pain, no gain,” applies to learning as well as to exercise.

At a young age, before they have the thrill of mastery, children’s feelings towards God and religion will be formed largely by the atmosphere in their homes. If Bible, synagogue or church, holidays and prayer are greeted with warmth and excitement, that is how they will feel. If they associate their parents with coldness and stress, that is the lens through which they will see God.

I was not successful in always making Bible and religious studies fun and exciting. Sometimes it was just hard work. I’m sure I could have done better. I probably sometimes wrongly held back in my demands out of fear of negative associations as often as I missed opportunities to bring lessons alive. The delicate balance between challenging the intellect, maintaining standards and nurturing the soul, all of which are necessary, is a tightrope that every parent, homeschooling or not, walks.

Why did you pick Sonlight?

August 10th, 2018 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting 2 comments

Dear Susan,

I really appreciate you breaking out the parenting musings from the past into a separate webpage. Every time you mention homeschooling on AJW  (the Ancient Jewish Wisdom TV Show), I’m all ears.

I know you said you’d discuss curriculum later, but I’m curious as to what part of Sonlight you used. It’s hard for me to justify paying so much for the history packages which seem to be full of trinity theology, but my husband prefers that I find a curriculum package this year. Any thoughts on curricula that come close to being Torah centered would really help. I tried Homeschooling Torah for a while, but found myself having to constantly correct and alter the material. I spent more time prepping than teaching. I only have seven or eight years left with my daughter as a homeschooler. I want it to be a more gratifying experience for both of us!


Hi Suzanne,

One of my dream jobs would be as a curriculum and resource evaluator of educational material. However, that in no way fits into my life right now. I can’t speak in an intelligent fashion about what is currently on the market  because my youngest homeschooler graduated over a decade ago. I sometimes hear about resources from my daughters who are teaching their own children or from friends, but I am pretty much out of the loop.

Having said that, I can tell you why I loved some of the things I used. It could be that they still have the features I enjoyed, there could be others doing the same thing much better and/or they can have changed tremendously since I knew them. For example, one of my friends has used Calvert very successfully for seventeen years but found them changing in the recent past and is trying something new this fall. One of the thrills of homeschooling versus, say being a classroom teacher, is that you don’t have to use things that don’t thrill you or don’t match you or your child’s learning styles. The flip side of that is that you need to do your footwork though it is easy to connect with like-minded people today and compare notes. Do you have people with whom you can share the journey? 

I used Sonlight for two years. I only found them late in my homeschooling career. Their philosophy included a skepticism about workbooks, a love of literature, natural learning, a love of literature, an emphasis on teaching thinking, a love of literature, etc. You get the picture. I loved their catalogue just for the reading lists it included.

I believe that both years we used Sonlight we did American history and I can’t say that I ran into any theology issues. I chose not to do some of the years where the focus might have been more on Christianity, like in European history. Sonlight does come from a Christian perspective – just look at their name, but other than replacing one or two books, I don’t remember it being a concern. There was a support chat group known as “Secular Sonlight,” but I didn’t find it very helpful because I was coming from a religious perspective, even if it was a different one than the program had.

However, it seems that enough people loved Sonlight but wanted less focus on missionaries and Protestant religious figures, especially in world history, that they have made a spin-off called BookShark. I haven’t seen it, but it definitely might be worth a look for you.

The years I used Sonlight, I was preparing material for one child vs. other years when we were a full house. That allowed me to spend time enjoying the literature with my daughter. It gave us a base that seemed a good compromise between completely structured (like Calvert) and creating a curriculum from scratch, which I did do some years.

I have to tell you one anecdote. My husband was speaking at an economic conference when one of the participants came over to introduce himself. The name on his badge looked familiar and I soon realized why. It was John Holzmann who along with his wife, Sarita founded Sonlight. I think I acted a little star-struck and immediately called my daughter (now in her mid-twenties) whose reaction couldn’t have been more excited than if I told her I was chatting with her favorite music star. We both remember those years of learning with great joy.

If Sonlight isn’t going to do that for you, then you aren’t a match. I will follow this with a post on integrating Torah studies into whatever you are using. One of the reasons I liked having a base course of study is that I could spend more of my time focused on preparing the Torah and Hebrew studies.

Hope this was helpful,

Susan Lapin

In Defense of Wolves

August 6th, 2018 Posted by Practical Parenting, Reading Recommendations No Comment yet

As part of the Practical Parenting column, I am re-running Susan’s Musings that had to do with parents and children. The “Little Yosef” of this column is now a fifteen-year-old young man who spent the last two weeks hauling water-sodden loads out of our flooded basement. 

Little Yosef, age 6, is busy writing stories about fending off wolves and building log cabins. The Little House on the Prairie series and other books depicting the same period have stimulated his imagination.

His mother tells me that he is particularly taken with the idea that children not that much older than he is now might be left alone to do a daunting job and expected to cope with all contingencies that arose.

While I don’t believe his parents are even close to handing him a rifle and instructing him to protect the homestead, Yosef’s fascination with the concept of responsibility is a positive one. As the eldest of four children, he already has been initiated into the club of those who know that what they do matters to the family. If anything his mother, as an eldest sibling herself, is sensitive to not putting too great a load on his young shoulders.

Nevertheless, hearing this made me realize that it is not always easy to give boys the soul satisfaction they need for healthy growth, especially as they approach and live through their teen years. While it is not healthy for either boys or girls to feel that they are takers rather than givers, in other words, to be solely occupied with their own happiness, concerns, education, and friendships, I do think it is harder for boys to move beyond that. At the risk of provoking a firestorm, a girl who takes care of younger siblings and helps with meals and laundry while recognizing that these are not made up chores for her but actually are needed for the house to function, can feel rightly valued. A boy who takes care of the baby and chores is indeed making a needed contribution, but I don’t think it fills a psychic need. Boys need to face physical challenge and slay dragons.  Just watch them seek danger and risk.

I’m not eager to see thirteen-year-olds return to the coal mine or fifteen-year-olds hauling cement rather than going to school. But with the implementation of child labor laws and the fear of litigation hovering over employees, in addition to urbanization, we have removed from teenage boys many opportunities to test themselves and their courage, strength, tenacity and resilience. Playing football may be hard work, but it cannot compare with knowing that the family is eating because of crops you harvested or a salary you earned doing construction work. Today’s rare prodigy is making big money creating a new iPhone app, but somehow I don’t see masses of boys doing so, and I doubt if the industry is being spurred by a realization of the family’s economic need.

As our society and schools become increasingly geared towards feminine predilections, encouraging Yosef and his fellow males to grow into healthy men becomes a more difficult and less easily resolved task. How do boys discover manliness with nary a wolf in sight, and too frequently not even a father or role model, to be seen?

Since I wrote this, I think the culture has moved even more to portraying boys as either bullies or feminized. If I was raising boys today, I would actively seek out older boys’ adventure stories. In general, I’m a fan of older books (though there are some excellent new ones as well).

If you have boys, I suggest taking a look at Farmer Boy in the Little House on the Prairie series. Check out Little Britches by Ralph Moody and if it goes over well, it is the first in a series of books. Girls will enjoy these books too, but it seems to me that there are more books available where girls are the protagonists and it is worth making the effort to find books that highlight boys. The recommended reading age for these books is 7 or 8-12, but you need to know your child. Especially when you are reading aloud to a child, which I heartily recommend, most younger children will enjoy books above their independent reading level.

What Homeschooling Resources Do You Recommend?

August 3rd, 2018 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting 3 comments

That is a bit like asking me for the secret of successful marriage or how to build a multi-million dollar business. In the final analysis, while there are many useful home-schooling resources and taking advantage of the hard work done by others is a no-brainer, as human beings each of us has to independently sift through available material or chart our own path.

Each parent and each child is an individual. What appeals to and is effective for one person will repel or bore another person to tears. The same material introduced at a different stage of life may well get an entirely different result. I remember when Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage was assigned as mandatory reading for one of my college courses. I found it the most boring book imaginable. Years later, the Sonlight (o.k., I guess I did mention one resource.  I will speak more about it at another time.) curriculum I was using with my twelve-year-old daughter included that very book, which elicited an unarticulated groan from me.

Little did I know that the book, which we did as a read-aloud and followed up by going to see a dramatization presented by our local youth theater, would have both my daughter and me completely enraptured. Boring? Not in the slightest. At the right time and presented in the right way for the people we each were at that stage of our lives, it was riveting.

Whether we are talking about educating ourselves or facilitating the education of our children, there is no magical path that lets us just “buy this” or “enroll in this” to guarantee success. If I had to isolate one characteristic that separates successful education from its opposite, whether is it in or out of the classroom, it would be a passion for learning. If you can stoke that passion, you are on your way to success.

Dennis Prager on the importance of hobbies

August 1st, 2018 Posted by Practical Parenting No Comment yet

There is a lot of what I consider nonsense written about raising healthy children, so I would like to use this site to share useful and good things that I come across. To that effect, here is a link to a post by Dennis Prager that I think makes an excellent point.

Everyone Homeschools – Even You

July 30th, 2018 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting 3 comments

Maybe your children go to school. Maybe you don’t have children or they are no longer little. If you have breath in your body, you need to think of yourself as a homeschooler. 

Learning is a lifetime occupation. Unless you want to be boring, bitter, unimaginative and stuck in a rut, keep learning. Whether you are ten or eighty, childless or parenting a houseful, and whether you or your children go off to a building called school or not, every vibrant person homeschools.

In English, people teach and people learn. Those words are not linguistically connected. In Hebrew, the act of teaching and learning are variants on the same root; L-M-D. To teach is le-LaMeD while to learn is li-LMoD.

D  M  L (L)
ל) ל מ ד)
(to) learn/ (to) teach

Similarly, if I say that I homeschool, it might mean that I teach others or it might mean that I am the one learning. Truthfully, there is no distinction. It is impossible to successfully teach without learning and when you truly learn something you actually continue to teach it to yourself and hopefully to others.

The antithesis of homeschooling is, “No more school, no more books. No more teachers’ dirty looks.” Instead, life is a school, books are a constant and true teachers comes in all forms and varieties, without any association with dirty looks.

In other words, if you are passionately alive, you are a homeschooler.

P.S. To reinforce the idea that learning doesn’t stop in the summer, this week we have FREE SHIPPING on all our resources in the U.S. with the coupon code SHIPFREE– including our Hebrew language ones! Check out our online store.

What Is This Page?

July 26th, 2018 Posted by Practical Parenting 6 comments

On my husband’s live chat podcast a while back, one listener asked for homeschool resources. My husband suggested that he ask me by writing in an Ask the Rabbi question on the topic, which he (and others) did.

Rather than list resources in an Ask the Rabbi answer, I thought I might try something different. I plan to write one short piece each week and post it in this “Practical Parenting” column. While I am going to start by discussing some homeschooling ideas and resources, I hope to expand beyond that. I’ll explain why next week.

Along the way, I will look through past Musings that had to do with children and add them to this page. There are a few here to start with.

Please let me know what you think of this new page and how it can best serve you.



Having it All

June 15th, 2017 Posted by Practical Parenting, Susan's Musings 47 comments

I got a lovely Mother’s Day card from one of my daughters that brought tears of joy to my eyes, but it also highlighted one of the enemies of successful living.

Among other sweet words, she wrote, “I am only now starting to realize how much of your own life and time and personal pursuits you must have sacrificed to raise us…”

The gratitude is appreciated and the sentiment is lovely. It is also wrong.  It is wrong, not only in terms of motherhood but also in terms of marriage, work and life.

My husband and I once sailed in the Caribbean. When we visited one island, the dock was not only extraordinarily narrow but also in ill repair. It shifted and rocked with each step we took. Being six months pregnant and not quite as nimble as usual, that posed a challenge. What made it even more worrying were the sharks swimming beneath the dock. Falling in the water was not really an acceptable option.


Losing It

September 4th, 2012 Posted by Practical Parenting, Susan's Musings 5 comments

My husband brought me two dozen miniature yellow roses this
past Friday. I did not deserve them. I spent the day on the verge of hysteria, alternating
between muttering and shrieking as I prepared our Shabbat meals. Things were so
bad that one of our expected guests, dropping off a bottle of wine in advance,
left it on the doorstep, positive that he was hearing a knockout, drag down
fight between one of my daughters and me. Not quite. None of our daughters was
home this week and I was the only human in the house when he came.

What he actually heard, was me, yelling at a swarm of teensy
flies that were circling my kitchen. These micro-bombers started invading
Thursday. At that point, I cleaned the counters making sure there were no
inviting fruit or sweets lying around, and opened the door to give the flies a
point of egress. As a further precaution, my husband hung a few strips of
flypaper around the kitchen, confident that would end the assault.

Having minor oral surgery Thursday afternoon, I went straight
upstairs when I got home, anticipating a full day of cooking on Friday for our
table of ten Shabbat lunch guests.  This
meant that I didn’t see the pests in their full glory until Friday morning. The
effectiveness of the flypaper seemed to have led the flies to call in
reinforcements and it was clear that they intended to share my kitchen through
the day. Though my husband insisted that I was attributing more power to the
insects than they possessed, as the day went on, I was increasingly convinced
that they were malevolently smirking at me.

By mid-afternoon, after obsessively covering each and every
bowl, pot and utensil I used and hovering over my food like a helicopter mom guarding
her toddler on the playground, I had had it. The final straw was when not once,
but twice, I walked into strands of flypaper, which proceeded to cling to me in
octopus-like fashion.

In between cries of misery, I lectured myself. I told myself
how fortunate I am that my husband and I, children and grandchildren, are
healthy. I reminded me what a blessed life I live if a fly infestation is a
major crisis. I conjured up images of pioneer women watching hordes of locusts
devour their year’s crop. To no avail.  I
continued falling apart.

I had the luxury of losing it for one reason only. My
closest child was a few hundred miles away. Had any of them been in the house,
I would have had to SET AN EXAMPLE. When our sailboat almost suffered a
knockdown in a storm in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, I clutched three
life-vested girls and sang songs with them. My children think that blackouts
are major fun activities, providing serendipitous occasions for ice cream
parties around a fireplace. Six children with chickenpox prompted ‘Camp Mommy’
complete with arts and crafts activities and canteen time. That is what mothers
do. We overcome our own natures to make our children feel safe, secure and

I don’t want to suggest that I always coped with a pleasant and
calm demeanor when the children were around. I remember being so exhausted with
a newborn in the house that I didn’t know how I would make it through another
hour. There were times I was afraid to open my mouth, unsure what would come
out, and those times that, unfortunately, I did open it anyway. There were,
regretfully, times I completely lost it. In general, though, I was wrong to
expect that it would be easier to cook without seven pairs of hands wanting to
knead the dough and stir the soup or to run to the market without lots of ‘helpers’.
When all is said and done, being forced to be mature, competent and cheerful knowing
that every move I made was being avidly tracked, made life a lot more fun.



Happy (Homeschooling) Mother’s Day

May 8th, 2012 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting, Susan's Musings 1 comment

If you want to be enthusiastic, hang around enthusiastic, people. And there is scarcely a more enthusiastic group than homeschooling parents. I had a wonderful time this week as a keynote speaker for the 4th annual Torah home education conference. Homeschooling has grown rapidly in the United States, and there are churches I know where a majority of parents educate their children at home. However, it is only in recent years that the number of Jewish homeschooling families has grown significantly. There are reasons why Jews lagged behind in this American trend, including ongoing loyalty and well-deserved respect and affection for the system of religious Jewish private schools which has burgeoned in America since the end of World War II. Nonetheless, each year, more parents are assessing their individual children’s academic, psychological and spiritual needs as well as their family’s overall circumstances and declaring themselves homeschoolers. This year’s conference in Baltimore attracted parents from Denver and British Columbia; from Florida and upstate NY. It was a privilege to be there.

While fathers were well in evidence at the Torah Home Education Conference and homeschooling is almost always a joint decision, the bulk of the job usually falls on mom. Why would a Harvard graduate, a successful corporate lawyer, or an entrepreneur whose business is showing signs of exploding, walk away from the possibilities the world offers them? Why would they make a decision that nothing is more important than nurturing their children? How did we become a generation that can even ask that question?

In my sixteen years as a homeschooling mom, one or two days stand out when I hid from the kids in my closet crying that I just couldn’t do this anymore. I remember many more days when I was filled with gratitude for being present when I saw my child’s face beam as squiggles on a page turned into words or when I was able to facilitate a discussion of a current event or book, raising ethical and moral issues. I loved hearing my children answer that question beloved of pediatricians and random people in check-out lines, “What is your favorite subject?” with “history,” “chumash (Bible)” or “poetry” instead of “recess.” The fact that they never even considered reading or critical thinking or hashkafa (Jewish worldview) as a school subject was the hot fudge on the sundae. In the dark days of September 11th or when a personal family loss occurred, I appreciated hurting together rather than apart. I cherished hours of reading aloud with children ranging from pre-schoolers to teenagers and giving those young adults hours to explore their own interests and transition safely to adulthood. I love that trips and experiences were shared with siblings and parents rather than only peers.

I miss my homeschooling days though I live it vicariously as one of my daughters continues on the adventure with her children. Thankfully, the overwhelming majority of mothers love their children including those who work out of the home and those who focus on the home; those who work for pay and those who volunteer; those who have one child and those who have many; those who homeschool and those who send their children to schools. Nonetheless, in a country filled with intelligent, creative, powerful women who buck the establishment by declaring that encouraging, mentoring and cultivating one’s own child is a worthwhile career choice, not only the children but the nation should say, “thank-you.”