Posts in Homeschooling

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

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.

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.

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.”




Should I or Shouldn’t I?

August 24th, 2010 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting, Susan's Musings 2 comments

“My parents forced me to continue with piano lessons for four years. They ruined my enjoyment of music.”

“I get so much pleasure from sitting down and playing. I’m incredibly grateful that my parents insisted that I stick with my piano lessons.”

Well, which is it? If you are a parent with a child tearfully pleading to stop piano lessons, how do you know what he or she will say years down the road? You don’t, of course.

A good friend of mine faced a dilemma. Her son’s Little League team had an important game taking place at the same time as a momentous family occasion. Which should he attend? Because of the type of family event both her husband and son acknowledged that it was her decision to make. After weighing up all the sides, the baseball team came in second. Was she right or wrong?

The whole point of being human is that we don’t know the answers to these questions. Since the day that Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, our actions are almost never 100% right or 100% wrong. We can ruminate, ponder, ask advice and stress when we have a decision to make. But in the final analysis while we can hold conflicting thoughts in our mind, our actions must go one way or the other. Since we can only play out one script, even years later we often don’t know what would have happened had we chosen the alternate path.

When she was around five, one of our daughters found decision making almost impossible. She was paralyzed by indecision. One time, she was invited to a friend’s house but knew that our family was going out for pizza. Instead of seeing two fun options, either one of which would make for a lovely afternoon, she saw that no matter what she chose she would be missing out on something. As she matured, she learned to focus on the positive side of the choices she made rather than dwell on the negative.

In talking to young men and women who are searching for life partners, a common concern that surfaces is, “What if I meet someone more suited for me once I have made a commitment?” That way of thinking, of course, ensures never getting married. Surely, one of the signs of being mature enough to marry is being able to control one’s thoughts and concentrate on what is, rather than what might have been. Perversely, trying to keep all options open usually guarantees ending up with nothing.

We all do best when we realize that “satisfaction guaranteed or your money back” works fine when choosing a toothpaste and not at all when choosing those things that truly matter. As I try to remind myself, cultivating an attitude of counting one’s blessings rather than constantly tallying what went wrong is the way to go. It will count for far more than the actual piano lessons in determining whether or not we enjoy music.

As mere humans, we are not omnipotent and can never know that any decision we make is absolutely the best. But one of the gifts of faith is the ability to live with our decisions, moving forward and making the best of every moment granted us.