I recently spent several months debating whether or not to send our son to one of the local synagogues’ religious schools, and whether it was worth the time and money. As I am currently homeschooling my son academically, I wasn’t sure I wanted to homeschool him in religious studies as well, but I wasn’t sure I wanted pay for it, either.
Since I have worked in several different synagogues, both as a teacher and as an administrative assistant, I am familiar with the inner workings of Jewish religious schools. The names of the schools vary: Talmud Torah, Religious School, Lamud, Hebrew School, Sunday school, etc. But they tend to have one thing in common: the rather high costs for enrollment. I realize that it is a business, and like any other business, they need money in order to survive. And I know there are scholarships available, but it would still be costly for our family.
In my research, I found that the average cost of sending my fourth grade son to a local religious school is nearly $1,000 a year if you are a member of the synagogue—otherwise it could run over $1,500! When synagogue dues are added to this expense, coupled with special programs typically offered in the youth department, donations to the synagogue, and the seemingly ubiquitous bar/bat mitzvah that is close by, it adds up to thousands of dollars.
Once I figured out the cost, I had to figure out the need. Is it better for my son to learn in a Jewish environment with his peers, as compared with learning Hebrew and Judaica one-on-one with me? Not necessarily, as I am able to complete more work one-on-one. In my experience of teaching in a classroom vs. teaching one-on-one, there is definitely more focus involved and less time needed towards studies.
When it comes down to it, I am not ready to hand over the nearly one thousand dollars a year or more to have someone else teach him what I can provide for free.
So how will I actually teach him what he needs to learn?
My son is in the fourth grade and consequently closer to becoming a bar mitzvah, so we are concentrating on specific prayers and Judaica, Israel, ethics, and values. I am fortunate to have the education, knowledge, and experience to guide him towards achieving these goals. I am also fortunate to have plenty of materials (books, handouts, games, etc.) in these subjects, but I continue to research for recently added information. There are multiple books available for sale and many websites that offer different worksheets, songs, and videos of the Hebrew alphabet, prayers, and blessings, Israel, and even Judaism.
After continuing to spend years researching for the best Jewish educational websites, books, and other materials like arts and crafts, some of my top website choices that I have continued to use over the past 12 plus years are Akhlah, Aish, The NSW Board of Jewish Education, Chabad, and Torah Tots.
PJ Library also offers online resources, as well as a free book sent to our home each month and free local activities throughout the year.
Since I’m already homeschooling my son for academics, I teach him Hebrew and Judaism a few times a week. My lesson plans are easy for me to follow. Every day, after reviewing the previous day’s lesson (even if this seems “boring,” reviewing and reinforcing earlier lessons is essential), I introduce one new item, including the following topics:
– Jewish characters of the Bible and great Jewish sages
– Jewish values, studied through real life cases
We also make an effort to attend services at least bi-monthly. What a great opportunity to reinforce what they have learned! It is surprising how much the kids learn even if they do not sit in the sanctuary the entire time.
Contrary to some opinions, I believe that homeschooling a child in any subject takes lots of work and effort on both the parent and child’s part. While homeschooling my son and even when teaching in the classroom, I’ve heard anything from “It’s boring! Why do I need to learn this?” to, “Do we have to do this now? Can’t we have fun instead?”
It takes time, patience, and perseverance to teach your own child, especially in Hebrew. But keeping goals in mind, like his bar mitzvah, helps me in this process. And believe me, it is all worth it!