Latest update: July 25th, 2013
For many children, going to school involves spending their mornings and afternoons traveling to their destination amid classmates and chatter on a large yellow bus. But for a growing number of children all around the world, the process of getting an education may involve no commuting at all.
The number of homeschooled children in the United States continues to rise annually. The most recent statistics from the National Center for Education Statistics report the number as 1.5 million, an increase of approximately 76% over the number students who were educated at home in 1999. A study done by Brian Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute reports that as of January 2011, there were approximately 2.04 million students being homeschooled in America.
Historically, the concept of hiring professional teachers to educate one’s children was a luxury that was only available to those in the more affluent segments of society, but by the mid 1800’s, formal schools became the norm in the United States and it wasn’t until the 1970’s that people began advocating for the right to educate their children as a way of satisfying compulsory school attendance laws. In recent years, the number of children in grades kindergarten through twelve has continued to rise dramatically in families all across the socio-economic spectrum, not only in the United States, but also in other countries including the United Kingdom, Canada, Japan and Hungary. Statistically speaking, homeschooled students tend to outscore their peers on standardized achievement tests as well as on college admission tests including the SAT and ACT.
According to studies done by the National Center for Education Statistics, parents reported that the main reasons for homeschooling their children included improving the level of education, religious reasons, poor learning environments in the schools, a desire to create more family time and increased financial burdens.
For Jewish families faced with multiple yeshiva tuitions during a particularly difficult economic time, homeschooling has become an increasingly attractive option and the number of Orthodox Jews who homeschool their children continues to rise annually.
Baltimore resident Yehudis Eagle is now in her twentieth year of homeschooling her children.
“I read about home education when I was expecting my first child and the idea was planted in my head that this is a possibility,” the mother of eleven told The Jewish Press. “I did a preschool situation with my son, and as soon as the little yellow school bus carried him off for the first time, the idea that had been planted earlier began to sprout.”
Mrs. Eagle and her husband Dovid, a lawyer who practices in Wilmington, Delaware, spent time discussing their educational goals for their children.
“We spoke about what we wanted chinuch to mean for our family and the primary factor was chanoch l’naar al pi darko, how every child deserves an education that is tailor made for them. We realized that that objective could be best achieved in a home education system.”
Currently the Eagles are homeschooling their five youngest children, ages thirteen, eleven, eight, six and four. While to date the six older Eagle children have elected to pursue their high school educations in conventional institutions, Mrs. Eagle admitted that she would love the opportunity to homeschool a child through the upper grades as well.
“Homeschooling is a wonderful choice for a frum family,” explained Mrs. Eagle. “This is the way we live and learn together and it is so enhancing of family relationships. What could be more important than building relationships between siblings?”
In an interview with the Jewish Home School Blog, actress Mayim Bialik, an outspoken advocate of homeschooling, listed the benefits of educating her two young sons on her own.
“Time with our kids, getting to see every shift and change in their ability, interest and wonder. Allowing their neshama to come through every day because the world is so open to them…My husband and I enjoy the flexibility: traveling, scheduling outings and such on our own time. We like our children not being held to some standard of what other kids are doing as their defining label.”
While many would question whether or not home-schooled children experience the necessary socialization, Mrs. Eagle insisted she has found it to be a non-issue.
“It is ironic that not only in the frum world, but also in the secular world, the question of socialization takes top place on every list,” reported Mrs. Eagle. “I find it mind boggling and it has perplexed me from day one. I feel that kids who are homeschooled are easily able to socialize in all situations, and I think that socialization is more of a personality issue than an educational one.”
Mrs. Eagle was quick to point out that while her children may be educated at home, they have many opportunities to socialize with their peers and that there are advantages to spending time with people of all ages.
” My kids take classes, are out of the house on various pursuits, connecting and engaging with others. If someone came to our house with children who weren’t the same ages as my children, my kids would never say ‘don’t they have any kids our age?’ They welcome all guests and rarely leave the Shabbos table even when it is adults only because they are fascinated by the conversation. They enjoy the company of others and if anything, I have found that it is the children who attend conventional schools who have difficulty conversing with adults.”
While the Internet has been a wonderful tool for the homeschooling community, putting so many resources literally at their fingertips, Jewish parents face a unique challenge when it comes to homeschooling.
“Most families aren’t intimidated by the secular part of educating their children, but when it comes to limudei kodesh, that seems more challenging, particularly for baalei teshuva,” explained Mrs. Eagle. “But there are so many resources out there for the Orthodox Jewish homeschooling population. There are gemara classes online, Torah tutoring online and other sites that offer classes, blogs and more.”
Informing the Jewish homeschooling community of the resources available to them is the main goal of the Torah Home Education Conference, an annual event hosted in Baltimore at the Park Heights Jewish Community Center by the Jewish Homeschooling Network. This year’s conference took place on May 26 and marks the second year that Mrs. Eagle has served as program coordinator for the event, which had over one hundred attendees from all over the world and featured speakers, workshops and panel discussions.
“My main goal is to let people know that Torah home education is a viable option,” reported Mrs. Eagle. “This is a wonderful choice for a frum family, particularly those who live in more remote areas.”
In addition to the annual conference, the Jewish Homeschooling Network has recently begun providing webinars throughout the year, a means of not only providing information but also offering support to homeschooling parents.
“This is it,” said Mrs. Eagle. “We are the only Torah education homeschooling network and it is important to keep the connections that we forget at the conference going. We have many women who are isolated, several are military families and it strengthens them to talk to other homeschooling moms.”
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For many years, Chabad shluchim scattered all across the world in remote areas found schooling their children to be a daunting experience. Since its inception in 2005, the Shluchim Online School has grown to an enrollment of over 600 children worldwide, providing a solid Jewish education via live audio/video Internet classrooms.
Serving children from ages four through thirteen, it follows a typical school day format, with breaks for recess and lunch and all students in the online school are required to wear the school uniform. Students are required to have a computer with a webcam, a microphone and earphone combination headset, a secure Internet connection and standard school supplies. Three different divisions allow the Shluchim Online School to accommodate students in different time zones and the school’s special software allows students to hear and see each other to give them more of a “classroom feel.”
The school’s specially trained teachers use cooperative learning methods, encouraging students to connect with each other and to work together both on class projects and extracurricular activities as well. Other social outlets for students include clubs and rallies, with two annual gatherings giving students the opportunity to meet in person and further deepen the bonds already forged via online classrooms.
About the Author: Sandy Eller is a freelance writer who writes for numerous websites, newspapers, magazines and many private clients. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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