It’s a wow moment when your child’s face lights up as a new concept or idea he’s been grappling with clicks. That impression is one that could stick with you forever.
It is those moments that keep Yehudis Eagle going. Eagle has been home educating her children for the past 20 years. The mother of 11, her oldest is now 28, she said school is not a negative, it is simply not the path she has chosen for her family.
Torah home education is growing. In Baltimore, according to Eagle, there are upward of 35 Orthodox families teaching their children in their homes. In addition, a Torah home-education list serve, firstname.lastname@example.org, has 338 members.
On Sunday, May 26, many of those moms (and a smattering of dads) will come together for the fifth annual Torah Home Education Conference, hosted by the Jewish Homeschooling Network. The event will take place in Baltimore at the Weinberg Park Heights JCC. Eagle is one of the planners.
“Home education is now considered a viable option in the Jewish community,” said Eagle. “The reasons for this are as diverse as there are parents and families.”
The No. 1 reason, however, tends to be the Jewish concept of educating one’s child according to his personal needs.
“Home education offers a great opportunity to try to achieve that goal. The intimacy of learning with your children enables you to look at their strengths and weaknesses and develop their talents,” said Eagle.
Home education also offers families a chance to grow together, fortifying and enriching their relationships. Some people opt for home school because the school room has not worked for their child. Some children have physical and emotional challenges that need to be addressed outside the classroom. For Torah-observant families — especially large ones — the day school tuition bills can be ominous and oppressive, and homeschooling, therefore, is a better option.
The why and the how will both be topics addressed at the upcoming conference, at which close to 150 people from across the U.S., Canada, Israel, Japan and other countries are expected to attend. The conference presents a full day of expert speakers, workshops and panel discussions, covering topics that were selected based on participant requests. Among the course listings: Educating For Eternity: Clarifying Our Vision And Passing It Onto Our Children; Holistic Learning; A Father’s Perspective; and For The Record (a crash course in creative record keeping).
Eagles said people attend the conference for any number of reasons. More experienced homeschoolers get to connect with other parents and serve as mentors. Newer homeschoolers come to get support, ideas and meet others like themselves. Some people still considering the Torah home-education route also attend.
“The annual Torah Home Education Conference is the highlight of my homeschooling year,” said Debbie Cohen of Monsey. “Thechizzuk (encouragement) I receive recharges my battery to enthusiastically start planning my family’s homeschooling adventure for the following year.”
Eagle admitted that many people place a stigma on home-educated children. However, she said meeting her children, for example, would dispel that stigma. Socialization tops the list of frequently asked questions regarding homeschooling. Eagle said, “It is hard for me to fathom why this makes the list at all.”
Eagle said in Baltimore, with such a thriving home-school community, children are afforded the opportunity to interact with their peers — and also with adults.
“The majority of home-educated children I see feel comfortable around adults, speaking with adults, making eye contact and being engaged in conversations that aren’t only peer ones. I view that as a sign of being well adjusted,” she said.
Eagle also noted that Torah observant families considering home schooling should be confident. By Torah law, she said, it is a family’s job to educate its children. That responsibility can be delegated to the schools — but it does not have to be.
Said Eagle: “I want people to know, this is a fantastic way of living and learning together.”
The Jewish Homeschooling Network now provides ongoing webinars and is initiating a homeschooling mentoring program. For more information, email@example.com. To learn more about the event or to register, visit torahhomeedconference2013.eventbee.com.
Maayan Jaffe is JT managing editor — firstname.lastname@example.org