Crisis Homeschooling the (Jewish) Charlotte Mason Way

It’s April 2020, so it’s a pretty good bet if you’re a parent, you’re schooling your children at home, and your life is in flux and crisis. There has been a lot of interest in our home school over the last few weeks, especially from Jewish parents for whom resources are scarce, and so, I wanted to create as much of a resource as I can for those trying to figure out how to school at home as best you can.

But before I start, I want to make something very clear: This is not school at home. And you cannot be expected to be perfect at this out of the gate. I have spent years reading and chewing over educational philosophy and best practices, and I spent a year teaching fifth grade (albeit over a decade ago now). You are not schooling at home, and you are not going to be Pinterest-perfect at this. That is not the aim. The aim here is survival and enrichment.

So what does that look like? My perspective on this situation is you should be spending the time teaching your kids things that they won’t necessarily learn when they go back to school (and they will*, I promise). And so, in that vein, here are some resources for learning skills that are not traditionally taught in schools:

Sewing: We’ve been using this book in our homeschool; you’ll need a sewing kit and buttons, etc. Be sure to go through the book and figure out everything you’ll need before you get started. It’s very frustrating to start a project and realize you’re missing a button or a type of thread; trust me on that. This sewing board is great for practicing stitches.

Watercoloring: This book is a great introduction for simple watercoloring for fun, and I have enjoyed doing it with my daughter. You watercolor right in the book, so make sure you buy one for each student (and for yourself, if you want to play along). I really like this watercolor set and it comes with a brush, but if you want more, here’s my suggestion for that too.

Art, more generally: Two paid resources I’d like to mention as well.

Talya Weinberg is my kids’ local art teacher and she has been teaching my daughter on Sundays and in her dedicated homeschool class for over a year. Talya has shifted to an online model and is teaching one-off classes on weekend and weekday mornings. Check out her website; her classes are amazing and have been selling out. Some of them have Jewish themes as well.

My favorite Charlotte Mason art resource just released a new digital courseof study that follows the Mason model of art teaching. Her course is on sale the month of April, and then will be $50 for the entire series, which you can watch and rewatch anytime. Her YouTube and Instagram are also great resources.

Cooking: Spend a meal a day with your kids as sous chefs. If your kids are a bit older, consider this book to unleash them into the kitchen by themselves.

Storytime: I wrote this post with two ideas for books with Jewish short stories you can read with your kids. We also read a chapter in a book a night; we’re currently working our way through the set of Boxcar Children. The Costco website (and store, if you’re able to go) has a surprising amount of children’s book sets, classic books and affordable at that. I’ve been reading with my older two kids for about a year, so starting when they were 5 and 4, and we began with great success on the Roald Dahl boxset. My older daughter listens to Narnia on Audible, my 5-year-old son likes listening to Frog and Toad are Friends on Audible also. Audible is doing a free Stories resource for kids.

Gardening: This is something we’ve started here now that we just moved to a new house. I just recorded an AMA podcast with a girlfriend on my podcast on Gardening, and she recommends this book on how to rely on your own land for food.

Nature and nature journaling: You should be going outside if you don’t live in the middle of an urban area. I highly recommend starting a nature journal; it checks a lot of boxes: science, art, and even physical education as you walk around. Nature journaling is great for perception and really helps me be in touch with the beauty of the world that HaShem created for us; a good reminder we all need right now.  This is a great book about getting started with nature journaling. My friend Nicole Handfield wrote a great post about getting started with nature journaling and has also recorded with a popular CM podcast on the subject.

Jewish subjects: I’ve been reading a chapter a day of learning with my daughter called Nach Yomi, which can be begun at any time, and there are a lot of daily options for Jewish education for adults that could be repurposed for kids as well. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has a great Family resource for kids in upper elementary and middle and high school to learn Parsha with parents.

Crisis resources for those new to homeschooling:

AmblesideOnline (a Christian Charlotte Mason curriculum): For the last several years they’ve offered a crisis curriculum, which is currently featured prominently on their website.

Charlotte Mason Institute Alveary: This curriculum (which we used this past year) is also offering a free crisis curriculum on their website.

A Gentle Feast: this is the curriculum we are using next year and they have also published a curriculum for families to use in crisis.

 

*: If you are a Jewish family considering making this switch to full-time homeschooling after this current situation has passed, and you’re considering Charlotte Mason, I’m starting a reading group with one of her volumes in May. I also admin a Facebook group for Jewish Charlotte Mason homeschoolers. In the coming months, I will be offering reviews of two things Jewish homeschoolers will be interested in: a new curriculum I’m trying out called A Gentle Feast and an online Hebrew curriculum, iTaLAM.

Let’s Read Charlotte Mason Together!

I’d like to try something new, if you’re open to it. There are so many in-person reading groups of Charlotte Mason’s volumes, but they (at least in my area) meet on Shabbat. There are other virtual reading groups as well, but I have a hard time meshing with them off the bat because of religious differences.

So what if we start a Jewish Charlotte Mason virtual book club reading one of her volumes? The best one to start with is A Philosophy of Education (if you don’t already own it, please purchase this version, there are many ghetto bootleg ones out there).

If this is something you’d be interested in, please join this WhatsApp group. I’m envisioning a running WhatsApp group and a monthly Zoom meeting. If you don’t use WhatsApp and you just want to join in on the Zoom calls sign up for reminders here.

Hope to see you there!

New Piece in the Forward

Suddenly, thanks to the Coronavirus, every Jewish parent in America (thereabouts) is instantly homeschooling. I have to say, I didn’t see this coming. But I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to extol the beauty of homeschooling while I have a captive audience. Here is a piece I wrote in the Forward about Jewish homeschooling.

Charlotte Mason Boot Camp

Wanted to give readers a quick heads up that I’m doing the Charlotte Mason Boot Camp with Brandy Vencel this spring. I can offer a review after, but if anyone is interested in doing it with me, registration is open for a few more days. Read more here.

A Benefit of Homeschooling: (More) Affordable Family Vacations

I’m writing to you from the wee hours of the morning in Williamsburg, Virginia. I’m here with my family for homeschool days, which they hold twice a year; once in February and once in September. I was looking over how much money we’re saving, and thinking about how much fun we’re having, and I wanted to give a shout for an unexpected benefit of homeschooling: more affordable family vacations.

Colonial Williamsburg and the Jamestown Settlement (I wrote about our day at Jamestown here for work) both have homeschool days, set weeks in their off-season where they offer cheaper tickets and programming for homeschooling families. Sometimes these conflict with Jewish holidays (the homeschool day at Mt. Vernon did last year), but often they do not (the September dates in 2020 are early enough to avoid the fall holidays).

When you come for homeschool days, it’s not just ticket prices that are cheaper (more than 50% off the entrance price alone). We also were able to find $99 a night rate in a deluxe 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom condo right outside of Colonial Williamsburg. The condo came with a kitchen, and we were able to bring everything we’re eating for the next few days for under $150. We would have been eating at home anyway; I don’t count this in the cost of our trip.

Often I hear from Jewish families how hard it is to find the time and money to travel after you factor in day school tuition and the school calendar.

The flexibility to travel in the off-season is a major plus of homeschooling, and I hope in future years (when my kids get a bit older) to be able to take advantage of airfare fare mistakes and sales to take our homeschool on the road a few weeks a year.

Two Fantastic Treasuries of Jewish Stories

In my last post, I discussed some short story treasuries we’ve been reading during Morning Time. I wanted to highlight two books we use during that time that are filled with captivating and memorable storylines. It’s a delicate balancing act finding stories that are long enough to tell a rich tale, but short enough where I don’t lose the attention of my 2.5-year-old. These treasuries would also be great as bedtime reading for kids who aren’t homeschooled.

Jewish Stories One Generation Tells Another: I’ve used this treasury book as fodder for my political blogging before; the stories are really thought-provoking. There are almost five-hundred pages of content, with each story about six-pages in length. The book also contains a glossary of terms that some parents unfamiliar with terms like tallit, Talmud, Shohet, Shabbos, Zemirot, etc. The language is very accessible, and for the terms that may be beyond the comfort-level of some parents, the glossary is a great addition. The stories contained within are range the span of Jewish history, from Bible stories to more modern tales. (Note: You can buy it here on Amazon; it’s prohibitively expensive to buy new but plenty of used copies are available.)

Stories For Children by Isaac Bashevis Singer: My biggest complaint about this book is that it’s not bigger and that Singer hasn’t written more. There are about thirty stories here; most between 7-18 pages in length. The settings for a majority of the stories are in Eastern Europe, though there’s a fair number of Biblical tales as well. (Note: Same deal, buy it used on Amazon here.)

There are so many of these kinds of books; library sales and used bookstores are great places to land a nice collection of classic Jewish children’s books. Unfortunately, PJ Library has flooded the market of used Jewish children’s books, but there are still plenty of living books to be had in the out of print market.

What is a living book? It’s the bedrock of Charlotte Mason’s literary philosophy. Read and listen to a podcast here to learn more about what makes a living book.

Morning Time, Explained

What is Morning Time? First, I should explain what it is not. Morning Time is not a strictly Charlotte Mason idea, but instead, one popularized by Charlotte Mason mothers. I first heard about it in a book by Cindy Rollins that’s in itself a delightful read, and it also comes with a Handbook for Morning Time.  

Another popular homeschool mother, Pam Barnhill, sells Morning Time plans and explains what exactly it is on her website

Morning Time is the brainchild of Cindy Rollins. For over 25 years her family has started each day gathered around mom reading, singing, discussing and living what has become their Morning Time.

Cindy has a blog archive at Morning Time Moms which provides information into her Morning Time as well as an audio lecture on the practice available from the Circe Institute.

Once Cindy began writing and speaking about the practice, it became popular among Classical and Charlotte Mason homeschoolers as they recognized the value in spending time each day reading aloud from living books and learning in community.

Most recently, Morning Time has gained more widespread popularity in the homeschooling community with its inclusion in Sarah Mackenzie’s book as a key strategy for Teaching from Rest.

Quite simply, Morning Time contains subjects that the family can do together that emphasize truth, goodness, and beauty in their homeschool. Morning Time is a liturgy — one part of Charlotte Mason’s “atmosphere” of education.

These small practices done daily over time are not only a means to an education (and a good one at that), but a means to shaping virtue in ourselves and in our children.

The first term of our homeschooling journey, we didn’t do Morning Time. There was too much else to implement, and because all of the prefabricated lesson plans were Christian, I just didn’t have time to reinvent that wheel.

For Term 2, we wove it into our days because I found we were missing a dedicated time slot for poetry and recitation, and I wanted a dedicated time to learn the blessings over food (brachot), prayers and read Jewish stories together as a family. Over the last few years I’ve been hoarding so many wonderful treasuries of stories and we needed a specific time every day to read one. We do chapter reading at bedtime, and I wanted to set a schedule for more family-wide reading aloud during the day.

So, every morning I sit down with the three older kids (6, 4, and 2) and do morning time. This is what it looked like in Term 2:

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I was amazed at how it grounded our days and how quickly all of the kids learned the blessings over food. The implementation of recitation was also powerful; that will be another post at another time. It also gave us the dedicated time for read alouds that I desired as a family every day, which was another net-positive.

I created the above plan on Canva, and this is what Term 3 in our first year will look like:

Morning Time.png

Next year, we’re going to try to add more to our Morning Time plate to cover more bases for my older two kids, who will be formally homeschooling. My rough sketch of what Morning Time will look like with a 1st grader (Form 1B, we’re doing this form again because my daughter was a young 1B student this year), a Kindergartener (who isn’t officially in a form yet at five years old) and a 3-year-old. The stories listed here are where we’ll start in the first term, as we work our way through books we’ll add others.

In addition to our traditional curriculum and Morning Time we’ll be adding in Exploring Nature with Children to give my 5 and 3-year-olds curriculum of their own. That curriculum has a poem, art suggestion, lots of book suggestions and activities; the curriculum follows a year with weekly themes like “pond life” etc.

I’ll be using her daily planner as well; the planner for 2020-21 should be available soon.

  • Modeh ani
  • Songs (one per day, categories listed below):
    • Folk
    • Jewish hymn
    • Composer
    • Hebrew kids song
    • Jewish hymn
  • Arts
    • The picture of the week with Exploring Nature with Children
    • Art appreciation
    • Singing (3x a week)
  • Calendar in Hebrew
  • Poem
  • Recitation (one per day, categories below):
    • English translation of a prayer
    • A quote from literature
    • A quote from Nach (Bible)
    • Hebrew prayer video
    • Poem
  • Bracha (one per day, categories below):
    • Mezonos
    • HaEtz
    • HaAdamah
    • ShaKol
    • variable
  • Read a story
  • Hebrew language – a Gouin sequence
  • Calendar in English

The Hebrew language sequence is something I’m working on with my kids’ Hebrew teacher; I’m hoping to write a future blog post on Gouin as we work on it, but for now, you can get an idea of what it entails from Cherrydale Press, a Charlotte Mason language learning curriculum (with Spanish, French and German available).

Our objectives for our Morning Time next year are:

  • Further familiarity with Jewish hymns
  • Read 150-200 stories
  • Gain verbal Hebrew confidence with calendar and Gouin work
  • Master the blessings over food (what category of blessing each food requires)
  • “Meet” three composers and three artists over the course of three terms