Pandemic School

There is so much uncertainty going on right now especially regarding schools. I have many colleagues who teach in both private and public schools. I have heard so many things about the upcoming school year. For example: "our enrollment is down 70% from last year," "our school year begins at the end of August and we don't have any students registered for our preschool," "we have a back-up plan to resume learning online, if necessary." I'm in the process of building my own preschool out of my home and it's been very tough! Parents are very hesitant about how to proceed, and rightfully so. I have a few friends that are using this pandemic as an opportunity to try homeschooling for the first time. Ultimately, parents will have to decide what's best for their families.

One thing that I hope we've learned from this virus is that we need to reassess our priorities. For generations our focus has been on getting good grades (or the best grades), standardized tests, getting the best score on the SAT or ACT, participating in many extra-curricular activities, and going to the best colleges or universities. Many families were so used to running from activity to activity in the evenings that there was hardly time left to be with their families. The family unit stopped being the primary education environment for children. That role shifted to daycares and later schools. Generations before that spent time together, reading, learning, contributing to familial duties around the house: helping set the table for meals, helping with the laundry, washing dishes, helping in the garden, etc. Parents taught their children critical thinking skills, knowledge of right and wrong and good and bad, problem solving skills, and critical life lessons from merely living daily life and through the Torah (Bible). According to Newman University, critical thinking is one of the top skills employers look for when hiring employees.

In the Parsha that we read this past Shabbat, Va'etchanan, Moshe reminds the Israelites about education. This is just as relevant back then as it is today! He reviews the 10 Commandments. These basic laws ought to be the model that live by. He mentions the Shema, which is one of our most important prayers in Judaism. The Shema tells us that we are to teach the words of Hashem to our children. We teach them when we sit in our house, when we are on our way, when we lie down, and when we rise up (Devarim 6:7).

וְשִׁנַּנְתָּ֣ם לְבָנֶ֔יךָ וְדִבַּרְתָּ֖ בָּ֑ם בְּשִׁבְתְּךָ֤ בְּבֵיתֶ֙ךָ֙ וּבְלֶכְתְּךָ֣ בַדֶּ֔רֶךְ וּֽבְשָׁכְבְּךָ֖ וּבְקוּמֶֽךָ

Additionally, Moshe tells us what we are to say to our children when they ask us about the laws, decrees, and rules that Hashem has commanded us. We are to say that we were slaves in Egypt, and Hashem freed us with a "mighty hand" in order to take us to the land that he promised our forefathers (the Land of Israel). We observe the laws that Hashem commanded us to revere him. During the Pesach (Passover) seder we read this section as a reminder to educate our children.

As parents, we are our children's primary educators. Our role in shaping our children's lives is crucial to their development. I truly believe that this pandemic has forced us to focus on the importance of family. Instead of focusing on what's out there, our focus is on the home. Instead of running our children from here to there, we learn to let them be. Let them sit quietly, reflect, watch the birds. In fact, we can join them and have our own time for quiet and reflection. In my home, my husband I include our children in as many things as possible around the house. My daughter loves to help me in the kitchen! She helps me peel vegetables and she has begun to learn how to use a knife (with my guidance of course!). My son is fascinated with cleaning up. He'll grab the broom and dustpan (even though it's much bigger than he is) and bring it into our dining room to help clean up crumbs. They also help us water our garden and pick the fruits and vegetables when they're ready. They even help me with weeding! It's very important for us to make time for family learning together. I read an Aliyah (section) of the Parsha of the week in English after we do our morning prayers. My children are very young, but we're able to learn together in small doses. We talk about lessons we can learn. After dinner, my husband reads the same Aliyah in Hebrew. In addition, we're learning about the Mitzvot (commandments), what they are and why we do them. You'd be surprised at how much your children enjoy the learning time, even if they fight you about it in the beginning. My daughter asks "is it time for leining (reciting the Torah)?" My dad also has a class that he teaches on Tuesday evenings focused on the Parsha. Again, my daughter asks "are we going to listen to saba's class?" I suggest we start small by reading a little bit to your children from the Parsha, there are so many benefits!

I saw this posted several times on Facebook and I'm not sure exactly who wrote it, but I love it!

BUT WHAT IF ....

What if instead of falling “behind", this group of kids are ADVANCED because of this? Hear me out.

What if they have more empathy, they enjoy family connection, they can be more creative and entertain themselves, they love to read, they love to express themselves in writing.

What if they enjoy the simple things, like their own garden and sitting near a window in the quiet.

What if they notice the birds and the dates the different flowers emerge, and the calming renewal of a gentle rain shower?

What if this generation are the ones to learn to cook, organize their space, do their laundry, and keep a well run home?

What is they learn to ride a bike, play a board game, do simple crafts, learn to bake, climb a tree, play without a screen?

What if they learn to Understand the value of money, what’s important and to live with less?

What if they learn to plan shopping trips and meals at home.

What if they learn the value of eating together as a family and finding the good to share in the small delights of the everyday?

What if they learn to just be, to be more resilient, to be content ?

What if they are the ones to place great value on our teachers and educational professionals, librarians, public servants and the previously invisible essential support workers like truck drivers, grocers, logistics, and health care workers and their supporting staff, just to name a few of the millions taking care of us right now while we are sheltered in place?

What if among these children, a great leader emerges who had the benefit of a slower pace and a simpler life to truly learn what really matters in this life?

What if they are AHEAD?

My hope is that Hashem will end this plague and that we will merit to achieve our full redemption speedily in our days!