Home schooling, a growing trend in Israel

Efrat Campagnano, tour guide and mother of kids ages six, seven and nine, is the founder of the Jerusalem Home schooling Group.

Taking part in the annual ‘chalk festival’ along Mesila Park. (photo credit: EFRAT CAMPAGNANO)
Taking part in the annual ‘chalk festival’ along Mesila Park.
(photo credit: EFRAT CAMPAGNANO)
‘Educate each child according to his own way, and when he grows old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs, 22:6). Advice from those ancient sages still applies. In the US, about 3.4% of students – that’s about two million children – are home schooled. Israel’s Education Ministry estimated about 550 children studied at home in 2015. This is a low estimate, as there are some home-schooling families who stay entirely under the radar. There have also been new tots “graduating” to organized home lessons in the years since the study was done.
Some think that home schooling has to do with religious convictions, or that it’s best for disabled kids. While particular families may choose to home school for those reasons, most Israel’s home-schooling families have other, specific ideals regarding childhood education. These parents feel that the school system doesn’t meet kids’ needs. Home schooling, according to two Israeli home schooling mothers that In Jerusalem interviewed, lets a child grow according to his or her unique individual pace and interests; a way there’s no room or time for in the tightly managed school day. And today, there are myriad resources for home education, via libraries, the Internet, courses provided by local community centers, text books and workbooks, and outside activities.
In the home-schooled environment, learning happens all the time and wherever the children go. Keeping pets or growing a garden teaches responsibility, along with zoology and botany. Museum visits make history come alive. Working out the time on a clock or helping Mom to measure out flour and sugar on baking day requires mathematical thinking for a seven-year-old, and an older sibling may get a casual chemistry lesson when his parent explains what yeast is and how it transforms flour and water into bread. In addition to what they learn at home, most Israeli home-schooled kids participate in courses provided by community centers, such as gymnastics, dance, art and music. Meetings between home schooling families in regional groups are valuable, as parents discuss issues and share their experiences.
Efrat Campagnano, tour guide and mother of kids ages six, seven and nine, is the founder of the Jerusalem Home schooling Group.
“We share educational books – math, English, spelling, science and workbooks,” Campagnano told IJ. “Every so often, one of my kids will take all our books and start to study, with or without help. Whatever they decide to learn, that’s what they do. If some topic is too hard, they leave it for the future. Maybe six months later, they’ll be ready to tackle it again. The ability to study develops by itself. It’s like talking. Exposed to language, a child will talk. Exposed to books early, a child will read.”
She added that it won’t happen in isolation; parents must supply stimulation and guidance.
“I read to them, even the older ones who are already reading alone,” she said. “They learn to listen. Afterward, we talk about what we read. Learning life skills through outside courses is also important. One of my kids is learning dog training, and the oldest is learning to play the cello. I organized a course in pottery last year, and this year the focus is on mechanics, Lego and robotics.”
“What’s the parent’s role?” Campagnano demanded. “Getting them to eat and sleep, or opening them up to the world? Pedagogical education isn’t important. Thirty percent of what they get in school is too slow for some kids; 30% is too fast, and the other 40% is boring. I disagree with a system where all the kids study the same things at the same times, subjects someone else decides for them. I trust my kids’ curiosity more than the work of the best classroom teacher.”
Tova Davidovitz, mother of boys ages three and seven, added, “No schools teach them the way we want them to be taught. My husband and I see what interests them, and we go with what sparks that interest. The kids study in the mornings and the rest of the day is free. We daven [pray], eat breakfast, and study. I teach reading, writing, math, Tanach and geography. We take breaks. The little one plays with shapes and colors. Whenever they finish their work, they go off, riding bikes, going swimming. My older boy likes technology, so he goes to a course at the community center where he learned to build model airplanes. My husband sits with him in the evenings and they study Mishna. They’re always learning.”
Home-schooling parents must comply with regulations set by the Education Ministry, which requires that the children are given a program with at least 55% of the education system’s core content. The parents apply for permission to home school, meet with a psychologist, and are called in to meet other home-schooling parents and kids. They’re required to submit periodic reports and to re-apply every year. The ministry sends an inspector around regularly to assess the children’s progress and welfare.
Campagnano said that there could be a better relationship with the inspector. “She’s used to working with kids at risk, which makes it difficult sometimes,” she said. “It’s her job to see if the kids are abused or being exploited, of course. But she’ll ask where the work table is, while our kids are comfortable sitting on the floor. She pushes us to encourage more math and sciences studies, which may not fit every child’s bent.”
Campagnano writes a weekly email newsletter detailing upcoming events and activities for 20 families in the Jerusalem group. She makes sure the inspector gets the newsletter too.
Events are organized well ahead of time, and sometimes involve several participating families. A group visit to the zoo may break up for little children to ride the trolley, while older children attend a workshop with the zoo staff. Israel is rich in accessible museums and historical sites, and home-schoolers have come to know them. There are camping trips, overnight sky-watching trips, hiking and geo-caching. Activities may involve a hands-on experience like baking matzot in Kfar Chabad, or a morning touring the Knesset.
A UNIFORM experience is exactly what home-schooling parents don’t want for their children. As an example, Campagnano described going to the library with a group of different ages.
“They love the library,” she said. “There are all levels of books, and each chooses to read what interests them. Some read to others, some read alone, or listen, or just play. A little one might pick up a picture book and make up a story that she’ll tell out loud.”
Asked how many home-schooling groups there are in Israel, and if they get together sometimes, Campagnano answered, “Nothing is official in home schooling. It’s not an organization. There have been other groups before, and there will be others. In fact, Jerusalem’s group is a minority. With WhatsApp and email, it’s easy to organize a group around home schooling. As far as I know, most home schooling families live in the north, in places like Zichron Ya’acov and the Golan. Although there are others in Tel Aviv, Rehovot, Gush Etzion, Eilat and Yeroham as well. Our local families meet regularly, but not every family attends each meeting, nor do all home-schooling parents join a group. There are many unaffiliated families; more than those who participate in regional groups.”
She noted that every time the Jerusalem group meets, one or two new families join up.
What about socialization? If the Jerusalem group is in any way typical, the children enjoy plenty of play and social time with their peers. Mothers and children meet twice or three times weekly in a designated park or museum area. Older, more independent children meet up with friends as they chose – so as not to be around their own siblings all the time, Campagnano acknowledged with a smile. There are opportunities to meet kids outside home-schooling circles in community centers, and some children choose to attend events in local schools or to attend school part-time. The families come from diverse backgrounds, through the spectrum of religious observance to totally secular. There has also been a non-Jewish family.
“The diversity is good for the kids,” said Davidovitz.
What’s life like for home-schooling parents? To get free time, mothers schedule a babysitting or supervising rotation several times a month. Fathers are less involved. It takes a special man to feel comfortable among a group of mothers where the conversations tend to focus on childbirth and breastfeeding. But there are some fathers who teach English, geography and history, and one has been teaching robotics and electronics.
Asked if they don’t get tired of being around kids 24/7, Davidovitz frankly said, “We have good days and bad days. But we love them, and feel it’s the right thing to do.” Campagnano added, “We collapse at night, like all parents do. Look, if we weren’t working with the kids, we’d be going to work and coming home tired at night, the same as everyone else.”
Home schooling means that one parent stays home, and having only one wage earner in the house can be challenging. Parents must pay the children’s insurance, outside courses, educational materials, and activities, which are subsidized for children attending school. Mothers who freelance can bring some income, but most often, they wait until the children are older to return to partor full-time work.
Neither mother interviewed was sure she’d still be home schooling teenagers. “We take it year by year,” both told In Jerusalem. By 10th grade, many teens want to be in school, among kids their own age. As for passing the Israeli matriculation, home schoolers employ tutors or have their kids attend courses to prepare for the exams, as many teens in regular schools do.
For more information on home schooling in Israel, search for www.israelhomeschool.org. This site includes a page with an English translation of the Education Ministry’s official home-schooling procedures. The Be’ofen Tivi organization has a Hebrew website, with updated information: www.beofen-tv.co.il. Efrat Campagnano may be contacted at efrat.campi@gmail.com