|Limudei Kodesh Curriculum|
I am often asked, as a Jewish homeschooler, what is my curriculum for Limudei Kodesh? Well, I've decided to write down (finally!) what I would say to the next person who asks me.
Finding published curriculum for Limudei Kodesh even for a regular Yeshiva is virtually frustrating. Most Yeshiva day schools have their own curriculum that they make available for their teachers and parents. Most parents don't bother asking about it as they completely trust the teachers and the school to educate their precious children. It's the Jewish homeschooling family who's decided to do it all or partially who is not only curious but find themselves totally dependent on such a curriculum to help them tread through the journey of homeschooling their children in Limudei Kodesh.
Curriculum for Boys
Torah U'Mesorah has published a few curriculum on the subject. One that I have looked into is called "Curriculum and Methodology" - a Yeshiva Day School curriculum for grades 1 through 8. This is an experimental edition, but for homeschoolers, it's a gift from G-d! However, a Yeshiva day school curriculum like this one is for boys, and not for girls. Why? Because it is a Gemara-centric curriculum. Pirkei Avos advocates learning Gemara for boys at age 15, but our yeshivas today do it as early as 12. Pirkei Avos also advocates learning Mishnayos at age 10, after having spent 5 years prior in Chumash. But our yeshivas today start teaching Mishnayos at around age 10 after concentrating on Chumash only in the first 3 years. They pretty much expect all their students to have mastered Hebrew and English reading and writing skills by the time they start third grade. IMHO, this is "too much" to expect of our children.
Remember that our Sages who lived during the time of the Mishna were themselves already in exile and their mother tongue was Aramaic, a sister language to Hebrew. If they recommend learning Chumash for 5 years at their level of closeness to Hashem and at their proficiency in Hebrew, are we to say that we can do better in this day and age by suggesting a curriculum to master Chumash in only 3 years ? We in the diaspora whose mother tongue is not Aramaic nor Hebrew have to contend with mastering at least two languages in the first three years of schooling? We in the diaspora in this generation of distractions and chutzpah have enough problems to contend with. IMHO, a curriculum that is more realistic to this day and age for our children would be to allow enough time to learn Chumash and Hebrew, the foundation of everything else in Limudei Kodesh. In fact, five years might be too little, perhaps seven years.
Note that the statistics for our Jewish youth going off the path is not looking good and the experts in their research have discovered that these youth have trouble keeping up in school because they have trouble in their reading skills in both Hebrew and English. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that somewhere along the line, the well-intended curriculum of our yeshivas have taken a toll on our children, and it has to be revisited. The rise of Jewish homeschooling families is a by product of this situation. Baltimore, Maryland produces the highest number of Jewish homeschoolers in the USA. It is also home to many yeshivos. Don't ignore the statistics, please. Like every other wakeup call we have received from Hashem, this is just as crucial.
You would be surprised to observe that many of our youth today who are educated in the American yeshiva system have trouble communicating in English. Either they speak and write in slang, (gonna, ain't, gotta, bcoz, cuz), or they can only deliver a message in both English and Yeshivish. The products of these yeshivas who go into kiruv, I find, continue with this style of speaking and teaching. Unfortunately, many of our Jewish brethren want to learn but at the same time are turned off by this simply because they can't understand the message. There is a communication breakdown.
However, if you can't understand a half-English, half-Yeshivish Torah lesson, you can always learn from British-speaking or South-African-speaking Torah lecturers, who deliver in comprehensible English. There are of course other American English speakers out there who do deliver Torah shiurim in proper English, but they are of the older generation.
Some Jewish homeschooling families pull their boys out of yeshiva for many reasons, one of which is that the yeshivas are cramping too much in such a short time. The learning of Gemara has been pushed forward earlier and earlier, expecting young boys below Bar Mitzvah to start learning Gemara This assuming that they have all their skills in Chumash, Hebrew and Mishnayos all up to par and solid. The curriculum in school is all based on a 9-month curriculum minus the Jewish holidays and the secular holidays, all squeezed into a short time frame. And to make it worse, the curriculum covers breadth instead of depth, which may not be a good thing.
Another curriculum resource that is available at Torah U'Mesorah is a Chumash and Rashi curriculum for the first eight grades of Hebrew day school/yeshiva, written by Rabbi Dov Leibenstein. Again, the emphasis on this type of curriculum is "BREADTH", not DEPTH. Students who fall through the cracks, are the unfortunate ones. In fact, this happens regularly even for a secular curriculum. Students who fall through usually have to repeat an entire grade, and since school is segregated by age, they miss out on not just academics but on their socialized peers as well!
For the Homeschooler
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Make your study of Torah a fixed habitual activity. -- Pirkei Avos, 1:15
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