Dallas Jewish Homeschoolers build ties
Photo: Lisa Ann Smith
On Aug. 23, 2023, Lisa Ann Smith’s sons Ezra, front left, and Theodore, back left, enjoyed a Cottonwood Park playdate with friends they’ve made through the Dallas Jewish Homeschooler group.

By Deb Silverthorn

Community is everything. For the families creating the Dallas Jewish Homeschoolers (DJH) group, that means playtime at the park, holiday programming and an exchange among the parents about curriculum.

The reading, writing and arithmetic for these families happens at home and on the road. One High Holidays celebration will include a field trip marking the fall and harvest seasons, beginning at 2 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 28, to the Blase Family Farm’s pumpkin patch in Rockwall.

“We started out forming our community with park playdates. We will continue the rest of the year with holiday activities, field trips and social gatherings,” said Chelsie Kastriner, DJH organizer. “I created the Dallas Jewish Homeschoolers group because I felt there was a need in the community. I want our children to form a deep Jewish connection with their homeschooling peers.”

The group of Jewish homeschoolers began connecting earlier this summer through Facebook and officially launched their group. The children range from infants to middle schoolers and come from North Dallas, Plano, Ennis and beyond.

Kastriner, a mother of two with her third child due in the fall, attends Congregation Shearith Israel. She is a former public school and Temple Emanu-El religious school teacher. She decided to homeschool her children to offer an education that goes beyond the classroom walls.

“We offer activities that can accommodate all ages. It’s great to see the little ones looking up to the big kids and how they in turn help guide and lead the activities,” Kastriner said.

Every branch of Judaism is represented in the group, including those who were born Jewish and others who chose Judaism as adults. Connecting and learning about one another’s Jewish journeys and home lives is its own education.

“I grew up in an ultra-Catholic family, I went to Bishop Lynch High School and I know what doctrine is,” said Sarah Rodriguez, who has six children. Three of them — ages 6, 10 and 11 — are homeschooled. The others are ages 2 and under.

Rodriguez added, “Becoming Jewish is something I’ve been coming to all my life. To raise my children in a Jewish home and with Jewish friends and connections is everything.”

Rodriguez lives in Ennis and is affiliated with Congregation Beth Torah. She is committed to making the lengthy commute for the sake of education.

“I realized I was perfectly capable of taking on the role of teacher for them. While it isn’t always easy and resources for Jewish families are slim, it’s very important to me and my family,” she said.

High Holy Day meetups will include learning about honeybees, rolling beeswax candles and building mini-sukkahs. The group will also have several field trips throughout the year in addition to visiting the pumpkin patch.

The families share their curriculum, formal and self-designed. It brings to life language arts and math, science and history for their children. As often as possible, these subjects are tied into the weekly Torah portion, themes of Shabbat and other Jewish-related subjects.

Lisa Ann Smith’s 2- and 3-year-old sons attend Northaven Co-op Preschool, which she attended as a child. The homeschool group allows her family to meet other like-minded families. With a doctorate in special education and a teaching résumé that includes public and Jewish day schools, Smith respects the local academic offerings and understands that the combination of homeschool and co-op is preferable for her family and her children’s needs.

“If the kids and I go on a field trip, it can be fun and they’ll learn something; but when there’s a group of kids, especially with the variance of ages, they get so much more out of the experience,” said Smith, whose family attends Congregation Shearith Israel.

She added, “The fact that we have people who are Reform, Conservative, Orthodox — and some of us became Jews as adults — brings all kinds of sharing to everything we do. We’ve only met a few times but already the kids, and moms, look forward to whatever is next.”

For information or to connect with the Dallas Jewish Homeschoolers, join the group at Dallas Jewish Homeschoolers on Facebook or email chelsie.kastriner@gmail.com.

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