Different ages and stages make teaching challenging but fun

Yishama, Rafi, Max and Yael make homemade matzah. 

By Ellie S. Grossman, Special to the Jewish Light

Alana Minoff, whose children range in age from 5 to 13, says it took her and her husband, Mike, at least the first six weeks “to get into the groove” of schooling their children from home. Even still, she says, some days are harder than others.

“And some days we just take a mental health day and learn through experiences,” she added. “I have realized that my relationship with my kids is far more important than constantly fighting over schoolwork,” 

The Minoff children are Yael, 13, who attends Ladue Middle School; Max, 8, and Rafi, 6, who are both at Saul Mirowitz Jewish Community School and Yishama, 5, who goes to the Deutsch Early Childhood Center of Congregation Temple Israel.  The family belongs to Nusach Hari B’nai Zion.

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“Getting into a routine has been interesting,” said Minoff, explaining that her kids at Mirowitz have a daily meeting at 8:30 a.m., which helps the family begin their day and get to work. 

“Mirowitz has developed a good program for the kids divided by grade and there is a daily schedule for each grade,” she said. “This includes videos from the teacher, Zoom meetings and websites that may be helpful for learning. 

“Ladue Middle school uses Google classroom for everything and then sends an email to parents at the beginning of each week with the workload,” added Minoff, who is the coordinator for the American Jewish Committee (AJC) in St. Louis, while her husband is a senior healthcare analyst for Cigna  Healthcare.  Together, they work to come up with cool ways to learn math and science. 

“We incorporate math and science into baking, bread making and even opening our swimming pool,” she said. “Before Passover, we made matzah from scratch. 

“The kids also love science projects. We have made moon dough, watched the reaction of shaving cream, water and food coloring and made a volcano.” 

Being outside as much as possible is essential, she adds, whether they are doing physical education activities like an obstacle course, a ninja warrior course, or chalk paintings. They have also raised and released butterflies from the caterpillar stage, went on a nature hunt and discovered how to tell the age of a tree by counting the rings on its stumps. 

“Another special activity we did was cut and colored hearts and wrote messages on them and then we taped them on signs around Olivette, including City Hall, parks, police station, and community center,” Minoff said.

“My biggest challenge is getting my spirited child to do the work in the classes that he doesn’t like. Another big challenge is playing referee between my children when some are finished with their work while others are not. I take that back…my biggest challenge is juggling all the Zoom meetings that my children have to attend.”

The best part, she said: “Spending time with my children and seeing how they learn. As difficult as this is and as much as we did not necessarily sign up for this challenge, we are really fortunate to be able to watch the world through our children’s eyes. To see them learn and grow and how they interact with their teachers is amazing. I also love how creative my kids can be and how they work together on projects.”