When Mother Earth meets schoolteacher, memories bloom

From left, Leora, Yehuda and Tzofia Dean family take part in a Passover play they wrote, directed and edited while learning at home. 

By Ellie S. Grossman, Special to the Jewish Light

Shelley Hoffman Dean, mom of four kids ages nine through 13, is used to juggling a lot of things. Family, career, music, dance, art, and inspiring children to love Judaism is all in a day’s work. But teaching school to her own children during a pandemic is another thing altogether. 

“Homeschooling feels overwhelming.  With four kids, keeping their schedule straight, who has a Zoom class when, which computers/tablets/phones will they use, when are assignments due. It feels like it is so much to keep track of and gives a huge appreciation level to teachers and school,” said Dean, founder of Rhythm N’ Ruach, a popular music-movement program for kids ages 18 months to 12 years old and their families. Founded in 2011, Rhythm ‘N Ruach has adapted to the quarantine by offering participants daily music programs online, all kinds of yoga classes for kids and adults, Shabbat family jams every Saturday morning and much more.

Dean and her husband, Jeff, are parents to Tzofia, 13, Leora, 11, Shira, 10, and Yehuda, 9, who all go to Saul Mirowitz Jewish Community School. The family belongs to Congregation B’nai Amoona.

“It feels like teachers are assigning work and if we as parents can’t help, I feel like telling the kids to just not do it,” said Dean. “The other big challenge is that since they are home all the time, I feel like I should be with them, but I have to work, so I feel conflicted that I am neither parenting the best nor working the best.  It really is a strain, physically and emotionally.” 

There is a bright side to the craziness, however, she says, which includes spending more time outdoors and giving tzedakah (charity). 

“Being together with the family is really sweet,” said Dean, whose husband has spent a lot of time gardening with Yehuda and Shira. “They have grown tomatoes, beans, peas and peppers (all from seeds), and then are selling them to raise money for tzedakah, ‘The Dean Giving Team.’”

Her advice to other moms: “Don’t worry about the mess.  It will eventually get cleaned up.  Don’t stress (and keep kids from stressing) about work.  Everything will work out. And definitely do a six-foot social distance get-together with friends on someone’s lawn…with a cocktail.”