i am currently unschooling everything except chumash/rashi with my 10 yr old daughter. i am seriously contemplating completely unschooling for my boys. the oldest is 4 now, so we have a few years before it becomes an issue. (i was going to send this to you personally, and then i figured that anyone thinking about unschooling might be interested in our discussion).
i definitely prefer unschooling. i have been able to be relaxed about science and social studies, then about reading and writing, and finally even math (and i never thought that would happen!).
however, i am too nervous to unschool for judaic studies. i am considering it, though, because i feel that my daughter's chumash is lacking the love and joy of other subjects. that could be, though, because she works hard at the skills and has an unschooler's reluctance to engage in tasks that aren't driven by her own motivation.
i feel that there are two factors that give me the confidence to unschool:
1. i am absolutely certain the kids will eventually learn the skill. (eg reading and writing)
2. i am ok if they don't learn it (eg they learn what they like in science and i don't care if they never cover the life cycle of butterflies)
neither of those apply to judaic studies skills. although i am fairly certain they will learn to read (and probably write) hebrew, i am not sure that they will put in the effort to acquire the skills necessary for translation. the few unschoolers i've spoken to did feel some desire as their bar mitzvas approached. however, their parents were not orthodox and did not particularly care if they grew up and can't make a laining.
also, i understand that a lot of this type of learning would take place in the high school years. i'm a little concerned about that because i have not had much success yet in providing sufficient socialization in the high school years and my daughter went to school. i suppose it would be ok for us to unschool until high school and then if they want to go to school then they'd be motivated to learn whatever skills they need :-P
anyway, if you have older children and have unschooled them, could you describe the process of how they became interested in chumash, mishna or gemara and how they continued until skill acquisition.
i can easily see the kids being motivated here and there to ask questions, to see, to want to know.. but i find it hard to envision how they would end up being motivated to slog through the hours required to gain the skills to read and translate it proficiently.
I agree with you on the first factor for homeschooling, but not the second.
My approach is rather that if I feel something is important for my kids to know, then I am going to find a way to make it fun, interesting and relevant to their lives, and talk to them about why I feel it is important. Then I can be sure that they will get to it sooner or later :-)
If you or your husband cannot (for whatever reason) read/learn chumash/mishna/gemara with your kids, then finding a chug or mentor or tutor can be a good option. A mentor who leads the way and sets an example is an invaluable part of a child's life. Finding the right connection and the right person is the challenge to the homeschooling parent. My oldest went to a mishna chug in the neighbourhood that a neighbour started because he was having so much fun learning mishna with his son, he wanted to open it up to more boys and do it all together. My son loved it - it was fun and interesting. Mainly, I think, because this particular man had a knack for connecting the text to real life.
After a few years, the neighbour wanted to stop doing it. Another neighbour tried to take over, but it wasn't the same, and the boys in the group were a bit older (and most had crazy long hours of school) and it just stopped happening... However, my oldest had already developed the skills required to learn mishna and, ultimately, that is what I care about - not how many mishnayot he has memorized. The nice sequel is that since then my oldest teaches mishna to his younger brother and sisters. I love hearing them learning together, and seeing the enjoyment being shared and passed on :-)
My husband used to learn chumash with the kids, but a couple of years got "bored" with going over the same stories again and again. So I have been trying to take it over. It's very hard for me to make the time to sit and do it with the kids because we're very free-flowing unschoolers, and also out of the house a lot. So I try and focus on Shabbatot. I prefer to keep sessions short and fun and interesting, to maintain their interest, and so far so good. I think :-) I find that I'm referring to halachot, chagim and stories in the Tanach here and there when talking with the kids - so then that often prompts a desire to learn it "inside" the text, to understand it better, get the complete story, etc.
I usually focus my Tanach time on my youngest - it's amazing how fast the 11yo (and sometimes the 14yo) gravitates closer to listen too... I also don't "translate" chumash for them - at most I will repeat a phrase in more modern Hebrew by way of explanation, and then (where possible) show them how that correlates with the text.
Incidentally, my 16yo wasn't comfortable and fluent with reading/writing Hebrew until a couple of years ago. He knew the tefillot (by heart), but reading was a struggle he was not interested in. Then he wanted to take a maths course... and the rest is history :-) I had spent those (worrying) years talking to him at any opportunity, but without pressure, about how important reading and writing are, and that at some point when it matters to him, and when he's ready, he will pick up those skills. Well, he did. It worked. (He's now working on a maths degree (bachelor's) at the Open University, and all the course materials are in Hebrew and of course he has to submit his homework in Hebrew.)
And sometimes we end up going a few weeks without learning any chumash -- just the way life flows. I don't get worked up about it. It's similar to having a week or so of not practising violin for whatever reason. We get back to it all when we're ready.
My husband has learned a little bit of gemara with the oldest, but they haven't managed to hit on a subject that'll hold my 16yod's interest. If anyone has any suggestions of what parts to learn with a math-oriented teenager, I'd appreciate it. I was not taught gemara, so i can't step in there and help. I did start going to a gemara shiur for women at one point, but it was so boring, I left. That could have been due to various factors, but it still means I'm left in a position where I can't help my son to learn this.
I care about my kid getting the skills to learn, so that they can spend the rest of their lives learning (and enjoying). I don't need them to complete a siyum or learn by rote any quantity of anything. I think that different focus is also a relevant and important factor.
I hope this helps,