Parenting Podcast: Religious School: a Source of Stress or an Antidote to It?
by Dana Sheanin
It’s not easy being a Jewish educator with a child who hates religious school! I’ll be clear at the outset that I believe my congregation’s religious school is engaging, warm and innovative—but right now it creates stress for my 3rd grade son. Perhaps it’s the extra three hours after the school day. Perhaps it’s that he is an introvert by nature, and really doesn’t like to be in large groups of busy kids. Perhaps it’s that his home life is so Jewishly rich that he is bored by what he gets in the classroom environment (needless to say, I like this explanation best!).
As I listened to Dr. Ken Ginsburg discuss stress and how children can manage it in this week’s Jewish Parenting Podcast, I started to think about why I insist on sending my son to religious school. What if I chose not to send him right now? Would that give him more time for play, or simply more time to fill with other stress-producing activities? Would reducing the weekly conflict about going to religious school diminish not only his stress, but my own? Could I possibly give him a better Jewish education at home, tailored to his unique interests, as so many parents are attempting within the secular home school movement?
I can’t know the answers to these questions for certain, but for now my reasons for continuing to send him are more compelling. I am committed to religious school because I believe fundamentally that the synagogue is a place that can one day relieve his stress. I want him to be at home there so that when he is older, he can talk to other adults in the congregation he trusts, he can find joy through art, music or song, he can engage in prayer that is meaningful, and he can laugh with good friends—all things Dr. Ken Ginsburg identifies as part of the critical repertoire of stress reduction strategies. I know these opportunities exist in religious school because my older child has found them there. And I believe in the possibility that one day my son will be ready to find them there, too.
Dana Sheanin, MSW, MAJCS is a Youth Specialist who has worked with adolescents in the Reform Movement for seven years. She is also a parent and chairs the Education Committee at Temple Sinai in Oakland, California.