Making Online Learning Work, With Inspiration

Online chinuch can provide unique stability and even comes with advantages, yet it can also have tremendous pitfalls. Knowing how to make it work and what dangers to avoid at all cost is key to success.

Online chinuch can provide unique stability and even comes with advantages, such as the increased focus of teachers on each individual student, yet it can also have tremendous pitfalls. Knowing how to make it work and what dangers to avoid at all cost is key to success. At a time when online options may be the most stable, we need to enhance chinuch and avoid dangers. Online chinuch is often a lifesaver, yet a child must be protected from destruction.  

Every new resource comes with both opportunities and challenges.  Sometimes, the greater the opportunity, the greater the pitfalls that are associated with it. Chinuch, Torah true education, is our lifeblood and our mission as the people of Hashem. For those who gave their all to Chinuch throughout the generations, we owe it to our children to give them the very best. The asei tov (providing a good online chinuch, the ability to reach each student effectively and in a heartfelt way) and the sur meirah (avoid all dangers and make sure to do so) go hand in hand as never before. We can and must meet the challenges on both ends.    

Online chinuch works best when students are asked questions and are challenged to think in ways that increase their enjoyment and appreciation for Torah. In the Chanukah Maamorim of 5701, the Previous Rebbe, who saved chinuch in the former Soviet Union and laid much of the groundwork to bring real chinuch to the most far flung places (including many that people take for granted today – many of which also desperately need to be renewed with new energy), explains that tumas yovon is to remove enjoyment from Torah learning and Avodas Hashem, enjoyment which comes from deep thought and from reminding ourselves that Torah is Hashem’s Torah.  

The obligation of the melamed includes two aspects that lead to the same result:

1) To inspire each student to develop a real yearn for learning. This includes finding out both the favorite areas within Torah that a student is drawn to, as well as how they learn best (such as by listening, by seeing and repeating or through discussion).

2) To teach them that Torah is Toras Hashem. That we connect with Hashem and that each word of Torah has an effect on them forever, one that is far more valuable than anything else in the world or that one could ever buy. 

The first of these two points is to make Torah learning enjoyable in a very real and tangible way. This is key to inspiring and keeping youth strongly connected. It is the most effective and in many ways the only way of making Torah the main interest of a child’s life. This itself is also the best way to keep children away from all the harmful and destructive forces in the world. An ounce of prevention really is more than a pound of cure.

Online Learning

So how does online learning fit in? Among its pluses is the ability for the teacher to more easily focus and engage with each student. Group discussions actually happen more naturally. 

Key to success is for the teacher to go with the flow. A lecturer to adults understands the need to switch gear when a lecture isn’t going smoothly.  Teachers often don’t and this is a pity. Online learning mandates that teachers “read” their students, open discussions, invite questions and switch subjects when necessary. There is greater awareness of the need to engage students and that doing so is the only way to succeed. This means that recesses are given, but are scheduled for when a discussion is over instead of only based on the clock. This means that texts are covered and reviewed rigorously, with vocabulary and sentence structure being learned, but that discussion and real understanding of the actual subject is key throughout. Teaching students how to think and analyze becomes crucial, even more than it always was.

Socializing – Building a Foundation of Life and Ahavas Yisroel

Ahavas Yisroel, good midos, patience and waiting one’s turn are all learned in the course of the classroom day.  Discussion must be engaging, with the teacher seeking to bring each talmid into the discussion, even when some are more interested than others.  A child who is struggling can be complimented and drawn into the discussion in other ways.  

Break time is also an incredible opportunity to teach teamwork, a key value that “online schooling” must provide and one that is often missing from singular “homeschooling.” Take a deep look at traditional recess on any schoolyard and you’ll notice something that most people don’t notice. A few kids are playing but far more are talking in small groups or in groups of two.  Contrary to popular view, the most important part of break was never the physical activity. Physical activity is also an important part of the day, but can be done on one’s own. The most important part of recess are the friendships made, the conversations had and skills that are built in the process. 

Online school must encourage teamwork and friendship. The teacher needs to be available, checking in during breaks, but still giving students enough space to allow this to happen. This aspect of chinuch (“chinuch” being both educational and personal development) has been overlooked by many. Yet for spiritual as well as practical reasons, it simply cannot be.

What Must Be Avoided:

The sad truth is that if technology isn’t associated with Torah, it can even more easily be associated, chas vsholom, in the child’s mind with all wastes of time or non-Torah ways of life, at the very least. An open internet is the same as having a TV in the house, at best, Rachmono Litzlan. Filtering is essential and this cannot be overstated. Limiting wasted time and encouraging positive Torah use that also includes hands on seforim will help. 

Filtering and monitoring are a must. Anything else is placing a child in front of a hezek. This should be simple and is the responsibility of every parent. 

Children should know that internet can be a tremendous waste of time.  They should know some of the dangers of this, including the profound danger of apathy. A focus on doing and learning is a must and games should be discouraged as a waste, aside from competitions or motivational games used to reinforce material learned in class.

Along with this, it should be noted that discussion of current events in the home should not turn to overflattering of non-Torah individuals, but should rather focus on the light of Torah solutions in all matters and the hevdel (great difference) between Torah and all secular non-solutions. As far as flattering anything less than the ideal, or particular individuals, aside from Torah prohibitions such as lo sechanem, such discussion itself encourages children to look up material associated with such individuals and exposes them to a series of problematic issues that have no place in the chinuch of a child.

Helpful Tips:

The following bullet points are time tested and most essential:

  • Use real seforim together with online learning. Oisios machkimos – the real letters have kedusha and help you retain far more. 
  • Get up and move around often throughout the day.
  • Every productive question within the context of the sugya (Torah subject) being learned is good and needs to be encouraged, even praised when necessary.
  • Socialization and teamwork, the foundations of Ahavas Yisroel, are needed. 
  • If a davening program is done, it is not a joke. It is a time to connect with Hashem. Chats should be off and children must be taught to look in their siddur and not at the screen. It is halachically problematic to daven facing a screen with your image on it and is certainly not in the spirit of davening. Asking children to mute and unmute in middle is also wrong and disruptive. Concentration should be on the siddur. Needless to say, this can be done with fun, song and chayus.
  • If davening is anything less, children are best served by being taught pirush hamilos, the meaning of the words and lessons on the importance of davening and then scheduling a time with parents to ensure that each child davens.  
  • Providing struggling students with after class teacher time to review and reinforce lessons is the duty of a melamed.
  • Afterschool rallies, youth farbrengens and the like are important.
  • Most of all, taking an interest in the needs and development of each child is essential. 
  • Higisa boi yomom volaila, the command to happily toil in Torah at all times, cannot be accomplished with a few hours a day.  A full program is needed. This is also the only way for a teacher to understand and guide a child to grow in all ways.

An Answer

Online Cheder, www.TorahChinuch.com, was established well before the pandemic, with the mission of making Torah learning real, fun and accessible and to ensure that each child is given real chinuch. The cheder encompasses several ages and this year we opened a separate girls program. Students learn with enjoyment, build skills in exciting ways designed to encourage them to go on to a lifetime of learning and to internalize and really understand what they are learning.  The program is committed to giving a Torah true chinuch to each child.   Parents who want to find out more are encouraged to visit www.TorahChinuch.com, call (917) 830-3364 or email onlinecheder@gmail.com

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