While its wonderful that an impending bar or bat mitzvah creates motivation to study, we have turned becoming bar or bat mitzvah into the de-facto goal of Jewish education. Not only is it a low bar (can you imagine if we stopped our secular education at 7th grade?), but turning our religious schools into bar mitzvah factories is a poor strategy for inspiring young people (unless we want them to leave- in that respect, it has worked well).
Religious school gives our youth important tools such as the ability to read Hebrew and familiarity with the service. But our children need much more. Youth group, Jewish summer camp and programs like Birthright are part of the picture that turns being Jewish into a life journey. We need to start that journey earlier so that religious school is complementary- not its replacement. Specifically, we need to create a Jewish fabric at home. And it needs to start with us as adults.
Everyone has different interests, different “hooks”. What are yours? Shabbat meals? Jewish learning? Jewish music? Repairing the world? The possibilities are endless. As adults, we need to explore, find what rocks our boats and take the journey- if for no other reason than to share it with our kids.