Tuesday, January 28, 2020

I'm Always Teaching Too Long

I looked at the part I was planning to learn with Elazar today.  About 6 pesukim and some math (1/50 vs 1/500 and so we can discuss which is a bigger number). 

Elazar was dreading it so I figured I'd keep it short.  Not a whole aliyah.  Just a few pesukim.  Then maybe he won't dread it and it will be ok. 

We started and he asked when Moshe was going to die.  I had no idea what he was talking about (I knew Bilaam died in this war, but not Moshe) and he reminded me that Hashem told Moshe "Fight a Revenge War against Midian and then you'll die." 

So I told him his parsha is the last 2 parshas of Sefer Bamidbar, and indeed Moshe does die afterwards...at the end of Devarim.  And Devarim is Moshe's final speech.  E was greatly amused that Moshe was just giving a speech for all those pages. 

Then he asked how Moshe died.  I turned to the pesukim of how he died and Hashem buried him.  Then I wanted to do the Rashi with him about how Aharon died and Moshe wanted that death.  E was rolling his eyes by then and begging to stop.  I said let's do this and no more pesukim in your parsha.  He agreed.  I found the Rashi and read it out loud to him.  He understood about half of the words without needing translation.  (Some of the words were pretty unfamiliar.)  I had him act out what the rashi said about Aharon dying.  He thought it was a pretty good death and saw why Moshe would want it too.

So we didn't get to the pesukim I intended but he learned the answers to questions he asked.  Which is more satisfying, I think.  (This artificial construct of learning a specific thing by a specific time is something I've complained about so many times.)  (On the other hand, I do think the artificial imposition of a "manhood ceremony" does encourage kids to rise to the occasion.)

I wanted him to practice reading Hebrew (I did that this morning with him after davening) but he was already burnt out.  It's astonishing how very quickly he burns out and how difficult it is for him to pay attention.  He was using the exercise ball the entire time and he was still very quickly wiped out.  Nonetheless, it wasn't unpleasant.

E says he'd still prefer to avoid it.  "It's not something I fully hate but I don't want to do it."

Monday, January 27, 2020

here's how not unschooling goes

I told E I'd like to learn his parsha with him.  He said, "No, no, no" and curled up into a ball on the couch under a blanket.

I said to him yesterday, "Do you truly not want to learn your Parsha?" (This is me reading the pesukim out loud in Hebrew to him and then translating them.)

He said, "I know I have to, but I don't want to." 

Today was only 4 pesukim because he couldn't sit through what I had planned yesterday.  (I was trying to do one aliyah per sitting; he has a double parsha so that's 14 aliyos total.)  So he was dreading it but it wasn't so bad.

Then I spoke with him about wanting to improve his reading.  He was kind of dismayed at all the brachos he has to learn for the haftora.  I said reading fluently would help.  He said, "Noooooooo" it's difficult and he doesn't like it. I explained that if he would be able to read at the pace of talking, it wouldn't be hard to learn the brachos if he could read like that.  He said that he has trouble with the letters with the dagesh and without, being able to tell them apart. 

I asked him if he wanted to just work on knowing those first.  He said no.

He said he'd rather learn to read later.  I said I'd like to do it now.

I had him read a line from one of the haftora brachos.  I said only one line a day. 

He read it.  He started off very slowly with mistakes.  Got into a groove as he went.  It was a line with no tricky stuff.  He translated as he went.  (Score for speaking in Hebrew!)  The line finished and I said, "That's it."  And he said, "That wasn't so bad."

I'm glad it ended up not so bad.  I'm glad it's not torture.  I'm having some flashbacks to why I started this blog in the first place. 

I don't think I'm "ruining" him.  I often say in parenting (or homeschooling) there isn't "right" and "wrong" (aside from things that are harmful)(אין המקרא אומר אלא דרשני) as much as there are actions and consequences.  This action will lead to him having better reading.  It will also lead to unpleasant associations with Torah and learning.  Only time will tell if is worth it.  Plus there are so many factors we probably won't be able to tell which details contributed to a love/hate/indifference/passion for Torah and which factors opposed it.  Plus what works for one child does and does not work for others.  It's complicated.

I do my best and I daven.

Friday, January 24, 2020

bar mitzva and kr'iah the Hamlet conflict

It's come to this.  Elazar is definitely hampered by his lack of ability to read Hebrew.  (Well, hampered is a matter of opinion.  It's not preventing him from doing anything he wants to do.  So he's actually fine.)  For learning Torah, it's no big deal.  We read to him and he's happy to learn. 

For his leining and brachos, we are working around it.  He can read things he's familiar with, and he has a musical ear. 

I'm having a lot of thoughts about his inability to read tefila and how that will impact his chiyuv to daven.  His kavana is going to be very negligible until he wants to focus on that, anyway.  I've already expressed that I'm not sure what benefit davening will have for him other than being oppressive to him.  (Conceptually, he has a decent concept of tefila b'eis tzara [davening when he has a need] and we are one bracha away from finishing learning shemona esrei and it was a thoughtful and fruitful experience.  I doubt that will translate into daily prayer for him and I do think long term it will be impactful.)

So the question is whether it is worthwhile to focus on his reading.  It is 100% clear that he is currently not motivated to do so and does not want to.  It is 100% clear to me that if he could read more fluently, he would have an easier time fulfilling chiyuvim.  It is 100% clear to me that nudging him to read is not unschooling. 

I'm not married to the idea of unschooling for unschooling's sake.  However, unschooling principle is that if the child views the activity as valuable and desirable, the child will do it quickly, eagerly, efficiently, joyfully.

If I nudge him to read when he doesn't want to:  It is not quick.  He is reluctant.  His brain doesn't do it well.  It sucks the joy out of it, which has long term negative consequences.

Since he's my oldest bar mitzva boy, I'm having trouble letting the reading go.  Probably if he had been my youngest, I wouldn't think twice about doing the bare minimum for his bar mitzva and trusting that he'll be fine.

It turns out that it's much easier to unschool other children when you've already seen the first children grow up and turn out great :-P  This feels risky and I worry that I'm neglecting my responsibility. 

It also feels like he is mature enough to handle the rigor of putting in more effort for the sake of Torah.  It feels like for me to sit back and wait for that to happen does convey my values--and that those values are that it's okay to wait for Torah rather then הוו עמלים בתורה -- the value of toiling for Torah.  I don't want it to be painful, but I want to convey the diligence of putting in effort at this milestone age.

On the other hand, E's conceptual development is definitely on a different trajectory than the average kid.  Socially and emotionally he's very mature in some ways.  In other ways, expectations more usually associated with children about three years younger than he is would be more appropriate.  So maybe the reading thing would be better off waiting another three years.  Being enslaved to artificial milestones is something all homeschoolers seek to avoid.

(And the Torah seems to back me up on this, as עונש בידי שמים doesn't kick in until age 20.)

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Bar Mitzva dreamin' on such a winter's day

I often describe unschooling as a whole bunch of Sundays or vacation days.  We wake up, we do whatever.  There is no pressure, no "things that need to be done  or accomplished" and just that pleasant feeling of the day or days stretching out before you with no obligations.  In that space, we can be creative, enjoy each other's company, explore things that interest us.  There is a lot of relaxing, feeling close to each other, laughing, casual chatting.  Plenty of opportunities for "Hey, let's do this" and "Okay, why not."

When people start to homeschool, we sometimes ask two questions: What is your child's learning style and what is the homeschooling parent's style?  Take both into account. 

People think I'm relaxed because I unschool.  And I mostly am.  But I also have a part of me that adores lists, schedules, and checking things off.  That is draconian about time.  And about accomplishing.  And finds it exhilarating to juggle Lots of Important Things.

Overall, I haven't found that way of life a higher quality of life, either for me or for my children.  I won't hold my kids back if some of them want the High Achiever lifestyle, but I really like the modest, slow, relaxed lifestyle.

When I think about what I'd like Elazar to be able to do for his bar mitzva, all my High Achiever senses and bells and whistles go off.

Even though

  • Elazar is maturing and growing every day in body, thought, mind, maturity, and emotions
  • Pushing someone to daven or learn before they are ready or more or faster when they are on the path anyways seems foolish and counterproductive

(This is counterbalanced by the thought that sometimes people will do a lowest common denominator unless nudged)
(This is counter-counterbalanced by the philosophy that unschooling doesn't believe that about people.  People will learn what is interesting and what is valuable.)

  • My understanding is that 13 is still young maturity-wise, and many kids have a conceptual explosion around 15. (Which, uncoincidentally, is the age the Mishna brings down to start learning Gemara)
I've been davening out loud next to him so he gets some familiarity.  Then I sing the opening haftora bracha with him.  (He's almost done with that, so in another month we'll start with the end brachos.)

We have only one bracha left in shemona esrei.  This morning we learned
וכל החיים יודוך סלה
Everything alive praises You.
Elazar said: That's not true; there are people who don't believe in God
I said: You can praise without speaking.  For example, if you see a beautiful work of art, do you think, "Wow, the artist is amazing!"
Elazar: Yes
Me: So anything can "praise" the Creator in that way
Elazar: But this says "everything alive." What you are saying also applies to inanimate things.
Me: 
Me: You are right.  You stumped me.  Good question.  You unlocked a riddle in the Shemona Esrei!  I'll be thinking about it.  Thank you!

I want to work on his reading.  I want him to be able to bentch out loud if he's called on it.  (I really want him to be able to daven for the tzibbur, but before that comes "ability to daven at all" and "desire to daven.")

I want to learn Elazar's parsha with him.  I want him to be able to give a speech about his sedra if he wants.  
(This is counterbalanced by the idea that learning on a schedule with a specific deadline in mind frequently compromises the quality of learning and adds pressure)
(This is counter-counterbalanced by the idea that some people find a deadline motivating and encouraging)
(This is counter-counter-counterbalanced by the idea that Elazar certainly does not)

Monday, December 30, 2019

on learning disabilities, processing issues, and motivation

A long time ago I read an interesting study that kids can read (comprehend as in "reading comprehension") on a higher level if they are interested in the topic.  Meaning if you have a story on the child's ostensible "reading level" you think that it is pretty objective.  How complicated are the sentences, how many unfamiliar words do they have to get from context, etc.

But they found that let's say, a kid who can't read his 3rd grade reader can actually hack his way through something much more advanced if it's about airplanes and he loves airplanes. 

This fascinated me because there isn't a direct correlation to "reading ablility."  It has to do with motivation.  Motivation actually makes the brain work differently.  And better.

In a sense, unschooling follows this path and kids read what they want and never think about "reading ability" and "reading level."  They try to read what they are interested in, and ask someone to read it to them if they have difficulty.

As I've spoken about, one of my kids has a learning disability where they have to read things up to seven times in order to comprehend it.  And tends to gravitate towards gaining information in ways other than reading as a result.

But I just realized I didn't think twice about sending this neuropsychological analysis of aphantasia: 

 "Their self-reported selective inability to vividly recollect personally experienced events from a first-person perspective was corroborated by absence of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and event-related potential (ERP) biomarkers associated with naturalistic and laboratory episodic recollection, as well as by behavioral evidence of impaired episodic retrieval, particularly for visual information. Yet learning and memory were otherwise intact, as long as these tasks could be accomplished by non-episodic processes. Thus these individuals function normally in day-to-day life, even though their past is experienced in the absence of recollection."

Because I knew she'd be interested and be able to understand it.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

The Eternal Sunshine of the Non Spotless Basement

That's right, folks. 



This is the AFTER picture.  Just imagine that stuff all over the floor so you can't walk (except for my path, to the right of the duct tape, which has been kept largely clear).  This was cleaned only because we have Shabbos guests coming. 

They tell me they love scavenging for pieces of cardboard and wood and cloth to make all sorts of creations. 

Monday, December 2, 2019

Why I love learning with my kids

Today we learned the bracha of Teshuva (2nd request in Shemona Esrei).  I asked E:
When we ask H' for something, is it something we can control or H' can control?
He said: It depends.
I said: Teshuva.  Who is in control of that? Us or Him?
E: Us.
Me: So what are we asking for?
E:...
E: He could put the thought into our head...
Me: Is that what we are asking for? Mind control?
E: No, I wouldn't want that
Me: It's a riddle.  Go forth and think