Wednesday, May 16, 2018


My first grader just asked me to spell "unobtainable."
"T-A-I-N," Aharon says.  (Whoa, I think.  He already knows how to spell most of it.) "I-B-L?" he asks.
"A-B-L-E," I say.
"You got it wrong, Mommy," he says, a moment later.  "It is I-B-L-E."
"What are you talking about?" I say.  I google it. "Come look at the dictionary.  Unobtainable." 
He comes to look.  "Well, that's not how they spell the code."

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Life is an Impromptu Dance Party When You Don't Have School the Next Day

"What's this?" my husband asks this morning.
"What is this doing down here?" he asks.
"I don't know.  Dance party?" I joke.
"Aharon, how come this is here?" he asks.
"We had a dance party."
"Last night."
Ari went out last night, and I went to sleep early, and the four kids had a dance party. 

Monday, May 7, 2018

Next year

We've been trying to figure out next year for Chen.  Should she take another college course online?  She was thinking maybe she has the stamina for two courses next semester.

First she thought of taking Business Math.  It's 4 credits and will probably be easier.  She wanted to take an easier course because she really wants to take Bio as a prereq for neuroscience, which is what she really wants to take.  (Coursera has a neuroscience course that recommends Bio first.)

Then we discovered coding bootcamps, where you learn intensively for 3 months and then get a job.  We read up on the pros and cons of a degree in computer science vs bootcamp, and based on it being extremely practical, just a few months, and very little lecture to very high ratio of projects, it seems suited to Chen's nature.  In order to apply, they assign you things to learn.  So in order to plan to do that, Chen decided against Business Math and to focus on programming.  I sent her a bunch of links so it's in her hands. 

She has not enjoyed her gemara class as much as I had hoped she would.  The girls in the class were not motivated and spoke a lot, and there was not classroom management.  So I'm looking into getting her a tutor for next year.  She tried to learn with Ari at one point, and tried to attend a class.  The class didn't work out because her processing speed and method were not the same pace of the class.  Learning with Ari isn't as consistent as getting someone to come in and do it. 

I still wish we could learn more together.  But I have always wanted to learn more with my children than they want to learn with me.  I've had way more success just being available as a resource if they want to ask me questions.

Chen seems to be taking her future extremely seriously.  She'll be applying to college next year, but maybe this coding camp is a better option.  It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

I feel like at so many stages with my kids, I find myself saying, "It will be interesting to see how this plays out."  It's kind of a mindset of being open to however things go and being prepared to adjust to it.  It's about not having an agenda and cultivating an enjoyment of the ride of life and parenting and the many wondrous moments along the way. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

You Cant Always Get What You Wa-ant

Today we went to the Bronx Zoo.  Another homeschooler had a birthday party there, and the boys agreed to go.

"Let's get going!" I called.  "Put on shoes."

All of them put on shoes. 

"It's very hot out.  Elazar, change out of your sweater.  Jack, leave your sweatshirt at home."

Then I rushed around grabbing some food and put on some sunscreen.  "Anyone want sunscreen?"

"No," Aharon called.

We got to the zoo and it was hot.  Jack tried to hand me his sweatshirt.

"Nope, I'm not carrying it.  I told you not to bring it."

"So I have to carry it?" he said.  I offered him the bag of food and he put it in there.  He soon began crying about how awful it was to carry his sweatshirt. 

A minute later, the water bottle had spilled all over the bag and it was full of water.  At that point, I had not taken a map and was already lost.  Note to self.  I have a horrible sense of direction.  Get the darn map.  Luckily, the water did not get on his sweatshirt.

We went to the birthday party, which was nice, and pet a peacock, which was cool.  They didn't want to see any animals.  (I had in mind that I had zero educational goals for this trip, so that I wouldn't get frustrated when that happened.)

Then I got lost getting out.  Then I got lost again.  Then Aharon started crying and saying he can't breathe.  Then we saw flamingos and Aharon said he didn't want to rest after all.  Elazar was sweltering; it turns out he didn't hear me tell him to change out of his sweater.  He started complaining that this was a terrible trip.  Yes, he mused, perhaps even worse than the whalewatching one (where he vomited the entire time).  When we got to the car, it was so hot, he started crying.

I turned on the AC and everything calmed down.  Then Aharon and Jack began fighting, physically.  Pinching, screaming, kicking.  A croc soared into the front seat.  We were in traffic.

Right at that time, the Rolling Stone's You Can't Always Get What You Want started playing, like the perfect soundtrack to my life.  I turned it up. 

So in summation, our first field trip in a veerrrrrrrrrrry long time was excellent insofar as getting them from one place to another.  They all follow alertly, I don't have to keep track of them, they walk themselves, they don't complain about walking (except Aharon, but he's edging out of that age, too). 
However, there is still crying.  Lots of crying.  And fighting.  I still came home thinking perhaps it was not worth it. 

But it's definitely improving. 

Chen wants to go to the museum of Natural History next week.  I had been looking forward to taking the boys to see it.  But it will be optional, as they all loudly proclaimed: they are NOT going on any more trips unless they choose to.  We are supposed to go 20 minutes to roast marshmallows tomorrow and they are not sure they want to go. 

So we'll see who joins me and Chen next week.

Monday, April 23, 2018

flash of panic

I just walked by Chen's bucket o' books spilling out.  In addition to the ACT books and the physics books, there are the R' Winder series books that she asked me to buy for her (but to my knowledge hasn't opened). 

I felt a sick feeling in my gut that the boys are never going learn Torah skills.

Immediately, I recognized it as the panic that periodically flares up for the unschooler.

I look forward to the day, decades in the future, when I can look back on this moment and know that either they did end up learning the skills, in their own way, in their own time, with great joy and efficiency.  Or that they never did pursue skills and yet still turned into admirable human beings who pursue Torah, truth, and growth.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Murphy's Law

Two days ago I finally got sick of looking at the Bio book on the shelf and put it upstairs in storage with the other textbooks.

Today Chen asked about chloroplasts and wants to know about photosynthesis.  So I went upstairs and dragged the textbook back down.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

seder 2018: When the seder isn't the ultimate chinuch experience

You may have noticed I was rather quiet about seder prep this year.  That's because for the last few years, we haven't made our own seder.  We've been with family friends. 

A tradeoff in going away for Pesach is that I am not in charge of the kitchen.  To be free from the servitude of an infinity of meal prep, serving, and cleaning is true cherus (freedom).  But that means we don't get to have an intimate seder that is built around our children's needs and specifically tailored to their emotional and educational situations. 

The last time we did our own seder (coincidentally, the first seder with our new son-in-law), was disastrous.  (Okay, I just read it and it doesn't seem to be as disastrous as I remember it.  I associate it with feelings of frustration and not being what I wanted.)  The boys were young and Chen was in the morose teen stage, and I felt the impossible desire to be able to learn in a relaxed and luxurious manner while I was responsible for small children.

This year it happened to be the perfect dream.  Every single one of the kids was eager and interested.  The boys are old enough, Chen is intellectually curious, Sarah loves to learn.  It would have been a great year.  (I admit that a part of me was glad that we didn't do our own seder and I didn't have to think deeply about and strategize about each child's needs and how to achieve that during the seder.) (Yes, that's basically a description of homeschooling but for every day, not just the seder.)  At the seder we were at, we were requested to be decorous and not have side conversations.  Ari did a great job of keeping the boys engaged and telling them the story.  But the girls were pretty frustrated.

One good thing is that the illustrated hagada that my friend suggested we get Chen last year did hold her attention this year.  And Sarah and my sister learned with me the next morning and we had some great conversations.

I think sometimes there is a lot of pressure to make the seder a successful evening.  It's a very special time of the year, and a big deal for the Jewish people.  But just like in homeschool sometimes we have to let go of expectations in order to make room for a genuine, loving, and more pleasant experience (which ultimately leads to better chinuch long term), it also works to apply that to the seder. 

The seder is, after all, a microcosm of chinuch: get the children to ask questions, excite their curiosity, do as much in question and answer format as possible, tell it dramatically (begin with degradation and end with praise), use props (pesach/matza/maror), the goal should be personal internalization (everyone should see themselves as if they left), and take into account the specific emotional and intellectual ability of the student.
And my personal homeschooling guidelines: Don't be afraid to drop all expectations if it's not working out and try again next year.  Above all, keep it pleasant and focus on the relationships.