Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Cleaning the Bathroom

I had a list of things I wanted to do this summer.  I don't love "to do" lists.  Mostly they happen when I have too much to do and can't keep track of it mentally.  And I prefer my life to be so simple I can actually keep track of what needs to get done in my head.  (Except what I put on google calendar.  Obviously, I love google calendar.)

But this summer, with the kids finally getting older (Chana asked me why we haven't done homeschool trips in years, when so much of her elementary school education was done via trips, and I said, "I haven't been able to leave the house without losing my mind in the last eight years.") and me having free time, things I wanted to do kept occurring to me until I finally started keeping a list.  It is a delicious list, though.  It's a list of things *I* want to do.  Not as a mom, or a person in charge of a household.  But as a creative, intellectual human being who wants to stretch.  (Or merely as a person with some spare time.  For example: "bring broken necklace and bracelet to jewelry store to be fixed.")

One thing I didn't put on the list but did come about because of this new phase of life is that I ended up training the boys to clean the urine from around the toilet.  Their ages are 10 (adhd), 7.5 ,and 6 (mature).  Turns out it is the perfect time of life for these particular children to learn this skill.

Ages ago, before I had any sons, a friend of mine mentioned that the urine gets intense in the bathroom and that she had to clean it regularly.  So when the boys started using the bathroom, I duly got spray and kept it nearby and wiped up regularly, grateful for the heads up.  Instead of lamenting that life was this way, which I undoubtedly would have done without the warning, I just accepted that this was how things were, and handled it.  Whenever I came in to use the bathroom and it smelled like urine, a quick swish and swipe and everything is great.

At the beginning of the summer, I went in and smelled urine, and thought to myself, "Why am I doing this?  They are all capable."  I decided then and there to train each one of them.  I pulled Elazar in and taught him.  And then the other two, the next two times.

Get spray bottle and rag from cabinet.  Spray around toilet, including front and including walls.  Wipe with rag, especially near bolt caps.  Return rag and spray to cabinet.

And now, whenever I go into the bathroom and it needs a swish and swipe, I call one of them in.  So far they've done it about five times and I'm still supervising them.  I think one more time and Elazar can do it himself without supervision, and Aharon is not too far behind.

One of my friends (who also has three boys) told me that when she toilet trained her boys, she taught them to check for pee on seat and floor and wipe it up with provided baby wipes.  Another friend told me that her husband was taught to always put the toilet seat down after he wiped around the toilet bowl with toilet paper, and he modeled that for their two boys.  Perhaps one day we will move on to some of that.  For now, I'm delighted that when I ask one of the boys to clean around the toilet, they do so.

unschooling summer 2017

It's been a while since I posted.  I guess unschooling is doing its deep work.  (That's code word for I can't think of anything we've been doing that resembles classic schoolwork.)  Chana introduced Elazar (and therefore Jack) to Animal Crossing, which is an amazing game with a small town.  You build a house, you make money, you speak to the villagers.  Their talk sounds like mumbling and you have to read everything, and you write letters and respond to them, so they are using literacy.  I am still asked to help with spelling numerous times a day and Chana asks me lots of history questions and philosophy and literature and vocabulary and science.  (Oh, yeah.  I'm supposed to look up the causes of and the end of the great depression.  I already sent her an article explaining how scientists discovered that electrons behave differently when they are being observed vs. not being observed.)

Aharon (age 6) is in camp and enjoying parsha and davening.  He wants me to daven with him, but then I don't do it exactly like he does in camp and he screams.  He came home from camp with kriah sheets that are Hebrew letters saying English sentences, which is a cute idea.  I'm torn about it.  On one hand, it helps the children with reading comprehension and is fun to figure out.  On the other hand, I'm a purist and feel like it's better to read Hebrew words in Hebrew and get a sense of the language that way.  (I'm such a homeschooler--I have an opinion on the minutiae of education even when I don't even use either of those approaches with my own children.)  I put the sheets on the fridge with a magnet in case any of the boys wants to play with them.

Chana and I have made no progress in the expensive chemistry set I bought her.  I did go so far as to send her a list of experiments, of which she chose one, and then I read the lab on it.  Since we haven't opened the box, I don't know what the items or, what they look like, how to use them, etc.  If you know me, you know I hate science experiments and I finally had to embrace that part of my homeschooling personality and admit science experiments are not my bag.  And having an expensive chemistry set is like upping my game at admitting I hate doing science experiments.

We are reading Pride & Prejudice together.  She reads it out loud to me in a British accent and her Mr. Collins has me convulsing with laughter.  It's everything I dreamed about High School Literature: actually reading the book, discussing it as we go: character, plot, themes, turns of phrase, foreshadowing, symbolism.  And enjoying the book.

And we take long walks on the beach together.  I'm really focusing on not having any agenda for our time together.  The teenage years are extraordinarily tricky.  I feel like in a lot of ways I spent ages 12-15 putting out fires and worrying excessively about "issues" and wanting her to "understand" things and desperately hoping to impart my wisdom to her.  I'm carefully refraining from that now.  I just want us to enjoy spending time together.  I read Parent/Teen Breakthrough: the Relationship Approach last year and it said that things are really extremely simple: In each interaction, ask myself if my behavior/reaction will improve my relationship with my teenager or deteriorate my relationship with my teenager.

And in all the things I worry about her being able to handle and manage?  If it affects me, bring it up (in a way that will not deteriorate our relationship, of course).  And if it doesn't affect me, it's none of my business.  The entire rest of the book was to explain how to do this, because honestly, some of it sounded like a foreign language to me.  Sof kol sof, it is the most useful and wisest book on raising teenagers I've read so far.

I've mostly given up trying to convince Chana to learn Bio with me.  It's like every unschooling move I've made over the years.  Why do I keep going more and more towards unschooling?  Because Chana told me, over and over, in all sorts of different ways, that she doesn't like to learn that way.  She told me that she doesn't like to sit down and read from a textbook.  She does LOVE when something catches her attention and then she hunts down information about it and videos that show and explain it.  And then talking about it and explaining to to people, and then researching their questions and finding answers, and talking to more people about it.  That is a dynamic and organic and interactive and social way of learning.  And it feels completely different and more exciting and more relevant than learning from a text.

In the same way, she learned to read by wrestling with texts she was interested in reading.  Or learned bits of math because they caught her attention (probably her most favorite homeschooling lesson ever was when her father taught her binary one Friday night ad hoc during family snuggle.  And one of the oddest math things she ever did was teach herself how to divide polynomials at 3am to help some stranger online with math homework).  And how she delves deeply into philosophy and Social Studies because of conversations she has with people. I now have to trust that when different things in Science catch her attention, she will pursue them.

All that was supposed to be a short introduction to what I came here to write today!  I got distracted talking about unschooling high school.

Friday, June 16, 2017

4am fractions

Kiisu (that's Chana's Japanese name, which we have taken to using) took the CAT test this week.  As per homeschool regulations, 7-12 graders in our state have to be tested every year.

In my facebook memories from 2011, there was a post about testing reminding me why I unschool.

This year we were armed with a 504 and extra time.  (I don't know how to make this happen in homeschool.  It is only because she needed it for her 2 classes in yeshiva that she got this accommodation, which gives her extra time for testing, and since last time she took the timed CAT test she was unable to complete it in the alloted time, I applied it).  So when she needed up to double the time for reading comprehension because her preferred method is to read something slowly four times, she had it.

The Math sections drove her nuts a little.  The math was all things she's done and forgotten long ago.  Long division.  Fractions and decimals.  I'm pretty sure she got the required 33rd percentile but she was frustrated to tears.

To "study," we had reviewed some basic fraction-decimal-percentage facts.  She quickly remembered most of how to work with fractions with the reminder.  Some things she remembered the mechanics, but didn't "get."  The next day, she asked her friend (who is a homeschool high school senior and also tutors her in ACT math every week), who explained it to her.  But then the next day on the next section, when she encountered some conversion problems, she again struggled.

Last night I was awake in the middle of the night and Kiisu and I ended up hanging out for a bunch of hours until the sun rose.  (Yay for random insomnia and nocturnal teens.)

We were talking about converting fractions into decimals and she was telling me how her friend told her to do it.  And she didn't remember learning it that way from me.

"Yeah, that's not how I do it," I said.  "I think my way is easier and makes more sense."  I explained how the fraction line means "to divide" (which she's heard me say a million times during algebra) and how you move the decimal place over.

"That's what I don't get," she said.

It was pitch dark, and we were just chatting desultorily about fractions to percents.  There was no purpose, no lesson, no point.  No pressure because we weren't trying to achieve anything.

"You know, maybe you never really wrapped your head around the whole fractions thing," I said.  "You didn't get it in 3rd or 4th grade and while eventually you did understand how to do it, I'm not sure you ever really spent a lot of time thinking about how it all worked conceptually."

But as I said that, I realized that she did understand fractions, pretty much.  "You know what might help you?" I said.  "Maybe you aren't really getting the relationship between fractions, decimals, and percents.  And I think it's because I left something out.  I never taught you this--and I think it will all make sense."

And I told her about something that I did in school in first grade when I was a kid.  And spent many hours on, in many of my elementary school years.  I had never taught it to her because it hadn't really come up.  (Not because I didn't have a cardboard hands-on flip number chart that taught it that she never wanted to play with and that I eventually konmaried, because I did.)  I taught her Place Value of numbers.  Hundreds, tens, and ones I barely had to teach her because they were so intuitive and it was clear exactly how that worked.  (See? We said to each other.  Kids spend hours doing that in school but when you are older it's quite simple and quick to grasp and makes perfect sense.)  Then I introduced her to tenths, hundredths, and thousandths.  And working with 50%, 0.5, and 1/2.  And tenths being actual 1/10ths.  And 0.25 being 25/100ths and also 1/4.  And 1 being a whole and 100%.

We were just playing around.  Talking about it because she was genuinely grappling with trying to understand conversions.

And when she understood it, it was so enjoyable for her.  She was absolutely delighted about how it all fit together and how it all made sense and how they were all talking about the same relationships.

I looked at the clock.  "It's 4:30am," I said.  "We've spent a half hour in the middle of the night learning math for fun."

Then she told me about how her friend was teaching her derivatives and how interesting it was.

Unschooling math looks really different than how I thought math would go.  It's a process of learning to trust and learning to let go.  I thought that since she loves math, she would learn geometry, learn trig.  Instead, she loves fiddling with math.  

I have so many things that I want to teach my children, that I want to share with them, that I want to give them.  But so often trying to do that causes friction, conflict, and stress.
And it's amazing what happens when you make space for what they want to learn and follow their lead.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

the day finally arrived

I was davening shemona esrei and Aharon was calling me and calling me, getting more and more urgent.  Eventually he came into the room and saw me.  He didn't scream.  He didn't yank on my clothes or try to pull me.  He realized I was davening and quietly said, "Aw," and walked away.

He'll be 6 in a few days.

He is finally mature enough not to interrupt my tefila.

He wanted help spelling the word "simulator."  He wasn't sure what came after s-i-m.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Plans vs Reality

Now that I'm unschooling, I don't really make educational plans.  But I do recall the first year that I was homeschooling two children simultaneously (1st and 6th grade, I think) and I actually made a weekly schedule, complete with blocks of times dedicated to different subjects.  I even had Mishna on the schedule, which I never quite ended up learning at all with my oldest daughter.  Not once.  Boy do I laugh when I think about my grand plans.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Hippocratic Oath for teaching Torah

This morning I read this:

Prof. Nechama Leibowitz z"l once asked a group of senior Jewish educators in her living room/ study space in her home (of course, in Hebrew!): "What is the goal of teaching Tanach?"
As she called on one principal/ head of Jewish studies after another, she rejected each of their proposals: 
"To learn the mitzvot," "LO!"  
"To learn Jewish history," "LO!" 
"To learn ethical behavior," "LO!"
"To learn about our forefathers," "LO!"

Exasperated, she finally said: "The goal of teaching Tanach is that the child will not hate the Tanach."
In other words, "First, do no harm!"

Friday, May 12, 2017

Scraps of thoughts

I've been grouchy.  The kind of grouchy where I get snappy when the boys jump on top of me, instead of being glad that they are seeking contact and interaction.  They've also been fighting a. lot.  I don't know if they are fighting because I'm grouchy or I'm grouchy because they're fighting.


Elazar has expressed a couple of times that he's concerned that he won't be able to read by his bar mitzva.  I'm actually not that concerned about that.  (Just a smidge, in basic paranoid anxiety-ridden unschooling, but not really.)  But the second time I told him it won't take him that long to learn to read.  And I told him that I'm sure when he wants to, he will be able to.  But I feel like he was dissatisfied and I'm not sure what he's telling me and what he is looking for.


Jack asked a couple of times to start learning Torah.  He wants a siyum so he can get a big present. (That's how the girls earned their phones and computers.)(Not unschooling!  Using incentives!  Small inner conflict about which way is ideal!)  I keep saying, Sure, let's do it.  But then we don't.


I'm thinking that decisions such as whether or not to unschool or to teach formally.  Or whether or not to incline towards permissiveness or strictness.  Or whether or not to do xyz approach or abc approach.  None of those actually matter.

Oh, sure, they may affect things like what inclinations the child has--scientific, musical etc.  Interests or philosophy or way of looking at the world.  But in terms of the essence, in terms of will the child be well-adjusted and emotionally stable--it's beginning to seem to me that there is a lot of wiggle room and particular decisions don't matter as much as we might think.


I had a whole methodology for teaching Chumash: start with speaking Hebrew.  Then, when they learn to read, do the R' Winder books for a few years.  Then, start Chumash when they have basic vocab and prefixes and suffixes.  That's what I used for the girls and it was great.  But it doesn't seem to be going that way with the boys.  I used three different methods for teaching them to read, so doesn't it make sense that they will learn Torah differently?  It's wrenching to be flexible.  I think, at heart, that I love structure.


You put your heart and soul into your kids and you care about how they turn out.  Then they become teenagers and it turns out that caring how they turn out is counterproductive and causes conflict.  Because they are individuals fighting to be their own people.  Especially not what their parents want them to be.  So you have to adjust to parenting and putting your heart and soul into it but not being invested in the outcome.  Like all of life, I suppose.  You do hishtadlus but the outcome is not in human control.