Wednesday, March 31, 2010

the seder

chumash is on break because of the holiday. not that it would necessarily be on break. chana as a rule doesn't take "vacation" on vacation; she happily does 'school' through the summer and on weekends. but she did make a point of saying that she did not want to do chumash over pesach. (this is a testament to how i started chumash too intensely and she has negative associations with it...)

but the seder is part of chinuch (or shall we say more than "part") so i thought i'd post. ari and i, in past years, switched off kids to focus on (a 'benefit' of galus and 2 sedarim--each girl gets a turn each night with each parent). this year was going to be trickier because i was juggling the boys, so i didn't know if i'd be able to do anything. so the first night ari had sarah and i had chana. chana kind of knows the story, and is at the age where suspecting that she is being told a story she didn't request and also remembers feels kind of patronizing. i gave her the children's artscroll hagada, and we opened to the makos and started talking a bit about that. she was interested in the pictures and was imagining if she were there and what it would have felt like. i think that discussion was about 5 minutes, and she did ask what all the plagues were and noticed that the later ones were much more severe and life-threatening than the earlier ones. then she flipped to the 4 sons and asked about that, and i was trying to explain to her that there are different types of people and i have to tell the story depending on what kind of person there is. she was intrigued that there is a type of person who doesn't know how to ask questions. and she found it interesting that we teach the rasha. that was about 2 minutes. then she ran off and didn't want any more to do with the seder.

although this is about chana's chumash experience, i just have to say that the second night, where i learned with sarah, i had one of the most enjoyable sedarim i ever had. in a sense, it was a culmination of homeschooling. sarah and i have had years of learning torah together from when she was homeschooled. she had definite and specific ideas about what she wanted from the seder, which parts she wanted to focus on, how much and what she wanted to learn, how quickly she wanted to go, what she wanted to delve into and what she wanted to get through. and because of all our years of communicating together about her learning, we fell right into our rhythm of learning together, and it was beautiful.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

i interrupted chana's intense comic book writing/illustrating to do chumash. i warned her a few hours in advance, and waited for a pause where she was showing a particularly comical scene to everyone.

introduced nif'al today (passive). vayechulu. a bit tricky because she is not so familiar with the normal nekudos that she can easily recognize different nekudos (eg vayomer and vaye'amer). but we had a lot of fun saying things actively and passively. chana ate... chana was eaten. chana carried... chana was carried (with pantomiming the actions, of course).

last time, she had looked up and written down 2 new words. i knew that having her find those words in her notebook would burn her out before she even started translating. apparently, reading it, finding the shoresh, finding that letter in her notebook in the proper aleph beis order, looking for it on the page, and reading it, is a real killjoy. so i just refreshed her memory that the words meant "finished" and "army." she then translated smoothly and quickly, and all was happy.

and now she's illustrating again.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

you don't realize how many steps each thing is in the beginning

what does it say about my own attitude towards chumash or teaching chumash if i dread bringing it up to chana every day? i do not want to engage in the--'battle' is a strong word, the negotiations that go along with it.

but maybe as per alfie's advice if i stop looking at it as something i, the one in power, is trying to get her, the one i'm trying to control, to do something... and actually view her as having a legitimate say in her own education, and me as a facilitator...

that's so crazy.

anyhoo, to break it up into manageable chunks, today's work was to read the pasuk (easy shmeezy) and to look up the 2 words she doesn't know.

a word about how we organize that. she got a new binder (very exciting), and looseleaf paper, and before we started, she labeled 22 pages aleph through taf. (or however many hebrew letters there are :-P). when she comes across a word she doesn't know, she writes the shoresh down under it's letter, then looks it up in the dictionary, then writes down the translation. this is many steps. finding the shoresh, finding the first letter, finding that letter amongst the aleph-beis (which may or may not involve singing the song, of which she has only a hazy recollection). then finding said letter in the dictionary, then finding the second letter in the dictionary and so forth, and then choosing the correct definition. (a little more complicated than you thought, right? isn't it great how far we've come?). and then writing it down.

so. 2 words are a little overwhelming.

chana said she wanted to find the words before reading the pasuk. i asked her how, then, would she possibly know which words she didn't know. she correctly pointed to the first and last words. astonished, i asked her how she knew that (her reading is not so good that she can sight read and pick out which words she knows and which ones she doesn't yet). she told me that i had pointed them out to her last night. boy am i sleep deprived. i have no memory of that. i congratulated her on her excellent memory, and she enjoyed my utter lack thereof.

we giggled a lot as she looked up the words. she tried to negotiate that i should just tell her what they mean, or she should do only 1 word today. as per alfie (i feel like i say that a lot. "as per alfie..") i said that i wanted her to have the skill of looking things up in case she was in a situation where there was nobody to tell her what it meant and she wanted to know. she said she would ask daddy. or elazar. i handed her the dictionary rather than respond. that kid can outargue me if i engage.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


finished 2nd half of pasuk. finished perek aleph! tomorrow 2 new words to look up in dictionary...

zipped through

chana took a quick break from mario party 4 and breezed through half a pasuk. she knew all the words and kept the thread together. ah, bliss. it took about 30 sec. i want her to do the second half.

as per alfie, instead of bribing her with another check on a chart or some extrinsic reward, i mentioned that if she finished the second half, she would be finished with perek aleph. and that she knows all the words.

she said maybe she'll do it later. like tonight.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

another pleasant day

i'm feeling a bit frazzled as pesach is coming. but i already learned my lesson: if i'm feeling pressed for time, don't do chumash. my body language and my lack of patience is conveyed straight to the student. so i entered chumash with full attention, calm mindset, and committment. (never mind that jack needs to eat right now and i'm standing and nursing him and holding him out of elazar's reach as he tries to kick him and poke him and squeeze him). so chana and i are doing chumash standing. not a great atmosphere.

we did some oral review in the car on the way home from gymnastics. i told her today i was going to introduce her to her first rashi. since she can't read rashi script yet, i would read it to her and tell her what it says.

also, in a shocking bit of advance prep this morning (i usually don't prep), i saw that chana wouldn't understand the hebrew of the main phrase of rashi so i decided i would paraphrase it in simpler language.

i asked chana if she wanted to do chumash before or after gymnastics, and she chose after (of course). i prefer to do it first (get it over with. hmm, is that attitude being conveyed to my children?) but have learned that doing it later usually involves less or even no arguing. plus chana was very busy making small pictures of cherries and cutting them out this morning.

so chana dove into chumash. the word "asher" i prompted with "th..." and she remembered it's "that." the word "nefesh" she forgot and looked it up in her dictionary. she had plenty of trouble putting the phrase together "asher bo nefesh chaya." that in him/his (in it) part that's alive alive. after a couple of tries i just said that it means "anything alive."

chana noted that she didn't think adam and his wife would like to eat things while they were still alive. i told her rashi would address that.

i summarized that rashi says they can eat animals when they died, but not to kill them.

Monday, March 22, 2010

smooth sailing

chick chock we zipped through today. she wanted the computer for club penguin. i said let's do chumash first. she said ok. we looked at the pasuk. the asnachta was towards the end of the pasuk (and chana likes an evenly divided pasuk). i asked her how much she wanted to do. she pointed to about halfway through the pasuk. i said fine. she read and translated. she knew all the words mostly. chayas: i mimed dead and alive and reminded her that the taf at the end means "...s of" and "romes" i crept my hands across her belly for creepy crawlies. total time: under 2 minutes.

tomorrow we will have to keep the thread of today's translation, which is always a little challenging. as per channie's suggestion, i plan to orally review outside before starting tomorrow.

Sunday, March 21, 2010


i keep meaning to read john holt, but i never quite get around to it. basically, to me unschooling means that i don't teach unless i'm approached. it's child-triggered rather than teacher triggered. for example, she only reads when she wants, what she wants. (at my end, i leave age appropriate books lying around). science and history are taught when the student asks about it. math comes up (i'm actually shocked at how much math gets done just by her asking for it. obviously telling time and counting money are practical. but even regrouping and carrying and multiplication). she gets parsha when she asks for it.

i'm not 100% unschooling because i offer sometimes. chana currently does not want to learn division, even though i'm pretty sure she'll enjoy it and like the concept. i ask her periodically if she would like to learn it. i may casually introduce it if i'm sitting next to her and she's playing with a bunch of objects and she seems receptive. usually once a day i ask her if she wants to do any work. (i think a purist unschooler wouldn't ask).

i'm planning not to teach the boys to read at all. either they'll figure it out themselves or they'll ask me to teach them.

most of chana's day is spent pursuing her own interests. she often writes on microsoft word or other games, and she asks me to spell words. and we go over spelling and grammar that way.

the question is if or how unschooling can be applied to limudei kodesh. would chumash, specifically text skills, naturally come up? would hebrew reading be something that the child would ask to learn?

unschooling is a scary proposition because what if the child decides never to learn? can we have faith that a human being naturally gravitates towards knowledge, and if you make an educational environment and are receptive to learning moments and make yourself available for questions and for helping in research and providing the materials, that the child will entertain himself with pursuing areas that interest him?

or will the little savages just watch tv and play video games all day? and not learn a thing?

or will they do that a lot, but also learn a lot?

but will they learn chumash?


so i offered chana water or seltzer. she said neither. i said i am going to give you one and stand there and make you drink it, and you can choose or i will. she told me to choose. i chose to make her a seltzer because i thought it would show more caring and effort, and i felt she needed some tlc.

(we are out of co2, and all she got was slightly fizzy water, which i made her drink).

then i said, come here and sit next to me.

she said, i'm not doing work. i said, i just want to sit with you.

then she asked if she could read hebrew. i said yes. she did the math of how many pages she needed to read in order to earn club penguin. she hammered through them. she opened up to shma and began reading, and spotted an asnachta. "hey!" she said. "that's like from chumash! is that half the pasuk? where is the end of the pasuk?" i showed her. i said it's from the torah, but from devarim, not bereshis, which we are in the middle of. she said that was a proper half, and counted the words on both side of the asnachta that were roughly equal. as she read shma, she translated a few words here and there ("eisev" and she asked if it is the kind that seeds, like in bereshis) and some prefixes and suffixes.

so we have not yet done chumash today. but a good day's work nonetheless.

i quizzed her on some some multiplication before signing her up for club penguin.

i don't even care if she does work today because it's sunday...

so chana asked to do chumash because she wants to earn money. alfie, i'm coming around to your way of thinking...

she started off gung ho because she needs 2 more dollars to earn club penguin membership. we start on a new paskuk (1:30). she plans to do 3 pesukim because she wants money. i know that this is unrealistic for her, so i say, let's start and go as much as you want, and we'll see how it goes.

i tell her she doesn't need to read the pasuk on its own first because she said last time that she didn't want to read and then go back and translate, because she reads the word right before she translates.

she realized she wants to read because that earned her a "check" of which 3 earns her a dollar. so now she wants to do work that isn't useful just to get the check (i get it, alfie, i get it...).

i tell her no problem, she can read from the siddur and earn those checks just as easily.

she reads the word "uv'chol" and screams that she doesn't know what it is. i point to "u" and she says "and." "v" she says "in." "chol" i say "kol" and she says "all." then she screams she can't understand the next word.

i say read it. she says she read it in her mind. i'm not sure what expression i had on my face, but if it was anything like my thoughts, it said "gimme a break--are you kidding me." then she started crying that she's so thirsty and we are out of water bottles.

i offered her tap water and seltzer. no.

then she asked daddy if he would do reading with her. i said chumash has to be done before other work (another alfie no-no, i'm sure). she started crying how thirsty she is.

she will not drink.

Saturday, March 20, 2010


i mused out loud as chana was brushing her teeth getting ready for bed: what is the next thing we have to do?

chana said: "review."

i told her i decided we won't review inside.

her face spread into a smile: "we won't?"

i said that i think we did enough inside. i said, what was the pasuk about? she said, "i don't remember." i said, "hashem told..."
chana: "i don't remember."
me: "adam and..."
chana: "his wife!"
me: "that he gave them..."
chana: "food"
me: "what food?"
chana: "fruits..."
me: "and what else?"
chana: "seeds from the grass."
ok, it's grass that seeds. good enough! onwards.

how do you know if they don't want to learn?

i asked chana if she wanted to do chumash before she went to bed and she said no.

Friday, March 19, 2010

ways to encourage people to do things they don't find intrinsically motivating

as per alfie kohn.

1) imagine the way things look to the people doing the work and acknowledge candidly that it may not seem especially interesting.

2) offer a meaningful rationale for doing it anyway, pointing, perhaps, to the long-term benefits it offers or the way it contributes to some larger goal.

(in our house this sounds like: i know you hate it but on the off chance you may someday want to learn torah, i want you to know how to translate it)

3) give the individual as much control as possible over how the work gets done.

(working on that...)

too much to keep track of

so. the dreaded half pasuk.

we are in perek aleph, pasuk chaf tes (1:29). i was mistaken that it was 3 lines. it's a whopping 3.5.

i asked chana when she wanted to do chumash. she said later. (hint: she doesn't want to do it). when later came, i asked her when she wanted to do it. she said after the movie she is watching. the movie had 1hr20min left and i said no way.

eventually i told her to please pause the tv (LOVE dvr!). we were doing ok to start. she decided to translate the 2nd half before reviewing the first half. she vaguely remembered that hashem gave the man and the woman things to eat. she remembered it being fruit and birds and creepy crawlies, and said she did NOT want to eat a turtle.

here's where review is good. because all hashem gave them in this pasuk to eat is grass and fruit. but the pasuk is extremely long and it's very difficult for chan to keep the thread of what is going on.

so i have an idea to review backwards. first i divide the first half of the pasuk in half. and i hope we can just review that today. that's a line and a half and it's plenty to keep straight. we review it phrase by phrase backwards. on the face of the earth. what's on the face of the earth? grass that makes seeds. and what about the grass? hashem said i gave it to you.

that goes so well i hope for the second half of the first half of the pasuk, about the fruit. she does the fruit. then i try to put the two halves together (total 3.5 lines). complete and utter meltdown. she can't do it, it's too much, why did they (who is they?) make this half so long that it's so hard to do this way. i asked her if she had any ideas how to do it. no, she doesn't.

lest you think up to that point was all easy smooth happy translating, note that elazar was jumping on top of us and asking to go to the playground, jack was kvetching a bit on the floor, and elazar was sometimes jumping on him, too, but mostly patting him, and chana stopped in the middle to lie down and pretend she was jack and to wrestle with elazar. (i hear in "real" school these sort of things don't happen).

so right now, she kind of has the elements of the first half of the first half of the pasuk. she doesn't have the second yet, and she doesn't have the thread of the whole thing.

BUT i think she's done plenty. i think we'll maybe review the second half of the first half inside next time, and verbally review it as a whole and just move on. it's a lot to keep track of when you're so new to chumash.

i haven't figured out how (if) to post hebrew here, and cutting and pasting the pasuk isn't working, so you probably have little idea of what i'm talking about.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

thanks to my good friend to whom i've been sending these daily updates

physical and emotional states affect intellect.

so chana didn't want to do chumash, and then i was running late to the dr so we didn't do it. then i wanted to go for a walk becoz it's a nice day. and chana agreed we will do chumash afterwards. then chana fell off her skooter and skinned her knees. so naturally she was too injured to do chumash.

after a rest and neosporin and band-aids she agreed to chumash. but it was a very, very long half (3 lines). she translated all words correctly (but i had to tell her what zera was coz she forgot even though it's shown up a number of times). but she kept losing the thread of the pasuk. she was in a bad mood from her injury and screamed numerous times. i kept my cool but it wasn't pleasant.

i tried to ask her questions a few times to direct her towards the flow (who did he speak to? what was on the face of the land?) but she kept screaming: i don't KNOOOOOWWW! and kept shrieking that she doesn't want to review.

then i asked her what we should do because she translated all of the words beautifully but she doesn't know what the pasuk says. and she cried that it's because it was too long. and i said well what should we do because we can't go on to the second half tomorrow if you don't know what this half is talking about. and she said she didn't know. and i said if i ask her in an hour will she have an idea? and she said maybe.

it's over an hour later and we've been in the playground and she's out there now playing and having a jolly ol time. injury forgotten. i didn't ask her how to handle chumash tomorrow. luckily tomorrow's half is only 3 words.


be flexible.

that is very important. but that's why we're homeschooling, right? not for no tuition. of course not.

so chana has a decent vocabulary, has a handle on shorashim, prefixes and suffixes. so i was blowing through pesukim with her. and she started dreading chumash. and then she started crying and tantrumming. both before we started and through the whole time. i had thought 20 minutes a day was reasonable.

sof kol sof, we are down to 5 minutes a day. something i read many years ago regarding teaching torah is "stop teaching 5 minutes before the student is ready to stop."

which is great, if you know when they are going to be ready to stop!

i'll give you a hint. crying, screaming, whining, getting distracted, looking away, asking questions about other things, interrupting to tell you about the tv show they watched, and telling you they don't want to do this--you're TOOOO LATE! (and you'd really think you'd catch on to that last one. and you'd be really surprised how often you don't!)

there are a lot of skills in chumash. reading, breaking down the shoresh, prefixes and suffixes, translating, tying the translation together into something that makes sense (what i call "putting the puzzle together"). also looking up words, and writing them down in her own dictionary by shoresh, alphebetizing. mi amar el mi and al ma neemar (who is speaking to whom and pronoun identification).

one thing i've seen over and over. there is a rather large gap between what a child is intellectually capable of and what a child is emotionally capable of.

so the bare bones of what we do.

day 1: read the pasuk
day 2: scout for words she doesn't know, and she writes them down and looks them up (i sometimes use a whiteboard to help her diagram the word, but she can usually do it in her head).
day 3: translate to the asnachta (if i knew how to post pictures, i'd find one and post it. but i'm new at this. it's the little upside down horseshoe with a line on top of the trup, and it indicates half of the pasuk conceptually).
day 4: translate from the asnachta to the end.

so one pasuk takes 3-4 days. (we were doing 4 pesukim a day. short road to burnout and constant tantrums). because i tortured her previously, she refuses to do extra, even if it's very short and very easy. my fault. hopefully, in time, with many pleasant experiences, this will be mitigated.

just today, chana said that she didn't want to read the pasuk first and then translate, because she noticed that when she translates, she reads the words first and now she is, horror of horrors, doing extra work. so we shall amend that as per her decision.

the reason we started reading in the first place on its own day was because chana insisted that chumash was just translation, and she didn't have to read accurately. i said i would like accurate reading and asked her how she wanted to go about that. it was her idea to break it up into a separate day. i reluctantly agreed, and now it seems i was needlessly reluctant because she is ready to go back.

goals and curriculum

chumash goals:

1) chana should learn to read and translate
2) (if possible) chana should have read and translated the 5 books (chamisha chumshei torah) by the end of 8th grade
3) rashi reading and translation
4) methodology of asking questions and gaining yesodos (fundamental principles)

we started by

1) learn the aleph beis and nekudos
2) learn to read hebrew
3) R' Winder "lashon hatorah" series, 1-4. we did not start any chumash until all of these were done.
4) hebrew language immersion (with my mediocre american hebrew. my kids don't understand israelis).

note: sarah (oldest and homeschool graduate) started learning chumash in 4th grade. chana started learning chumash in february this year, after finishing the 4th R' Winder book.

the decision

i decided to start recording a (somewhat) daily log of mine and chana's chumash work. i have a 9th grader who is currently in "real" school after being homeschooled for all of elementary school, a 3rd grader who will be the main character of this blog (and myself, i suppose), and a toddler and an infant.

irritating things i do: 1) i do not capitalize. this drives some people nuts. it started with microsoft word, who capitalized for me and i then got out of the habit. happily, i noticed that my new cellphone does the same for texts. everything else stays lowercase. 2) i overuse the shortened version of because, "coz." it even irks me. but with gratitude to my toddler and infant, it's a shortcut i am very used to and it will be hard to kick the habit. i may not even try.

as i frequently say, "i can get dressed OR go out, but not both." (hence me and anyone i'm in charge of dressing often being seen outside in pajamas). the same may apply here. i can write well, or i can share my chumash learning experience.