Wednesday, May 23, 2012

why are we doing so much rashi?

we had the nice experience of doing the rashi on "call him and he'll eat bread," as a reference to marriage, and chana remembered the rashi about potifar putting yosef in charge of everything except his "bread."
it's nice when she remembers an old rashi and makes a connection.

chana also got overloaded in the middle of the rashis and started complaining.  she asked why we are doing rashis that are obvious from the pshat.  i started to answer her, then stopped.  then she said, a bit rudely, 'you won't even answer me.'  and i thought to myself that it is my opinion that what i teach should be defensible.  meaning i should be able to lucidly explain to my 10yo why we are learning something.  and if i can't, maybe i should rethink it.

i said, "i want you to have a lot of practice reading and translating rashi, so i pick ones that have easy meanings so that we can work on you getting better and reading and translating."  and she muttered some more about how she doesn't want to learn to read rashi.  and i said it's for future in case she will want rashi skills.

i've been ruminating a lot about love of learning.  i'm still ruminating.  i love homeschooling because there is so much time for rumination about how you want to run things, and so little red tape for change if you think it's called for.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Unschooling and Limudei Kodesh (Judaic studies)

My son is 4, almost 5.  He is perfectly happily being creative with markers and scissors and has been for the last few weeks.  He's working on his English letters.  He had been interested in the aleph beis for a while, but his attention turned.  I began to think, what would happen if I let him unschool everything, completely?  (I've been wondering this for a while ;)

From the two unschooled yeshiva bachurim I've spoken to, as boys approach their bar mitzvas, they begin to show an interest in learning to read Hebrew.  So theoretically, he will eventually learn to read.  I feel fairly comfortable that my husband will be able to tantalize my boys with some learning, so they will probably pick up halacha and some mishna and eventually gemara.  (And I'm very excited about the Artscroll gemara app... My husband and I were discussing how we are planning to handle learning on Shabbos for the years they are reliant on the app until they [hopefully] gain skills.. but I'm getting ahead of myself, as I sometimes do when I think about homeschooling).

But I was thinking about how Chazal say that when a child learns to speak, you teach him Shema (or maybe I read that in the Mishna Berura?).  Or when he is 5, he starts chumash (or 6 or 7), or when he is 10 mishna (That's a mishna in Pirkei Avos, at the end of chapter 5).  This is not the unschooling spirit.  And although unschooling speaks to me as an educational philosophy, I also respect Chazal's understanding of human nature and when a person is capable of making certain cognitive steps, the kind required for each different type of learning.  While I feel comfortable that unschooling would not be in contradiction with my husband's obligation to teach his sons or make sure they are taught, I wonder about approaching chinuch differently than Chazal recommend.

I have been thinking a lot about this point.  My thoughts make me nervous.  I hesitate.

I just took a break before I write down my thoughts to do some more procrastination, because I'm afraid to flesh this out research.  I was looking for the statement that when the child learns to speak, you teach them to say shema and "Torah tziva lanu Moshe."  Ah, Rambam, Hil. Talmud Torah 1:6: From when is his father obligated to teach him Torah? When he begins to speak, he teaches him *Torah tziva lanu Moshe* (Moshe commanded us the Law, an inheritance of the congregation of Yaakov) and *Shma Yisrael* and then he teaches him a few verses until he is 6 or 7, all according to his ability. Then he brings him to a teacher. 

This is probably from the gemara, then.  Because I was perusing some of the Rambam's halachos (2:2-3)
ב  מכניסין את התינוקות להתלמד כבן שש כבן שבע, לפי כוח הבן ובניין גופו; ופחות מבן שש, אין מכניסין אותו.  ומכה אותן המלמד, להטיל עליהן אימה.  ואינו מכה אותן מכת אויב, מוסר אכזרי; לפיכך לא יכה אותן בשוטים ולא במקלות, אלא ברצועה קטנה.
ג  ויושב ומלמדן כל היום כולו, ומקצת מן הלילה--כדי לחנכן ללמוד ביום, ובלילה.  ולא ייבטלו התינוקות כלל, חוץ מערבי שבתות וערבי ימים טובים בסוף היום, ובימים טובים; אבל בשבת, אין קורין לכתחילה, אבל שונין לראשון.  ואין מבטלין התינוקות, ואפילו לבניין בית המקדש.

You bring the children (lit. "babies) to be taught at around age 6 or 7, according to the strength of the child and his physical constitution, and under age 6, you don't bring him.  (Then there is some advice as to what type of corporal punishment should and shouldn't be used.)
And he sits and they are taught all the entire day, and some of the night--in order to teach them to learn during the day and the night.  And they shouldn't take off (lit. "be mevatel" i.e., waste or make idle) except for erev Shabbos and erev yom tov at the end of the day, and on yom tov; but on Shabbos (*i'm not sure of the translation of exactly what the children learn on Shabbos--pls help).. and you don't give the children off, not even to build the Beis Hamikdash.

Strong words, and they seem to be seriously against unschooling.  The sheer number of hours for a 6 or 7 year old child is daunting.  When do they play?  When do they be children?  (Note, though, how old these children are when they start school!  Presumably they have been running around and playing until age 6 or 7, which is basically unheard of in today's school system.)

So this gave me some hesitation.  And then I found the gemara that this is based on (I took this from a fascinating article on Jewish Sudbury Valley School  (Democratic School) by Rachel Cohen Yeshurun):

Remember the name Yehoshua ben Gamla for praise. Were it not for him, the Torah would have been forgotten by Israel. It used to be that fathers would teach their children, and those children without fathers would not learn Torah. Schools were then set up in Jerusalem based on an interpretation of the verse: 'Torah comes from Zion and the word of G-d from Jerusalem'. But still, those with fathers would bring them up, and those without fathers would not go up. He enacted that local authorities should install teachers of children in every district and town and they should bring in children of ages six and seven to be taught by these teachers.

Rav said to Rav Shmuel Bar Shilat: Do not accept children until the age of six. Then stuff the child with Torah, as you would fatten an ox. If you hit a child for disciplinary purposes, hit him only with a shoelace. If he studies, he studies, if he does not, let him remain in the company of his friends. (Baba Batra 21a) To the words 'let him remain in the company of his friends" Rashi adds "and eventually he will pay attention to the lesson".

So it would seem that this method was enacted b'dieved, after father-to-son learning was no longer optimal.  Then there is the gemara in Avoda Zara 19a:  A person does not learn Torah except from the place his heart desires.  Rebbi finished teaching a Sefer to his son Shimon and to Levi. Levi wanted to learn Mishlei next, and Shimon wanted to learn Tehilim. They forced Levi to agree. As soon as Rebbi expounded "Ki Im b'Toras Hash-m Cheftzo" as above, Levi said 'you have given me permission to leave.'

So now that I have a few sources under my belt, let me attempt to formulate my opinion about unschooling from a Torah perspective.


There is the raging debate about how important skills are in a society that has google and wikipedia at its fingertips.  My personal opinion is that knowing facts is basically unnecessary, and if I were at a job interview and the interviewer asked me a fact question, I would whip out my smartphone (ok, I admit I don't have a smartphone) and look it up.  However, as a homeschooler, I have thus far made it a point to (pleasantly) drill the multiplication tables into my kids until they are fluent.  I feel similarly about skills (i.e., somewhat conflicted and contradictory ;).  I think, despite the plethora of translations, it is preferable for my kids if they are comfortable with the Hebrew (and Aramaic).  However, if I raise a generation of lamdanim who use a wide range of websites and translations while they excitedly look things up and think about and analyze chumash and gemara, I'm going to call that a win. (Stay tuned for my learning goals for the boys.)

Therefore, it is with hesitation, that I posit that maybe the recommendations of 5 for mikra, 10 for mishna, 15 for gemara refer to cognitive developmental phases (with some leeway, as the gemara says 6 or 7) and not to the age where they need to begin to acquire the skills necessary to read them (and I point out that gemara was written in the vernacular of the time).  So following those guidelines, we will plan to introduce those subjects at those ages.  However, it might be possible to not drill and not push the skills until the child is interested in acquiring those skills.  

(I fully respect that many people vociferously disagree and feel that imparting the skills is vital, and imparting them at a young age is vital.  This is a philosophical point of debate between unschoolers and other educators in general.  Remember, the beauty of homeschool is that YOU get to do what YOU want.)

Further, with the current technological availability of text and translation, it seems like more than ever we are not forced to spend hours focusing on that.  Just as before the printing press, MUCH focus and MANY hours were spent on memorization, and that has currently faded in importance (much to the dismay of those people who felt that memorization is good for the brain and that it is extremely useful to have large amounts of text memorized in the case of lack of availability, all of which I agree with in theory).  So, too, perhaps the hours and hours of drudgery that we spend learning to make a laining will become less in vogue as every school age child has the translation of torah and gemara at his or her fingertips.  And perhaps the skills that will be taught (as I maybe plan to teach my children) is to start with the sefer in pure original, and then use whatever resources at their disposal to understand it.

Again, translation is never as good as original.  And a person who is seriously involved in learning will need the skills.  I have noted before that the average yeshiva day school students spends 1st-12th grade banging his or her head against text, is frequently still unable to make a laining, and then goes to Israel for a year or two and learns skills there.  I say, unschool, have fun, skip the drudgery, and pick it up over the course of two years when you are older--IF you've been motivated to do so.  

Another issue that I wondered about is the Rambam's assertion that the children should learn the entire day and some of the night.  Maybe serious Torah study requires that many hours.  Is this really the standard for all children?  Even the less inclined??

He does give a reason: to teach them to learn in both day and night.  I think of the words of Shema, that certainly apply to unschooling: 

And you shall love Hashem your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words, which I command you this day, shall be upon your heart.  And you shall teach them diligently to your children, and talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up.


During chazara, it was our practice that chana not use her new computer until she did chumash.  (This did not include rashi, since she often took an hour or more break between chumash chazara and rashi chazara.)  This means, basically, that every morning during chazara, Chana bounded down the stairs and pushed me to do chumash.  I was tempted to make this the rule every morning, except that I, too, have grown used to having that hour after "morning rush" when jack and aharon wake up and need to be fed to just chill.  Also, although I suggested to Chana that maybe we would make it a practice not to go on computer until we did chumash, I just felt that isn't in the unschool spirit.  However, two days ago she did say that she liked doing chumash first thing, and maybe she would do this all the time.

Chana bounced in this morning that today we are starting Shmos.  She wondered what "shmos" means, she looked at how many pages were in the entire chumash, she looked at how long rishon was, she saw a bunch of names and got excited (she loves translating names because she flies through them).  She looked at the pictures of the keilim of the mishkan, and wondered what they were.

Anyway, as a demonstration of why I don't think it's ideal to wait: This morning, for example, Chana came down and asked to start Shmos just as aharon woke from his nap just as jack was stirring for the morning, and jack needs to be cuddled for about 20 min after waking or else he tantrums for an hour.  and aharon needs to be nursed and then pottied and then fed immediately when he wakes up or he's very cranky.  (so I had to make a choice, and I chose nursing aharon while jack waited in bed, then bringing a cranky aharon to cuddle jack.)  Chana had to wait.

She chose when to stop (13 pesukim), and didn't mind the rashis.  Ah, crisp new beginnings :-)  chazak chazak!

chana sees the position of rav, more than shmuel.  pharoah loved yosef; how could he do this. 

Friday, May 11, 2012

chazara for vayeshev.  chana remembered most of the story so we didn't do so many pesukim inside.  then we took a very long break. (3 hrs.)  when 2 boys were napping, we did rashi.  she did 18 rashis in 15 min.  she only read the hebrew and remembered them all except for one.  nice job, chana!

(i am still a bit sad we aren't using the other chumash without nekudos and with more roshei teivos.)

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

sometimes i don't want to do it

yesterday we did toldos and i ended up reading and translating a lot of yitzchak's life with avimelech.  chana remembered a lot of most of the stories otherwise. 

today we did vayetze and chana said wistfully that yesterday when i read and translated most of it, it was so nice.  we were back to me picking out a pasuk or so per page to get the main idea and her translating it.  we also went through all the shevatim, which was nice because chana had them in context from the brachos, so as she read them, she remembered a lot of the brachos "yehuda was the best" "hey, levi is older than yehuda?" "dan is the snake" "naftali the poet" "zevulun lived by the sea."

she got a little cranky about the couple of rashis we did, confirming that incorporating rashi into chazara is going to have to be a separate session.  i had her read a long rashi just in hebrew and see if she knew what it was about.  she got all the way til the end and recognized the last word and then remembered which rashi it was.  ("who would want to sleep on a rock, anyways?")


just an aside, i went out with the kids yesterday so we didn't do chumash in the morning.  after i get home from going out, there is always about an hour of crying and screaming as all the various needs get juggled and taken care of (mostly feeding and naps and adjusting to being off schedule).  that ran into witching hour (6-9) dinner/bedtime, and we still hadn't gotten to chumash.  after the littles are in bed, i'd love to just sit and veg.  but that's chana and sarah's time.  time for me to hear what's going on in sarah's life, and time for me to work with chana a little more and then to see what projects she's working on.  in the midst of this i ran out for a little walk in the drizzle.  and i was thinking, "when i get back, i have to do chumash with chana."  "i don't waaaaaaaaaaaaaaannnnnnnnnnaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa i don't wanna i don't wanna i don't waaaaannnaa"  "what if we just don't do chumash today?" "how is chana supposed to like chumash when i DREAD doing it"


by the way, chumash ended up being perfectly fine and lovely.  and whenever i have those thoughts, i ALWAYS seriously entertain the possibility of just dropping it.  just don't do it.  don't do it today.  don't do it now. don't do it at all.  but definitely how about not doing it today. 

just allowing myself that breathing room makes me feel better.  after all, one of the loveliest things about homeschool is that i don't have to do anything.  we can just take off whenever we want.  we can play all day.  we can relax.  we can decide to let things go.

once i remember that, i always feel better.  and sometimes i do it and sometimes i don't.

Monday, May 7, 2012

chazara bereshis cont. aka a typical day

yesterday we did vayera.  because chana remembered the general gist of the akeida, plus there is a strong likelihood she'll be revisiting it in the future, we skipped it.  today we did chaye sora.  it's been really nice to be doing chazara in fast forward because chana is getting a nice over-arching picture of the sefer.  for example, when yaakov died, there were a whole bunch of pesukim talking about how avraham bought maaras hamachpela.  and now, just a little later, we reviewed that story.  chana saw lavan and asked about him, and i know in a few days we'll be hitting that section and it will all fall into place just a little bit more.

we haven't been doing rashis because there haven't been that many.  chazara will change tone a bit when we hit them, and if chana isn't prepared, she might get cranky.  i may have to do it piecemeal: 30-45 min chazara (that's how long it has been taking us to get through the parsha), then break for a few hours, then 30 min for rashi.  (my problem is once i break, it's really hard to get back to it.  yesterday we stopped at chamishi because i had to go out and it was bedtime/witching hour when i realized we hadn't finished).

we had to stop in the middle today (we always have to stop many times in the middle) because i was informed that elazar made a bowel movement behind the couch.  why?  because he doesn't want to use the toilet.  we stopped for cleanup and discipline.  he told me he peed there, too.  he rebuffed my suggestion that he use the potty.  said he prefers behind the couch.  i hope we are not at an impasse on this.  afterwards, he took some spray and sponges and happily cleaned the bathrooms til we were done.

Friday, May 4, 2012

emotions and learning

I've been thinking I should change the name of the blog to "emotions and learning."  It's ridiculous how ignored it is that emotions are completely intertwined with the learning process.  I've read a number of studies (don't ask me to quote them) that explain how memory, retention, understanding and all sorts and types of learning, understanding, and remembering are tied to social relationships with friends or teachers, or tied to motivation.  It seems a simple and logical point that children--hey, all people--who want to learn something or feel that it's useful end up learning it more quickly, end up sticking with the process through frustration, and end up remembering it better. 

(I conclude from this, btw, not that we should turn somersaults to try to make the learning interesting or "show" them that it's useful; rather, it would be more efficient to allow learning to emerge from the students' interests and as an outgrowth of what they desire to know or do). 

It's also important to note that the social process of learning does similar things.  I think about learning by myself vs. going to a class or giving a class or sharing ideas with friends.  I used to think it was because of ego or the need for social approval, but I'm beginning to think that we are designed to find social learning more enjoyable.  Learning shared is learning enjoyed, plus the additional benefits of collaboration, clarification of ideas, and increased accuracy.  

how is chazara going?

we are on day 3 of chazara.  it's been a bit disappointing.  like when i used to teach in a school and i would give a test and the students wouldn't do so well.  i remember going over and going over pesukim with chana, and yet she didn't remember them in chazara.  (though she did remember the rashis we did over and over).

so this is what we've been doing: every day we have been reviewing one parsha (making chazara about 10 days).  every page or so, i choose a pasuk that reviews the flow of the story.  if there are pesukim that she won't remember but they are important to review, then i read and translate it for her.  so she's getting a review of the flow, and some of the words, even though overall she's not reviewing milim.  whatever she learned by repetition, she learned.  we haven't had that many rashis, since she didn't do so many rashis on that parsha. 

it was ridiculous today because even though aharon finally fell asleep, jack was asking me to wrestle and kept trying to smack the chumash out of my lap, and elazar was shrieking about i'm-not-sure-what-anymore.  i also had the take a toy fishing rod away from him a bunch of times because he was using it as a weapon.  when he used it as a fishing rod and he "caught" me, at least that kept him busy.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


chana finished sefer bereshis!  now we have to figure out how to do chazara.  i told chana she does not take ownership of her new computer until after chazara, but she can use it each day after chazara.  so she has been urging me to figure out how to do chazara. 

i agreed that reading pasuk by pasuk to review would take excessively long. 

back to the old question: what is the goal or purpose of chazara?

is it to review vocabulary words?  no.  either she knows them or she doesn't.  a review of the words she doesn't remember will likely not help them stick into her head any better.

is it to review the flow of the stories or to remember specific parts?  if so, we don't have to do it inside.  i can review parts without the pain of translation.  however, i don't know which parts she doesn't remember.  as chana put it: how am i supposed to remember the ones i don't remember?
i have to find the sections i think she won't remember.

i would like her to review some of the more difficult famous pesukim to increase her familiarity with them.  that means i have to choose the famous pesukim. 

well, it's feeling like chazara is going to take some prep and work on my part.  something i generally prefer to avoid. 

i have an idea of randomly opening up each parsha and doing a few "spot checks" to see if chana can translate the pasuk and come up with the background.  that's more my style in terms of prep.  i think it will be a decent review and fairly effective.  especially in terms of investment vs output.

i'd also like to review some of the rashis.  i guess i could just flip through those and ask her to read a few here and there.  stay tuned.