Friday, June 29, 2012


so chana's been in camp for 2 days now (comments from all her fellow campers, practically universally: "wow, you're homeschooled?  that's so awesome! (pause)  do you have friends?").  i've actually missed doing chumash with her.  which got me started on thinking about the parts i dread vs the parts i miss.  why do i (sometimes) dread it and what do i miss about it?

i miss spending an hour+ with her, giving her my concentrated attention.  i miss hearing about all the little things she's thinking about.  i miss her perspective on a rashi that i think is pshat and she asks a penetrating question that makes me realize although rashi may superficially seem like pshat, it isn't quite.  i miss watching her zip through translation and see how far she's come in her skills.  i miss learning torah with my daughter.

i don't miss her frustration and her anger when she is having trouble translating it and i feel like she can do it and she yells at me that she CANT find the shoresh and then, oh, it's amad.
on the other hand, navigating these conflicts makes me a more patient person (i have seen tremendous progress in myself how i handle this with chana from all the practice i got with sarah ;) and it's great practice for both of us to engage in the art of de-escalating conflict.  looking back, in addition to the usual pre-teen conflicts, i can point to chumash as a solid block of time that went on for months where we both got frustrated and had to learn to back off and regroup and re-attempt to communicate and both have things to work on and compromise and change behaviors and still have frustration and do it all over again.

(which does make me think about unschooling and the tantalizing promise that there won't be so much conflict around learning torah, and isn't torah supposed to be pleasant?  or maybe skills are drudgery and this is the way it goes? **cue jessie whining about how she's not sure about unschooling benefits vs skilldrilling benefits**)

anyway, i'm going to try to do chumash in the car with chana on the way up to my parents today.

but about my navi project.  as is frequent in homeschooling, i had an idea and it took on a fantasy life of its own about how we'd do navi every night and she'd love it.  ok, stop laughing.  true unschooling would be where she'd be interested and i would facilitate her learning.  but there is also an element of unschooling where "v'dibarta bam b'shivtecha b'veisecha," torah is constantly on my mind and we talk about it.  i then go back to the pesach seder and i hear many of my rebbeim echoing in my head: a pesach seder doesn't just happen without the parent thinking a great deal about where the child is at and what type of learning they'd find interesting.  from the kids' perspective, interesting things are happening and then they ask questions and then learning naturally emerges.  but from the parents' end, you need to think about what sort of things will trigger the questions and what approach you want to take to answer those questions.

so back to Summer of Navi.  i'd like it to be that when chana remembers doing navi, it was Really Interesting.  (hehe, jane austen capitalization for emphasis.)

tip #1
ask a child if s/he wants to learn when it's past his or her bedtime.

chana babysat for us last night when we went out to dinner (yay summer date nights! i look forward to that all year).  part of the charm of babysitting is that she can stay awake until we get home.  so around 10:30, just when i was thinking of telling her to go to bed, i asked her if she wanted to do navi.  i figured it was late and she wouldn't want to.  but she said yes.

we chilled on the couch and did the story of ehud.  i gave her the background of shoftim (the cycle of sinning, enemy, calling out to hashem, shofet) and she immediately said that many of us are not keeping torah now but we don't have an enemy.  i said we are in galus and she countered by saying we have israel.  (i did not bring up the midrash "revach tasimu ben eder l'eder" as she's only 11.)
anyway, she enjoyed it and next up is yericho.

i think in unschooling, one of the things that is nervewracking is that the classical way of doing things is very regular.  you do it every day or every week or a few times a week.  you drill and drill.  you plug away, day in and day out, year after year.
and in unschooling, things happen more in bursts.  or there is a lot of fallow time and productive waves.  there is a sudden burst of interest and it's very exciting.  then nothing for days or weeks.  and then it's exciting again.  everything you pursue is fueled by your interest.  your motivation carries you into it and through it.

so perhaps i should not be surprised that navi is not happening regularly, and focus on it's enjoyability factor plus that there is genuine learning going on.

Monday, June 25, 2012

how much does a 5th/6th grader cover?

let's see, we started shmos on may 15.  we started va'era the day after she went to great adventure, june 19.  we did 36 rashis in shmos, that she can read, with nekudos, and with knowing the general meaning when she reads the hebrew (she doesn't 100% know all the words exactly).  so it was about 3 wks to learn shmos plus a week of chazara.

chana has been complaining a lot about rashi recently.  maybe i'm working her too hard.  it seems like she is capable, though.  she also mentions that she dislikes it.

as always, i wonder if i would get better results waiting until high school and taking only 3 years to build up the skills instead of 12.   i was having a minor bout of anxiety about not teaching her math.  and what if she goes through high school with NO MATH. 
(until i calmed down and realized she would a. have no math except for that which she needs to figure out her financial affairs, which is fairly extensive or b. she would learn math when she got interested.)

anyway, it's been busy and we have not done any more navi.  one of the things i worry about with unschooling, too.  though the summer has barely even begun.  no need to worry yet.  i would let at least a few years go by before worry is warranted.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

navi day 1

so today chana came home from a full day of work.  yup, she's working.  what else are homeschooled kids supposed to do?  we're going to the circus tomorrow so she can't work.  disappointing.  she was upset that she came home at 8:50, which was only 10 min til bedtime.  i told her she can stay up and chillax (heehee, i love that word) and i went out for a walk.  when i got home at 10, she told me she was going to sleep in a few minutes (we did double chumash yesterday when we found out she had an early call time this morning).  i asked her to say shemona esrei.  (by the way, in case you are wondering, she says the entire shemona esrei every night and has gotten fluent enough to say it in 6 minutes, which is the time it takes me to say it if i have kavana.  she still says it sitting down, and she still does not know what she is saying.)

then i decided it would be a great night to begin operation: navi.

so i asked her if she wanted a story from navi.  she was kind of reluctant, so i said, ok, never mind.  she decided she did want one. 

now one of the things that happens in chumash, and i wonder if it happens to all homeschoolers, is that when i officially sit down with my child and concentrate attention on her in the guise of doing schoolwork, she has extracted her attention from whatever it is she is doing all the rest of the day and suddenly realizes that she has my attention.  so she has many, many things to tell me.  all sorts of feelings and thoughts. 

sometimes i think that it is foolish to distract her from talking about what is in her heart for the secondary accomplishment of feeding her some information or skills, and that this blossoming of our relationship and of her communication is what homeschooling is all about.

anyway, on a night like tonight, when the littles are asleep and ari and sarah aren't home, and i have nothing to do but follow her lead, it's easy to do chumash or navi when she pauses, and for me to pause to hear what she has to say when she begins to talk.

i decided to start with ehud.  to do that i gave a little background of shoftim.  as i anticipated, she didn't know who was in charge after moshe.  she guessed his son? (she was quite surprised that it wasn't.) aharon?  she didn't know yehoshua (we are still in the beginning of shmos).

so i opened to ehud and said that eglon conquered yericho.  then i realized she didn't know the story of yericho.  we will perhaps do that next.  and she said her mind kept wandering.  which is how she gets when she's very tired and we try to learn.  we talked about his withered hand.  i wondered about google imaging it, but i figured that would probably be uncomfortable.  (actually, i just did and there aren't any good images.  ah, there we go: hand disfigurement.  maybe i'll show her tomorrow if she seems interested.)  her mind kept wandering.  so i said, ok, we'll pick it up tomorrow.  his withered hand is important to the story.  that got her all excited and she started begging.

a long time ago i read a chinuch newsletter, and the author quoted a gadol who said, "you should stop learning five minutes before the child is done."  i thought that was very deep.  because you want to leave the child wanting more, not leave the child wishing it was over and that s/he wanted to stop 5 minutes ago.  but it's tricky--how do you know before the child is finished?  it's something to think about.

anyway, begging for more is definitely an ideal way to stop, because it leaves her eager for the next time.  i didn't give in, and hopefully she'll be excited next time.

so in summary, i picked a story that i remember positively from my elementary school days.  i started at a time when i was extremely relaxed and had absolutely nothing else going on.  i went in with zero agenda except that she enjoy herself.  i stopped fairly quickly.  i think she enjoyed it and is excited for more. 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

summer plans and navi

chumash is chugging along.  chana is planning to go to daycamp this summer.  she'd like to go to sleepaway camp, but it's expensive.  perhaps if she ends up being homeschooled for high school, we'll send her to sleepaway camp.  i know a lot of homeschoolers (myself included ;) get a little itchy about the socialization question.  but i can tell you, it's not the ability to socialize that is a problem.  and it's not the opportunity to socialize.  what does become problematic is 1. close intimate friends and 2. a large social group. 

as 6th grade approaches, there are a lot of social/physical/emotional changes going on for girls (and presumably for boys, but i have no idea yet).  girls who were friends for years switch allegiances and interests. 

i'm hoping chana will meet some local girls this summer.  she's old enough to walk to their houses by herself on shabbos.  it will be luck of the draw if she clicks with any girls and becomes close friends with them.  both she and sarah went to local daycamp at various points.  they had absolutely no trouble integrating, socializing, and making friends.  but they never clicked with anyone enough to keep the relationship going.

anyway, in past summers when chana chose not to go to camp, we kept our schedule the same as during the rest of the year, including chumash.  but she will probably not have enough time to devote to chumash.  though i would not like to drop it completely.  i have to figure out how to do chumash over the summer.

but a project i would really like to pick up is navi.  i really think chana would enjoy it.  however, i tried getting the little midrash says and it was both too difficult and too boring for her.  she didn't enjoy reading it.  i think she needs it to be more personalized.  i need to tell the story on exactly her level, and choose which stories to tell. 

this is going to take some preparation.  you may or may not know that i'm not a "prep" type homeschooler.  i sit down and whatever happens, happens.  but i think regarding navi, like the pesach seder, a little thought about

- where my child is at
- what approach would be enjoyable
- what specifically i'm going to teach and how

will go a long way.  i particularly would like to attempt an "unschooling" approach here, as a prototype for the future with the boys.  i don't have to worry about skills, because chana is getting skills via chumash.  i just want to make this really enjoyable.  i want her to love it.  i wonder if i'll be able to do that.  i'm imagining that i've been hired to teach a course.  that the child will remember and love for the rest of her life.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

the day has come

surely most days will not be like this.  but this morning, chana is going to see a show with her bubby.  so last night we agreed that chumash would be 10am.  she woke up early so she would have time to do what she likes to do before chumash.  at 9:55, of her own volition, she went to eat so she wouldn't be hungry for chumash.  then we started.

we started with chazara.  we have been doing chazara of one aliya per day, plus chazara of some of the pesukim of the aliyah we are in the middle of.  naturally, as we were about to get started, aharon woke up.  i told chana to please do the aliyah on her own.  she is at the point where she mostly knows it and felt comfortable running through it by herself!

then, even better, i told her to please review the rashis by reading them in hebrew aloud if she feels comfortable.  since she is at the point where if she doesn't know each word, but she overall knows the meaning of the rashi, that's good enough, she felt comfortable doing that for all but the more recent rashis.

when i came down, she was just finishing up.  then we reviewed the new rashis and did a little review of the end of shishi, and she whizzed through the rest of the pesukim til the end of the aliyah.  granted, these were pretty easy pesukim.  but she did them all with almost no help. 

it's really nice to see how much she's grown in her skills.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

on homeschool tantrums

An example of why talking to other people is so important.  I dropped by a friend's house on Shabbos.  While I was there, I took the opportunity to ask her husband his thoughts on a question Chana had on Rashi.  In the course of conversation, he asked if Chana enjoys learning.  I paused.  She enjoys the thinking, she enjoys the questions, she enjoys parts of it.  But overall?  I don't think she enjoys it.  I think she finds it something to get through, something she dislikes.  Something she tolerates.  That gave him pause.  He told me about his son, who is in school, who really enjoys gaining the skills.  His son doesn't find it painful to acquire the chumash skills.  He is enjoying it.  Is it his son's nature?  No, he thought that the Rebbes make it fun for the kids.  He suggested two possible and related reasons.  1.  These Rebbes focus all of their educational energy on imparting skills.  It is their craft.  They hone this ability and their main goal is to make learning skills pleasant and achievable.  Whereas I am trying to do a whole bunch of things, one of which is teaching skills, and that is only a small subsection of my concept of "learning."  2. These Rebbes are EXCITED about teaching skills.  They love it.  They look forward to it.  They enjoy it.  They think it is wonderful.  They live for it.  Whereas I... I dread it.  I view it as a necessary evil.  Something to get through in order to get to the real "meat and potatoes" of learning.  Obviously, this attitude gets transferred to Chana.

This gave me plenty to think about (in addition to the last few weeks, as I have been ruminating about the boys' future chinuch).  I often find that having a conversation with someone can really open my mind to a whole new angle.

But homeschoolers, let's admit.  Our kids tantrum more than kids at school tantrum.  I rarely hear about an elementary aged child who tantrums about work in school.  The combination of social embarrassment, peer pressure, and being used to doing things they dislike make it an unusual occurrence.  Whereas homeschoolers are quite vocal about work they don't want to do.  If it's painful and they don't see the benefit, they will complain.  Loudly.  Often.  Since you are the mom, and a safe person, it can and does degenerate into tantrums (youtube: don music sesame street).  There are no peers around to cause embarrassment.  As a student, your opinion about the work you are doing is taken into consideration.

Supposedly unschooling eliminates most of that.  Though it still petrifies me to throw myself into that route.  However, I have a lot to think about regarding making skills work exciting and fun.  And thoughts are crystallizing..