Tuesday, July 31, 2012

unschooling chumash

I get quirkier and quirkier the longer I do this.  Or maybe it would be more accurate to say I get more principle-based, and less fear-based.  Homeschooling is a big step.  It's scary.  You are putting yourself in charge of your child's education, and if you screw up there is nobody to blame but yourself.  You can't blame the school; this is on your head.  How are your children possibly going to end up normal if you do something so weird?  How are they going to survive without [insert fabulous sounding thing that school has or does here].

As the years go by, and the kids grow up, and turn into fabulous human beings that you like and respect and admire, you begin to feel more confident.  I was an excellent student in school.  I worked hard and was very tense before tests.  I find great joy when my children learn lishma, for its own sake, and have no idea what it means to meaninglessly and temporarily cram information into their minds.  (That was probably Sarah's biggest academic adjustment to school, and she continues to feel its absurdity.)  I get a sense that these are people's lives I'm dealing with here, and their relationship to knowledge and learning and life and joy.  So all that social worry about keeping up with a false academic construct that I largely disagree with sort of fades into the background, and I feel more confident following our own academic path, and experimenting with different learning theories, and following the child's lead.

My last post sparked the question of am I planning to finish teaching the aleph beis before we begin chumash?  Or is the plan that he will pick it up as we go along?

Let me first explain the method I used to use for chumash.  This method, that I worked out myself, was already a somewhat radical departure from what most day school yeshivas do.  It took me a little while to feel confident in my methodology, and to feel secure that my child wouldn't be terribly "behind." 

We began with aleph beis.  I used flashcards for first print, then script.  When the child can read both Hebrew and English, we began R' Winder's series of Lashon Hatorah.  We do this for as many years as it takes until the child is comfortable dissecting prefixes and suffixes.  With Sarah, we started chumash in 4th grade.  With Chana, well into 3rd.  (This is as opposed to schools, who standardly start in 2nd grade.)  We did go through parsha pretty thoroughly up until then.  But I was nervous about starting chumash..**dramatic drumroll** one year late.  Obviously, once you get into the trenches of homeschooling, one year over the course of a lifetime of learning is no biggie, and often makes sense (see the three-years-ahead-rule).  But it was nervewracking.  It proved to make great logical sense, as we dove right in and translation was fairly simple.  But like I said, nervewracking.

I also go pasuk by pasuk, and have them translate every single pasuk.  We don't skip around.  We go straight from beginning to end.  We only do pshat, and rashis that are pshat oriented.   Very occasionally I will do a rashi that cites a midrash, and we ask the questions on it.  With Sarah we did chamisha chumshei torah by the end of 8th grade.  We had to rush because she wanted to go to high school.  I don't know if she got the bekius I would have liked, but I wanted her to have read every pasuk.

And now I'm about to get even more not mainstream.  It's not like I deliberately swim out of the stream.  Other things simply make more sense.

So here is how I envision our unschooling experiment playing out.  I may decide that I'm not willing to risk a lack of skills, or reality may wind up being very different than what I envision.  (If you would have asked me, the August before Chana went into first grade and Sarah went into 6th grade, I would have shown you a beautifully crafted spreadsheet of our weekly schedule which, it turned out, bore no similarity to what actually happened.)  Okay, rephrase: Here is how I currently envision our unschooling playing out:

I figure I will be teaching content on request.  I hear from other unschooled bachurim that eventually, closer to bar mitzva, he will likely become motivated to learn to read/daven and will then pick it up.  In the meantime, I hope that he will learn facts in the areas of chumash, rashi, halacha, mishna, etc.  Eventually, perhaps, he might be motivated to learn how to read and translate them inside.  I guess I'm a little foggy on how that will play out (I have high hopes for the artscroll app).  But for now, it seems like teaching him content without teaching him skills until he asks is perfectly adequate for a 5 year old.  So to answer, I will begin chumash before he can read Hebrew.  If I am assuming that reading Hebrew will take place between the age of 6 and 12, I am hoping that there will be significant enjoyable content that he will learn before he learns to read.

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