Friday, August 17, 2012

chumash unschooling beginning methodology

As i discussed here, I used to go through the R' Winder Lashon HaTorah books and then begin chumash once the child had a sense of prefixes and suffixes.  I hope to possibly unschool the R' Winder books (though that might be a bit of a challenge, but the kids always enjoyed them and to a large degree Chana did unschool them because I basically let her go at her pace and she often requested to do it), but there is a good chance that Elazar will start being interested in the pesukim before he has made significant inroads in R' Winder.  I have been interested in leining for a long time (years), and I began to really study it when I noticed that Elazar responds to tunes. 

So if Elazar should ask me to read him some chumash, I will open up to the first pasuk, lein it with him a couple of times, and explain it.  I'll do that either for as long as he is interested, or until he has a basic grasp of the pasuk.

This is different from how I taught chumash in the past, where I focused on them translating, figuring the best way to learn it is by doing it.  (This also provoked many complaints and tears).  So now, I'm going to just tell him the information, keep it pleasant, and (theoretically) have confidence that when he wants the skills, he will concentrate on them and acquire them.

bullies2buddies experimentation

Last post I described an intriguing theory to manage sibling rivalry and my concerns about it. 

A few months ago, Jack was sitting on Aharon and beating him up, and Aharon was screaming (Jack 2, Aharon crawling).  My usual policy when that happened was to merely lift Jack off of Aharon.  Don't blame, don't expect self control, do separate.

Testing the theory that the boys love each other, and although Jack is clearly under the grip of aggressive desire, he doesn't truly want to hurt Aharon and will respond to his distress, I let the cries get worse and didn't move him.

Jack watched me, puzzled, sitting on Aharon, not getting off of him, and clearly wondering why I wasn't stopping him.  Aharon cried.

I waited more.  Jack didn't get off.  Aharon cried louder.  I couldn't take it and I moved Jack.


This week, Jack (2.5) started bothering Aharon (14mo).  Jack pushed Aharon.  Aharon cried.  Jack kind of glanced at me, waiting for me to show some sort of disagreement with that decision or to comfort Aharon, which is what I would often do.  I looked away (feeling kind of sick).  Then Aharon went over and pushed Jack!  Hoo, boy, I thought.  Bad idea.  Then Jack started crying.  Then Jack pushed Aharon.  And Aharon smacked Jack.  And they were fighting and crying.  I was pretty uncomfortable.  The yelling was getting pretty loud.  Then it hit a pretty intense point, and they both backed away from each other, crying pretty badly.  I was profoundly uncomfortable.  Then they stopped crying and started playing with each other.  I blinked.


Elazar was on the beach, drawing a big circle with Xs in it for buried treasure.  Jack kept on deliberately stepping into the circle and on the Xs.  Elazar said, "Jack, stop."  "Jack, stop."  "Jack, stop!"  "Jack, STOP!!"  Jack was doing it on purpose to provoke him.  My wont was to step in and move Jack away.  Don't blame, don't expect self control, do separate.

This time I let it continue.  Finally, Elazar, exasperated, gave Jack a *thunk* on the chest.  "Jack, STOP!"  Jack stopped immediately.


Aharon was playing duplo.  Elazar started building a tower taller than himself.  Ordinarily, my policy is that the child who is building builds in a location that is blocked off from the destroyer, so the destroyer has no access.  Don't blame, don't expect self control, do separate.  However, the destroyer was playing first, so it wouldn't be fair to pull him out of the room.  Even with some legos, he'd still feel upset.  Naturally, he went over and knocked down Elazar's tower.  Elazar was upset.  "Aharon knocked down my tower!  I'm so angry at him!  Aharon, I'm angry at you!  I'm so angry!"  Even all of this verbalization was not sufficient to cool his anger, and although I could see him striving to control himself, it burst out and he thumped Aharon on the chest: "Aharon!" *thunk* "Do NOT break my tower!"  As soon as he hit him, justice was restored in his mind, and the anger drained out of him and he went to rebuild.  Aharon began crying hard and came over to me, muttering and he hit me.  (Either he was passing on the aggression or he was telling me what happened.)  He muttered more and hit me again.

I was in a lot of conflict about this.  Clearly Elazar tries verbal communication first.  Clearly, Elazar feels better once he's hurt the person who has hurt him--but is that something I want to teach my children?  The animalistic law of the jungle?  If someone hurts you, then hurt him back?  Then you'll feel better?  I sat there, holding a crying Aharon, feeling conflicted.

Elazar looked up.  He said, "Aharon!" and he did a silly jump and flip so that Aharon would laugh, which he did.  He coaxed Aharon over and gave him a hug, and patted him, and said, "Don't break my tower, ok?" and Aharon said, "Ya."


So I think I will try to continue observing with this and see what happens.  I'll keep you posted!

PS.  As I was walking today, Jack and Aharon were in the umbrella stroller (Aharon sits and Jack stands behind him), and Jack started rat-a-tat-ing on Aharon's head, and Aharon started mildly complaining.  According to the theory, am I supposed to just leave that alone?  See if it gets bad, if Jack will back off?  I opted for my usual: "Gentle, Jack, gentle."  Jack started rubbing him gently, and I praised him.  I don't know if I would have left it alone, if they would have ended up fine.  But I also don't know how they would learn to be gentle if it isn't taught.  Would it come naturally?  

bullies2buddies and sibling rivalry

For the first 11 years that I was a parent, I had two children 5.5 years apart.  It wasn't no effort to raise them, but I did not deal with the classic "sibling rivalry."  People talked about their kids fighting, and I had no experience.  Periodically they argued or fought or annoyed each other, but it was basically nothing.  Then I was blessed with 3 children in under 4 years.  I still haven't had that much sibling rivalry to deal with until now.  Part of it may have to do with the fact that the older two did tandem nursing, which people say helps cut down the sibling rivalry.  A huge piece of it is the personality of my middle son, who by nature is peaceful and obliging.

So I read Siblings Without Rivalry by Faber and Mazlish.  And I've been using Playful Parenting techniques by Larry Cohen, which I am sorry I didn't know about when the girls were little.  When I see aggression brewing, I sweep the aggressor into wrestling or some type of fighting play, and it works miracles.

But as far as an ideology regarding sibling rivalry, I've been thinking for a while about bullies2buddies principles.  I read about it a couple of years ago, before I had 3 children close in age, so it was still pretty theoretical.  Some of the concepts (from my faulty memory) include:

  • Hitting that doesn't draw blood or leave a mark is not really "hurting" between two people of about equal power.  It is actually a pretty effective way for them to navigate conflicts.
  • Children don't usually want to badly hurt each other, and if left to their own devices, the majority of the time they will respond fairly quickly to a cry of true distress and back off immediately.  On the contrary, when adults get involved, it leads to children ignoring each other's signals and focusing more on the authority's cues and getting parental attention.
  • It is useful to distinguish between bothering and annoying and hurting
Overall, he urges a policy of general non-involvement, on the theory that the great majority of what is going on is not true hurting that leaves marks or does damage, and on the theory that siblings generally love each other and will be responsive to a true cry of distress and will back off, and on the theory that they will thunk each other a few times and that is an acceptable way for them to work out their conflict.

I find this extremely logical.  There are a few points that cause me great discomfort:

  1. What if it isn't quite so benign and one sibling is torturing the other.  Shouldn't that be stopped?  Isn't that damaging to the psyche of the one being tortured?  
  2. Is encouraging/not stopping hitting and other mild forms of aggression something we want to teach our children?  Isn't growing up a lot about being able to control impulses, especially aggressive impulses?  Is this counter chinuch?  Do I really want to imply by my non-involvement that it's OK to hit?
Despite these hesitations, I am very intrigued by the theory and I have been eager to test it out.  The trouble with testing it out is that if i sometimes get involved and sometimes don't get involved, I am not sure if I am exacerbating the situation.

My next post will describe some situations where I tried it out.

Monday, August 13, 2012

what if we only did chumash when it was an optimal time?

in case anyone was wondering, chana is up to shlishi in bo and so far we have done 12 rashis.  elazar mostly forgets to wear his kippah and i mostly forget to remind him.  he's very busy playing outside.  our conversations have been including more halacha and parsha and hashkafa, but he hasn't asked to learn inside.

i was discussing with my friend channie about the conflict of doing chumash when it isn't really a good time, and then being less than patient and relaxed because it's not a good time (like before we have to go out, or when the little ones are awake).  the other option is to only do it when it's a good time, but that sort of ends up being... well, close to never.  for example, we've done 2 navi stories this summer.  if that gives you a feel (which is what i always worry unschooling will turn out to be--basically no skills). 

(though i must interject that the theory is that at a certain point, they become motivated, and then BOOM they work hard at it.)

anyway, we were wondering is there any happy medium?  we don't feel like we can wait until it's convenient, because it rarely is a good time.  but if we do it when it's a terrible time, that is a recipe for conflict and anger and negativity.  and even if we skip it when it's a terrible time, well, we might be skipping it 4x a week..

i've learned by now that certain things should be avoided at all costs with chana.  do not do chumash while she is hungry.  do not do chumash when we have to leave the house soon.  do not get all blame-y that we haven't finished yet when someone wakes up from a nap in the middle of chumash (i obnoxiously still have trouble with that one, but luckily, chana calls me on it, so i'm improving).  chana is pretty good about doing it the night before or the night after or double the next day if we aren't going to make it.  it's just that I find it exhausting to do it at night like that.

channie suggested doing it when it's not a good time, but being super nice with lots of love and hugs and play.  naturally, although i wholeheartedly agree, i've found that in practice, it is difficult to dredge up love and hugs and playfulness when you are feeling on edge because you are being torn in different directions.

but i feel it really negatively impacts giving over a love for learning when i am teaching with gritted teeth and impatience and radiating stress and wanting to be done and, horror of horrors, exuding disappointment that she didn't remember something or couldn't translate something. 

so, in looking for a happy medium, i'm thinking about the following solution.  during times when things are really busy, i don't want to skip chumash because i want to convey that it is a priority-והגית בו יומם ולילה--that we immerse ourselves in it daily.  but precisely during those times when i'm feeling a time crunch, i'm going to try to set aside only 15 minutes for chumash.  and during that 15 minutes, i'm going to have only 2 goals. 1. to do a "mashehu" of chumash.  a smallest amount.  2. to have it be an enjoyable learning experience.

will i be able to do this?  we shall see.  if it doesn't work, then i'll do what i always do: look at what happened, look at what i did, look at the result, reevaluate, form a new approach, and try again.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

what kind of person is chinuch trying to produce?

This article came to my attention, discussing certain problems with the current day school yeshiva education and calling for overhaul. 

If you are homeschooling or thinking about homeschooling, it's likely you already have taken the matter into your own hands to some degree.  I cite this article because I really like how R' Dov Lipman expresses the goals and ideals of a Jewish education. 

He writes (my bold):
My friend related how just that morning during Shacharit he was thinking about how “off target” we are as he watched rabbis barking at children to stand during “vayevareich Dovid” and the “vihu rachum,” part of Tachanun at a youth minyan. He was not suggesting we shouldn’t find ways to encourage our children to stand when our custom dictates standing during prayers. But the degree to which the kids were being scolded for not standing struck a chord that led him to reflect upon what we teach as important and what is not important.

I have seen in both myself and in others a way of criticizing students that reflects an unconscious set of values that we might not want to be teaching our children.  Frequently it is by facial expression, tone, or the degree of negativity for a minor issue.  This gives me a lot to think about.

He also writes (and I realized that I hope that, if I take my child's education into my own hands, that maybe I can work more towards some of these answers being "Yes"):
Let’s take a step back and see where the average yeshiva high school boy stands upon graduation from high school. Is he fluent in Hebrew? No. Can he prepare a Gemara on his own? No. Does he enjoy studying Gemara? No. Does he know Tanach? No. Does he enjoy davening? No. Does he understand basic Jewish philosophy about God, the purpose of creation, and why we do the things we do? No. Does he stand head and shoulders above the rest of society in terms of his dedication to acts of loving-kindness and basic human decency? No.
I may or may not have these goals for my own children.  But it gives me a good place to start, a good checklist to think about.  You are educating your child for roughly a decade; what do you want to do with that time?

He also writes (and again, I'm turning it around to look at the positive embodiments of these qualities):
our average students are not steeped in Torah knowledge, not skilled in reading classic texts and prayers, not excited about Judaism, and not prepared to be morally and ethically superior to the low common denominator of surrounding society 

 He expresses his ideal graduates:
ultimately producing young men who are comfortable reading our texts and prayers, inspired to want to study and pray, enthused regarding their Judaism, prepared to enter the world as the most moral, ethical, respectful, and upstanding members of society
Having a sense of what my priorities and goals are as a homeschooler helps me with the larger decisions of curriculum development, where I put my educational energy, what I choose to emphasize, and what we learn.  But it also helps in the millions of small reactions and decisions I make every day.  When my child doesn't remember a word.  When my child wants to tell me her dream before we start Chumash.

When I'm crabby and irritated and have more things happening than I have attention for, how I react to my children teaches them more about Torah and about my true values than anything else.  Maybe the more clarity I have about my goals, the easier these split-second and largely unconscious reactions/decisions will become.