Thursday, September 27, 2012

how do you teach your child if you can't parent her?

today we got into an actual screaming match. 

i pride myself that my screaming matches with my pre-teen and teenage girls usually only have 2 exchanges before we de-escalate.  de-escalation is a huge tool in conflict resolution that we are fortunate to have many opportunities to practice :-D

sof kol sof, we both accused each other of being the first to raise her voice.  in truth, after analysis, i believe that she was speaking to me nastily 2x and then i raised my voice to actual "yelling" first.  then we bickered back and forth about who started. 

i asked if it would work for her, if when i began to feel upset that she was speaking "not nicely" to me, if i would very very nicely ask her to please speak to me in a nicer tone.  we shall see if that indeed can be implemented.  i find that i usually don't notice when i'm being spoken to obnoxiously until after i've reacted badly. 

anyway, i just want to say that i don't think that i fight with my pre-teen more because she's homeschooled.  it happens to be that this time the argument was over chumash. 

actual argument:

chana: 430 years?  really?  they weren't in mitzrayim for 430 yrs.
me: maybe it's counting from when yosef or yaakov went down.
chana: i don't understand.
me: maybe it's from when yosef or yaakov went down. 
chana (a bit obnoxiously): i don't understand what you're saying.
me: you remember yosef? and yaakov?  maybe it's from when they went down.
chana (a bit more obnoxiously): i don't understand what you're saying.
me (loudly, ie yelling): just listen to what i'm saying!

i believe at the time, elazar was also interrupting us many times.. something about blood coming from his toe..

chana devolved into tears, then the de-escalation, then the recriminations about who started, etc. then the offer of a resolution for next time, then you are all caught up.

but just because that argument was over chumash, doesn't mean that homeschooling causes more conflict.  on the way home, chana said, "i had a dream last night," and i said, "so did i!" and that got her upset.  she thought i was saying, "so what, everyone has dreams," when i was actually sharing with her that i, too, had an interesting dream last night.  then she didn't like the next 2 things i said.  then i told her i would be absolutely silent.  and that annoyed her too.  so there you go. 

if anything, homeschooling provides us with a lot of time to be together and develop our relationship and have a lot of nice interactions, so it's not all about conflict.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

like night and day

yesterday's rashi went just fine, in case you were wondering.  all 24 of them.  the ones i chose were not difficult.  a lot of it is mindset.  when she has to do more than she expects, she gets extremely upset.  i've noticed this before.  my method is usually to just gently power through.  i sometimes try to prepare her emotionally, but i haven't really seen that help.  there might be other techniques.  but it doesn't come up that often these days for me to apply strategic thought to the issue.

Monday, September 24, 2012

more whining about rashi

i'll leave it for you to decide who the subject of the title of this blog post is, me or chana :-P

we've been briskly moving along these last couple of weeks, with chana doing her chazara and new pesukim and rashis.  a few days we had to slow down because the pesukim were complicated, but then we hit a batch of simple ones.  so it's been business as usual and with very little input from me, so there wasn't anything to write.  chana's actually been deciding on her own to pick it up, so it hasn't even been on my head.  i hadn't even thought about chumash and she decides to do it (except today she has a friend over.  so i guess we'll do it this evening). 

then we blasted through that whole bunch of pesukim, and i picked a pen up and underlined a bunch of rashis.  i haven't counted them, but chana said it was 24 rashis.  i don't know if that includes the ones she is in the middle of doing already.  last night she went crazy about the amount.

she asked the usual questions: WHY? why do i need to do rashi?
you already told me i'm so good at it.  why do i have to do more?
why do i have to do so many?
i feel like you are doing this because you hate me! (ok, that's not a question)
why do i have to do this? i hate rashi and i hate chumash!

since none of these rashis were particularly complicated, but clearly all of them together were overwhelming, i began to question myself.  am i making her do too much?  is this going to make her hate chumash and rashi forever? 

i'm happy to say that i am finally an experienced homeschooler.  this has happened before, many times.  i've asked the questions and had these doubts and fears, many times. 

i think the answer is:


maybe i am pushing too hard.  maybe it is too much.  but maybe it's fine.  maybe pushing is what she needs. 

maybe i'm making a mistake.  maybe not doing it would be a mistake.

i have to just trust that this is a long term endeavor, and there is a lot of feedback (meaning if your child is complaining miserably, at length, over and over, you really ought to rethink how you're doing it).  nothing is written in stone.  you can always backtrack and try something new.  maybe you will do it wrong.  maybe you are doing it wrong.  odds are, you are trying harder and care more than anyone else in the world, because it's your child.  maybe you are pushing too hard or not enough.  what are the chances of getting everything just right?  do your best, be willing to be wrong, and trust in the longevity and freedom of homeschooling.

as far as practical, i think i may be erring on pushing chana too hard.  with sarah i erred on pushing her not enough.  there are and will be effects both ways.

i do, find, though, that if i continue to push chana too hard, the conflict lets me know that it's not a good idea.  a little discomfort and a little unwillingness i understand.  feeling like she's being tortured constantly is probably not beneficial.  (though that scene from the original karate kid comes to mind--where he's being put to work and put to work pointlessly and fruitlessly and frustratingly, until the epic moment when it all clicks and he understands the purpose and he has skills.)

we'll see how it goes today.

Friday, September 7, 2012

converting nagging worries into plans and efforts

it's the beginning of the school year.  that shouldn't make a difference, since we don't really do anything different during the summer.  but this year i started teaching a class in an outside school, so i'm gone every morning til 10am.  this doesn't really make a huge difference in our homeschool because we don't really do anything before 10am anyway, except that it takes me a while to reconnect with the little ones because they are expecting me around and i'm not (like jack doesn't like waking up and me not being there).  and aharon, who is a year old, is used to being with me every minute of the day.

but it has been feeling like there aren't enough hours in the day to do everything.  in the beginning days of homeschooling, i used to be nervous, so i never wanted to skip "learning."  but now, 1) when it comes down to it, i'm quicker to choose to prioritize our relationship and their long-term emotional well-being so i end up choosing to spend relaxed, enjoyable time with them instead of attempting to force them to work in a time-crunched situation which is going to blow up in our faces, 2) even if i skip a lot of learning times, over the course of years, there still ends up being a lot of time and 3) since we became more unschool-y, the kids are much more relaxed about skill work and flexible and inclined to work at odd hours.

case in point.  i told you that i pulled out sfasenu (or sfatenu, as we used to call it in elementary school, before i learned about the ashkenazic "ת" and plunged myself into the conflict of spoken vs religious hebrew) a few days ago.  i've been telling chana i'd like to start it.  she kept saying later and tomorrow.  yesterday we were planning to do it but there was trapeze from 4-8 (it was only 1.5 hrs but i had to pick sarah up from school, dinner, rush out, drive 45 min there and back) so I wasn't up for it we didn't get to it.  this morning, chana woke up at 7:30am by accident (thank you, sarah's alarm) and came down.  i was getting ready to leave for school, but i remembered we didn't do it yesterday.  so we sat down and she did the first story right there.  using the three-years-ahead-rule, i gave her the 3rd grade sfasenu.  she zipped through the story, understanding it, being able to figure out the couple of words or phrases that were new, and i asked her reading comp questions and asked her to answer me in hebrew, using the story.  so that went swimmingly.  i am (anti alfie kohn) using a bribe to make it more palatable.  i told her to pick the bribe, but she wants a dog, so that's not happening.  i'm hoping that she'll pick it up more often than not, and that she'll increase her ivrit ability, and that it will be pretty painless.  i'm not sure how this fits into unschooling philosophy (but i'm not about to get overly bogged down by a philosophy of homeschooling, unless you want to call it pragmatism, ie what is working for us).  i discussed with her that i think her ivrit needs some beefing up.  i acquired something towards that end.  i introduced her to it.  we'll see what happens next. 

and one night this week, everything was pretty quiet, and i said, "hey, want to learn about dovid hamelech?" and she said sure.  so we sat down and i gave her some background about moshe, then going into israel, then shoftim, and we reviewed that shmuel was chana's son, which reminded me that she really is the right age to go through some of the rosh hashana machzor and the torah reading and the haftoras, and then talked a bit about shaul and how the kingship was taken away and how he began to be jealous of dovid.  as i've mentioned before, chana always learns best when she's supposed to be upstairs in bed.  so i'll keep an eye out for those opportunities for navi.  i had the navi open for myself, but did it via storytelling (i did show her one thing in it, but offhand i can't remember what it was). 

also, i've mentioned this before, that i read, many years ago, that one should always stop teaching 5 minutes before the student is finished.  i made this mistake with chana during navi, and kept going even when she was getting distracted.  i should have stopped right then, but it had been going so well i couldn't accept the information she was giving me.  i asked if she wanted to keep going, and she said yes.  i should not have asked her; i should have just stopped.  she zoned out and was earnestly studying the back of a box of cereal.  we ended on a bit of a fractious note instead of me being friendly and saying, we'll stop here, and having her beg for more.

i made that same mistake with my class on the first day of school.  we had 2 minutes left to class, and i should have dismissed them early instead of saying who-knows-what and watching their eyes glaze over.

but overall, my angst last week about things i'd like to pick up the slack on led to me choosing certain activities, then keeping them in my pocket until relaxed opportunities came up. 

regarding navi, if you recall, i had an idea of doing unschooling navi towards the end of last year.  it's now about 4 or 5 months later and we've done navi twice.  you might think that this is not working out.  but i would disagree.  we have years for this.  every time we do it and it's pleasant, it builds on itself.  over the years, it will snowball, i think.  unschooling takes patience, my friends.  i myself am extremely excited to share dovid hamelech's stories.  i just have to wait for the best moments.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

nagging worries about judaic studies curriculum: listen to your gut

every once in a while, i start to feel nagging concerns.

- chana's hebrew writing is pretty poor; she always writes the same basic words (and still spells them incorrectly!) and isn't really making enough progress in it

- we've pretty much fallen down on the spoken hebrew

- do i want to work on more modern ivrit?  (yes, i do.  but when?  plus, it's not really unschooling.  so i'm throwing more things into the curriculum that i don't have time for and that she doesn't want to do)

- i would love to do navi stories.  why am i not finding time for navi?

those are the ones that are top of my list bothering me.  but now that i'm writing them down, here are a few more:

- she is less than a year away from bat mitzva, and we probably ought to do some targum tefila so she understands what she is saying in shemona esrei.  also, bentching.

- i've really fallen down on the tenses in ivrit, especially present and future (we did past, but she probably needs more)

i think there are a couple of reasons for this.  i'm busy.  the littles take up lots of time.  chana is busy with what she likes doing all day.  it isn't until after 9pm that we settle down to do work.  or even talk.  (during the day, we have about 1.5 hrs that we block off to do chumash and rashi, and she comes over to me and i come over to her many many times during the day to tell each other things and share things and for me to see what interesting things she's working on or for her to tell me something funny that happened, but that's not deep conversation or really spending time together, it's more ad hoc).  and frankly, by 9pm i'm frazzled and fried.

anyway, i just wanted to share what i do, as a homeschooler, when these feelings start to crowd my mind.

first, i smile to myself as i remember that there is no pressure.  remember we are thinking in terms of months or years, so nothing is urgent.  there is plenty of time to make any changes (three-years-ahead-rule).

then, i think that if i'm feeling like there are some gaps in her education, i should listen to my gut.  that doesn't mean i should necessarily change what i'm doing.  but if i'm feeling like i'm not paying attention to certain subjects that i feel might be necessary for my child's future, or are important and not getting the time, maybe it's time to rethink my priorities or make a plan for how to incorporate them.

just because they are nagging me doesn't mean it's urgent.  i take a few days, weeks, or months to simmer it.  i think about how important they are and how or if i want to add them in.

the last couple of evenings, i looked into different ivrit curricula.  as usual, i either wasn't impressed, or they didn't suit my specific needs, or i wasn't able to look at them closely enough.  which reminded me why i homeschool.  because this way i get to tailor the work precisely to the needs of the particular student and calibrate it to her skills, level, and my educational goals.  yippee yay.  i consulted my friend at the board of jewish ed.

as i'm writing this, though, i'm feeling that although i have a nagging sense of her ivrit being lacking and needing work, my heart is pulling me towards navi.  navi is so wonderful and so interesting.  why oh why am i not doing it?

hmm.  maybe i should do elazar and chana together?  or maybe 6 yrs apart is too much discrepancy for me to tailor it to their specific emotions and intellects?  or maybe a group navi story once a week would be awesome?

this summer, one shaleshudis, we were all sitting around the table and ari and i started discussing the facts of egla arufa.  then we said: what are the questions--go! and they shot off questions one after the other.  then i summarized what i vaguely remembered learning that addressed the questions, keeping it on target and short.  it was a lot of fun.  maybe i can do something like that for navi.  i really really really would like to do navi.

but if i say i really want to do it, but i don't do it, then do i really want it strongly enough?  time will tell.

oh, and a final thought--if i'm worrying about this stuff, i can pat myself on my back because chumash and rashi are going swimmingly :-D

unschooling gemara

In case you were wondering, chana finished all her rashis last night.  But we went to the bronx zoo today, so we didn't do chumash yet.  It's almost 8pm and nobody's in bed yet...

Anyway, back to the unschooling question.   The recent daf yomi siyum has engendered the question: how come so many adults LOVE dafyomi and so many people talk about how wonderful it is and how it's changed their lives and are so excited to do it, when so many teenagers in school hate gemara?

I read an interesting article on that today.

Though off the top of my head, I can think of two differences:

1) One hour of daf yomi a day instead of 1.5 hours of chevrusa and 1.5 hrs of shiur.
2) Being an adult instead of being a kid.

Despite that, there are a few good points in this article:

How To Teach Gemara by Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed

That means that the Yeshiva High School and Junior High School rabbis must take the time for introspection. Perhaps it is those who teach the teachers how to plan their lessons who need ask themselves – how can it be that Gemara study can attract ordinary, working Jews so strongly, and  get them to sit together and study after a long work day, but that many young students in yeshiva high schools have admitted that they do not like to study Gemara?

These youngsters are not at fault, the methods with which they are taught are at fault. Instead of learning Gemara as Oral law, concentrating on the content and only using the text for review and recall -  teachers spend their time on word study, on syntax – and very little time on the content and its presentation.

If they would teach the content first, orally, and read the text afterwards, the sessions would be alive and interesting. This way, they would also cover much more ground, their students would feel good about it, and know that they are being filled with spiritual riches.
 I note that this is the method I've been thinking about regarding unschooling: focusing orally on the content and less focus, at least initially, on the word study and syntax.  He mentions that the flow of gemara was written down in a way to preserve its character as Oral Law.  It is like a discussion, with arguments, citing pesukim and other sources, and going back and forth, with lots of topics coming up on the way.

Monday, September 3, 2012

against unschooling judaics

today was one of those days that makes me think that unschooling is not the answer.  we spent a week by my parents and chana asked if she could have a vacation from chumash (according to unschooling philosophy, if the child needs a "vacation" then we're approaching it wrong..).  i acceded. 

so today we got back into it.  i asked her if she wanted to do it now or later.  she chose now and finished up what she was doing.  she chose to chazer shlishi (i let her choose which aliya), and did it herself, asking for 2 words.  then we went over the beginning of revii together.  (she started doing it herself, but soon needed me to sit next to her and provide word translation and also general phrase translation.)  after barely remembering the new pesukim from last time (probably because it had been so long since we did them and she didn't have any review of them at all soon after she learned them) and the new pasuk being complicated, i told her to just do those 2 pesukim again and we wouldn't do any more.  2 pesukim (or really just one new one) is rather sparse compared to how much she usually covers. 

one thing i have to watch out for is that if she gets too emotionally overloaded during pshat, she doesn't have mental energy left for rashi.  and we've been doing a LOT of rashi. 

so even before we started she was getting whelmed.  (i was going to say overwhelmed, but i must admit that she's come a long way in mastering herself, and while she was whelmed, she wasn't overwhelmed.)

i said, coaxingly, "just do as much as you can do."  and she insightfully said, "that means just keep going til i finish it all!" i laughed because that's true, and that lightened the atmosphere.

so she was doing rashi, but complaining about it, but doing a really great job.  she was kvetching, but she was right at that point in education where i could see she was stretching, but not being pushed too hard.  exactly what good education is supposed to be.  exactly what is emotionally satisfying for the child. 

it turned out, about halfway through (i can't remember how long--probably about 20 min of intense reading and translating where she can usually do 40+ min), i judged that she really was hitting an emotional limit.  so we stopped, and either we'll pick it up tonight if it's quiet (hahahahahaha though a girl can dream) or tomorrow.

i feel like she's really making great strides in skills. 

i think about how all the rest of our lives is seamless, pleasant and relaxed (and chumash is, too) but she dislikes chumash and wishes she didn't have to do it, and i wonder if unschooling would provide that joy towards learning.  but i also love the day in day out learning and the gaining of skills and knowledge. 

this is why, even though i love unschooling and it calls me, i also do not feel compelled to promote it.  for parents who like structure and for kids who respond to it, structured schooling that still pays attention to the individuality of the child (and most homeschoolers, no matter how structured, do come to that, because the individualized attention demands it) is wonderful.

then again, the older i get, the less i feel compelled to promote anything.  you do what you want and i'll do what i want.  just don't kill me or legislate against me.  and we shall reap the consequences of our choices.  but i digress.  i just wanted to say that when you can hit that "sweet spot" in structure, where the child is being stretched but not painfully, structured education is a glory to behold.