Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Killing Monsters by Gerard Jones: book review

An unschooling mom suggested this book to me when we were talking about violent shooting games for her 13yo and I asked her why she allowed them.  My boys are currently 6, almost 4, and 2.  So violent games are not really on their radar now.

As I've encountered so frequently in the past, what people say about the book gives me a certain feeling about a book, which is completely different than how I feel when I actually read the book.  I was reluctant to read Freud for years, feeling that he was arrogant and obnoxious.  In reality, when I read him inside, I found him charming.  The reviews of Killing Monsters either felt what he said was obvious and simplistic, or they raved about how wonderfully he defends violent video games.  I had a completely different experience reading the book.

Of special note is his analysis of the research that states that violent video games and media lead to violent behavior.  He makes a compelling case that the research is insufficient, out of date, too simplistic and incorrectly interpreted.  He discusses how nuanced the range of violence is (from Tom & Jerry to slasher films, from a few punches to lots of blood) and how inaccurately the ensuing "violent behavior" was diagnosed, and how we would really have to categorize each type and study the effects in better designed studies.

In order to better explain how this book affected me, I should explain that 17 years ago I started off parenting opposed to all multimedia.  In general I felt that it's preferable to make up games and stories rather than watch or play them.  I hoped to avoid all movies, books and TV shows that encouraged fantasy, preferring stories that dealt with conflicts that children have and present emotionally healthy resolutions.

My first misconception was that children are blank slates and that they won't have unrealistic fantasies without being exposed to them.  I eventually came to see the absurdity of that, and realized that there is an inherent human struggle between fantasy and reality, and this is a human conflict that every person will wrestle with, regardless of how many or how few movies and stories that person has been exposed to.  (However, I still felt that there is no need to go out of my way to show them to my children, and thought there might be a possibility that a fantasy might be unhealthily concretized by a movie or story.)

Gerard Jones brought up Bruno Bettelheim and how he wrote about the psychological value of fairy tales.  I had heard of the book but never read it.  I wonder if I should read it now.  I've now been looking at all entertainment through the lenses of Killing Monsters and I feel like I'd been looking at everything too literally and completely missing the point and not understanding what it does emotionally for children (and probably for adults, too).

I am not certain I understand exactly what the book says about the benefit of violent games and stories.  At times I found what he said incredibly insightful and eye opening, and at times I felt he was unclear or contradictory or not really on point psychologically.  

What I gained from the book:

1. Stories help kids deal with fears and conflicts by playing with them.
Children have their internal aggression to cope with, and are concerned about violence in society.  Stories that show people being violent are a relief because then they know other people are thinking about it, too.  Media expresses the fears that kids have and makes them explicit.
The stories also play with different endings and possibilities.  It shows that these thoughts are not inherently scary, but part of the range of human possibility.

2. Really insightful analyses of girl action fantasies and of Pokemon.
I never really understood why the girls have to be so scantily clad.  It turns out it's not just for hormonal young lads.  He explained the incredible fascination with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and how it plays with girl power and being sexy/attractive and physically and mentally powerful at the same time.
His explanation of Pokemon showed me how it is a metaphor for childhood and how no matter what type of mood or personality, there is a pokemon that matches it.  And how it's a metaphor for growing up, and learning to work with unruly aspects of themselves that refuse to stay in their pokeballs.  He also explained why Misty was such a beloved character.  I always felt that characters that displayed immaturity or explosiveness or thoughtlessness were not good role models because they "teach" children that it's okay to behave that way.  What I missed is that seeing characters struggling through life with their explosiveness etc. is exactly what children are thirsty for.  They are so relieved that their conflicts are being expressed.
3. How important play is, and how media gives children forms to play with.
I don't think that Gerard Jones said this explicitly, but based on what I read in Playful Parenting, play is vitally important to help children sort through their emotions.  Play is the best way and the most fun way and the easiest way.  Perhaps the most valuable thing that multimedia provides are paradigms that children seize upon and use in their own play.  He brings the example of his own five year old son fusing Power Rangers and Teletubbies to play through his desires for both power and nurturing.  I saw immediately how this related to Chana playing "Marth and Roy" when she was five with the neighbor's son for hours.  And how Elazar plays "Young Link" and his friend plays "Captain America."  I don't know what exactly they see in these characters, what themes of power and strength, but they take them and make them theirs and play with their conflicts and fears and desires.  In my opinion, although Gerard Jones doesn't say so, having children play using the characters they see is perhaps the most valuable aspect of watching media.
He does mention that comic books and movies and video games are really useful for preteens and teenagers, when it is no longer socially acceptable to play.  It gives them a forum where they can playfully and fictionally deal with these thoughts and conflicts.
He did talk about when teenagers get too entrenched in it and either I didn't understand it or he wasn't clear.  It does seem very important that adults be available to converse about it if the child wants, and to approach it from the standpoint of interest and not criticism.  We must understand that the media is speaking to the emotions and conflicts of the child in a profound way.  An example that he brought is how so many teenagers love Eminem.  They are so relieved that he is expressing their rage.  That they aren't alone in these overwhelming feelings.  That he isn't being hypocritical.  That he is real.
4. Parents are the ones who aren't distinguishing between reality and fantasy.
This was a really eye opening point.  Children use stories as a way to help them process their feelings.  They know the difference between hurting people in real life and hurting people on TV, and in case they don't, the first time they do so they are going to get a very quick lesson (Playful Parenting talks a lot about roughhousing and how it helps children learn appropriate force).  Children who have trouble with self control and aggression will do better if they can play appropriate games for these issues.  It is us parents who are concerned that because our child enjoys watching or playing killing that they might end up killing.  The child knows s/he is just engaging in fantasy.  Have some conversations with your child and you will see that s/he knows the difference.

Although I used to disapprove of many shows, movies, songs and other media that told stories with unhealthy or unrealistic messages, I have begun looking at them all with the question: What powerful feeling is this expressing, and what enjoyment is my child getting?  What fantasy is this child playing with, and how does it reflect a frustration, concern, or stress that s/he has in real life?  What does s/he LIKE about this?
Instead of threats to my children's optimal development, I now see expressions of struggles and conflicts.  I see paradigms for them to play with and explore.  I see meekness, power, sexuality, violence, fear, anger, love, and the full gamut of human emotion that our society tells children not to express and to control.  As long as civilization demands self control, there will be stories grappling with and expressing the lack of it.  And they will grip our thoughts and minds as we struggle.

one of the benefits of homeschool

Last night Elazar (age 6) and I got onto the subject of Rodef.  We were talking about hashavas aveida, the mitzva of returning a lost object.  I asked him what he thought about returning something his enemy lost.  He thought he wouldn't have to.  I said he actually does have to.  Elazar was surprised: "But if I return it, then my enemy will be able to kill me!"  Good point.  I explained I meant an enemy as someone he didn't like and didn't like him.  His idea of enemy is apparently somebody who is trying to kill you.  That got us onto rodef, and I explained that when someone is trying to kill you it's a mitzva to kill him first.  I knew he would love that and he did.  He sat there for a while, constructing various scenarios.  "Like if he is trying to kill me with a lightsaber, and I have a lightsaber, then I should go like this first" *SLASH*.  "Or if he has a sword"  "Or if he has a gun" "Or if he has a knife."  He was working them all out.  Then he asked what if the enemy doesn't have a weapon.  I said if he can't kill you, then you can't kill him first.  But then I throttled him to show that even bare handed people can kill.  He quite enjoyed that and then began scenarios of uneven weapons.

He really enjoyed this conversation and thinking about it and talking about it.  Afterwards I was thinking that if he were in school, he wouldn't really have the time to pursue those thoughts.  He'd be expected to follow along with the class.  At best he would be distracted and daydreaming.  At worst he would be criticized for it.  Part of the enjoyment of learning is really relating to it and imagining how it plays out.

With my girls, I always felt they would have been okay in school and homeschooling was just a personal choice.  In general I think that young children are not given enough play time or free time and have to sit too long.  But with Elazar it's more than a preference or lifestyle choice.  I'm so relieved that he's a happy little boy, pursuing his interests, being energetic, playing and learning, and not in a daily situation where there would be requirements and demands that would cause him intellectual and emotional anguish.  He has no idea what millions of six year old boys do every day, and what it would be like if he had to cope with it.

Every year he grows in maturity and self control.  If he ever decides to pursue mainstream education, I'm sure he will be capable of it.  And if not, he won't realize that it's something he's "supposed" to fit into.  He won't be frustrated and feel bad about himself because he finds sitting for hours and passively listening and being told what to think about and for how long incredibly boring.

Monday, December 23, 2013

bitul torah

I'll probably write more about this as the boys get older.  One thing that concerns me a little bit is the issue of "bitul zman."  I learned as a child that men basically have the obligation to be involved in Torah study all the time, every minute.  There are heterim to stop for a little so that you'll have the energy to keep learning, such as to eat, sleep, relax, etc.  Also you need to work to sustain yourself and your family.  (And work on relationships, and do chesed, and exercise, etc etc etc.)  But unless you particularly need to be doing something else at the moment, you have an obligation to learn Torah.

I kind of wondered a bit how unschooling fits into that ideal.  On one hand, young children are not emotionally capable of learning Torah for that amount of time.  Also, play is extremely important for their development.  Also, unschooling is a legitimate educational theory and therefore a child taking that route would be learning as is appropriate for his development.

I saw this quote today from the Zohar:

Zohar ( תיקוני זוהר תקונא עשרין וחד ועשרין דף ס עמוד א) says:

מצוה לאתעסקא באורייתא יומם ולילה הדא הוא דכתיב (יהושע א') והגית בו יומם ולילה וכי יכיל בר נש לאתעסקא באורייתא בכל יומי ולילי כל יומוי והא קודשא בריך הוא לית בא בטרוניא עם בריותיו אלא כל מאן דקרא קריאת שמע בכל יום ערב ובקר כאלו מקיים בו 
והגית בו יומם ולילה

Translation: "It is a mitzvah to be involved in Torah day and night, as it is stated, 'you shall contemplate it day and night' (Yehoshua 1:8). But is it possible for a human being to be involved in Torah all night and all day! אין הקב"ה בא בטרוניא עם בריותיו (Ha'Kadosh Baruch Hu doesn't conduct himself despotically with His creations!) - Rather, [this means] that anyone who reads krias shema every day, evening and morning, it is as if he fulfilled, 'you shall contemplate it day and night.'"

Growing up, I had learned that option (for some reason I thought it was part of halachic literature, like the Shulchan Aruch or something; if you know please leave a source in the comments.) It is interesting that there is both an ideal of being involved in Torah day and night, and also a minimal Halachic way to fulfill this obligation.

Friday, December 13, 2013

homeschooling is teaching me

Usually I don't prepare for chumash.  We just open the chumash and go.  Ever since the Mishkan, I've needed English.  6:23 completely stumped me and even the English didn't help me; I had to open R' Hirsch.

"All Chatas (korbanos) that are brought from its blood to the ohel moed to atone in the kodesh shall not be eaten; it shall be burnt in fire."

Wha???  Is it the korbanos that shouldn't be eaten?  Is the blood not allowed in?  (I admit I have not been paying attention to where each korban is shechted and where the blood is sprinkled or poured or what.)  Rashi (even English Artscroll Rashi) wasn't any help.

R' Hirsch explained that in 4:12 and 4:21, where the chatas of the leaders is described, the entire korban is burnt.  Usually with a chatas, a portion is burnt on the mizbeach and a portion is designated to the kohanim.  This signifies (according to R' Hirsch) that once the blood and fats are on the mizbeach, the spiritual nature and inner desires have found their right place before Hashem.  Then every self-seeking action, such as enjoying a good meal, is raised to a priestly degree.

However, when our leaders sin, the one who represents the Jew who has achieved this Ideal is lacking in the nation.  So there is nobody who can represent this lesson (of elevating our ordinary actions) to the kohen or sanhedrin.  So all of the meat of the Chatas that is not burnt on the mizbeach is NOT eaten by a kohen, but rather burnt outside the camp in a makom tahor.
Those are called Chataos Penimiyos, inner korbanos chatas.

What does this have to do with pasuk 23?

Apparently the other Chatas's, of regular people, have the blood spilled only on the outer (copper) mizbeach.  The Chatas of the leaders have the blood spilled in the outer mizbeach and sprinkled on the paroches (the curtain dividing the kodesh and the kodesh kodashim) and on the horns of the inner (gold) mizbeach.  (I missed this nuance when I was doing this with Chana.)

So.  Any blood of a regular Chatas that is brought inside (when it's supposed to only be outside on the outer, copper mizbeach) renders the Chatas korban not to be eaten (by the kohanim) and it should be burnt.

This is an odd detail to me.  It would seem like this is exactly the kind of thing that could be left to torah she-baal peh.

But at least I think I understand the basic meaning of the pasuk.

Friday, December 6, 2013

chazak vayikra

Instead of chazara, I insisted that Chana make some sort of document or table or graph.

We still have to do rashis.  We did about 37 rashis on this parsha.

Chana was rather opposed to the idea of doing any form of project, oaktag, pictures, graphs, tables or anything like that.

And I wanted her to have an overall sense of what was covered in the parsha.  So what I did was look at each paragraph in the Chumash and dictate the type of korban, who brings it, and what animal it is.  This is what she wrote (you can probably guess which parts I didn't dictate):

Olah: cattle male
Olah: sheep male (look at that! They are both male how interesting)
Olah: dove or baby dove

Mincha: fine flour, oil, Frankenstein (frankincense), fist full,
Mincha: baked in oven
Mincha: griddle
Mincha: deep dish

No chametz, no honey

Korban raishes (shavuos)
Rashi two breads and first fruits

Salt on every korban

Mincha becurim (rashi) mincha of the omar (barley)

Shlumim (peace offering) cattle male or female (:O?)
Shlumim sheep male or female

I think it’s time to stop

No eating fat or blood (ew who would?)

Chatas (sin offering)

The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog haha im not looking at the keyboard nanananana

Chatas cohen is cow son cow (duck?)
Chatas senhendren (old people :3) cow son cow (equal to cohen?)

Yes break! (thank you aharon)

Chatas president (nasi) male goat
Chatas regular person female goat
Chatas sheep female sheep (no one?)
Chatas witness or tomai or swears falsely female sheep or goat OR if you cannot afford it two doves or two baby doves (one chatas or one olah) ORRRRRR can’t afford THAT 1/10 of an afah (300something eggs (eggs?) ) fine flour no oil no Frankenstein (frankincense)

ASHAM (guilt offering) betray god accidently with kodesh ram, worth 2 silver shekel pay back it + 1/5
Asham mitsvos you should not do and didn’t realize.. uhh.. ram 2 silver shekel
Asham betrayed god, denied his friend, in a pledge, or giving a loan, or stealing, or fraudery, or found something and lied, or swore falsely (this is why we don’t swear we PROMISE), return + 1/5 RAM 2 silver shekel

Monday, December 2, 2013

vayikra project

1/10 of an eipha.  How much is an eipha, Chana would like to know.

I google it in English.  No results.  I google it in Hebrew.  Vikidictionary tells me an eipha is 3 se'as (se'im).  At this point I'm thinking I might have seen this in the Stone Chumash.  It's not.

I also remember a rashi that had all of these amounts, somewhere in Shmos.  Chana didn't process it because she was disliking math at that time.  Back to google.co.il

Vikipedia has a list of measurements, volumes and weights in halacha.  A se'ah is 6 kavim.  A kav is 4 lugim and a lug is 6 eggs.  And I heard of an egg.  So very roughly an eipha is 300 eggs (unless my arithmetic is off, totally possible, just let me know and I'll edit) and 1/10 of that is 30 egg-ish.

Naturally, Chana is not interested in the answer anymore.

Maybe tomorrow.


Something I've been thinking about (we are in shishi of Vayikra) is that I don't think that Chana is really getting all these different korbanos.  She's getting ok at translating, but seeing it as a whole, and seeing the different types of korbanos--I'm not sure how much she's getting the bigger picture.  So I was thinking about some sort of project.  Maybe drawing pictures of each category.  Maybe making a table or chart.

I suggested it to Chana and she was extremely against it.  She said she understands it all, and if she doesn't, she asks me.  But I don't think her being able to technically translate it actually means she understands it.

All of my suggestions sounded not fun and annoying to her.

Finally I suggested some type of game, maybe a matching game.  She was fairly amenable to that but I don't think she wants to do it--maybe she would be willing to play it if I would do it.  I really want to think of some type of enjoyable activity that would help her process the information and categorize it.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Sfasenu Dalet

Chana is on pg 76 out of 94 of the 4th grade Sfasenu.  I am less and less satisfied.
There are 2 strengths in this series.

  • simple to understand stories that have nice Jewish themes
  • intuitive exercises that increase grammar understanding
Suddenly, though, I'm finding these stories have whole swathes of vocabulary that Chana doesn't understand.  

I think I may have mentioned this already.

I was planning to head over to עברית שיטתית after this.  I have one from my sister, though I remember there being a blue, red, and purple one and think the blue one is the most basic and I'm not sure if that's the one I have or not.  I'll have to dig around and see what I can find.  We have another month of this anyway.  Assuming we remember to keep doing it.  I forgot that we were working on her writing longer stories.  There are so many skills I want to work on with her!
  • reading comprehension
  • writing stories or essays
  • basic grammar like masculine/feminine, singular/plural
  • spelling...
My main focus is really reading comp and writing.  I'd love speaking, too.  But I'm not so worried about that, since when we were in Israel, at the end of 2 weeks, she was beginning to want to speak.  If she were ever to spend any length of time there, I think it would come easily enough.  

I used to worry a lot about when I would see children my kids' age who were reading and writing and doing all sorts of things that my kids couldn't or didn't do at that age.  Now that Elazar is in first grade, I'm beginning to see it again.  The children who write such beautiful lower case letters (I mostly see that in little girls).  The children who can read.  The children who know so much davening.  I am mostly beyond that nervousness and insecurity, though I do get a little jolt of "kids that age can do that?!" kind of the way I used to feel when I saw 2 and 3 year-olds identifying letters.  

But I just remind myself that in 7th grade, with some focus, they can easily learn the skills they need to know.


I don't know much about memes, but Chana suggested this one today:

Sunday, November 24, 2013

al pi darko

Would an ADHD kid sit and do a puzzle from 8:20-9:03pm?  43 minutes.

Aleph Bina: unschooling Hebrew reading

Shabbos morning Elazar climbed into my bed holding his Chumash.  I guided him through the word "sefer" in Hebrew.  When he realized what he read, he said, "Hey! It says "book" in YOUR language!"  It seems he just realized that all the stuff he was doing with the aleph beis that would help him read the Torah was actually also the language I've been speaking to him in.  He was pretty excited.  He decided he wanted to learn all the nekudos.  He ran to get a flip card aleph beis book that someone gave us, that has the nekudos in a little bag.  We went through those.  Then he wanted more, so we scoured the house for the aleph bina.

We seem to have acquired an array of aleph beis paraphernalia.  I myself bought 3 puzzles that are used with medium to rare frequency, depending.  (I'll admit I hid them a lot because these days it's more that they are dumped than that they are being used).  My grandmother got them flash cards, I printed out something like this and hung it in a random high foot traffic area.

They got these aleph beis flip books that they adore and have sadly ripped apart one of, but they still play with it.  A fellow homeschooler gave us a cloth book and they drag it to me constantly and asked to be quizzed.

On Shabbos morning, casually, in under an hour, Elazar blitzed through all the nekudos.  He did each page until he got them all correct.  I don't know how much he will retain.  But I'll find out next time he brings me the book.

This reminds me of an article that a fellow homeschooler posted last week which I keep thinking about.  It talks about the debate between whole word reading and phonics (We did phonics when I was a kid, and when I started teaching, whole word reading was in, and they've since gone back to phonics).  When I taught Sarah, before I started unschooling, I used phonics.  The question: Why is it that all readers who are allowed to learn to read at their choice, use whole word reading?  But phonics is shown to be more efficient in the classroom?  Another question: Why is it that in the classroom, teaching reading takes 3 years to achieve proficiency, but children who learn on their own, although the age range varies from 3 ("precocious readers") to 11, learn quite quickly (in weeks or months).

**warning: quote of extremist rhetoric*** but I keep thinking about it:
While children out of school learn what and because they want to, children in school must learn or go through the motions of learning what the teacher wants them to learn in the way the teacher wants them to do it.  The result is slow, tedious, shallow learning that is about procedure, not meaning, regardless of the teacher’s intent.
The classroom is all about training.  Training is the process of getting reluctant organisms to do or learn what the trainer wants them to do or learn.  Under those conditions, methods that focus on the mechanical processes underlying reading—the conversion of sights to sounds—work better than methods that attempt to promote reading through meaning..

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

resumption of sfatenu: Filling in Gaps

So, if you are a casual homeschooler who leans towards unschooling, you might wake up one day and realize you completely forgot that your 7th grader had agreed to work on her Ivrit and you haven't been doing anything like that for 5 months.  You haven't done reading, writing, speaking, Sfasenu...


So I handed Chana the book this morning.  With juggling rashis on top of Chumash, and now adding in serious math so she can be prepared for high school, and now Ivrit, that's a decent amount of work per day.

She needed my help reading the story.  (She's towards the end of the 4th grade book.  I would consider Ivrit one of the weaker parts of my homeschool.)  Part of it is just that she needs to read it out loud, and once she did that, she understood a lot more.  But the story is a bit tough.

One of the things I really like about homeschooling is probably something that gives new homeschoolers a lot of anxiety.  I've been homeschooling for 15 years now, and even though periodically I wake up and realize I have dropped the ball on a particular subject or skill, it's really so very easy to just pick it up and incorporate it into the daily schedule and cover what needs to be covered, quickly and efficiently, in just a few months.  That's why I don't really stress about writing skills or Ivrit (or math etc.).  A few months of intensive focus with an older, motivated child can really fill in any gaps.  In fact, I've stopped calling them "gaps" and started thinking of it as "learning when there is motivation and efficiency."

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

In an ideal world...

Chana's been blitzing through the fractions on mathtv.com.  Yesterday, when she was doing some of the mechanics I realized that she doesn't quite grasp some of the concepts.  She doesn't intuitively realize that when reducing fractions, the larger number fraction is the exact same amount as the fraction with the smaller numbers.  When simplifying improper fractions, she doesn't realize intuitively (or even explicitly) that she is dealing with the same amount in two different forms.  In an ideal world, she would understand this...

Then I realized that in many ways, Chana is in an ideal world.

She has one-on-one instruction exactly geared to her level and her understanding.

She goes as slowly or quickly as necessary.

When things were too complex for her brain, she had the luxury of taking a break for a while until her brain could comprehend the concepts.  And she now has the extravagance of efficiently and speedily working through it after years of a more relaxed approach.

She participates in her learning and is given the space to think things through and figure things out, instead of doing it the way it's "supposed" to be taught.

She has the freedom to stay longer on concepts and problems that are difficult, and to go more quickly through topics that are easier for her.

"Don't be a chazer!" I said to myself.  In so many ways, homeschooling has given us the remarkable luxury of an ideal educational world.

But then I think to myself that in homeschool, I can be a "chazer."  If I want something different, then it is in my power to do something about it.

Truthfully, though, like Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid, sometimes it's best to just have the student practice the moves until they are fluid, and then understanding comes later.

Different discipline possibilities

Jack, my 3yo, spilled out Elazar's crate of clothes.  (Yes, his clothing is in crates.  That's probably a different blog post but I'll just say that from ages 3-7 I've often found that my kids use a "dive in and toss out all clothes until I find what I want" method and it's been easier to just keep everything in crates and toss them back in afterwards.)  Why did Jack spill it out?  It's irrelevant (he wanted to climb onto something so he used it as a step stool).  And that wasn't high enough.  So he dumped out the laundry hamper.  And now I want him to clean up.  And before he cleans up the hamper, he should clean up the crate.

I've learned a few disciplinary tactics over the years.  One of them is:
Children should clean up their own messes.  Once a child has to clean up a big mess all by himself, he doesn't make that mess again.

Whether or not that is actually 100% true, it does make good sense to me.  If the child makes the mess and is physically capable of cleaning it, then he should do so.  I do him no favors by allowing him to make messes that I clean up.  He spills (let's say on purpose) and I say, "Hey, don't do that!" and then I wipe it up.  What am I teaching him?  I'm teaching him that he spills, I don't like it, and I clean up.  If he spills and I hand him something and he cleans up, he may not learn not to do it in the future, but at least I'm not teaching him that there are no consequences.

So I told Jack to clean up the clothing and put it back into the crate.  He began to cry, "Help me, help me."

Ordinarily, in the past, I would have been kind but firm.  You made the mess, you clean it.  I will stand here and you will clean it up.  This seems to me to make good sense and teaches the child to be responsible.

A tactic I didn't even think of this morning, but am only thinking of now, as I write this, is Playful Parenting.
Make a playful way for the child to clean it up, such as a race, a game..something that elicits giggles and gets the child enthused about it.

People are often reluctant to do this because they feel that the child has to learn.  And the child will not be responsible if you make things fun.

(This is actually a fallacy and there are plenty of opportunities to teach responsibility and we don't have to worry about making chores fun causing a long term problem.  In fact, this gives them a valuable technique for doing things they are reluctant to do in life.)

This morning, I was about to stand there and firmly insist that Jack put the clothes away himself, when I realized that I had been parenting differently for the last few years.  I read this article about unschooling chores and housework a while back and it really had a profound impact on my attitude.

It's more of a shift in the parent's attitude than the kids at first. If a person appears grumpy about cleaning, the kids will pick up on that and immediately assume that cleaning is a real bummer. If you hear yourself complaining about something needing cleaned, everyone else hears the complaining too. If YOU obviously don't want to do it, there's a good chance that your kids won't be overly excited about it either. Complaining leaves a bad vibe in the air—not a good selling point.
he is now much more likely to help out and to do things spontaneously because he sees us helping each other, doing things that need doing simply because they need doing, not because it's "my turn" or "my job"— we don't have assigned jobs, whoever is able and available does what needs doing. 
I've really gotten into the mode of doing things this way.  When I am cleaning up and it feels overwhelming, I will ask my family for help.  They've become used to cleaning up messes that they didn't make, and it's been very pleasant to be able to ask for help and get help.

When Jack said, "Help me, help me," I suddenly realized that our home atmosphere has been that we ask for help cleaning when we need it.  Which then contradicted the method of having him do it himself because it is his responsibility because he spilled it.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Proposal: Special Ed program for "active" children

Some students, particularly boys, have difficulty sitting and doing work in the current school climate.  This is a proposal for a classroom setup and curriculum for active children who would otherwise require a shadow or medication, and who might be able to thrive in a modified educational environment.

There are different academic stages.  Early Elementary, Late Elementary, Early High School and Late High School.  A major premise would be that more play and activity in earlier years will make it easier for these active children to focus academically in later years.

We will discuss classroom setup, recess and activity level, academic expectations and goals, and special concerns.

Early Elementary (kindergarten - Grade 3)

classroom setup
Imagine trying to walk a group of active students to the lunchroom, when all of these students have a tendency to wander off or dash away.  A ratio of 3 active children to 1 adult will be manageable, but will still leave the adult feeling somewhat frazzled on a tough day.

The classroom should have space for the students to move around a lot.  Having a classroom set up like a preschool room would be ideal for active children all the way to 3rd grade.  The toys can be geared for older children and educational: small legos, gears, tangrams, magnets, construx, pipeworks.  There are numerous toys that will give active students opportunities to learn kinesthetically and interact with their environment in an educational manner.

The library corner and choices of books are very important.  Books about science, animals, body systems, maps, atlases, aleph beis, parsha, navi, etc can be provided with detailed pictures.  Active children often spend hours poring over these books and learn tremendous amounts when they have the freedom of movement and the choice to walk away and to pick them up when they want.

Auditory learners will do well with a selection of songs or stories about the aleph beis, davening, parsha, and other Torah subjects.

Charts and posters are also very useful.  Active children will often spend time looking at what is hanging on the walls and asking questions about them.  Make sure they are laminated so that they can withstand being touched by these active learners.

An arts and crafts section with scissors, markers, pencils, tapes and glue will also provide many opportunities for active learners to be creative.

Make sure there is a lot of space in the classroom for these children to move around.

recess and activity level
The children should be able to play outside or on some type of climbing structure or in an area where they can run around for a half hour in the morning, a half hour at lunchtime, and a half hour in the afternoon.

As mentioned above, the classroom should also be set up so that there is space for active children to move around.  Being able to move around sufficiently will more than halve discipline issues.

academic expectations and goals
In the early elementary grades, active children should primarily be allowed to play.  Activities and games that are holiday themed or parsha themed can be offered to create a Torah environment.  The skills most focused on should be basic reading and writing in Hebrew and English, and basic arithmetic.

All writing and sitting down work should not be for more than 10 minutes.  If you don't expect active children to sit and listen for over 10 minutes, and they are allowed to play or move around, they function much better.

What if an active child was allowed to play and move around when he is younger?  What if even a 3rd grade active child was not expected to sit and passively listen for more than 10 minutes at a time unless s/he chooses to?  What if he didn't get burnt out, didn't have discipline issues, and continued to love and enjoy learning?  What would he be able to do in the later grades, when he has greater self control and greater abstract ability?

The goal in the younger grades would be to be in a Jewish environment and learn basic and minimal academic skills, with an emphasis on being able to touch things, ask questions, interact physically with their environment, and function as a Jew.

special concerns
How will the active child learn self control and discipline?
Demanding more than the active child is capable of does not increase self control, it increases frustration, anxiety, negative self-esteem and stress.  Many children who are not subject to years of negativity because of their inability to function in a constraining environment will find it much easier to focus and control themselves when they are in the later elementary and early high school years.
Will the active child fall behind if he plays so much and doesn't focus on academics?
No.  It is possible that expanding his mind in a more hands-on way and being respectful to his need for movement will enable him to think more creatively as he grows older.  Bear in mind that many of these children struggle academically in their current environments and are not gaining the academic achievement that they are capable of.
How will the active child learn sufficient davening, Ivrit, mathematics, and Torah skills?
I would suggest an evaluation in 5th grade and another evaluation in 7th grade to see which areas need more intensive focus.  You will be surprised to find a. the child will not be as behind as you might imagine and b. the child will be much more willing to help himself close these gaps than you imagine.

This is what I have so far.  Comments and suggestions welcome.

Special Ed for "active" children

I was talking to my brother.  He has an active 4yo.  He himself had some trouble in school back in the day, 25-30 years ago, when it was suggested that he be placed on medication so he could concentrate.  This is well before the current trend of medicating.

Let's put it this way.  If he were in my homeschool, I'd want him to have a shadow.

So I said to my brother that what I think would be ideal for my nephew would be to get another 2 or 3 active boys whose parents don't want them on meds, hire a teacher, set up your basement, and have him at school that way.

My brother, ever more community minded, said he'd prefer to have the school separate out a few kids, put them in their own classroom, have their own curriculum, and that way all the resources of the school--gym, playground, computers, etc. will be available to them.
As a homeschooler, I tend to think personally, not globally.  I'm not in the habit of thinking about sweeping reforms for education.  If I want something different educationally, I take care of it myself.

But I've spoken to many people over the years who need Special Ed, not because of learning difficulties, but because of their inability to function in the classroom.  I've seen it mentioned over and over again particularly regarding boys, though there are definitely girls that encounter this problem, too.

I read an article by Rabbi Kelemen in Jewish Action:
Frum inflation” is also a factor. Our kids can’t keep up with the rising emotional and physical tolls of being an outstanding Orthodox Jew. While young boys during the times of the Mishnah weren’t expected to start learning Talmud until age fifteen, today we demand that of children under ten who can’t possibly fathom what they are learning. The length and intensity of the school day is unprecedented and torturous, and those children who can’t sit still and concentrate through classes from morning until night are left behind or encouraged to take stimulant medications to help them become more “healthy.” In certain segments of the Orthodox world, playing ball is often discouraged, and team sports are virtually nonexistent.

(The bolding is mine.)  I don't actually think the length and intensity of the school day is unprecedented (though I do think it is torturous).  I'm pretty sure the Rambam quotes the gemara of those little boys who started at age 6 or 7 and sat all day in tinokos shel beis raban.  I'm also pretty sure corporal punishment was used, though the Rambam brings down that you should use laces, not whips.

In no way am I bringing the following video to criticize Chazal.
I would suggest, though, that sitting for that long without either corporal punishment or medication is going to be difficult for many children in our society.  Which leads me to thinking about a Special Ed program that can be implemented in schools designed for active children like my nephew.  I'm going to work out a rudimentary proposal.

Friday, November 15, 2013

back to rashi

So today we sat down to do the rest of the first paragraph and a bunch of rashis.  Ordinarily, on a short Friday I would skip chumash altogether except for what Chana can do independently, and we'd probably do it motzei Shabbos.  But in a rare situation where Aharon is napping and Jack has strep and Elazar is showering for shabbos, we have a trifecta of calm to work on Chumash.

However, Chana is having none of it.  After our rashi break I'm dragging her back kicking and screaming.  And to add insult to injury, we are resuming with a Chumash without nekudos in Rashi.  If I was on the fence yesterday, I am more determined today.  She is in 7th grade and it is time to practice reading rashi without nekudos.

So she crabbed and kvetched and complained and was generally in a bad mood.  I must emphasize that in a bad mood without hormones is a completely different experience than a bad mood under the influence of hormones.  Even though she was annoyed and whining and complaining, when I said, "Come on, Chana, let's get going" she said, "I'm in the middle of a tantrum" and laughed.  And it wasn't even very intense.
That is not to say it was pleasant.  Basically, Chana has always been upset when we start something new (training her to get a spoon herself for her breakfast cereal when she was 4 took at least 2 weeks of screaming) and her nature is to be crabby until she adjusts to the new reality.  My job is to be patient and show her that even though her feelings are screaming at her that she can't do it, she can and she will.  Despite the pressure, my job is to firmly but nicely insist on her doing it.

In my opinion, her ability was decent and she read a lot of it correctly.  I think she's ready to do it without vowels and although I would have liked her to read it correctly one more time after I read it to her, she refused and I didn't push it.  We did 5 pretty small rashis.  I lost track of how long it took.  And she didn't do more than 4 pesukim.  But they had a number of new and unfamiliar words.

I think it would have gone better if she wouldn't have talked herself into being so negative about it.  But maybe she just needs to adjust.  We'll see how next time goes.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

So how is Vayikra going?

Today is Thursday, which means we go to Parkour, and we usually do Chumash in the car on the way over.  It's about a 20 minute drive.  I was surprised that Chana brought the Chumash, since she doesn't really like to do new pesukim while I'm driving and can't really look at the pesukim.  It goes like:

Chana: mumblemumblemumble
Me: What?  Can you read it again?
Chana: vayakmumblemumble
Me: What? I can't understand you
Chana: somethingIDon'tUnderstand
Me: I don't think that's a word.  Are you sure you have the nekudos right?
Chana: Never mind!
Me: But how can you translate it?
Chana slams the Chumash shut.

Anyway, today she muttered a bit about the spacing.  I said I thought maybe now that she's older it won't bother her that much.  She muttered some more and then did 5 pesukim.  She had planned on doing until the first parsha setuma, which is 4 more pesukim.  They had enough unfamiliar words that she wanted to wait to do it when we were sitting next to each other.

Lots of things happened today, and now Chana is at a bat mitzva from someone she met in sleepaway camp, and so we won't be doing any more work this evening.  Haha, in our homeschool she works in the evening so she's "missing a day of school" to go to a party.

There are a number of fascinating rashis on the first pasuk that I am completely unfamiliar with.  They are a bit complicated so I'm picking out phrases and underlining them so she doesn't have too much difficulty with them.

And I can't believe I have never seen these rashis!  And then I realized: When did I even learn Vayikra in high school?  I didn't.  I'm not sure how much we did in elementary school, either.  I know the high school trends have changed and I think more schools are covering it now.  But this is new to me!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

chazak chazak v'nischazek!

Chana finished Shmos.  I fished out Sarah's Vayikra.  Chana prefers a different version, with wider spaced words and the rashi with nekudos.  But I only have the classic version, so we will start with that and see how much she complains.  Maybe now that she is older she will find it less overwhelming; maybe she's artistic and her aesthetic sense is offended and she is sensitive to layout and learns better with a different sefer.

We like to give a gift for finishing the sefer.  Sarah's 5 gifts were:
Bereshis: jewelry
Shmos: camera
Vayikra: (we can't remember! maybe a new DS?)
Bamidbar: cell phone
Devarim: laptop

Chana got a laptop for Bereshis.  True, we were starting at the top.  But Chana is a very serious animator and needed it for her work.  I asked her what she wants for Shmos.  She didn't want to go out to eat, because that doesn't last.  I was trying to decide... a dress?  Jewelry?  She said she doesn't really want anything.

Then I had a brainstorm.  She has been asking for Japanese language software recently.  So I think that will be her siyum present.

way of practicing ivrit conversation with older kids

Whew, I must have been wiped out last night!  I came down and last night's blog post was accidentally still unpublished.

I read Orthodox Jewish educational message boards like Lookjed.

This is from mifgashim.  It's the kind of idea that I think is terrific, but I probably won't do because I'm a lazy unschooler.  But if my kids ever told me they wanted to beef up their Ivrit speaking skills, this is exactly the way I would create the lesson for them.

 Increasing Hebrew conversation time in class

I've found a very easy idea for bringing conversational Hebrew into a classroom. The goal here is to create a natural and authentic experience of Hebrew conversation. I have a class of 11th and 12th graders in our evening program, but this would work well in a day school, too.
I begin with a list of conversation starters. You can get them from many sources: on line, board and card games, or, as I do, from an app called Table Topics. I've divided the class into groups of 5-6 students and posted a listed of group leaders and the questions for the two coming months.
This week's question was, What is more important, justice or mercy? Next week we will ask, Is your cup half full or half empty?
The leaders are responsible, not only for introducing the question, but for keeping the conversation moving through follow-up and probing questions. Each student has a slip of paper to give him/herself a grade. (I don't take those grades too seriously, but they do insure that students participate well.)
I do NOT participate or even sit with the students; I want the conversations to be natural and unmonitored. They usually last about 30 minutes. From across the room I can see that students are intensely engaged, laughing, arguing, looking surprised, telling interesting stories, interrupting each other, more concerned about communicating than about learning Hebrew — which is exactly what I want. The leaders and participants are highly motivated, and the students are very excited about the activities each week. 
This part of the lesson is also very easy for a busy teacher to prepare. 
Yosi Gordon

Basically, from what I understand, we would choose an interesting conversation starter.  I think I would also write up a bunch of phrases on cards or on a paper that have to do with the topic or the main vocabulary words that have to do with the topic, so that the students can glance at them when they get stuck on a word or phrase.

This is the kind of lesson plan that has me daydreaming of going to my high school principal and asking to teach an Ivrit class, to see if a semester of conversational starters like this get the students more comfortable with speaking Hebrew.  Then I think to myself that, hey, I homeschool, I can do this with my kids.  But that takes a lot of preparation and I tend to be more fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants type of homeschooler.  But if any of you are more the type who prepare lessons, let me know how this works!


Night learning with Jack (almost 4) and Elazar (6).  I sat down to read them a book and opened an aleph-beis book.  Jack and I sang it together.  Jack didn't know aleph, despite us going over it many times in the past.  While I was trying to read, Elazar was breaking a pencil.  I have asked him many times not to break things.  He said we didn't really need this pencil.  Jack didn't see him actually break it, so he got another pencil (one that nobody uses, he said) and spent some time trying to break it--with his hand, with the bed, and finally he succeeding with the knob of the dresser.  I was beginning to feel a little irritated because I usually try to teach something at this time.  And then I realized that Elazar and Jack were learning.  They weren't learning what I was interested in putting into their minds.  But they were extremely interested in learning exactly how much force and what type will break a pencil.  It got me thinking of how Adam was told "v'Kivshu'ha": go forth and conquer [Earth].  And how all humans, but especially boy humans, really prefer to learn by making some sort of impact on their environment and seeing what happens.  Why am I fighting their design?

Elazar then moved on to sharpening his pencil.  Then he spent a while writing.  He's making a list of things he wants to buy.  It had: TOOLS, CEMENT, GRAHAM CRACKERS.  Tonight he added MARSHMALLOWS, CHOCOLATE BARS.  He remarked how his S has greatly improved.  It's true.  His writing is looking pretty good.  He only writes at his own initiative.  When he wrote the CH, Jackie, who was lying on his stomach in bed watching him write, said, "Is that an aleph?"  It does look a little bit like a script aleph C l.  A bit out of order.  Jack had insisted on writing alephs a few times when Elazar wanted to, and I guess he does know what it looks like.  In script.

During snuggle, Elazar was thinking about Minecraft, so I told him the mitzva of not cutting down a fruit tree.  And about orla.  He thought orla was strange, but isn't abstract enough yet to ask more specific questions.

Chana and I did mathtv.com last night.  We went through the first unit on fractions.  We only used the video if I couldn't explain it in a way that Chana understood.  They have a few different people explaining the same problems.  We already have our favorite teachers.  The videos are often under a minute long.  Perfect.  Chana was actually looking forward to doing it tonight.  In Chumash, she breezed through chamishi so quickly this afternoon, I had her sit down and do shishi tonight.  She complained, but finished it in about 5 minutes.  Hoping for Chazak Chazak V'nischazek for tomorrow...

But it's just about 9pm and we still have to do math tonight.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

night time learning dry bones and vampires

Chanoch L'na'ar Al Pi Darko

Elazar is very interested in Super Mario Bros.  He spends a lot of time playing it on game cube, on the computer, and watching videos of people playing it.  Today he printed out a picture of Dry Bones to color and hung it on his ceiling (he has a bunk bed).

So tonight I told him about the Navi Yechezkal, and the prophecy of the dry bones.  He was talking about Dry Bones, and I said I would tell him about dry bones in the Torah.  He could not believe it was in the Torah.  I told him about it.  He was mildly disappointed the skeletons were human form and not turtle form, but overall he loved it.

Then he asked if there were vampires in the Torah.  And I told him about the prohibition of eating blood.


Chana suggested to me that perhaps she wouldn't be so bad tempered if I sometimes spoke to her about something other than her responsibilities.  I realized how true it is, that she does her own thing, and I'm busy with the littles, and I only speak to her to have her sit down to do work or do chores or something.

Over the last few days I struggled with this, and realized just how infrequently I'd been emotionally, physically, and conversationally connecting with her.  As per Dr. Neufeld, discipline issues were coming up because of our lack of connectivity.

I made a number of efforts over Shabbos.  Motzei Shabbos, when the littles were in bed and Sarah was out, we invited Chana to watch a movie with us.

This morning, Chana came downstairs and one of the first things that came out of my mouth was an aggressive joke.  Chana didn't explode, but she did calmly say that she didn't think that was very nice.  I agreed with her (I guess that my unconscious is simmering from our conflict over the last week).  After she davened, she pulled out the Chumash to do chazara.  I asked if she wanted me to sit next to her to give her word definitions, and she said yes.  Since I wasn't expecting to do Chumash Sunday morning first thing, I had no expectations, and it was pleasant when she took breaks to chat about various things.  She got up to shlishi, and I said it was about the kohen gadol's me'il, and she remembered an argument we had about that translation in the car going to visit my parents.  It seems that some parts of Chumash are forever going to be intertwined with highlights of conflicts that she and I had.  It seems that in our homeschool, adolescent females and their mom engage passionately with each other using the medium of Torah, since that is mostly the time we talk to each other.  I hope there are good memories as well.

They finished building and making everything for the mishkan by the end of shlishi, and Chana was a little dismayed, since she had been planning on breezing through it because she was familiar with the keilim et. al.  I'll let her discover that the rest of it is setting up everything (at least, that's what it looked like when I glanced ahead).  She plans to finish on Thursday.  I'm looking forward to Vayikra.  I think I may need to prepare a bit, to use some charts or diagrams to keep the different korbanos straight.  I also remember Tazria-Metzora being tough.  But I'm looking forward to the review.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Math decisions

And the third thing that's on my mind is math.  I am still not sure what to do about Chana's math.  We've been making very decent progress on positive and negative integers, and manipulating decimals.  I started combining them to make sure she knows them.  Now I think it's time to revisit fractions (last night's problems were very simple positive and negative fractions).  Then we just have percents and ratios and order of operations.  I've been thinking maybe I should just start algebra.  Take it slowly, keep it fun, and we'll have a year and a half, which is enough time to do it leisurely.
Although I wanted to truly unschool math, I also want her to be ok in school.  Unschooling was fantastic from 4-6th grade, and I don't think she suffered a bit for it and she's quickly picking everything up now.  I'm sure we could chill out and I could put her in the lower math in school, and she'd learn algebra in 9th grade.  But I'm an overachiever (one of the reasons I don't have my kids in school, because I didn't want them involved with the pressures of school) and I want Chana to have the option of the higher math class if she's capable.  And since she seems willing to sit and do the math, and we have time so it won't be pressured, why not?

But what math?  Now I'm beginning to have some more empathy for all you homeschoolers stressing about what curriculum to use.  I don't use curricula.  We just start at the beginning and keep going.  I was planning to use a math curriculum and Chana responds better to my lessons and my math problems than to a book.  And when I can write my own math problems, I can set them up to work on precisely the skill that I want her to work on.  Yep, I'm a control freak like that.  That's why I homeschool.

But for algebra, I would like to be methodical.  Sarah's algebra wasn't great.  I had a fantastic book but Sarah really needed at least a year and a half to cover it thoroughly, and she wanted to take the Regents, and by January we switched to working straight from the Barron's Regents book, teaching to the test and in my opinion not really grasping algebra.  I adore algebra, and it was not fun.  Sarah did ok on the Regents and was placed in honors math in high school, and ended up very mathematically inclined and is taking a lot of Math courses in college.  But I'd really like Chana's algebra experience to be more enjoyable, especially as math became so uncomfortable we ended up taking a break from official math for a few years.

So I put a call out to the homeschooling community, and they are terrific.  I got 5 suggestions:

Math U See
Life of Fred
and just now I got an email suggesting a combo of
Spectrum and Singapore

systemath and Lial were not from the SOS I sent out; they were from online reviews of Math U See.

Here is what I learned.  Some of the math curricula are hundreds of dollars.  Some people love them; for some kids, it's not great.  I might get lucky and hit the jackpot, or I might need to go through a few different hundreds of dollars curricula until I find what clicks.

There are curricula with manipulatives.  There are curricula that are largely self teaching.  For the mathematically inclined and those who are not.  etc. etc.

Oh how my heart yearns for unschooling!

But it is part of unschooling to teach your child when she requests it.  And when she requests to be prepared to enter high school, I have to figure out the best way to teach her.

So I knocked off all things that cost more than $25.  Some of them really called to me.  Systemath looked so nice and like the lessons were clearly laid out and it got great reviews... No.  I will not spend hundreds of dollars on algebra.

The Lial textbook was so highly rated and when I went to amazon and found it used for a dollar plus 3.99 shipping, I almost bought it immediately until I remembered I don't want to clutter my house with things I may or may not use.  Basically, it's the math textbook that community colleges use for remedial math, to teach basic math to one semester all the kids who haven't learned math in school (can someone say "unschooled"? Sounds like a great deal to me! Play and explore your interests and then learn twelve years of math in 4 months!!!).  People online mentioned they were going to continue using it for algebra.  I sent some links to my Mom's friend who is a math teacher.  She gave me great guidance for Sarah's math curriculum.  She wanted to look inside the book, and I ended up finding a free download of the book.  Whew.  Glad I didn't end up buying it.  Just saved myself four dollars and some space.   So that is one possibility.

The other possibility is mathtv.com.  I'm not sure if I will register and become a member (that costs $25 for 6 months and you get unlimited access to their textbooks).  It appears that the videos are free.  I watched one yesterday.  It was under a minute and clear.  I'm thinking this might be the way to go.  Chana, as a rule, does not like videos.  Me neither.  But maybe we'll try these, since they looked so quick, clear, and systematic.  And then I will use the internet's handy dandy worksheet generators to make problems.  Or else I'll make them up.

So I'm thinking about Lial or mathtv.  And I'm wondering if I should use mathtv to be a little structured about the fractions and decimals and factoring.  Maybe she'll understand it better.  So maybe this week we'll try out a few videos and see if we like it.

Musings and bedtime Torah

I've got a lot going on in my own mind, which means I'm taking a few days to figure things out and the kids are playing and doing whatever.

First, my schedule is so busy that last night I told Chana to do Chumash with her father.  I think she finished rishon of Pekudei.  I don't know about Chana, but I am definitely getting better at the vocab of the Mishkan.

Second, I've been lax with Elazar.  He's perfectly happy to learn Torah at bedtime, and I fell out of the habit of taking advantage of that.  His Chumash is in a room he doesn't go into very often.  I'm sure if I left it in his room, he would bring it to me more often to learn for 5 minutes.  Two nights ago I decided to talk to him about the 10 dibros.

Interestingly, even without going to preschool, he somehow through osmosis has the idea that "being nice" is a mitzva (that's kind of a pet peeve of mine).  I already told him, earlier in the week, when he asked me to tell him about the mitzva of bikur cholim, that it's a sub-mitzva of "v'ahavta l'reacha kamocha."  I explained that means to love other Jews like you love yourself.  He said there are some people he doesn't love because they are mean.

With the 10 dibros, he was surprised at the concept of the "lav," that a "don't do" is a mitzva.  Don't kill, don't steal...  He was sure that being nice would be one of the 10 dibros.  He was kind of chagrined about "don't steal" and this morning he actually went and returned some tools to a garden a few houses away which he apparently had ransacked.

Last night he was thinking a lot about spitting (he had a phase in the last few months where every time he was unconsciously angry, he would spit, and eventually it evolved into a spit without actual saliva just the noise (yay) and it slowed down, but of course, by then his 2 brothers have imitated it..).  I told him there is a mitzva about spitting.  He was positive the mitzva was "don't spit on people" or "apologize after you spit on someone."  I told him about chalitza.  He's in first grade now, and he's pretty conceptual.

Monday, November 4, 2013


Tonight was one of those nights that people are talking about when they say, "I could never homeschool my kids!"

My daughter is preteen.  It's been building up for a few days, the bad mood, the surliness, the crying at the drop of a hat, the fury at anything and everything, most especially her mother.  Tonight, some of the things she said had me mentally filing them to share with my sister and another friend with a preteen daughter, for example: "Don't say 'Good'!  I can't stand it when you say that!!" and "Don't tell me to reread it!  I was going to reread it" after she deliberately mumbled a phrase and she hadn't reread the last phrase she deliberately mumbled last time without prodding.  etc etc.

The line from the Princess Bride kept going through my mind:  Never go against a Sicilian when death is on the line!  Hahahahahahaha.. until he keels over.
But I substituted: Never do Chumash with a preteen daughter when she is hormonal! Hahahahahahaha.. and then I keel over.

Last week I felt we were speaking too sharply to each other.  This mostly comes up during Chumash because we (thankfully) aren't in much conflict at other times during the day.  I told her on Shabbos that I felt like I wanted to try to react better.  Most of our conflicts last week ended up like this:
Me: Stop screaming.
Her: I should stop screaming?! You're the one screaming!
Me: I'm only screaming because you screamed at me first!
Her: I didn't scream first! You're the one who screamed first!

I figured that since we always end up arguing over who started screaming first, maybe I should just try to control my powerful negative reaction when I *perceive* that I'm being screamed at, and maybe if I'm nicer, we won't explode.  I shared that with her on Shabbos, and she appreciated it.

This evening, every time her tone got obnoxious, I reminded myself inside my head that I was going to be pleasant when she was obnoxious.  I think I did this 6 or 7 times.  (At one point, I said to her, "You are screaming at me."  And she said, "I'm not screaming.  I think you think screaming is louder than I think it is."  And I was thinking at the exact moment she then said: "Actually, you think my screaming is louder than I think it is, and I think your screaming is louder than you think it is.  So we actually both think screaming is exactly equal, but reversed."  Yes!!! A moment of rare accord.)

Also, I decided to do a rashi tonight.  She asked why she has to do rashi.  I asked her to tell me.  Seeing as we have this conversation every time I ask her to do rashi.  She shrieked said, "I don't know! That's why I asked the question! Why would I ask a question unless I want you to answer it!"  Then I said I want her to learn to read and understand rashi.  And she shrieked said she already knows how to read rashi.  And I said she needs to learn how to understand rashi.  (Never mind that she didn't know the samech from the mem sofis and when I mentioned that, she shrieked said, "I forgot! I'm allowed to forget!" Yes, you are allowed to forget, but not if you insist that you don't need practice because you are already great at it.)  Then she pitched a fit objected that I was asking her to translate too much.

I think she did a pretty decent job translating.  I'm still a little disturbed that we are using rashi with nekudos and I don't know how she would be at rashi without nekudos, which is really what I'd like her to be able to read.  But hopefully with more familiarity will come fluency.

I was pretty irritated by the end and, while I did manage to hold onto my Zen (mostly), I think this whole thing was a valuable experience for us.

While it's not delightful to interact with each other when she is in a bad mood, this gives us a lot of practice working on our self control and conflict resolution.  It's an opportunity for me to model kindness in the face of provocation.  It's an opportunity for her to restrain herself to snarling instead of a full-blown freak out.  We are trying to be respectful of each other while we are both extremely irritated.  It is during the crucible of these moments that I find my better self (after sometimes also finding my most hideous self) and refine my patience and my character.  It is these moments that will be some of my daughter's most valuable lessons.

It is not pleasant to homeschool through these times.  But when you ask me, how do I homeschool and teach and discipline when my children are obnoxious and difficult and horrid?  The answer is, I'm glad I do.

Luckily, I also get a lot of "do-overs" when I don't handle things as well as I'd like to.  Tomorrow will be another night.

Oh, wait.  We still have math.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

the schedules in our own minds

Just 3 perakim left to Shmos.  It's November 3rd and I wanted to be done with Shmos in October.  Luckily, in homeschool we can just keep going into the summer or into next year.  We can learn at odd times and during vacations and in the car.

So Chana has done pesukim about the menorah a number of times, including Parshas Teruma and chazara.  And today she said, "The menorah has 6 branches?  I thought it had 8."

This from the same person who 5 minutes later, when she was getting confused about the knobs and the almonds and the flowers etc. said, "Don't show me pictures!  You showed me pictures already and I know what it looks like."

She did zip through these pesukim, though.  I think we'll finish this week.  And I do think she has a better grasp of it than she did before.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

in case you were wondering

Elazar hasn't been doing any chumash at all recently.  He does enjoy listening to parsha.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

follow up about math

I wrote in the previous post about how Chana was technically "behind" in math for 4 years, since she got confused about fractions, and I tried a few times, and then essentially taught her no official math until this year (7th grade).  I wrote that she didn't feel behind because she wasn't failing, she wasn't being confronted with math class after math class that she didn't understand because she hadn't mastered the previous skills, and instead of becoming more and more disheartened and convinced her math abilities were horrible, we just left it alone and picked it up this year, when I am delighted to report that she seems to have regained her math intuition and abilities.

I watched her do a division decimal problem (something like 4567.89/34.56) and I was thinking about how much multiplication and addition and subtraction has to be mastered to get to that point.  Next week I'll give her the same types of problems with positive and negative integers and see if she can incorporate it all.

I had said she didn't feel behind.  However, I would like to tell a story about what happened in sleepaway camp this summer.  As you may or may not know, middle school girls are notorious for being vicious.

I'm sure most homeschooled kids (being out and about in the real world) have experienced being questioned by matriculated kids.  Chana reports she gets a lot of "You're so lucky!"s and "How do you make friends?" (Rather a funny question to be asked in summer camp).   This time, one of them asked her a math question.  Chana did not know the answer.

"Are you planning to go to high school?"
Chana said yes.
"Do you know [gobbeltygobbeltygook-math]?"
"Well, good luck in high school."

When Chana told me that, expressing glumly that she wasn't so good at math, I said, "Well, they've been sitting in math class for SEVEN years and you've been playing, and in one year you're going to learn everything and catch up."

She then told me the rest of the conversation:
Chana: "My sister went to high school."
"And she failed?"
"She got the math award."

Although I'm sorry that Chana had that somewhat uncomfortable experience, I stand by how we handled her math education.  The benefits of having her not experience frustration and spiral further and further into negativity, and then the bonus positive of her actually being interested in math and re-discovering her math intuition and mathematical insight is one of great delights of homeschooling.


I love homeschooling.  Every year I love it more.  I've mentioned before how incredible it is to tinker with curricula.  You get to do whatever you want.  If you don't like how schools do things, then try something else.  If you or your kids don't like how things are going, then try something else.

Being an experienced homeschooler (I think this is our 15th year), I get to really up my game.  I remember watching a video of this crazy father who drove around in a van with his family for years and never taught them any math whatsoever.  I thought that was the nuttiest thing I ever heard of.  But boy was it intriguing.  All the things I thought education "needed" might not be true.  All of my assumptions might be false.  I might be locked into all sorts of premises that are preventing true learning.

I read Lockhart's Lament in 2008.  I think it's been simmering in my brain for the last few years.  He talks about presenting mathematics in a way that it engages the part of our minds that enjoys questions.
He talks about how music and art, although to be done professionally and "properly" need a lot of knowledge and skill, are played with by preschoolers and children.  Why are we not playing with numbers and mathematical principles?

He says, "If I had to design a mechanism for the express purpose of destroying a child's natural curiosity and love of pattern-making, I couldn't possibly do as good a job as is currently being done--I simply wouldn't have the kind of imagination to come up with the kind of senseless, soul-crushing ideas that constitute contemporary mathematics education."

"They [the students] say, "math class is stupid and boring," and they are right."

" 'So you would remove mathematics from the school curriculum?' 'The mathematics has already been removed!  The only question is what to do with the hollow, vapid shell that remains.'"

"To help your students memorize formulas.. you might invent this whole story about "Mr. C" who drives around "Mrs. A" and tells her how nice his "two pies are" (C=2πr).. or some such nonsense.  But what about the real story?  The one about mankind's struggle with the problem of measuring curves; about Eudoxus and Archimedes and the method of exhaustion; about the transcendence of pi? Which is more interesting--measuring the rough dimensions of a circular piece of graph paper,using a formula that someone handed you without explanation (and made you memorize and practice over and over) or hearing the story of one of the most beautiful, fascinating problems, and one of the most brilliant and powerful ideas in human history?  We're killing people's interest in circles for god's sake!"

So since Chana is thinking about going to High School, we have been doing the sort of basic mathematics that is a prerequisite for algebra.  Fractions, decimals, integers, etc.  I wrote a list of all the things I could think of.  And most nights, at around 9pm, we sit down and I try to think of what would be kind of fun, and we sit down and do it.  I've been enjoying the opportunity to tinker with the mathematics curriculum and just try to get it to be interesting and fun.

Chana's been enjoying math again.  When we talked about adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing negative and positive integers, Chana framed it as negative is like owing someone money.  So if you owe someone 5 dollars (-5) three times, then you are going to owe someone 15 dollars.  In other words, it made sense to her that if you are multiplying a negative and a positive, that the answer will be negative.  I'm so happy she's thinking about math again and integrating into her worldview in a real and experiential way.

On Friday, she asked me about 5.9 minutes.  (We've been working on adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing decimals all week.)  So she was wondering about decimals in terms of minutes.  It's a piece of a minute--but how much of a piece?  How would you convert it?  I'm so delighted that she's wondering that.  We started talking about 0.5 being a half and what that means in terms of minutes.  We were just casually chatting.  What about 0.9?  What about 0.05?  or 0.50?  She was thinking about it and trying to figure it out, and I was answering direct questions.  Then she said, "Hey, maybe after Shabbos you can teach me that."  So that's our next math topic.

As I mentioned about unschooling, math was one of the last subjects to be unschooled.  It's been really freeing to let go of the way that mathematics is usually taught in schools and just give Chana some space and then the opportunity to play with math a little.  I want her to be proficient in math.  But I want her to realize that math is a way of thinking about life, and that math is an art, and that math has beauty, and that the mind naturally thinks mathematically.  Homeschooling has not only given me the chance to pay close attention and teach on Chana's level when she was conceptually ready, and teach her in a way where she could understand it and not fall "behind" (though she technically was "behind" the school curriculum for 4 years, she didn't feel behind because she wasn't failing), it also provided the opportunity to really approach math in a completely different way.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

the small classroom advantage of homeschool

Elazar held himself together today until about 2pm, when he started shrieking every time he got upset.  It hit the point where I removed him from the game he was playing with his friend and held him while he screamed.  I used staylistening for about 20 minutes until he was capable of playing again without falling into shrieking at every little frustration.  I cannot imagine a teacher being able to do that with all the other students.


Chana finished sheni of Vayakhel today.  Some of the words she didn't remember, but they are pretty much the same words I don't remember, and I've done it more times than she has.  Maybe one day I'll remember the planks and the curtains.

She asked if the lechem hapanim was the bread they ate once a week, and said, "Why is it called 'showbread'?  Why not call it 'display-it-until-we-eat-it-bread?' "

We got into a small skirmish since I had her doing a few rashis (the one on kumaz surprised me).  And she didn't want to, and she said she knew it, and I used playful parenting techniques and shrieked in a funny way that she needs to do rashi and she has to learn it and I'm in charge and I insist.  I screamed louder than she did and I made sure to make it clear that I was being silly.  It did break the ice and she did it.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

unschooling aleph beis writing

Elazar (age 6) came over to me with a blank piece of paper and a pen and said he wanted to write.  He asked for aleph beis, not the alphabet.  He said he didn't want "lowercase" (that's what he calls script).  I said in Hebrew we only write script, we don't write print in Hebrew.  So he agreed.

What was new about this activity is that I didn't write a whole row of "follow the dotted line."  Up until now, I gave him dotted lines for every letter.  This time, I just wrote the first letter dotted.  He chose to copy the rest freehand.  He didn't have that capacity the last time he sat down to write.

He did really nicely except he got a little confused in the middle of the gimels.  (And as he was writing them incorrectly, he was saying, "I'm sooooo good at these gimels!"  But alas).  I told him it's a line and a C, and he did the next one correctly.

He was tickled that a Vav is just a straight line.

singing vs not singing tefila

Chana reminisced yesterday about how when she was younger, she was so excited to graduate to each new paragraph of bentching.  "Remember when we used to go to pizza every Thursday and I was so excited at each new paragraph of bentching?  Like when I finished nodeh?  And then I got to start the next one?"  I didn't remember, but I was happy that she had such fond memories of us singing each part together until she learned it.

Then she tilted her head to the side and said, "I don't actually know any of it by heart."

She's very meticulous about saying bracha achrona and always uses a bentcher.  I didn't learn al hamichya by heart until high school, when I decided to actually be careful about saying it and realized it was inconvenient to not know it by heart.  But I always knew bentching by heart.  And I always felt that singing was a painless way to help the child memorize it.

I spent hours singing davening with Sarah for years and years, and it didn't help her remember tefila.  And Chana doesn't remember bentching either.  And yet I only know what I know by heart from davening and bentching from singing.  Am I doing it wrong?  I don't think so.  With Sarah, whom I wasn't unschooling, I definitely put in the same amount of time as yeshiva dayschools do.  With Chana, the year before her bat mitzva, we made sure she could fluently read everything she would be chayav to say when she became bat mitzva.

It is odd that neither of them learned tefila and bentching by heart.  On the up side, I see that both of them are medakdek about their chiyuvim.  And it doesn't seem to affect their sincerity or their actions.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

not quite there yet

I had some hopes of Chana finishing Shmos by the end of October.  We did finish Ki Sisa (ack, my Israeli-teacher upbringing wants to call that "Ki Tisa"), but it's taking a week for chazara.

Chana asked, "What happens if I don't finish Shmos by the end of October?"

Answer: "Then there's November."

She liked that.

I would like to finish chamisha chumshei Torah before she goes to High School.  And yes, it is looking like matriculation for high school is in the cards ("What about socialization?").  Ideally, before she goes into the specialization in high school Chumash, she would have a general idea of all of pshat.  But I did that with Sarah, and I don't think it made much of a difference.  Or perhaps it did.  And Chana does review more than Sarah did.  But who knows.  I do know that I don't feel as concerned about it as I used to, although I still think it is preferable.

Chana assures me that once she finishes sheni, the rest of the parsha goes quickly.  She figures 3 days for the rest of chazara.  So we are on schedule to start Vayakhel next week.  I am very curious to see how much Chana will remember from Teruma-Tetzave, since there should be a lot of the same vocabulary.  It will be MY fourth run with this vocab, too, since I did it twice with Sarah (Teruma Tetzave, and Vayakhel Pekudei) and once with Chana (Teruma Tetzave).  Do I know the vocab yet?

(On a side note, on Tisha B'Av eve I've been going through Megilas Eicha for about 10 years, mostly in English.  This was the first year that I read it mostly in Hebrew and just spot checked for English words.  Maybe in another five years I'll understand most of the Hebrew without any English.  Learning is a lifelong process.)

Monday, October 14, 2013

one of those days i'm extra glad i homeschool

It's 3:15pm.  Elazar made a pinata today and he is whacking the bejeebers out of it.  Whack, whack, whack.

When he's tired, he loses the ability to control his impulses.  I think of it like the metaphor of a ball being held under water.  If you let go of the ball, it pops up to the surface.  Elazar's impulses are like that.  All day long, he holds the ball under water and controls his impulses.  When he is tired (which happens almost daily within 5 minutes after his bedtime), he often loses that ability and the metaphorical ball bounces up.  He starts destroying things.

This morning, we were woken up very early by giggling.  Lots and lots of giggling.  Elazar and Jack were up playing.  They laughed and played.  I found Chutes and Ladders out afterwards.  It was lovely.

The day devolved, though.  Jack had numerous tantrums.  Fortunately, hand in hand parenting has equipped me to deal with that.  Then Elazar had 2 or 3 fairly intense episodes where he was frustrated and began screaming.  Usually he can tolerate a pretty strong degree of frustration, and he usually doesn't get upset because he keeps figuring out a way to accomplish what he wants to achieve.  But today he kept detonating.  It was fine, I disciplined, listened, negotiated, etc.  In the course of things, he did throw some chairs and other objects.

I'm not sure what time a first grader in yeshiva gets home these days, including bus.  3?  4?  Would he be able to navigate the bus ride in such an inflammatory mood?  Would he be able to sit in class?  How would the poor teacher cope with him?  How would he feel?

Some people maintain that it is important for a 6-year-old child's development to be able to hold himself together in class.  Me, I'm just glad I'm homeschooling him.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

the up side and the down side

The good thing about homeschooling is you can be weary at 9pm and decide, "Ah, forget about decimals, I'm too tired."  The down side is if 10 years go by and your child doesn't know decimals, it's your fault.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

project elazar ran out of steam in the middle of

He was trying to make a menorah.  He very much wanted one that would work.  I thought about telling him that a flammable menorah was not a great idea.  I provided duct tape because it is stronger than regular tape.  I held it when he needed my help cutting.  I tried to unfold numerous pieces (duct tape sticks to itself ridiculously well, which I guess makes it so great for a 6yo to make building projects with).  I'm not sure why he got stuck at this phase of the project, what he envisioned that didn't come to fruition.  He got it to stand up, which impressed me.  I think it's possible he wanted to put another menorah on top of it, which was a flat platform of wood with nuts.  So he learned some physics.

Monday, October 7, 2013

question and answer from a unschool perspective

This question was asked:

I also would like to know whether Elazar is still interested in chumash.
I find that so many times my kids pick something up, do it in an intense way for a day ( or a week) and then it falls off the radar. Then I look up, and nobody is doing what they seemed so interested and ready to do.

I answered it from a homeschooler perspective and now I'd like to discuss it as an unschooler.

First of all, yes, Elazar is still interested in Chumash.  That is perhaps one of the things that has been driving me to unschool limudei kodesh.  When I teach it, I find that although my kids do it, they aren't as interested in it, and often lament that they don't like it.  (Maybe I'm not teaching it optimally.  On the other hand, maybe there is a certain amount of "you just have to drill to get skills.")

How much Chumash is Elazar actually doing, though, is more the question, I think.  Does he do it regularly.  Is he making progress.

I've been thinking a lot about this question.  And I realized that, fundamentally, an unschooler has no educational agenda for the child.

This means that when Elazar asks me to do Chumash, I do it with him.  I do what he wants to learn for how long he wants to learn and I teach him how he wants to learn it, if it's different than how I was planning to do it.  I have no particular interest in a first grader mastering Chumash or knowing how to read or translate.  He is free to pursue what interests his mind, with the general understanding being that in life, when he encounters skills or facts that he would like to have but doesn't yet, he will roll up his sleeves and dig in.   Just like he has been doing his whole life.

In the general environment of the home, there is reading and translating and learning Torah.  We also have interesting discussions and try to ignite a general desire for Torah knowledge.   But (at this time) I have no agenda for him learning to read the Chumash.  If he does or does not, it is the same to me.  Doing it in first grade or in 6th grade makes no difference.  (If he approaches his bar mitzva and has no desire to read or daven or understand the Torah, I will probably freak out and question everything reevaluate.)

Practically, Elazar opens the Chumash every few days.  He likes me to sing him the trope.  Sometimes he tries to read some words or decode rashi.  He originally had hoped that he would memorize each pasuk with trope, but when that didn't stick in his head as easily as the first pasuk, he was a little discouraged.  He wants to learn new pesukim, but he can't remember the previous pesukim.  Things aren't going as easily as he had imagined, and without the inducement of success, it's not as exciting.  Odds are, if he tries it again in 4th grade, it will go much more fluidly.  He's a little first grader with big dreams.  Let him keep dreaming.  Some of those dreams will work out.  And he's still excited about Chumash.