Thursday, January 31, 2013

giant unschooling field trip

We just got back from Israel.  We saved up for this trip for 5 years, and it was in celebration of Chana's upcoming bat mitzva.  (My ashkenaz/israeli education can never decide to call it "bat" or "bas.")

The major challenges of the trip were
  • traveling with young children, particularly a 5yo who gets wild and destructive when tired, a 3yo who doesn't like to walk and tantrums a lot, and a 1.5yo who wants to walk everywhere and tantrums
  • my husband's broken leg, 2 weeks before our trip
  • the many different sicknesses that occurred on and in the days leading up to the trip, including but not limited to: strep, an unknown virus that caused high fever and weak limbs, a full-bodied rash, ear pains, and stomach pains.
  • the long adjustment back from jetlag
The broken leg turned out to be just about no problem at all, thanks to a walking boot, and now that the many moments of public tantrums are over, I can forget them, and everyone functioned pretty well with the various ailments.  I was happy we brought a supply of painkillers, and we did buy over the counter ear drops and borrow some children's peptol bismol (which I have never used in my life before this point, but didn't want to get on a plane for 12 hrs without some form of medication).

Anyway, on to the educational part.  I planned our visit as an educational field trip.  (Sadly, Chana was so sick one day she "missed a day of school," which is so rare in homeschool and she really did miss an important part of the curriculum.)  We chose to stick close to home base, since traveling was so cumbersome.  So we were mostly in Yerushalayim, except for Shabboses.

It was great being immersed in Ivrit, and Sarah did pretty well understanding and speaking.  Chana understood a lot, and was still shy about speaking.  If we ever spent a month in the summer there, I think she'd warm up.  TV was all educational all the time ;)  The boys mostly understood when they were spoken to, though they answered in English.  I felt a little awkward speaking my American Hebrew on the streets of Israel, but people are overall pleased that we are making an effort.

A note about field trips and museums.  I have found, as an unschooler, that what I would like my children to get out of the experience is usually not the things they find interesting.  I still remember bringing Elazar to a preschool field trip that had projects and hands-on animals, and he spent the entire time drawing in the gravel.  One of the major theories of unschooling is that the child will spend time and energy pursuing what is intellectually interesting to him.  It is (says unschooling theory) disruptive to his educational growth to prevent him from pursuing what he is naturally and energetically studying.  So if his mind is fascinated by the gravel for whatever reason, he learns most efficiently and most enjoyably by doing that-- more than anything else I can entice him with.

So the children rarely look at what they are "supposed" to look at, and Chana often finds listening to a tour guide boring.

My general goals were to give the kids (whichever ones could comprehend) a sense of the land of Israel as the place divinely and historically designated for the Jewish people.  That meant showing them places where events in Tanach occurred, and showing them that it is the land centered around the mikdash and service of Hashem.

I would very much have liked to go to Chevron and shown them kever Avos.  I think the oldest 3 would have been very moved to see tangibly that our forefathers lived.  However, the tour would have been 4 hours and what we really needed was to pop in, spend 10 minutes, and leave.

We did:
  • tunnel tours (Western wall of outer wall of 2nd Temple, with a movie about how they moved large stones)
  • Southern excavations (recreating aliyah l'regel)
  • Machon Mikdash (museum where they are building the keilim in anticipation of the 3rd Temple)
  • the Burnt house museum (destroyed in fire from 2nd temple, archeological indications that it was owned by kohanim mentioned in the mishna)
  • Ir David (palace of Dovid Hamelech, Chizkiyah water tunnel, history of conquering the city, archeological evidence of treasurer seals with names mentioned in Yirmiyahu)
  • Har Azazel (probably) (where they threw off the goat on Yom Kippur)
  • the place of the confrontation between Dovid and Golyas (hehe, i feel like writing "golyat" because we were just in israel)
  • Kever Shmuel and Chana (nice for Chana)
  • the general area where Shimshon's parents lived
  • a bar kochva cave
  • eretz bereshit (where we rode camels and spoke to actors playing eliezer and avraham.  hokey but they loved the camel ride)
  • lots of restaurants (one of the fun things about Israel is that so much is kosher! so we saved up especially for that, too!  eat in the mall!  eat in the tachana hamerkazit!  eat in the airport!)
What was nice is that Sarah really got a better understanding of things she had seen last time she was there (we repeated a lot, as much of this is my "curriculum" for giving a sense of eretz yisroel as the divinely ordained place of the Jewish people).  Chana said she understands now why there is going to be a giant war if we want to build the 3rd Temple.  I'm not sure how much Chana really understood of the historical facts, but I was similarly concerned when Sarah was that age, and I can see how beautifully and meaningfully it all gelled.

We also spent Shabbos at two fairly Anglo, modern Orthodox (dati-leumi) communities, and were inspired by those whose love of Torat Yisroel B'eretz Yisroel moved them there.

It was a pleasure to be immersed in the history of Eretz Yisroel. It felt strange davening for the rebuilding of Yerushalayim, when all around me I could see a flourishing city and new buildings and commerce and growth.  Yehi Ratzon Sheyibane Beis Hamikdash Bimhera Biyameinu.
ותן חלקינו בתורתך
ושם נעבדך ביראה
כימי עולם וכשנים קדמניות


  1. In the past couple weeks, I kept running by Akiva how wonderful and educational it would be to spend a sabbatical year ( or a few months) living in Israel. The kids would pick up Hebrew and have tangible things to look at instead of learning about everything abstractly.
    Unfortunately, not happening any time soon, but I can hope for a trip one day.
    I felt that for us, the whole vacation felt like a huge learning experience, and this was not even the intent of the trip, how much more so it would be for the kids!

  2. It sounds like you got a lot out of your trip to Israel despite the challenges.
    I've been to the first 5 places on your list, but never had the pleasure of doing the other items, namely:
    Har Azazel (probably) (where they threw off the goat on Yom Kippur)
    the place of the confrontation between Dovid and Golyas
    Kever Shmuel and Chana
    the general area where Shimshon's parents lived
    a bar kochva cave
    eretz bereshit

    I'll have to consult with you about these before our bar mitzvah trip to Israel in January 2015 biEzrat Hashem.