Thursday, February 28, 2013

sfasenu (sfatenu) dalet

You know how some books progress in difficulty, and some books jump suddenly?  Sfasenu gimmel, Chana was doing on her own and I would glance over it afterwards to see how she did.  Once in a while, she didn't understand the instructions or she didn't know the words.

She's finished the 2nd story in Sfasenu dalet, and she needed her hand held.  She needs me to sit next to her while she reads it out loud.  Often, as she reads it out loud, she realizes she understands it.  But it just got harder.  She's understanding fewer and fewer sections.  When she doesn't understand what to do or understand the words of a section, she skips to the next one.  I'm seeing more and more blanks.

So ivrit went from "I'll say do it and then you do it on your own" to something that I'm going to have to carve time out to sit with her and do.  phooey.

how i feel some days

This has nothing to do with Chumash but does have to do with homeschooling.  Well, not even really homeschooling.  Just being home with the kids all day.  ("How do you do it?  Being home with your kids all day?")  Usually I love it.  Usually, it's like a nice relaxing long weekend, only all week long.  (With me as the janitor.)  Usually, we play and laugh and enjoy.

But some days....

I said to Ari, I can't stand my employers.  Nothing makes them happy.  They are irrational, scream at me frequently, nothing I can do satisfies them, and their demands are neverending, impossible to keep up with.. and even the things I do manage to do, I don't do how they want and they are not nice about how they tell me so.  Sometimes it even degenerates into them physically abusing me, pulling on me or trying to hit me while they are screaming at me.  And the whole time, there is more to be done and more that they are demanding.  Also, I have more than one employer that i'm responsible to, and their demands and needs overlap and are often more than one urgent at the same time.  I'm trying to meet one employer's needs and the other one or more begin shouting about how their demands are urgent.  It's a working environment with constant demands and screaming and little ability to accomplish the demands of the job.  No lunch break or coffee break.
I don't want a different job, but sometimes I would like a little vacation!  And remember, a "family trip" is NOT a vacation! :)

Monday, February 25, 2013


I want to talk about Purim candy.  What does candy have to do with unschooling? 
Radical Unschooling involves
  • free choice about what activities to pursue 
  • unlimited media time (TV, computer, video games, etc.) 
  • (these on the theory that ALL activities that children pursue are satisfying some desire to know something about the world)
  • no bedtimes 
  • and no junk food restrictions
All this is about having the confidence that children make generally wholesome, healthy choices when given the freedom to do so.  I began my parenting life as a restrictor.  I restricted junk food and I restricted TV.  This seemed logical to me.  Junk food is not healthy for the body.  Ergo, I should not allow my children to eat it.

Unfortunately, this didn't take into account psychology: the intense yearning that deprivation leads to, the overpowering desire that permeated their lives and didn't leave as much room for those wholesome foods and activities I was so desirous of them experiencing. 

I'm not saying this happens to all or most children.  Whenever I read something about TV watching or eating different things (gluten, sugar, food coloring, etc.), I look at my children and my experiences, and I make observations and weigh the situation with as many factors as I can take into account, and I make a decision.  I'm saying that I didn't like how my daughter was reacting to my restrictions in the way that I was doing it.

I read a book that my friend Channie recommended as I discussed here called Are you Hungry by Hirschmann and Zaphiropoulos.  It changed my parenting and my life to a much less stressful way of living.  I love the idea of people listening to their hunger and what they are hungry for in order to give them a balanced approach to eating and nutrition.  I tried it out and loved it.  (I think I even wrote a review on Amazon for this book, I am so enamored of it.)  I love the theory behind it and I love how it plays out in real life.  It does recommend not limiting and restricting food.

As a general rule, we don't have much junk food in the house.  I'm not much of a snacker and I don't buy candy unless one of the kids asks me to put it on the grocery list.  If they ask for it, we buy it and they can eat it whenever they want, however much they want.  If they finish it and ask for more next week, or ask for a larger quantity, we buy it and they have open access to it. 

On Purim it has always been my policy (even before I read this book) to let the children eat as much as they want.  Aside from the fabulous memories from my youth of eating ZERO healthy food the entire day of Purim, and only eating candy (we were restricted from junk food generally), I think less junk food gets eaten if the children have unlimited access.  I find, first of all, that they feel like they have unlimited junk, which is beneficial psychologically because it is the opposite of deprivation, and leads to an abundance mentality which leads to generosity and the ability to moderate or restrict themselves, instead of a scarcity mentality which encourages hoarding and binging because you don't know when your next opportunity (if ever) will come.  Secondly, they eat less.  They open more, but they don't eat it.  They open one, take a bite or two, open another.  I throw out so much candy that is tasted and discarded.  Usually, they eat a lot at first (of which they don't actually eat as much as open), and then the rest lasts for weeks and weeks because they are sick of it.

Since I read this book, I've noticed that although my children do eat somewhat more candy than they do the rest of the year (because there is just so much around), they aren't that interested in it.  It isn't incredibly exciting, it doesn't have that glittery, seductive pull, they are equally inclined to drop a candy and pick up a cucumber or a pepper, and I don't feel bad that they are eating so much candy.

When I first read the book, I was hesitant because I was brought up with the idea of candy and junk food being used as bribes or rewards or as treats to look forward to and anticipate.  I worried that I was cutting off a means of swaying my children's behavior (if you sit quietly and let me cut your hair you can have a lollipop; if you sit quietly in shul you can have candy; it's shabbos!  shabbos party!  candy!!) and cutting off a source of excitement and pleasure from their lives.  How many of your youthful happy memories have to do with anticipation of candy?

I did trade those things.  My kids are not especially bribe-able with candy or junk food.  And although they certainly enjoy candy, and are happy to eat it, their reaction is somewhat subdued compared to the excitement I would have liked them to associate with Torah or holidays. 

Overall, though, I delight in the value of moderation and self-monitoring and the ability to make intelligent decisions that unschooling encourages.


This morning my house was a disaster and we didn't even host seuda this year!  It took me 2.5 hrs to clean up.  This is not because cleanup of two and a half rooms takes that long.  It's because morning, even when we aren't planning to leave the house, is pretty "need" intense with the kids.  Breakfast, elimination, setting up for different activities.. until everyone gets settled in, it's lots of demands (and many mornings, lots of crying as I try to juggle everything).  Add to the mix that frequently I am in no mood to straighten up in the evenings, the house looks pretty wrecked until I get to clean it up.  This morning I also cajoled Jack into having his hair cut, which involved playing him running away and me chasing him around when it got too intense for him.

Anyway, as I picked up crumpled wrappers, large crumbs, and confetti, I was thinking, "my house is a disaster and we didn't even host seuda!"  It looked like we had partied hard here yesterday.  And I began to think.. What if, every morning, as I cleaned up the rather giant mess of the day before, I thought to myself about how we had partied hard yesterday?  What if I felt the satisfaction of cleaning up after a joyful, fun day?  What if i reframed our family mess as a party mess, every day?  Did we have fun? Yes.  Did we play hard?  Yes.  Was it awesome?  Yes!  Is there the next morning cleanup?  Yes.  But cleaning up while reflecting on what a great time we all had is a different vibe.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

purim, ivrit, and more unschooling thoughts

there are 3 things i've been meaning to write about.  i've been dithering about whether or not to make them separate posts, and thus procrastinating altogether.

first of all, sfasenu.  using the three-years-ahead-rule, in late september i started chana on grade 3 sfasenu because i was feeling a little concerned that her ivrit wasn't so great.  we both felt a bit sheepish with her being in 6th grade and doing a 3rd grade workbook.  it's so... babyish.  but she was able to do a page at a time without any of the whining, tantrums, etc that have so often characterized her work.  we did it a little sporadically for a while, and then eventually got into a rhythm.  she finished it a few weeks ago.  i figure it took about 5 months to do.  so waiting three extra years to do this level of work not only made the work a source of much less stress and conflict (in fact, just about zero stress and conflict), she also finished it in half the time it would have taken her three years ago.  she started workbook dalet.  so now she's only 2 grades "behind." 

this does go against classical unschooling in that i didn't wait until she said to me, "you know, mom, i think i'd like to beef up my ivrit.  do you have any ideas on what i can do?"  most likely, if i had the patience to wait for that, she would do it even more efficiently and with greater motivation.  of course, i'm also risking that she would wait until she is in her 20s or 30s to do that.  in which case, did i "educate" her properly?  is she only educated if she "graduates" homeschool with a certain skill set and level of knowledge?  or, as unschooling would maintain, as long as she is motivated to be a lifelong learner and has the motivation and confidence to pursue many different skills and types of knowledge throughout her life, who cares how much she knows at arbitrary childhood age X?

as you can see, i didn't have quite to courage to go full force unschooling in this.  as is typical with me and chana's education.

secondly, megilla.  we started off with me asking chana to read the megilla in hebrew.  i figured she'd be so happy.  no rashi.  just pshat.  just translation, and i'll provide her with any words she wants.  we started in the car on the way to a purim party.  she got frustrated pretty quickly.  i think she read the first two perakim in hebrew.  then she asked to switch to english.  she found even the english pretty tough (i guess it wasn't the best translation).  i was remembering fondly the time when sarah was about this age and picked up the megilla and just read through it because she was curious.  i was wondering if i made a mistake not waiting another few years until chana did that.
overall, i think the experience wasn't too painful and she found it interesting and asked me a number of questions about it and we had some interesting discussions.

this did lead me to something i often wonder about regarding unschooling.  i walk the line between pushing because i want her to gain certain knowledge or skills, and try to make it not to painful (and ideally, even pleasant, even though largely the acquisition of this level of skills is not often pleasant per se).  then i wonder if she would be more motivated and have better associations and enjoy it more if i would ease up and let her own desire push her to do it.  but then there is always that risk that she won't.  i wonder how much that risk really is.  the two young men i spoke to who were unschooled talked to me of the tremendous thirst they had for torah when they became interested.  but it was older--age 12-16. 

the third is elazar's unschooling megilla.  elazar has been demanding the purim story before bed every night.  apparently ari told him the first installment--with a lot of details about what hanging entails.  jack kept chiming in: "the queen didn't want to-- the queen didn't want to!"  until i asked him what the queen didn't want to do and he said, "...i don't know.."  elazar remembers a lot of the details and really enjoys hearing about it and talking about it.  he can hardly contain himself and his whole body jumps with excitement as he talks. 
he just keeps thinking mordechai's name is "voartacus."

Thursday, February 7, 2013

a new level of independence

i just realized.. it's thursday now.. chana has apparently been doing chumash all week.  i haven't been involved in a few days.  not in chazara and not in new pesukim.  (there are not that many new rashis in this parsha that i underlined.)  i just asked her where she is holding regarding new pesukim, and she said she finished rishon of Yisro.  I haven't been there doing it with her.

i kind of miss learning with chana....

but it's kind of cool that she's zipping along on her own... 

Monday, February 4, 2013


Rashi, Rashi, Rashi.  Always Rashi.  I've gotten a little lax with Rashi.  Not with the amount.  Nope, Chana is slogging away at many long Rashis, complaining as she does so.  In fact, it's become a daily comment that she would not dislike Chumash except that she has to do Rashi.

In two ways I've slacked off a little.  First of all, nekudos.  The chumash we are using has nekudos in Rashi.  We started using it because the typeset is so much easier for her to read, and she's very visual and these things matter to her.  I had high goals of once she was proficient with nekudos, to review it with another chumash without nekudos, and that seems to have fallen by the wayside.

The second way is regarding translation.  If she doesn't know the exact phrases, but she reads it in Hebrew so that the hebrew phrases become somewhat familiar to her, but in English she only translates it overall of by the general idea, I've started letting that go.  Because she has been getting so irritated and feeling so bogged down by knowing every single phrase, so it's been feeling like if she knows the general idea, that's good enough.

I really want her to have good skills.  As always, I wonder if I'm sacrificing too much for those skills, and if she would have an overall more joyous chumash experience if I wasn't hocking her with so much Rashi.

Right now, though, I'm sticking with what I'm doing, as I sense that the Rashi isn't so overwhelming and she doesn't dislike or dread Chumash.