Wednesday, April 24, 2013


In case you were wondering how chumash is going, mishpatim has been a verrrrrrry loooooooong parsha for me.  we just finished shishi.  i personally found the pshat of many of the pesukim difficult.  not the words per se (though some of them were complicated), but understanding what the plain meaning of the text is.  chana would often ask, "but what does that mean?!" and i would have no idea.  example: if the sun shines on the robber, then his blood is not on him.  or something like that.  you know, that probably would have been a good opportunity to talk about torah sheba'al peh.

since we've dropped rashi, we've more than halved the time spent on chumash.  i figure she's about 10-15 min a day, between chazara and new pesukim.
i thought chana would estimate more, but she figures new pesukim take 3 min (that's good news, because it felt longer to me) and chazara between 5 and 7 minutes.
during the days when we were doing rashi intensive work, she has done 15-20 min chazara, 10-20 min new pesukim, and 30-40min rashi.

today we did the section that there won't be miscarriers or barren people in the land.  so she said, "i'm pretty sure there are those in israel."  so we did the rashi (outside) that it means if you keep the mitzvos.  she said, "so if you keep the mitzvos, but not everybody does, you get punished?"  i explained that the regular way is that there are miscarriages.  so it's not like a punishment, it's just regular.  but if we keep the torah, then hashem makes a miracle to stop these things.  she said, "EVERYONE needs to keep the torah?"  i said i think most people need to.

then we talked about "filling the number of days" meaning that you get "full" days instead of "part" of your days.  i gave the example of opa, who had full days, as he lived into his 90s.  chana asked if 80s is considered full days.  i said yes.  i think anyone after 60.  because before 60 is "cut off."

then we talked about the phrase in 23:27 hashem giving your enemies to you neck.  yes, that's the literal translation.  which brings me back to mishpatim having odd pshat.  and which, as i just caught a glimpse of rashi, i interpreted differently.  now i have to check the other rishonim if anyone explains it how i explained it.

bracha 7: geula

i passed on what i once learned from a friend of mine: that this bracha is asking hashem for help with our feelings.

chana felt that saying: "do it for the sake of Your name" was threatening hashem, that if He doesn't do it, his reputation will suffer.  i said i thought it was us making an argument why He should help us.  but she stood by that it seems threatening.

again the english was complicated, so we looked at the hebrew for help.

Monday, April 22, 2013

brachos 3, 4, 5, 6: kedusha, daas, teshuva, selicha

chana zipped through kedusha so quickly, i went back afterwards and opened the siddur and asked her about phrases that i thought were odd:

what does kadosh mean?  what does it mean that hashem is kadosh?
chana said she thinks it means special.  i think that's a decent basic understanding.

what does it mean "kedoshim praise you every day?"
chana said the jewish people.

chana mentioned that she keeps reading shemona esrei without paying attention to what she's saying.  i said, "but we've been doing the meanings of the brachos! doesn't that help?"  she said she forgets to think about them.
i suggested to her that before she start, she envision that she's going to the king's office, where she has an appointment to talk about her needs.


chana had a hard time understanding the english for this one.  i showed her the shorashim in hebrew and it was easier: "ladaat" "lehavin."  i asked her why she thought the first bracha was for smartness.  she said: so we don't do stupid things?

it's an added benefit that her name is "chana" which has the same root of "chonen" which is that hashem graciously gives.
chana was confused and kept thinking this bracha is about forgiveness.  i said a few times that it's asking hashem to help us want to do teshuva.  maybe we should do this one a little more carefully.

chana felt that hashem doesn't forgive so easily.  which is actually interesting, because i felt that if you do teshuva, hashem does forgive.  i'm glad we had this bracha as an opportunity to talk about it a bit.

each bracha took just a couple of minutes.  i do think it would be good to talk a little more about teshuva and selicha.  we didn't have a chance to do them on friday, shabbos, or sunday.  but today chana did it before i asked her to do it.  which reminds me, she only did chazara today but not pesukim chadashim.  we have to do that!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

bracha 2: gevuros

chana and i found it humorous that a lot of the english words were more complicated than the hebrew words.  she began to look to the hebrew when she didn't know a word, and found it easier to understand:

the resuscitator of the dead: מחיה מתים, shoresh "chai"
abundantly (able to save): רב

he feeds: not the africans (i said: hashem made enough food for all the people in the world to have enough to eat)
heals the sick: not always--people die
maintains the faith of those who sleep in the dust--what the heck does that mean??? (i have no idea, actually...)

i asked her if it was praise of bakasha.  after a small hesitation she said praise.

i asked her what kind of anime would she illustrate for this.  she said a graveyard, and a hand over it (standing for hashem) and then them coming alive.
for healing the sick, one scene sick and the next scene healed.
for feeding everyone, a feast.  no, wait--raining food.  like raining watermelon.

bracha 1: avos

i began to think about how to approach this.  my first thought was that i would sit next to her, open the siddur...

and then translate it?  she'd probably find it boring if i did that word for word.  say it dramatically?  the language is a little awkward in translation and then she would have to figure it out what it actually means in "normal" english.

so i scratched my head for a little while trying to think about how to do it.

then i thought about chana's learning style.  she learns best by doing.  so i figured, why not hand her the siddur and see what she does with the bracha?

so we sat down and i handed her my small artscroll siddur.  usually she uses the larger "siddur chinuch" with no translation.  so first she had to find the shemona esrei.  (that's always a useful skill, since sometimes a child comes upon an unfamiliar siddur and has to find his or her way.)  when she found it, she asked me what to do.  i said, "well, if you wanted to know what the first paragraph is about, what would you do?"

"um.. ask my mom?" she answered.

i said, "how about check out the english?"  she thought that was a fantastic idea and started reading it.

she summarized it as:  hashem is awesome.  he's the Gd of our forefathers (small discussion about "fore" vs "four" since there are 3).  he does miracles.  he's awesome.  he's the shield of avraham.

she planned an anime picture with avraham and hashem as a shield.  then she hesitated, because she felt that would kind of be saying that the shield is hashem, and hashem isn't a physical shield.  she wanted to know what color hair avraham had, as she envisioned drawing him.  she didn't actually want to do the drawing, because drawing takes a lot of time.  she imagined what background she would draw.

i asked her if she thought this bracha was a praise or an asking.  she said praise.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

new project

chana mentioned that she doesn't really like davening, and how she always feels like it's going to take so long, but then it takes shorter than she thought it would.  (talking about shemona esrei.)

she doesn't really know what she's saying in tefila.  i remember having a conversation with her about needs and what she would ask hashem for, when thinking about what things she doesn't have control over.  she mentioned a lot of the individual needs covered in shemona esrei, and then wondered what the rest of the brachos were about, and we talked about communal needs and societal needs.

so tonight i said to her, "as you know, it's shemona esrei, so there are 19 brachos, so how about we go through one each day and then maybe you'll illustrate it or something."  and her eyes lit up and she asked if she could do it in anime.  and i was delighted that she responded in such a positive manner.

we start tomorrow.  bracha one.  i hope we don't run out of steam.  i really would like for her to have the general subject/translation of the brachos of shemona esrei before her bat mitzva.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

chana happily did chumash today.  we are still struggling with the words in these pesukim.  i did a rashi or two orally, which she didn't mind.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

rashi hiatus

the rashi complaining has been starting up again.  maybe it was a little before pesach, but certainly since pesach.  the complaints have been getting louder, more vitriolic, more emotional.  chana's been complaining that she hates chumash.  then she amends it--it's not chumash, it's rashi.  so many rashis.  so hard.  she haaaaates it.  etc. it's affecting her attitude towards chumash.  she dreads it.

am i pushing too hard on the rashis?  i think she's capable.  i don't think we are doing too much.  we have been doing a lot.  the rashis are long.  not overly complex language, but not simple.  the concepts are meaty.  (add to that the pesukim are really breaking our teeth just figuring out pshat.)

so after fielding numerous complaints about this, and having chumash often turn into the "please stop yelling at me" "but you're speaking with a short temper too" "that's because you're yelling at me" "that's because i'm frustrated that it's so much and so hard" back and forth that is so unpleasant (though bh we are getting pretty good at disentangling from it), when chana started in today, i decided that since mishpatim is taking us so long to hack our way through, we will not do any more rashi here.  IF we need the rashi to explain a concept, i will explain it to her outside, and she will not have to go back and review it for translation, vocab, structure of concepts, etc.  (there IS a lot going on in these rashis!)

so we'll be doing rashi "outside" for now.  we can focus on the pesukim.  burden is still on me to figure out the pshat of the pesukim, but i'll just use rashi to explain anything i want explained to her.  hopefully this will make things less painful.

also, i'm beginning to feel the pinch of time constraints.  one of the things i adore about homeschool is that there are no time constraints.  since you have hours and hours, months and month, years and years, you can go at your own pace and not worry about "supposed to be up to"s.

chana has probably 2 yrs and 2 months left to homeschool (though she is perfectly willing to continue chumash throughout the summer, she is going to sleepaway camp).  i would love to finish going through chamisha chumshei torah with her.  we are only halfway through shmos.

chana may actually be right that if i drop rashi, it will be much easier to get through the pesukim.  on the other hand, her rashi skills are coming along nicely and i don't want to drop that.  maybe a compromise, where we do rashi separately?  or i select fewer rashis and we do them at a different time and not with chumash?  that always feels strange to me, as rashi is to be learned with chumash.  maybe just fewer rashis.  i will have to give this some thought.

i really dislike teaching for some end goal (finishing x in a certain amount of time) instead of going at a natural pace.

ps chana asked a few times what do all these pesukim have to do with real life.  as soon as we switched "sheep" "oxes" and "goats" for "her ipad that she saved up for and bought with her own money," things became very clear to her.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

unschooling is stalling out.  chana wants to go to school.  she is bored.  she is emotional.  she wants more friends.

part of this is her age.  the burst of hormones rushing through the bloodstream (if that's even scientifically accurate) is plenty for any human being to deal with.  but it's more than that.  this is the same age that sarah began to feel unhappy with homeschooling, too.  at the time, i thought it was because she had 2 close friends, and one of them moved away and the other went to school.  chana has a really nice social group, but no intimate friends that are girls.  i think that is what she is searching for.  and she is correct that it will be easier to find that in school than out of school.  i tried a variety of extracurricular activities and camps to help sarah meet girls at this age.  she socially integrated easily, but didn't make close friends (though it turns out, throughout her high school years, she was acquainted with a wide variety of people in various situations from these attempts).

is this a socialization issue?  is this just the age?  it's looking like it  won't be the best choice to homeschool chana for high school, either.  sometimes i think that for homeschooling to work best, it's great to have a few neighbors also homeschooling, with kids roughly your children's ages, so that they can happily play and play and play.

but to address the boredom issue.  chana still has 2 years left until high school.  although i think she would be able to tolerate sitting in class, it's something i'd prefer her to avoid.

i wonder if it's the unfurling spring that is causing her to to have a surge of energy that causes yearning inside her that she doesn't know how to answer.  sure, if she were in class for 8 hours a day plus some more time for homework she wouldn't be bored, but would that be addressing what she is looking for? but what IS she looking for?

i'm feeling like maybe it's time for me to not be so hands-off with her education.  every time i ask her if she wants to do something "educational," she vehemently says that is not what she wants.  in general, i don't really like organizing projects or hands-on activities. but chana doesn't learn anything from lectures, doesn't enjoy watching videos for information, doesn't like to read for information.  how will she get the idea that the world is an exciting, interesting place with many things to explore if she doesn't want to do the classic things people do to get information?  bear in mind, i've brought her to many museums and hand-on science classes, and she only enjoyed a small percentage of them.

but who is better equipped than i am to find activities that are perfectly designed for her temperament and interest?  i am thinking about making a list of possible activities to do when she is bored.  i feel like she would like to do something creative, hands-on, social, that expands her mind.  maybe i need to participate more in her activities for a while.

i read a book to you
we go to the pet store
we go to MoMA
we go to a science museum to play with the exhibits
we go to a zoo
we make a playdate
we choose something to all sit around and draw
we read some navi and maybe make a video about it or a cartoon
play with prisms
see if an avocado seed or a bean or a potato can grow if we put it in water
diet pepsi and mentos
play with chalk outside
make a sundial
make a sun print with construction paper
look for origami paper and make something
try to make an egg float
see what happens when you put oil and water together
try to make quicksand
try to stab a potato with a straw
make music with water and glasses
make invisible ink
hold a glass of water upside down and it won't spill (hopefully!)
make a kind of lava lamp
blow up a balloon without your mouth
make a parachute
make water travel by itself from one glass to another
make lemonade fizzy drink
(i took those last bunch from an easy looking site:

i'll let you know how she reacts to this list.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Isn't there a place for both in Talmud Torah?

Dan asked:

you schooled Chana or unschooled?

What do you think about the idea of using both methods based on circumstance? Isn't there a place for both in Talmud Torah? 

I don't think it has to be an all or nothing thing - all lo lishma bo lishma or all Kohn. I think the Rambam and Kohn are both right. Sometimes its best not to push with rewards and let pure curiosity determine the agenda and sometimes its best to push with rewards - as is clearly the case with Chana that you described. It appears to be a delicate balance depending on circumstance, child, subject, age, and everything else.
I started to answer Dan, and it turns out I have a lot to say.   (that's why i blog :-P)

I unschooled chana until about 3rd grade.  Then we started doing "official" chumash.  I do think there is room for being more or less unschooly, and for a combination of official teaching and of following the lead of the child. There is a place for many different methods in talmud torah, and I am not advocating one over the other per se.  What I love about homeschooling is that parents get to choose for themselves, and tailor their education to their own children.  Many people who choose to do this do it thoughtfully and heed their principles and pay attention to the effects the education has on their children.  Most homeschooling children have a fairly large amount of input in how and what and when they learn.  In that sense, it is a combination of "child led learning" and "classical" learning.

When I muse about these issues, it's mostly when I think about taking a purist unschool approach, which really can't be mixed with official teaching.  Let me explain.

A purist unschool approach (which I'm not necessarily touting, though I do ponder it often here) waits for the child to show interest, for the child to request to be taught, for the child to be so motivated by his own interest in the knowledge that he studies it because he is interested in it.  He learns because he wants to know it, he wants to learn it.  He pursues it because he desires it.

Teaching actually interferes with this.  I can see this pretty clearly with Chana in math.  She asked to be taught carrying and regrouping, she asked to be taught multiplication and division, and she asked to stop being taught fractions.  I have used, as suggested above, a combination of unschooling and schooling in this situation.  I introduced fractions, she didn't understand them, we waited a few months, we did them again, it wasn't well-received, we waited a year or two, I brought it up again, periodically, casually, and she learned them.  The idea of waiting until she was ready (vs. when she was "supposed" to do it by curriculum or grade or age), and stopping when she disliked it or didn't understand it are elements of unschooling.

But.  I am still clinging to the framework of school, to the notion that she must learn these things, that this is the math "curriculum." Instead of her discovering math, a joyous body of knowledge to unfurl, desired, as she seeks it, I am trying to gently and kindly slip it into her brain, in the least painful way possible.  So she will probably never discover it as a fascinating toy to play with.  Because I keep trying to give it to her.

I don't think all areas of knowledge are like math.  Then again, maybe they are.  Maybe they are all to be explored and played with and enjoyed.

If I keep trying to give Chana math information and skills in as pleasant a way as possible, she might not dislike it, and she might learn it.  But she will likely have a tepid, uninspired relationship with it.*  I think if i let her come to it on her own, she will enjoy it and internalize it in a way that I can hardly imagine.

There is, of course, a risk that Chana will stick with art and writing and never be interested in math at all.  Many people insist they never use algebra.  I personally feel that Chana's brain would and will love mathematics, if she would ever be interested in studying it.      But what if she never does?  As an unschooler, she would be used to learning things quickly and efficiently when she wants to know them.  There is no doubt that it will take her not more than 20 minutes to understand the intricacies of 10, 20, and 30% off sales when she is spending her own money.  But will she ever go beyond practical business math to the beauty of mathematics?  It's a risk.

And that is not a risk that a Jew takes lightly regarding Torah.

Which is why I hesitate.  Ironically, I feel more willing to take the risk with the boys.  Psychologically, I think it's because I haven't started down a path yet and feel comfortable letting things go until about age 10 and reevaluating then.  Even if they learn nothing (which I doubt), that's still plenty of time to teach skills.  Also, because talmud torah is really Ari's chiyuv, I feel like I have a backup person responsible and it's not all on my head, so I can be a little more risk-taking and experimental.  But I'm going off on a tangent.  Basically, if I wanted to do a purist type of unschooling, which would (hopefully) lead to the children learning efficiently and quickly and most enjoyably and when they are self motivated to do so, I can't really also teach them skills as pleasantly as possible, because the very act of teaching them and trying to put information into their brains affects their desire for it and prevents their curiosity from welling up full force at a later time.  It's kind of like saying, "I'll wait to feed my child when he's hungry and asks for food," while also giving them an IV, or feeding them little bits of pb&j so they don't starve while you are waiting for them to get hungry.

feel free to comment and force me to clarify.  As I was writing this, I felt that I really don't have a full idea of what benefits, exactly, I'm anticipating from unschooling.  What is the nature of the type of learning that unschooling leads to?  What is good about it that I want my children to experience it?  Why do I think that it would be better than classical learning?  (hmm.. another blog post coming?)

* Sarah adores math.  I taught it heavily to her and used a pretty intense, honors curriculum.  She didn't love math, but she tolerated it and was good at it.  We rushed through algebra, faster than was good for her learning, in order to finish in time for the test, the Regents exam (everything I dislike about school).  When she got to high school and had professional teachers, she fell in love with math.  So I'm not saying that teaching precludes passionate love for a subject.