Friday, July 26, 2013


Elazar was interested in boomerangs last month, and I never got around to researching if there was actually an easy way to make one.  Today I did, and I found 2 really easy methods.  Well, the origami one has a lot of steps, but in theory if I follow the directions it should probably be manageable.  The cardboard one looks so simple I might just do it.

here is the easy one:

you just take a cereal box and cut out a three armed figure, with the arms the same size and shape and 60 degrees apart.  Then you fold back a "corner" of the rounded edge of each arm.  Check out the pictures.

and here is the origami one:

This one involves lots and lots of folding but the included pictures are very clear.  (I originally found a wikihow with no pictures! From the descriptions, I couldn't envision exactly where to fold.  There are videos, but I prefer instructions with pictures.)

So we made the first one.  It took me a while to draw it correctly.  I finally drew a circle.  I'm not sure where my compass went but it would have been useful.  Elazar is now throwing it (the boomerang, not my missing compass).  It doesn't come back perfectly (that might be because we need to practice throwing it correctly), but the folds clearly cause some turning and it flies in an arc, even though it doesn't come directly back to us.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Yeah, I'm always experimenting on my kids

I read about elimination communication when my 4th child was a baby. I was reading an anthropological work about how African women's babies don't pee on them--they take the baby out of the sling, and the baby pees. I thought that was fascinating, but mysterious. Not something I could actually try at home.

Then, when my 5th child was a couple of months old, I read that Western parents were doing this. There were actually instructions on how to do it. There were actually books about it. I read Diaper Free by Ingrid Bauer and within the month I was trying it. I'm only sorry I only heard about it with my youngest child. Like many parenting endeavors, I would find it very rewarding to try it again, with the knowledge that everything works out in the end and you don't have to get so bogged down or worried about the minutiae, the details, and the moment to moment or even day to day. That it's a long term, gentle, relaxed, gradually flowing process.

My oldest 3 children were trained by my unschooling philosophy (even though I wasn't an unschooler back then): leave them alone; they'll figure it out when they are ready. They took care of it themselves at age 3.5, 4.75 (!!!!), and 4. Once they decided, they did it at night, too, and could hold it in long enough that when they said they had to go, you had 10 minutes to find and get to a bathroom. My 4 year old decided he was no longer wearing diapers the day we were going to the Bronx Zoo. "Are you sure?" I asked him. "Today?" Yep, he was sure. And it was fine.

My youngest two are seventeen months apart. My 4th watched me as I brought my 4 month old to pee in the toilet. By 22 months he was climbing on, too. A few months after 2, he was using the toilet and before 2.5 was dry at night.

When my youngest was 17 months, he began to say "doody, doody" when he had to go. He often takes himself. I never really achieved more than 80% catching his pees (probably because he was not my first child), but by age 2 we have a lot more 100% days than days where we have a miss. (I stopped ECing at night at 7 months, when I stopped co-sleeping.) He is dry 90% of naps, and sometimes at night (I don't respond to the 4 or 5am wakeup, when he probably has to pee).

People think that all EC is is to watch your baby carefully when she has to go, and then bring her. Or learn their cues (like fussing) or base it on timing (before naps, after naps etc). But I realized something astounding-- it's more than that. There is an actual communication that goes on between caregiver and baby, and it's more than just the caregiver receives cues from the baby. The baby can also receive cues from the caregiver! When the baby hears the ssssss sound, it triggers the baby to relax and release from his or her bladder. At this age, I can ask him if he has to pee and he'll answer me yes or no. But if we are about to go out and it's been a couple of hours, then i bring him and "cue" him, and he pees. That is him responding to me, not just me bringing him when he needs to go.

I can cue him for bowel movements, too. When I got home from work in the mornings last year, I cued him and he went. Today I'm going out and my mother-in-law is babysitting, so I'd like him to have his bowel movement before she comes. (At this age, I don't usually cue him for bowel movements any more, since he's 99.9% reliable to take himself to the toilet when he has to have a bowel movement--way more reliable than peeing, which he is as liable to do in the toilet as anywhere else in the house, if I don't take him.) So I cajoled him to the toilet, and he agreed, and I cued him with a grunt noise, and he made. Again, this is not me noticing his cues, it is me cueing him.

It's really interesting. I would not have thought it possible.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013


The day that Chana went to sleepaway camp, she finished shvi'i of Tetzave (she did shishi in one day, before that).  Chamishi was tough and long, but shishi and shvi'i/maftir were quick.

What was unusual was that instead of waiting for me to open the English Artscroll Rashi, as I've been doing, she opened it herself and referred to it if she didn't know a word.  Most of the words were familiar from the previous parsha.  But it was still nice that she took that upon herself.  It felt (to her and to me) like a new level of making her learning her own.

discussion about when to matriculate to "real" school

Chana went off to sleepaway camp yesterday.  She's heading into 7th grade, and last year began making noises about not having enough friends (her two close friends and she are all going through phases where their growing personalities are emerging and developing and finding perhaps they want to expand their friendship horizons).  Her good homeschooling friend is entering high school this year, so she's going to feel more lonely.  I sent her to a local daycamp last year, which she enjoyed, and socially integrated into very easily (I know, I know, how did she know how?), and a couple of girls even called her for a few months afterwards, but she didn't make any special friends that she really clicked with.  So my options were to send her to school this year or to wait until high school.  I prefer to wait until high school, and so we decided to send her to sleepaway camp, where hopefully an immersion experience will help her find some close friends.  (I went to sleepaway camp and did not make any long term close friends, so I'm aware that it may not work.  But then again, it might.)

It was suggested to me that I send Chana to school, with the hope that she dislikes it intensely and then returns home and homeschools for high school.

I very much would love to homeschool my children for high school.  I think that the mind opens up remarkably in the teenage years, and the academic possibilities for homeschooling are a dream come true.  Having time and freedom and the ability to pursue academic interests is incredibly exciting.

However, teenagers are also incredibly social beings.  I teach in high school and although we do spend a lot of time accessing their intellects, we also spend a lot of time immersed in the social.

So, although Chana might thoroughly dislike school, I would not send her to school with the intention or hope that she should dislike it and come home.  But I will send her to camp, hoping that she will make some intimate friends.

Sarah is an extrovert.  Chana is a social introvert.  Chana despises schedules and being told what to do.  Chana spends 4-5 hours a day on her art.  Sarah doesn't mind schedules or authority.  I don't see school as the best fit for Chana, but if she wants to hang out with a bunch of like-minded Orthodox Jewish peers for a significant portion of the day, then she will certainly try out high school and see how it goes.  Sarah knew that she could decide at any point to return to homeschooling (she almost did, at the end of 10th grade, until she finally settled into a "chevra").  The same holds true for Chana.

In NY, there is a great group of teens and preteens who are homeschooling.  We could make an effort to join them.  But Chana desires intimate friendships with Orthodox Jewish girls.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

unschooling tefila

I've been trying to set aside time to learn the basic translation of shemona esrei with Chana, and it's been slow going.

Today, though, the translations of "elokai neshama" and "hamaapil" came up naturally.  We had some very interesting conversations about it.  Chana's mind is incisive and delightful.

Sometimes, I think something "needs" to get done, but really, other things get done instead.

And things that come up naturally are processed differently by the brain, remembered differently, and have a different affect associated with them.

it's not as bad as i thought

I went through the part in the siddur that Chana didn't understand with her.  When I saw it, I understood why she had trouble reading it.  It was a long, sophisticated paragraph explaining when to take the 3 steps back and when to bow.  I wonder if I would have had trouble with it even in high school.

Chana is on page 68 out of 94 pages of 4th grade Sfasenu (remember, in 6th grade she did the 3rd grade one as per "the three years ahead" rule and then she moved on to the 4th grade one).  I'm trying to decide what to do next with her.  Ivrit Shitatit? (We used that in 7th and 8th grade and shortened its name derogatorily.)  I have one of them but I'm not sure if it's the first one, or if that matters.

Another possibility I was thinking of is to have her read picture books.  I have a fair collection of Hebrew picture books bought from Israel.  Some of them are pretty sophisticated.  Meaning they have words I don't understand ;-)  They are all elementary school age books.  I myself am not comfortable reading novels in Hebrew. I could probably slog through it, but it would be slow.  Anyway, they probably won't be too painful and should make for some nice reading comprehension.  But we have some time before the next step.  Probably after Succos.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

two tips

tip #1:

I read a great piece of advice a few months ago, and I've been trying to use it ever since:

When assigning a task (chore, errand, etc.), give it to the youngest child capable of doing it.

I have found with this that my 6, 3, and 2 year old boys have been doing a lot more.  They are still excited to be big, to participate, to have something to do.  And it cuts down on resentment a lot, because the older kids see that I am trying to spare them extra chores when I can.  This, in turn, makes them much more cheerful about helping out.

tip #2:

The other thing I do is with children as early as age 1, as soon as they are mobile and know where the garbage is.  Whenever they bring me something to open (a piece of gum, a string cheese, a yogurt), I hold the opened item and hand them the wrapper.  "Go throw that out and I'll give this to you as soon as you come back."  This habituates them to throwing out their own garbage.  I cannot communicate how utterly wonderful it is to not be used as a human trashcan, which for some reason children unconsciously presume their parents to be.  This leads to the point where when I open something, I don't even have to say anything.  They wait for the wrapper to throw it out.  And when they are older, and bring me milk to pour, or whipped cream to spray, I hand it back to them when they are done and they put it back in the refrigerator.  And if they ever bring me garbage, I just point to the nearest garbage and off they go.  (A few years ago, I did add 2 more garbages with kitchen garbage bags in them all around the main floor in order to make it simpler for the little ones.)

another great idea i may follow through on

I just read this blog post and it has inspired me: month-by-month decluttering

So I wrote up a little schedule for myself, and why not make it a little more permanent by popping it up on the internet, for other people who might possibly find it useful.

I've actually done a serious amount of decluttering in the last bunch of years, to the point of hiring an organizer twice while I was pregnant with my 5th child to get things under control before he was born, and reading a few books on the subject.  I can say now that I am wildly better at housekeeping than I was when I had one kid.  I would not call myself good at it yet.

My general goals were: to be able to clean any trashed room in under half an hour (such as a basement full of toys), to be able to straighten the house if unexpected company is coming by in 10-15 minutes, and to be able to walk through the house without avoiding things on the floor (that actually takes about 3-4 pick ups a day).

Despite my great beginnings, and slowly working on flylady, it does still have a tendency to get overwhelming if I'm not on top of things daily.  Which is understandable, considering I have supremely active 6, 3, and 2 year old boys who are in the house most of the day.  (Chana thankfully has learned to police her brass.)

So here is my schedule:

1. my bedroom: July
-ari's closet
-my night table
-laundry basket
-under the bed?
2. boys' bedroom: August
-under the bed
-3 shelves
3. office: September
-my closet
-my dresser
-ari's desk?
-toy bin
-boys' clothes
4. basement: October
5. living room: November
-computer desk
-behind the couch
6. dining room: December
-door to downstairs
-blue furniture
-filing cabinet
-wine cabinet
7. bathrooms: January
8. sunroom: February
-behind couch
9. storage rooms: March
10. kitchen: April
-fridge and freezer
-microwave cart
-laundry room
11. pantry, shared room: May
12. cars, linen closet: June

kol hatchalot enthusiasticot

I handed chana a piece of paper with 3 things written (in hebrew)

1. write hebrew story (est 20 min)

2. chumash (20 min)

3. shemona esrei (est 15 min)

I asked her to please fill out times when she planned to do those activities.  she made a 12 next to the first one, a 1 next to the 2nd, and a "after my plans" next to the 3rd.  she drew a neutral face next to the story, an unhappy face next to chumash, and a rejoicing face next to "plans."

At ten minutes to 12, she got a notebook and writing utensil.  I told her to take her ipad to look up words she didn't know.  She had to re-download the translator app, which she apparently deleted due to lack of use.  She told me to say, "Class, you may begin," at precisely 12.  I don't know what she did for those last few minutes.  Thought of ideas?  Tried out the app?  At 12, she reminded me to say it, so I did.

After 12 minutes, she asked if she could stop.  She had written almost 3/4 of a page in small letters.  So I said yes.  I said tomorrow I would check it with her, and we would correct the first draft together.

Now, even though it is 12:30 and not 1, she is doing Chumash.  12:40, and we finished.  Chazara of half of sheni, chazara of the 2 (complicated) pesukim we did yesterday, and 3 new pesukim.

I predict that since the 3rd time was vague and not specific, she will not initiate it.  But we shall see.

We shall also see if I have the oomph to keep up with this and follow through.  Tomorrow the story draft, and today shemona esrei translation.

ivrit fail

I had been planning for Chana to write a short story in Ivrit, where she looks up words that she wants to use and I go over it afterwards, edit the grammar, she does a rewrite, does more than one draft, and at the end, has a polished story.

We never got around to it.

We are in the middle of shemona esrei translation, and that kind of fizzled out.

Chana told me that she was davening from a siddur at my parents' house, and the instructions were in Hebrew and she didn't understand them.  She's going into 7th grade, and apparently either she can't read without nekudos or she is intimidated to try.

Time to take a look at Ivrit and see if we need to do some work.

This morning (it's always a challenge to bring up work to Chana in the morning--I've mentioned many times that she prefers to work at night) I reminded her that she agreed to do the story.  She agreed that she had agreed.  I also said over the weekend, when we are back at my parents, I'd like to go through the shemona esrei and look at the instructions with her and help her read and understand them.  She scowled, but agreed.  After all, she herself was not happy that she didn't understand them.

A few minutes later when I brought up that we hadn't finished translating shemona esrei, she had enough.

As it is, we have to agree on when to do Chumash today.  I think I will wait a half an hour (unfortunate, since it's pretty quiet now, as Jack and Elazar are playing outside with the neighbors), then ask her when she would like to schedule 3 activities today: beginning her story, chumash, and translation of another bracha of shemona esrei (or a quick review of the ones we already did).

And I just realized it's been over a week of no sfasenu.  Yeesh.