Thursday, August 29, 2013


Tonight, Elazar wanted to spend time singing the trope of the first pasuk outside (ie not reading it) until he learned all the words.  Every time I tried to correct him or help him, he told me he was old enough to learn it himself without help.  He did it about 8 times until he was satisfied.

Then he read the first word of pasuk 2.  He thought the tzadi sofis was an ayin sofis.  But pretty good.  And then he read have of "hay'sa" and laughed himself silly about hiya! like a karate chop.  I look forward to us encountering the actual word היה.

Chana didn't do Chumash today because I was in a school meeting ALL day and she was in a rotten mood when I got home and then she went to trapeze and now I'm going to date night.

I'll suggest she do revi'i but I won't push it.

I had a great idea today to tell her about square roots today.  I think she'll have a lot of fun playing with them and factoring out of them.  Maybe tomorrow.  Except I have to make Shabbos tomorrow.  Also, when I read the boys a story tonight, I thought it might be good for Chana to read it and see how her Hebrew reading comprehension is.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013


I'm not usually sorry I let the kids play with something in a way that society deems inappropriate.  As my brother said yesterday about a play structure in a playground, "What do you mean, 'play with it properly?'  It is just there, and however the kid decides to use it, that is "how" to play with it."  (As I said, we grew up with this sort of attitude.)

But I do regret letting Elazar (when he was about 2) shred the styrofoam packers that came in the mail.  Those were really tough to vacuum up.  They had static electricity and kept dispelling...  Though I guess we learned some science.

overheard phone conversation elazar on phone with his friend

E: "hello?"
friend: "What are you doing?"
e: I'm doing my work!
f: what?
e: I'm busy.  I'm doing my work!
f: what are you doing?
e: I'm playing little alchemy.

Elazar hangs up the phone and chortles.  "I just made a fire engine!"

Little alchemy is...

Well, see for yourself.

It has no explanation so maybe it's better if I don't explain it.  I think it teaches some science facts, and some cultural myths, and some other things.  I didn't know Elazar considers this his work.  As Piaget (or Maria Montessori, or Bob Keenan--thanks, google) said, "Play is the work of children."  I do know that he's learning more than I can imagine.

There is also a page of official cheats that he loves using.

Example: Elazar said, "I just made a sloth!"
I asked how.  He said, "Clock and wild animal."  He has no idea why.  I asked him why he thinks those things make a sloth (years later, he will probably get it).  He said he thought "log" and "wild animal" would make a sloth.

This is not an unschooling post

The vocab in shlishi was so difficult, even though it is short, that Chana began complaining with only 5 pesukim left to the aliya.  She agreed to do 2 more and save the last 3 for this evening.  She said that going through the parshios where they build and make all of the things they are discussing in these parshios will NOT go quickly because she is not remembering this vocabulary.

Maybe if I were a little more flexible about Chumash and thinking in terms of the goal of her understanding the mishkan and not wrestling with the text, I would probably not have her go through all these pesukim and translate them, but instead we would take out a book with pictures.

I read a Marshall Memo this morning with the title: Day schools are not about Jewish Identity, but Jewish Literacy.  I'll post it in the comments.  But it did remind me why I do have Chana grapple with the text and I don't just do pictures.  I don't know if I'm just making her frustrated and just pushing her to do pointless translation that won't even stick into her head.  But I want her to engage with the words of the Torah, the specific words that are used.  I want her to be intimately involved with them.  To spend time reading them.  To have a relationship with them.

Of course, I risk that her relationship with them is dislike.

On the other hand, maybe acquiring skills is painful, and when she comes out the other side she'll be glad she has them.

On the other other hand, maybe I'm making her bang her head against these words, and she's not relating to it in a meaningful way, nor will it have a positive impact long term.

(Yep, since we homeschoolers are completely and 100% in charge of our children's education, we agonize about ponder these things.)

One of the pesukim was so fascinating.  It says the kohen gadol will wear the Tzitz (crown), and it will be on his forehead "l'ratzon" for the jews before Hashem.  First Chana asked what "l'ratzon" means.  I said shoresh "ratza" and it will be something desirable.  She didn't understand.  I said it was like the pair of shoes that she keeps asking me to buy.  The shoes are "l'ratzon" to her.  So she understood, and then she asked what that even means in Hashem's framework because He has no needs.

So I got all excited because we never did finish those brachos in shemona esrei and there is a bracha "retzei" that asks for our prayer to be desirable to Hashem.  So my brain is already creating this awesome little lesson about what makes a prayer more "desirable" than others (e.g. kavana), meaning there's a qualitative difference and that's described as "l'ratzon" or not, and I'm showing her the bracha... and she tells me she's not interested.

So we closed the siddur and the Chumash.

It is my opinion that because a great deal of Chumash time involves activity that Chana does not enjoy, she is eager to get it over with and not inclined to pursue these questions.

On the other hand, I've always been inclined to leave questions as questions until the student pushes to think about or find an answer.  This question won't go away.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

comment on the vocabulary of sheni of tetzave

This is the kind of vocab that she is not going to remember.  Unless she does it many many many many more times.

But i guess the idea is that she remembers what they generally look like.

As I was writing this, Chana said, "I have no idea what's going on!"  Which is actually the goal, which is what I was in the middle of writing.  So I translated the bunch of pesukim for her all together so she could grasp the flow.

it's not all buttercups and gumdrops

It's one of those days where Jackie (age 3) is bothering and bothering Aharon (age 2).  Just torturing him and not backing off.  And Aharon is tired so he doesn't have his usual resilience. So I keep grabbing him off of Aharon and separating them.

Aharon post nap and after lots of cuddles for Jack, they are managing without me again.

Monday, August 26, 2013

how did it go?

How did Chana's first Chumash go after vacation?

Bear in mind, Chana didn't really have summer vacation.  We did Chumash every day until she went to sleepaway camp, finishing up Parshas Tetzave right before she left.  And when she came back, we did some Navi right before we went on vacation.

So, how did it go?

The answer is I have no idea.

I was on the phone with a dear friend who called me to catch up.  In the middle of this conversation, Chana, who had been awake for over an hour already, decided to do Chumash.  I told her it wasn't a good time for me.  She realized she finished the parsha so it's a week of chazara.  She opened to rishon.  She said, "It's 8 pages."  I nodded, since I was on the phone.  She did it herself.  She complained that she didn't know some words.  I handed her a translation.  She called me over at one point to remind her what "ephod" is since it was translated as "ephod."  I said apron and she remembered.  Then she finished.

So I guess everything was fine.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

my thoughts are not his thoughts

We've been on vacation this week.  A few times Elazar asked about his Chumash and was disappointed that we forgot it.  And a couple of times Chana told me her stomach hurt when she thought about doing Chumash.  Hey, isn't homeschooling supposed to prevent schoolitis stomachaches?  Am I doing something wrong?  Maybe.  I guess we will see how Chumash goes and make a plan to change things around, if things aren't working.

Tonight Elazar ran to get his Chumash before bed.  We reviewed reading, trope, translation of the first 3 words of the first pasuk.  He still doesn't remember the nekudos or how to blend very well.  He does remember the words and what they mean.

It's odd to me to not go "in order."  First, he should learn how to read using the aleph bina.  Then he should do R' Winder books.  Then he should open the Chumash.  But who am I to tell a child, no, I will not teach him Chumash.  Chumash is what he wants and Chumash is what I will teach.

He was a bit impatient to move on past those 3 words.  I explained to him about "chazara," which he has heard Chana do.  He was actually pretty enthusiastic about the idea of reviewing so that he'll remember it.  Especially considering an article brought to my attention recently about how children who consider themselves "smart" are disinclined to work hard at things they aren't naturally good at.

So Chana tomorrow.  We'll see how it goes.

Friday, August 23, 2013

let them figure it out themselves

This week we went to Skinner's Falls, which is a gorgeous place on the Delaware river with tubing and lots of rocks and pools for frolicking and jumping off of.

Because I injured my leg recently, I was not as nimble as I usually am.  Therefore, my sister did me the favor of hovering over my 3 and 2 year olds, making sure they didn't slip and fall, or climb to a place where they couldn't get down from, or step into a deep pool or too-rapid-rapids and drown.  My 6yo was like a little goat, so no worries about him, and he ranged far and wide and did what was within his abilities.

People have often commented on my hands-off approach to physical exploration, which was passed down to me by my mom.  My very active three little brothers were permitted to explore, travel, touch, climb, climb, climb, and climb when we were out and about.  In our local daycamp, if you couldn't find my brother, counselors were instructed to look up the trees.

So I was raised that falling down, scraping yourself, bumps and bruises et al. are no big deal.  This is very useful when the kids are exploring and I want them to figure out their own physical limitations.  It's clear to me that allowing an infant to crawl off a table or head first down the stairs is a bad idea, and I always scooped them up before that happened, but I also turned them around to back off of things and tried to do only the minimal to help them out of a pickle, like showing them a place to put their feet instead of lifting them down if they climbed too high.  It's an art, not an exact science.

So my preferred approach in a place full of slippery rocks, tall rocks, puddles, and small rapids is to give them their head and be close enough to rescue if it becomes necessary.  That means let them take a step and catch them if they start to fall on the slippery rock, until they figure out how to move their feet so they don't fall, and I can leave them to it.  Let them climb up and up and up, and show or verbally tell them another way to get down if they call out for me because they can't figure it out.  Test out the depth of the puddles they are playing near, and if they are less than knee-deep, let them explore and watch in case their head slips under, and then wade in and yank them out.  Let them collect and throw rocks and sticks, and only remind them the rule of no throwing near people if people walk by and the kids seem unaware of them.

I like to sit a far enough distance from them so that they know where to find me if they need help or reassurance or they want to come visit, but so that I'm not really involved in their play and explorations.

However, due to my injury, I was unable to keep up with their explorations to make sure they were safe enough to give them the distance I like to give them.  Nor was I able to scramble over to stop possible drownings or big falls.

Had I already written this blog post, I could have given my sister specific and detailed instructions about how to supervise the boys.  But, like I said, it's an art, and it's mostly intuitive.

Instead, I was just grateful that somebody was there who could watch the boys.

I did notice some differences in the way they played.  With my method, the children slowly develop their physical faculties and gain a sense of their abilities and limitations.  It's not outer-directed, it's inner-directed.  I'm often surprised when I hear people tell children to "be careful" because from a very young age, my children train to develop a sense of their physical capabilities or face the bumps and bruises consequences.  (People have made fun of me for piling behind my couch with pillows and blankets and letting my 6 month old climb where he may.)  So while they start off cautious, because they know a situation can have unknowns, they quickly gain a sense of what they can and cannot do.  This means that after an initial foray and assist mode, I can sit back and relax and let them figure it out, knowing that they will heed their own limitations.

This time, since my sister was hovering and helping, I noticed that they called out for her help very frequently.  They climbed and got stuck and she helped them down.  She held their hands.  She took them across the streams.  She was wonderful because I couldn't physically do those things.  But it did seem that the more she helped them, the more they asked for help.

Happily, my sister was delighted to assist them.  I'm lazy and I prefer them to do their educational work themselves, in all situations possible.

Getting involved in aggression that isn't actually harming the victim

Yesterday, Jack (age 3) was spitting water in the pool at Aharon (age 2).  Aharon called me to come help him.  My first instinct was to tell Jack to stop.  Then I remembered the golden rule in bullies2buddies that bothering or teasing that doesn't physically hurt the victim doesn't necessarily need to be stopped.  Instead of focusing on the aggressor (Jack), I spoke to Aharon about his experience, his feelings, and his plans to deal with it.

"Jack spit water at you?" "Yeah.."  "You don't like that?"  "Yeah.." "What do you want to do?" Aharon heads over towards Jack to smack him, as I've discussed, but the water is too deep and he backs up into where he can stand.  He has no water wings.  Jack comes over again and Aharon pops him one.  Jack laughs and backs off, and spits water at him again.  Aharon laughs.  Jack laughs.  

As I mentioned, I've been watching how often the fighting escalates quickly, and then deescalates quickly.  I think they even seem to be getting more skilled at dancing with each other and navigating through their conflicts.  (In response to what someone said: "I can see it works for your children, but that's just them!" --to that I say: 1) Try it out for yourself and 2) Make sure to also give them lots of time, attention, and love so that their conflicts are not also imbued with a feeling that their "emotional cups" aren't full of the love and affection they need from their parents.)

Today I watched the boys in the pool again, and there was a father watching his older two children "mitchering"* the youngest.  He kept telling them to stop.  As far as parenting go, the kids were not overly bothering their sibling, the father wasn't being strident or aggressive or abusive or getting more and more irritated.  I'm not criticizing his parenting.  I hope we all can stay calm and reasonable like that.

However, I do think that the way the kids were bothering their brother could be handled by non-interference.  The "victim" surely can tolerate the small bothering his siblings were dishing out, and it's useful in life to have that skill.

***please do not think that I advocate allowing abuse.  I mentioned many times that if the aggressor does not back off of the victim in a case of blood or great hurt or extreme distress and does not demonstrate empathy, then you should separate them***

It seems to me that as a society (or perhaps my small niche of it), we want to obliterate aggressive feelings even before they escalate into actual blood and broken bones and viciousness.  But accepting that there is a distinction and learning to distinguish between the two is the difference between getting involved every few seconds, vs. relaxing at the pool while they learn important life lessons, all by themselves.

*Mutcheh: (rhyme with "butcher") bother, annoy, harass, needle, pick on. "He mutches me night and day. The man won't let me live!" When my nephew was little, I used to tickle and rough-house with him. My mother would say, "Stop mutchering him, already!!" but the instant she'd walk away he whisper to me, "Come on! Mutcher me some more!" Obviously, HE didn't consider it mutchering!  

Thursday, August 15, 2013

sibling fighting observations

We had a friend sleep over with his son, who is almost 6, around Elazar's age.  I guess the boys were having some conflict, and he asked me my policy on fighting.

Yesterday, I read an article about boys roughhousing and in some of the comments, there was some discussion about how things escalate and somebody always gets hurt.

I described to my friend what I look for in an interaction:

  • When there is conflict, do they try to address it verbally or do they go straight to violence? (In my experience, there is almost always a verbal attempt. Or four or five.)

  • When they begin to scuffle physically, is it very hard or is it a properly weighed cuff--hard enough to sting, but not hard enough to do serious damage?

  • When somebody hurts someone to the point where he cries out in real surprised pain, is there a hesitation, a slight backing off to check it out, or does the aggressor keep going to hurt more?  

Backing off momentarily indicates empathy and caring, and you can stay out of it; ignoring pain and continuing to hurt or trying to induce more pain is a sign that you should immediately wade in a grab the hitter and move him away.

I think most people don't notice this slight hesitation or understand its significance.  Most children are naturally empathetic and have this reaction.  (Notably, my sweet 3yo did not when he was 2 and sitting on his 6mo brother.)

Another thing people miss, in terms of escalation, is that although there is frequently a small intensification of back and forth smacks and punches, accompanied by screaming, it usually quickly peaks to a mutually agreed ending.  It is still somewhat of a mystery to me, but after a flurry of beating each other, one or both backs off.

  • Either they both agree that justice has been served (ie the little one broke the bigger one's castle, so the big one smacks him, and the little one smacks back, and the big one smacks back, and they all agree that justice is served and they both back off, emotionally satisfied).


  • One decides that pursuing it is not worthwhile (ie one wants a toy and tries to take it and they yank it back and forth and smack the bejeebers out of each other and one decides he's been smacked enough).  He may walk away crying, but note that it is already de-escalated without you doing anything.  In that situation, I give hugs and kisses and sympathy (only if I am approached by a crying child), but I do not interfere with the justice of the jungle.  Often, after a brief cry, the child will find some other way to interact.  
It is important to notice that what adults think is fair or just in this situation is not the same as how the children experience it.  I am astonished how often a swift delivery of justice, followed by a retaliation, followed by another cuff of justice/retaliation, is considered equitable to both parties.  I have observed this multiple times.

It is also valuable to let children who are having conflict to physically work it out.  Watch carefully and note how measured the hitting is.  It is not so hard that it will cause damage, and yet it is with enough force to sting.  There are often hesitations and pauses while they learn how much force is too much and how much is just right, and they respond and back off in reactions to exclamations of intense pain.  These are lessons in socialization and emotional intelligence.  It trains children to respond empathetically and to notice nuances in expression, and to grasp emotional subtleties.   When adults don't get involved, you will also observe that children are inclined to back off based on an internal tolerance limit.  They are also inclined to take some time to regroup, and then rejoin with a different approach.  These are things we all would like our children to find the internal fortitude to practice.  Children who rely on adults to intervene often do not have the experience of looking within for these approaches.

If you find that one child is beating another and there is crying out and you do not observe a peak and a slight backing off (but make sure you are not interfering too early--watch first and look for subtle signs of empathy in the midst of the fighting), then separate them.  

My preference is to physically move them apart but not to speak.  I haven't found that saying anything is helpful or useful.  It more likely conveys disapproval and anger that is not beneficial to the child/ren.

But it is really astonishing, if you learn to observe signs of empathy and internal de-escalation, how infrequently you will have to get involved.  I'm not saying it doesn't get loud.  I'm not saying there is no crying.  And I have punted the phrase "No hitting!" from our home.  But the spurts are brief, intense, and noisy, and frequently end with some time of agreement.  It's more Wild, Wild West than civilization.  But read up on justice in the wild west and you'll be surprised at how fair it generally was.

Friday, August 9, 2013

lest you think...

Today, Elazar saw his chumash, said, "Chumash!" and brought it to me to do.  We opened it up and I pointed to the first letter.  And he said, "Actually, I don't want to."  And he put it away and went to play.

v'hagita bo yomam v'layla

Last night, Elazar came home from trapeze at 8:40 (40 minutes past his bedtime.  He can tell time, so he is very aware of when it is and is not his bedtime).  He caught sight of his chumash sitting around, and he said, "I forgot to learn Chumash today!"  So we pulled it open.  I started from the beginning again, since he's not fluent yet.  He is remembering some of it.

What we did broke down into a number of skills:

  • letter identification
  • letter sounds
  • vowel sounds (nekudos)
  • blending letter sounds with vowel sounds
  • reading the word as a whole
  • translation
  • reading comprehension
  • trope
When we got halfway through the word "elokim" (bereshis bara elokim), and he had read the aleph, blended with the chataf-segol, the lamed with the cholem, and the hey, he said, "elokeinu!" I said here it was elokim.  and that elokeinu is elokim shelanu.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

al pi darko

Apparently, when we were out last night, Elazar brought the Chumash to Sarah and she did some with him.  And this morning, he brought it to me and we did some more.  He recognized nekudos, even though he didn't remember what sound each one makes, and I showed him.  I showed him the trope, and what sound it makes, and he liked that.  At first he said he did it already with Sarah, but I showed him details that he didn't know.  We did 3 words.

It feels a little weird to do things this way.  Usually, first the student already knows how to read.  Then the student learns prefixes and suffixes via the lashon hatorah workbooks.

But this reminds me of how I had to shift my ideas of how a student learns to read when Chana started to read.  She would read a book that was too difficult for her, and she would skip over all the words she found too difficult.  This was most words.  She would barely understand what she read.  Somehow, she still gathered enough that she enjoyed it.  Then she would read it again, this time with more words.  She read it over and over, each time skipping many words, but each time understanding more.  This goes against all of the classic ways of learning to read.  But she seemed to be progressing, and she enjoyed it this way.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

good to have no plan

So here is how the Chumash lesson went.  Elazar (age 6) opened to the first page and thought it looked like it should be colored.  So he went upstairs to color it.  Jack (3.5) asked for a Chumash, too.  So I went upstairs to get him.  Elazar was about finished coloring, so we sat down on the floor and opened up both the Chumashim.  Elazar opened to the title page and wanted to know what it said and meant.  It said "Chumash Menukad" meaning the rashi has nekudos (vowels).  We looked at Jack's rashi and Elazar's rashi.  Elazar said, "Right mine is harder because it has nekudos?"  I said, "Ok."  Because I didn't want to lie but also didn't want to fight.

Then I realized that the white balls from Hungry, Hungry Hippo were strewn on the floor, so I asked the boys to clean them up.  Aharon (age 2) ran to do so, and the others followed.  Then they settled back down.  I showed Elazar the first word and asked him to identify the first letter.  He said, "Beis."  I asked what sound he thought it made, and he said, "b-b-b.  Like B!"  Yup.  Then I pointed to the second letter, but he asked about the big aleph and the little aleph, so I told him about perek and pasuk and showed him on the top how it shows what perek you are in.  Then he realized that he was chewing his toy stethoscope and remembered I bought him chewelry so he ran to get it.  Then Aharon started listening to my heart and Jack started crying that he wants chewelry.  Then Elazar came back, and we settled in to learn some more, and I pointed to the next letter, and he said, "Wait!  I wanted to learn a little and I already learned a little!  So I'm done!"  and he put his Chumash away on the shelf and ran to the neighbors, presumably to share the exciting news that he just learned some Chumash.

Or maybe to show off his chewelry.

In the Beginning

In my ongoing attempts to declutter, August is the boys' room.  I'm trying to consolidate all the books onto fewer shelves.  It's difficult because part of unschooling is that I want to have things on the shelves.  Who knows what will catch someone's eye?  On the other hand, I just this morning read some research about "constraint satisfaction:"
When presented with too many choices — no matter how beautiful or beneficial — it can be overwhelming, and we are paralyzed by indecision.
That's why having constraints, or any sort of limits, is beneficial and leads to solutions. 
In fact, "much creativity emerges from constraint satisfaction. ... Einstein had one of his major breakthroughs when he realized that time need not pass at a constant rate."
So space with not too much in it is probably better for the mind to function.  It often seems that fewer toys in a space are more easily played with than an overwhelming amount of toys.
So I moved out all of the books between Chana's reading level and Elazar's reading level.  Like all the exciting sci-fi books I hope Elazar might pick up one day.  Then I started putting more books away, like limudei kodesh things that I might want, but will not be much use to a child who stumbles over it.  Like the chumashim that Chana is not using but Elazar is not up to.  As I scooped those up, I kept a Bereshis out.  Elazar walked by it and asked what it was.  I told him it is his Chumash.  He got excited and asked immediately to start learning it.  
Then I started looking for our aleph bina.  I figured he'll probably be wanting to sit down and start learning to read periodically.  But I can't find it.  I'm sure I had it out last year when he was interested in the aleph beis.  But I don't know where it is!  I can't imagine where it went.  
As I was hunting for the aleph bina, Elazar found "Hungry, Hungry Hippos" and the boys started playing that.  
But he brought the Chumash down a half an hour later and wants to learn!  
I'm so nervous.  I want it to be fun for him.  Every time I try to teach him he gets bored very quickly.  Is this normal because he is young?  Is there a method that would captivate him?
I'm figuring a five minute lesson where he enjoys it and desires more.

Monday, August 5, 2013


A big part of my thus-far largely untested unschooling philosophy revolves around teaching content to an interested youngster, and waiting to teach skills until he asks.  One hopes that as he gets older, particularly as his bar mitzva approaches, he will become interested.  A motivated adolescent should be able to learn the aleph beis in a few weeks, and from there, reading is pretty easy.  In a couple of months he'll be able to read fairly fluently, if he's interested in practicing.  Hopefully, he'll be familiar with the content of whatever he's been interested in until now (Elazar, age 6, likes learning about mitzvos, halacha, navi stories, and chumash stories), so some of the phrases and words will be familiar to him.  (Additionally, I speak very American Hebrew to my kids, which gives them some familiarity and some vocabulary.)

But clearly he will not be knocking back pesukim translation, mishna translation, rashi translation.  I hope he will get to it, but it seems to me entirely possible that I would have a 14 year old who isn't translating very much.

This morning I read a paper by Martin Lockshin: Teaching Judaica without Teaching Hebrew.  The gist is that he is opposed to it.

It might then be possible, admittedly, to inspire our students to love some Torah classics even if they do not really follow the Hebrew well. But our students will not be able to participate in the enterprise of interpretation, they will fail to appreciate what is at stake in half the disputes between ibn Ezra and Rashi, if they don’t have strong Hebrew skills. And the problem is particularly acute in Jewish classical texts where so many texts represent arguments about interpretation. So much of tannaitic literature centers around the true meaning of words of the Torah, so much of amoraic literature concerns the true meaning of the words of the tannaim, and so much of rishonim literature consists of disputes about the true meaning of the words of the previous classics. Our students who have weak Hebrew are shut out of all of these discussions, which constitute a significant percentage of Torah study.
I don't disagree with him.  Sometimes I wonder if I'm doing my children a disservice.  I, personally, have very strong skills.  It's true I went to schools that developed these skills (and I'm not sure if elementary schools today are up to par) and that I was in a very high pressured academic environment that I'm not sure I want for my children.   

I do think that not being able to learn in the original language is limiting.  I do think that a lot of nuance will be lost.  There is a lot of deliberate ambiguity in the Torah to leave open the possibility of different interpretations, and reading a translation closes that off.  The commentators are not usually deliberately ambiguous, but you often lose something in translation.  

Unschooling does not mean that your children automatically won't have good skills.  It does mean that they will very likely acquire them much later than is standard for kids in yeshiva.  My goal is not for my kids to lack skills.  However, it feels like unschooling is a risk in the area of skills, and I'd be foolish to not consider what my child's life will look like if he fails to acquire them, and to take that possibility into consideration when deciding how to educate him.
(I must add that if you look at the statistics of students coming out of our day schools, you will find a high percentage of their skills being pretty dismal these days, so perhaps I can argue that sending a kid to day school yeshiva also runs a risk of poor skills.)

I think this really comes down to my educational goals and also has to do with whether or not immersing a child in learning for hours a day at a young age is a value.  Post on that pending, hopefully.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

on unschooling and housekeeping

I've taken the boys out for a few hours every day this week.  As a result, the house looks messy, but not trashed.  I could hardly believe I've gotten to Thursday without the place looking like a tornado spiraled through it (make that 3 tornadoes and their friends :), until I realized what a difference it makes when your kids are out of the house.

My neighbor (also a homeschooler) told me a few years ago that of course the house is messier, because we are using it the entire day.  For some reason, I hadn't thought of that.  (Probably because we all know a house can be trashed in about 2 minutes, and I never realized the quantitative difference between the 2 minute trash and a day's worth of a lot of 2 minute trashes).

I've been thinking about Elazar's education, probably because Chana's away at camp and so I have a break from teaching her.  He's kind of interested in reading, and kind of interested in Torah, and I'm thinking about the difference between nudging him a bit vs unschooling.

My neighbor asked me about R' Winder workbooks yesterday.  I used them with the girls and we loved them.  I don't start them until the kids can read.  This is usually first grade.  Elazar is 6.  But I'm not teaching him how to read.  When he wants to, he'll teach himself or ask me or someone else to teach him.  (Not to say that when he asked me to write down "lava coloring pages" this morning so he can type it into google to search and print, that I didn't ask him what sound it started with, which he correctly identified as "L" and the next syllable, which he sounded "vvvvv...V.")

He loves music and sings a lot, yet when I sat down and layned the first pasuk in the Torah, it didn't call out to him.  He got bored.
I don't have much exposure to the Zilberman method, but I think he'd probably respond to it.  Unfortunately, I'm not trained in that method, nor do I know enough about it to implement it.

But I was thinking, what is the difference between me teaching him now, slowly, laboriously.  Pushing him, but not painfully.  Making him stretch a bit.
Or, I can wait.  And when he's 10, he'll zip through it.  Either through the R' Winder books for elementary ages, or the books designed for older children.  What might I gain by having him spend the hours now, when he's younger, as opposed to him doing more speedily and efficiently when he's older?

Classical education has the teacher stretching the student.  Not painfully, but ideally in that sweet spot right out of the comfort zone but before frustration, where they gain new skills or expand their thinking in new ways.  I was thinking this morning of the many tussles I had with both Chana and Sarah about Chumash, and how after a few years of "stretching," they got into the groove and could read and translate fairly independently.

Unschooling has the child playing, playing, playing.  The play is the essential activity through which they learn and grow and discover.  They also become interested in different areas of knowledge, and learn what they need and want in order to pursue what they want to pursue.
I think, given our home environment, it will be unlikely that Elazar will reach bar mitzva without desiring to read and understand the Torah.

Am I willing to risk that?

Some might argue that having the discipline to sit and apply himself to learning is an important skill to develop.  All I can say to that is that in my experience, playing for more years does not impact on their future ability to be self-disciplined and to apply themselves.  Sarah went from learning 45 minutes of chumash, 45 minutes of math, and 15 minutes of rashi a day (less than 2 hours, not in a row) to sitting from 8am-5pm.  And homework.  With no trouble at all.
Probably the fact that this was her choice had an effect.  I would hope that my education includes enough of a sense of responsibility that applying themselves diligently to work to support themselves would be their choice, too.

Another argument is that perhaps my son is old enough for chinuch and I am not educating him to immerse himself in Torah.  I have numerous thoughts on this so maybe it would be better to have it its own post.