Wednesday, September 25, 2013

America's Next Top Model and the sin of the Golden Calf

Doing the pesukim that Hashem is no longer going to "travel" with the Jews in their midst after cheyt haegel, but sending a messenger instead, because He will destroy the Jews because they are a stiff-necked people.  Chana didn't understand what that meant.

I explained using America's Next Top Model.  Let's say Tyra Banks is mentoring the girls.  Let's say they were being obnoxious and not listening to her advice and being stubborn and running amok.  So she decides to cancel the show and forget everything.

So then Moshe intervenes and asks her please to reconsider.  So instead, she kicks off the 2 worst offenders, but says she really can't mentor them herself because if they mess up like this again, she's going to just cancel the show.  Instead, she gives them a different mentor.  One who isn't as qualified or experienced.

Monday, September 23, 2013

being a SAHM

I haven't read Lean In yet.  (I'm #42 out of 111 people requesting it from the library.)

I am a stay at home mom.  I also homeschool, which in this society gives me a little more credence.  But it's the stay at home mothering that I'm thinking about.

My 3yo is going through a rough patch.  He's having a lot of feelings and tantrums and it's been this way for months.  Every. Single. Day there is emotional upheaval and distress about how things are going and how life isn't how it's supposed to be.

Sometimes, I'm wonderful.  Sometimes I'm abusive.  Sometimes, I have clarity and calm and serenity and am a font of wisdom and intuition.  Sometimes, I can't see him because something in me is being triggered.

I consider it my sacred task as a mother to guide my children through their emotional development.  There are so many moments, every day, when this happens.  There are so many feelings and conflicts.

I consider it a privilege and a gift to be able to navigate this with them.  I consider it one of the most fundamental and important tasks in society: to be in charge of the enormous job of guiding young children through the journey of their feelings.  To provide them with boundaries.  To be a base of emotional security as they explore.

This is done in the thousands of moments we have together.  It's not quality time, it's quantity time.  Everything comes up.  We have opportunities and opportunities and opportunities to work on conflict resolution, anger management, self-awareness, acknowledgment of mistakes, repairing damage to relationships, creative problem solving, understanding and coping with our emotions... and the kids do, too.  ;-)

Good mothering is a major foundation of our children's emotional health.  I'm glad I get to practice it full time.  So many times during the day I think about how what is happening now and my reactions have an impact on how they relate to the world, their feelings, and future relationships.

I'm not sure why some people feel like staying at home with the children is not one of the most vital tasks we can do for them as individuals and for society at large.  (I am pro equal opportunity employment, in case you are wondering.)  Raising emotionally healthy children who can function happily in satisfying relationships and contribute their abilities and talents to the world are a gift to the children as individuals and a gift to humanity.

it's not so simple

So Jack is crying.  Aharon hit him with a toy car.

I am thinking about whether or not to take away the car.  At first it seems like a simple, easy answer.  Clear rule: if you hit with something, it gets taken away.
This is to discourage hitting people with objects.  (I've mentioned before that I've discarded the blanket "no hitting" rule because, as it turns out, there is actually plenty of measured hitting as they work out their conflicts.)

Hit with object.  Object gets taken away.  Child will either a) restrain himself from hitting someone with the object next time because he wants to keep the object or b) will not have the object to hit anyone with.  Happy ending either way.

But I'm not sure that is the most effective, efficient way to handle it.  I didn't actually see how hard Aharon hit him with the car.  It's possible Aharon (age 2) hit him because Jack (age 3) was attempting to wrest it away from him.  It's possible that Aharon hit him with a hit calculated to prevent him from attempting to take it away again, but not too hard.  It's possible that Jack's cry is a manipulation attempt to get me to intervene, when in fact, it has been handled beautifully and efficiently.

I did, in fact, take away the car, saying the rule, "If you hit someone with something, it gets taken away."  Aharon did not object.

But I wonder.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

there are no bad kids, just unsuitable environments

I had one of the most difficult homeschooling days of my life this week.  I've been homeschooling for fifteen years.

We went on a homeschool trip.  Trips are a vital and vibrant part of homeschooling.  Rather than being at home all day learning from books, a great deal of homeschooling occurs by hands-on learning, especially by trips to museums and classes and being out and about in the world, exploring it.

I've been to Poppenhusen Museum before, back when Sarah and Chana were younger.  I remember it being a wonderful 2 part program that taught us history of Queens, history of what schools were like in "the olden days" via an actress pretending to be the original teacher, and very hands on activities about what the Native Americans did and how they lived.

Well.  This was back when Sarah was about 9 and Chana was almost 4.

It is not the same at all when the children I am dealing with are 6, 3, and 2.  I didn't realize just how much lecturing there was until Elazar got increasingly wriggly, restless, loud, active, and inquisitive.  When he had to restrain himself verbally, his body started moving more.  When I stopped him from running, he began tumbling.  When I stopped him from tumbling, he began exploring and touching.  It has been quite a long time since I've been someplace that garnered me and my children so many dirty looks.  And these from fellow homeschoolers.

I haven't really done that many trips in the last three years.  Ever since the Cradle of Aviation museum when I was nursing a newborn Jack and the rambunctious 2-year-old Elazar left me in the dust running all over the place, I realized my life had changed.   But now Aharon can walk around under his own steam, and Elazar is six, and I thought... I thought we could do it.

I once saw a homeschooling conference speech topic called: ADHD?  And does it matter?  That really resonated with me.  Might Elazar need medication if he was in school?  He might.  I recall that one of my brothers, very energetic, had a tough time sitting in school.  The good teachers allowed him to pace quietly in the back when he needed to.  I remember my mother rejecting Ritalin twenty years before it was common for teachers to suggest it.

Leonard Sax, in his book Boys Adrift, discusses an epidemic of medicating children, especially boys.  He makes an interesting point that the majority of kids diagnosed with ADHD in kindergarten are in the younger half of the class.  This is why, he says, it makes sense to hold boys back a grade.  Many of the younger boys are incapable of doing what they are being asked to do.

My feeling is that I'd rather set aside the issue of ADHD* and tailor my children's education to their nature.

Many complaints about homeschoolers when they matriculate is that they are too egocentric about their education.  They demand answers to their questions and don't seem to grasp when the class needs to move on.  They "take over" and expect more interaction from their teachers.  They expect the work they are given to have a good rationale behind it.  They expect the work to be interesting.  They stubbornly refuse to do it if they don't agree with it.  They are vocal about their opinions.  And these are the non-ADHD kids.  They just have a strong stake in their educations.

The environment that Elazar and I were in this week was so awful for him that the word ADHD was running through my head over and over.  I was getting irritated at him because he wouldn't sit (even though he did sit, first for almost 10 minutes out of a TWENTY minute gently spoken introduction, and then for 7 minutes in what was supposed to be an interactive program, at which point he left.  We didn't even attempt the last part of the program, which was supposed to be where you handle all the Native American artifacts and crawl in a wigwam, because when I peeked into Chana's group, they were... SITTING and passively LISTENING).

It's very possible that at age 6, Elazar can handle a program of this nature.  IF I shadow him.  If I help him.  If I stand next to him and whisper to him and focus him and restrain him.

However, I am blessed with Jack, age 3.5, extremely introverted and nervous standing by himself in new surroundings, and Aharon, age 2--well, that age speaks for itself.  It was impossible to help Elazar out while tending to the needs of his younger brothers and be quiet enough to not distract everyone else.  I was tense, stressed, fielding dirty looks, and just about crying.  And upset at my energetic, sweet, well-meaning Elazar.

Imagine if he and I were dealing with this every day.  Imagine if Elazar were in an environment which did not accept his physicality, his energy, his need for movement.  Imagine dirty looks and frustration on a daily basis.  Imagine me not knowing what to do about him every single day.  Imagine him being in an environment with demands on him that are so against his nature that his nature never gets a chance to shine.  Imagine his intellect rarely being activated because he was using all his efforts to conform to an unnecessary system.  Imagine if he were not allowed to learn by experiments and by hands-on exploration.  Imagine him being told don't touch, don't move, stop it, don't, stop, no, no, no all day long.

I'm very grateful that he is homeschooled.  I'm grateful I don't have to face the difficult decision of medicating or not.  I'm grateful to have the opportunity to make my own mistakes and try to set up a learning environment where his curiosity and energy are assets, not something to be numbed so he can sit in class.

* (Elazar does actually have the capacity to sit and focus on things, despite the rule of thumb I learned in an education course to do one type of activity for only as many minutes as years of age the children are.  So for 10 year olds, lecture for 10 minutes, not more, then change the activity to have them write something, then change the activity etc.)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

what a relief

What a relief it is to be back in the story mode section of Torah.  7 pesukim yesterday in under 10 minutes, and 9 pesukim today.  zip, zip, zip.  With time for classic questions such as, "Hey, wait a minute.  Hashem told Moshe about this before he went down?  Then how come got angry he broke the luchos?  Did he not believe Hashem?"

fear and keeping up

In school today, my high school students were memorizing how to cite sources.  "Last name, first name, colon..."  Actually, that's probably incorrect.  But that's what google is for.  I vaguely remember how to cite because of the many papers I wrote.  And if I need to refresh my memory, then I'll google it.  Gone are the days when I had to go to the library or find a book with citations.  It's a little hard for me to understand why students have to memorize such a thing.

I was thinking about it a little later, trying to be dan l'kaf z'chus.  I know that the teachers in this school are thoughtful and have reasons for what they ask.  This definitely will make the students more mindful of sources and citations.

But it got me thinking about unschooling some more.  I was thinking about how I could, theoretically, sing the bentching with Elazar every day.  But he doesn't really like it.  Chana, since she knew how to read Hebrew when her chiyuv came upon her, and she practiced for a few months beforehand, has been able to bentch quite smoothly when she wants and needs to.

Sometimes I get nervous, seeing such young children, like in first, second, and third grade, accomplish SO much.  They read so much, learn so much, sit so long...  I thought I was past that nervousness, seeing as I have a daughter in college who did just fine and a 7th grader who is doing great and will also be able to academically do whatever she needs to.  But sometimes I see a father learning with his second or third grader and I start to worry--  should I be doing more now?

It's an odd worry, because I have NO concern that my child/ren will be "behind."  I have full confidence that they will be functioning adults (at least academically; emotionally, we have a lot of work and struggles and issues ahead of us and, like my Rabbi, Rabbi Mann, once told me, that's like white water rafting: put on a life vest, hold on for the ride, and hope nobody falls off).

So why, if I think they will easily catch up on whatever work they need to, do I get so nervous when I see a 3rd grader zipping through his Chumash translation when my child is barely reading?

Part of it is social.  Part of it is insecurity.

One of the things I do when I start to feel this way is clarify my understanding of what I'm doing and why I'm doing it.

I thought some more about citations and bibliographies.  Let's say my unschooled child becomes either college age and has to write a paper, or an adult and part of his or her job is to cite correctly.  Let's say that up until that point, the child (now an adult) has never, ever dealt with citing according to standards.  How would they handle that?  Will they feel embarrassed?  Upset that they don't know it?

Or will they cheerfully dive in to figuring out how to do it?

I think a fundamental tenet of unschooling is that a human will happily and cheerfully learn what is useful or interesting.

There is no shame in not knowing something.  Because until now, they have been busy learning other things that were interesting and useful.  And now that this comes across their path, they will apply themselves to learn how to do it.

This is the nature of unschooling.  The child views learning as natural, pleasant and organic.  If they want to know something, they find it out.  They look it up or ask or learn it or find someone to teach it, and practice it until they are satisfied.

Why would they ever be upset or embarrassed that they don't know something?  Life has hopefully been a series of situations where they didn't know something, and they figured it out or asked or learned or practiced, and then they did know it.

And I hope their experiences will give them confidence.  The "learning schedule" on which the glory of the universe unfolds varies from individual to individual, and is a life-long process.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

coloring page for yom kippur

I wanted to find a coloring page with the 5 Inuyim (minus tashmish) for Yom Kippur.  Since I couldn't find one, I made one.  You'll have to center the images how you want them.  Or here is a link:


Monday, September 9, 2013

a bit extreme?

The kids had friends over yesterday.  I told them to clean up the basement before they left.  They didn't really clean much.  Or perhaps they did.  Suffice it to say there was a lot that was not put away.

Then they had another playdate today.  I was pretty annoyed about yesterday.  I also felt bad, because I remember being told, "Go clean the basement" and there being such a huge amount of toys that I could barely make a dent in it.  Maybe they feel the same way.

Anyway, I went downstairs today and just put everything that was not put away into a garbage bag.  I got another bag for things to throw out, like used paper.  There was so much stuff on the floor I got another garbage bag.

As I was dumping toys into garbage bags, I kept having two different feelings:

1) They play with this so much!
2) Do we really need 30 trucks?

Anyway, I don't know what will be missed.  I am not sure where to keep 2 giant garbage bags of stuff.  I feel like if they miss any of the stuff, they can do something to redeem it.  And if they don't miss it, then we didn't really need it, did we?

Sunday, September 8, 2013

post tzom gedalia chumash

Chana did shevi'i last night so she wouldn't have to do Chumash today.  Sometimes she likes to get ahead of the day's work by doing it the night before and take the next day off.

Today I asked if she was finished with the parsha.  She was.  I wanted her to go through the very few rashis we had done inside on the parsha.  I figured there were 5 and she figured 6.  But she suggested we not do it while she was fasting.  Remembering how Chumash used to go when she was hungry, I agreed.

After the fast, after 9:30, I decided instead of doing the rashis, we would just skip them and start Ki Sisa.

Well.  She wanted to wait 20 min and then do it, and I wanted to go to bed.  The pesukim had a few new phrases she didn't understand or remember, and we started bickering about kapara.  (Yes, I am aware Yom Kippur is next week.)  I said kofer nefesh is an atonement for his soul.  She asked what an atonement is.  I said it's something that brings forgiveness.  She said then why don't I just say it's a forgiveness for his soul.  I said that's not the same thing.  We went round and round like this a bit.  Anyway, she was getting more and more annoyed.  She restrained herself the entire time and did not yell at me, which I appreciated.  I limited us to 3 pesukim when a couple of more phrases began to be confusing to her.  She also asked how an atonement achieves forgiveness, and I said I need time to think about this.  Almost 10pm is not when I can answer coherently, when she is holding on to her temper by a thread.

She said afterwards that she feels like she should apologize, but she doesn't actually think she did anything wrong.  I said on the contrary, she held onto her temper admirably.  She asked if that is the case, then why did I have an expression of annoyance on my face.  I said I felt my expression was one of a person who was sitting next to someone thinking, "I want to kill you! But I'm controlling myself.  But I want to kill you! But I'm controlling myself."  Then I asked if I could hug her, and she said she didn't want a hug.  And I said that I would like a hug.  And she asked why anyone would want a hug from someone who wants to kill them.  And I said because it would reassure me.  And she said that's like asking someone who is holding a knife to you to give you a hug to reassure you.

Anyway, I still feel like I would like a hug.

another sibling rivalry technique: roughhousing

On August 27th I wrote about how my 3yo was pounding the 2yo and not stopping.  We seem to be in that "phase" now.  I spoke to 3yo about it when things were quiet, about how he felt about hitting his brother, was he aware that he was screaming for him to stop, and how he wasn't stopping.  I asked his opinion about me pulling him off of his brother when his brother was screaming and he wasn't stopping, and he thought it was a good idea.

I was doing that for the last week or so, which caused the little one to play up the victim role more, and to a lot more screams of "Mommy!"

I just remembered a technique I like to use in these cases.  It's inspired by the book Playful Parenting by Larry Cohen.  When the aggressor and victim are rolling around and the victim is screaming and the aggressor doesn't stop, I pull the victim out, briefly comfort him, and then start roughhousing the aggressor.  The more giggles I can elicit, the better.

Ten to twenty minutes of roughhousing can change the whole course of the day.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

the end of the unschooling math era

I'm going off on a tangent to talk about Math.  Although this is a Chumash blog, some of you might be interested.  Chana was unschooled math until about 3rd grade.  During unschooling, money, time, and basic arithmetic came up very naturally.  Chana found it useful and interesting, and loved learning how to carry and regroup and multiply and do long division.

Then came fractions.  She did not love them, and although by that point I was theoretically teaching math and no longer unschooling, we eventually dropped math altogether (except for whatever came up--she always managed her money beautifully) for 2.5 years.  In my opinion, that's not a really long time to see how unschooling goes.  Basically, if a child is de-schooling, it could take that long just to recover from the stress.

My theory was that if I left it alone, eventually Chana would either find it interesting or useful, at which point she would learn it quickly.  Worst case, she would take a remedial course in college, and learn all of basic math in one semester.  I'm not sure why I even call that worst case, since it seems like a perfectly fine case to me.  After you've been homeschooling for over a decade, long term goals seem perfectly reasonable.

Now Chana has decided to go to high school in 2 years.  I have decided, if possible, I would like her to take the Algebra Regents (I'm not so up on NY regulations regarding high school, but from what I understand, although mainstream schools are required by NYS law to have regents, homeschoolers aren't legally required because they don't get an official diploma.  They either get a GED, or matriculate into college, and 24 credits is the equivalent of a high school diploma or something like that.  Don't quote me).

I asked Chana if she wants to use Khan Academy or some type of program or if she wants me to teach her.  She said she wants me.  (I would have preferred something she can do on her own).  I wrote what I think she needs to learn on a piece of paper, and she will choose what to do.  Hopefully all this will lead to the ability to do algebra.

Here it is:

adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing
conversion improper and mixed number
converting to decimals

Positive and Negative Integers:
adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing

adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing
converting to fractions

Order of Operations: PEMDAS

Percents and Proportions problems

Area, Perimeter, Volume

adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing

PS.  I checked out the Art of Problem Solving, which has a free online program, so I tried to sign Chana up to see if she likes it (she refused Khan Academy on the grounds that she despises learning from videos, and since I abhor watching videos, I understand).  The sign up process is complicated (and I passed it along to Ari) so I'm not sure how that will go.  I'll keep you posted.

Monday, September 2, 2013

pre-rosh hashana

Perhaps I should start by saying, "Don't homeschool close to the chagim."  Or "Never attempt homeschooling before a 3-day-yontif."

Anyway, for Chana, I wanted to show her the different parts of shacharis shemona esrei, which is her basic level chiyuv.  She doesn't like to say an unfamiliar one when she is stuck in amidah and can't ask if she's supposed to say this paragraph or not.

If we have time, I'd like to go through malchiyos, zichronos, and shofaros with her.  Outside the text.

I had a brainstorm to have her go through the Torah readings for both days (and hopefully the haftorah of the story of Chana, which has special significance to her name and why that is her name).

So we had a miscommunication and she thought she was doing the Torah portion instead of Chumash, and I thought in addition (she is up to chazara of shishi and I'd really like to be through sefer Shmos in a couple of months).  A batch of chocolate chip cookie dough did not improve her mood, in case you were thinking of trying that tactic out.

She agreed to set the timer for 10 minutes and do however much.  She got through half the Torah reading.  It's a nice chazara.  She doesn't remember the difficult or unusual words, but I wouldn't expect her to.  I would have been delighted if she had known it better, but on the up side, it is clearly not her first time going through this material.

And now back to cooking.

Oh, I forgot to mention that the boys' fighting (Jack and Aharon) was SO bad I had to call Ari down for backup (luckily it's Labor Day) and Elazar was asking where his cookie dough was over and over, even though I kept saying I'd give it to him in 10 minutes (he eventually went to the fridge and found the one with his name on it).


Many people are concerned that allowing unlimited time on multimedia will cause children to become addicted.

- Based on the book Are You Hungry by Hirschmann and Zaphiropoulos, unlimited can lead to moderation.

- If the child is under stress, then dealing with the source of the stress (e.g. a troubled marriage or unhealthy parenting) is more fundamental than multimedia time.

- If real life has interesting, hands-on opportunities to explore things, then children will generally prefer that to spending all of their time on multimedia, if given a genuine choice between unlimited multimedia and doing fun things. (And if the emotional stresses are resolved.)

But that's not why I'm here today.  That was just the intro.  My daughter has a facebook page.  The rules are to only accept friends she knows in real life.  (An exception is a girl she met online and whom we have met on facetime or whatever app it is these days after asking her to get her mother's permission, and are thus convinced she is who she says she is.)

Whoops, I'm getting distracted.  This is not a post on my multimedia policies for preteens.  Educate yourself and be smart.  (My personal refrain to my daughter is: "Assume the person you are talking to might be a 30 year old pedophile.")

What I wanted to say is that facebook chat has been nice for unschooling Ivrit.  I speak (halting American) Hebrew to my kids.  When writing Chana a note, it's been more complicated because she isn't nearly as good at reading as she is at listening comprehension.  The first thing I did when she got her computer and her ipad (both earned herself) was put Hebrew language on.  With gchat, I used to type in Hebrew, too, but I'm just finding with fb chat that she understands me better and is even trying to type Hebrew when she can.  Maybe because she is older now.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

unschooling limudei kodesh

It was Friday night and Ari went to shul, and I was looking forward to sitting down and relaxing with a book.

This was not to be.  Elazar pulled out his Chumash, and Jack pulled out a flip book with aleph beis given to us by a friend.  It has two books in it, and he gave Aharon one.

People often ask how to teach all the kids at the same time.  The fact is, I usually don't.  I usually teach each child individually, at different points during the day.  But Friday night was pretty much what most people ask about.  Elazar was reviewing Chumash.  Jack and Aharon were clamoring about the letters.  (Aharon, although only age 2, spent numerous hours a day watching Team Umizoomi and somehow learned all of the numbers.  So he has the capacity for letter recognition, and he kept asking me "What's this?")  Elazar then asked about rashi, and I started showing him inside rashi, but then went upstairs and pulled out the memory matching Rashi game that I have that has all the letters, and we spent some time matching rashi letters to print letters.  We were setting up the squares, and Jack kept undoing the set up, etc. etc.  He read the Hebrew word "רש"י" and saw it was the same in the Chumash.  He picked up one card and laughed, "This is a funny one!  What is this?"  And it was the aleph.  He thought that was wild and completely unexpected.  We went back to the Chumash and found a few alephs in rashi.  It's possible he might have done more, but Jack was crying that I wasn't helping him learn, and Aharon was also getting insistent.

I was basically exhausted at the end of the hour, when Ari came home.  It was a relentless hour of them pushing and pushing and insisting that I teach them.

One of the things I have found about unschooling that I really like is that the children are inclined to walk by it, see it, and pick it up.  In mainstream school, or at least my own personal experience of it, it was a rare phenomenon to pick up something that was school-y and want to learn it outside of being obligated to do it.  I really enjoy when my children don't see learning that way.  Although I spent many hours learning in school as a kid, I also equally wanted nothing to do with schoolwork when I didn't have to be there.  And I was considered a pretty self-motivated kid who loved learning.  I just really like when my kids want to learn just because they are interested in the subject, and for no other reason, with no other pressure, and no expectations, and no goals.*

*Which reminds me of an article I reread last week about expectations being the enemy of creativity.