Tuesday, October 29, 2013

in case you were wondering

Elazar hasn't been doing any chumash at all recently.  He does enjoy listening to parsha.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

follow up about math

I wrote in the previous post about how Chana was technically "behind" in math for 4 years, since she got confused about fractions, and I tried a few times, and then essentially taught her no official math until this year (7th grade).  I wrote that she didn't feel behind because she wasn't failing, she wasn't being confronted with math class after math class that she didn't understand because she hadn't mastered the previous skills, and instead of becoming more and more disheartened and convinced her math abilities were horrible, we just left it alone and picked it up this year, when I am delighted to report that she seems to have regained her math intuition and abilities.

I watched her do a division decimal problem (something like 4567.89/34.56) and I was thinking about how much multiplication and addition and subtraction has to be mastered to get to that point.  Next week I'll give her the same types of problems with positive and negative integers and see if she can incorporate it all.

I had said she didn't feel behind.  However, I would like to tell a story about what happened in sleepaway camp this summer.  As you may or may not know, middle school girls are notorious for being vicious.

I'm sure most homeschooled kids (being out and about in the real world) have experienced being questioned by matriculated kids.  Chana reports she gets a lot of "You're so lucky!"s and "How do you make friends?" (Rather a funny question to be asked in summer camp).   This time, one of them asked her a math question.  Chana did not know the answer.

"Are you planning to go to high school?"
Chana said yes.
"Do you know [gobbeltygobbeltygook-math]?"
"Well, good luck in high school."

When Chana told me that, expressing glumly that she wasn't so good at math, I said, "Well, they've been sitting in math class for SEVEN years and you've been playing, and in one year you're going to learn everything and catch up."

She then told me the rest of the conversation:
Chana: "My sister went to high school."
"And she failed?"
"She got the math award."

Although I'm sorry that Chana had that somewhat uncomfortable experience, I stand by how we handled her math education.  The benefits of having her not experience frustration and spiral further and further into negativity, and then the bonus positive of her actually being interested in math and re-discovering her math intuition and mathematical insight is one of great delights of homeschooling.


I love homeschooling.  Every year I love it more.  I've mentioned before how incredible it is to tinker with curricula.  You get to do whatever you want.  If you don't like how schools do things, then try something else.  If you or your kids don't like how things are going, then try something else.

Being an experienced homeschooler (I think this is our 15th year), I get to really up my game.  I remember watching a video of this crazy father who drove around in a van with his family for years and never taught them any math whatsoever.  I thought that was the nuttiest thing I ever heard of.  But boy was it intriguing.  All the things I thought education "needed" might not be true.  All of my assumptions might be false.  I might be locked into all sorts of premises that are preventing true learning.

I read Lockhart's Lament in 2008.  I think it's been simmering in my brain for the last few years.  He talks about presenting mathematics in a way that it engages the part of our minds that enjoys questions.
He talks about how music and art, although to be done professionally and "properly" need a lot of knowledge and skill, are played with by preschoolers and children.  Why are we not playing with numbers and mathematical principles?

He says, "If I had to design a mechanism for the express purpose of destroying a child's natural curiosity and love of pattern-making, I couldn't possibly do as good a job as is currently being done--I simply wouldn't have the kind of imagination to come up with the kind of senseless, soul-crushing ideas that constitute contemporary mathematics education."

"They [the students] say, "math class is stupid and boring," and they are right."

" 'So you would remove mathematics from the school curriculum?' 'The mathematics has already been removed!  The only question is what to do with the hollow, vapid shell that remains.'"

"To help your students memorize formulas.. you might invent this whole story about "Mr. C" who drives around "Mrs. A" and tells her how nice his "two pies are" (C=2πr).. or some such nonsense.  But what about the real story?  The one about mankind's struggle with the problem of measuring curves; about Eudoxus and Archimedes and the method of exhaustion; about the transcendence of pi? Which is more interesting--measuring the rough dimensions of a circular piece of graph paper,using a formula that someone handed you without explanation (and made you memorize and practice over and over) or hearing the story of one of the most beautiful, fascinating problems, and one of the most brilliant and powerful ideas in human history?  We're killing people's interest in circles for god's sake!"

So since Chana is thinking about going to High School, we have been doing the sort of basic mathematics that is a prerequisite for algebra.  Fractions, decimals, integers, etc.  I wrote a list of all the things I could think of.  And most nights, at around 9pm, we sit down and I try to think of what would be kind of fun, and we sit down and do it.  I've been enjoying the opportunity to tinker with the mathematics curriculum and just try to get it to be interesting and fun.

Chana's been enjoying math again.  When we talked about adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing negative and positive integers, Chana framed it as negative is like owing someone money.  So if you owe someone 5 dollars (-5) three times, then you are going to owe someone 15 dollars.  In other words, it made sense to her that if you are multiplying a negative and a positive, that the answer will be negative.  I'm so happy she's thinking about math again and integrating into her worldview in a real and experiential way.

On Friday, she asked me about 5.9 minutes.  (We've been working on adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing decimals all week.)  So she was wondering about decimals in terms of minutes.  It's a piece of a minute--but how much of a piece?  How would you convert it?  I'm so delighted that she's wondering that.  We started talking about 0.5 being a half and what that means in terms of minutes.  We were just casually chatting.  What about 0.9?  What about 0.05?  or 0.50?  She was thinking about it and trying to figure it out, and I was answering direct questions.  Then she said, "Hey, maybe after Shabbos you can teach me that."  So that's our next math topic.

As I mentioned about unschooling, math was one of the last subjects to be unschooled.  It's been really freeing to let go of the way that mathematics is usually taught in schools and just give Chana some space and then the opportunity to play with math a little.  I want her to be proficient in math.  But I want her to realize that math is a way of thinking about life, and that math is an art, and that math has beauty, and that the mind naturally thinks mathematically.  Homeschooling has not only given me the chance to pay close attention and teach on Chana's level when she was conceptually ready, and teach her in a way where she could understand it and not fall "behind" (though she technically was "behind" the school curriculum for 4 years, she didn't feel behind because she wasn't failing), it also provided the opportunity to really approach math in a completely different way.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

the small classroom advantage of homeschool

Elazar held himself together today until about 2pm, when he started shrieking every time he got upset.  It hit the point where I removed him from the game he was playing with his friend and held him while he screamed.  I used staylistening for about 20 minutes until he was capable of playing again without falling into shrieking at every little frustration.  I cannot imagine a teacher being able to do that with all the other students.


Chana finished sheni of Vayakhel today.  Some of the words she didn't remember, but they are pretty much the same words I don't remember, and I've done it more times than she has.  Maybe one day I'll remember the planks and the curtains.

She asked if the lechem hapanim was the bread they ate once a week, and said, "Why is it called 'showbread'?  Why not call it 'display-it-until-we-eat-it-bread?' "

We got into a small skirmish since I had her doing a few rashis (the one on kumaz surprised me).  And she didn't want to, and she said she knew it, and I used playful parenting techniques and shrieked in a funny way that she needs to do rashi and she has to learn it and I'm in charge and I insist.  I screamed louder than she did and I made sure to make it clear that I was being silly.  It did break the ice and she did it.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

unschooling aleph beis writing

Elazar (age 6) came over to me with a blank piece of paper and a pen and said he wanted to write.  He asked for aleph beis, not the alphabet.  He said he didn't want "lowercase" (that's what he calls script).  I said in Hebrew we only write script, we don't write print in Hebrew.  So he agreed.

What was new about this activity is that I didn't write a whole row of "follow the dotted line."  Up until now, I gave him dotted lines for every letter.  This time, I just wrote the first letter dotted.  He chose to copy the rest freehand.  He didn't have that capacity the last time he sat down to write.

He did really nicely except he got a little confused in the middle of the gimels.  (And as he was writing them incorrectly, he was saying, "I'm sooooo good at these gimels!"  But alas).  I told him it's a line and a C, and he did the next one correctly.

He was tickled that a Vav is just a straight line.

singing vs not singing tefila

Chana reminisced yesterday about how when she was younger, she was so excited to graduate to each new paragraph of bentching.  "Remember when we used to go to pizza every Thursday and I was so excited at each new paragraph of bentching?  Like when I finished nodeh?  And then I got to start the next one?"  I didn't remember, but I was happy that she had such fond memories of us singing each part together until she learned it.

Then she tilted her head to the side and said, "I don't actually know any of it by heart."

She's very meticulous about saying bracha achrona and always uses a bentcher.  I didn't learn al hamichya by heart until high school, when I decided to actually be careful about saying it and realized it was inconvenient to not know it by heart.  But I always knew bentching by heart.  And I always felt that singing was a painless way to help the child memorize it.

I spent hours singing davening with Sarah for years and years, and it didn't help her remember tefila.  And Chana doesn't remember bentching either.  And yet I only know what I know by heart from davening and bentching from singing.  Am I doing it wrong?  I don't think so.  With Sarah, whom I wasn't unschooling, I definitely put in the same amount of time as yeshiva dayschools do.  With Chana, the year before her bat mitzva, we made sure she could fluently read everything she would be chayav to say when she became bat mitzva.

It is odd that neither of them learned tefila and bentching by heart.  On the up side, I see that both of them are medakdek about their chiyuvim.  And it doesn't seem to affect their sincerity or their actions.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

not quite there yet

I had some hopes of Chana finishing Shmos by the end of October.  We did finish Ki Sisa (ack, my Israeli-teacher upbringing wants to call that "Ki Tisa"), but it's taking a week for chazara.

Chana asked, "What happens if I don't finish Shmos by the end of October?"

Answer: "Then there's November."

She liked that.

I would like to finish chamisha chumshei Torah before she goes to High School.  And yes, it is looking like matriculation for high school is in the cards ("What about socialization?").  Ideally, before she goes into the specialization in high school Chumash, she would have a general idea of all of pshat.  But I did that with Sarah, and I don't think it made much of a difference.  Or perhaps it did.  And Chana does review more than Sarah did.  But who knows.  I do know that I don't feel as concerned about it as I used to, although I still think it is preferable.

Chana assures me that once she finishes sheni, the rest of the parsha goes quickly.  She figures 3 days for the rest of chazara.  So we are on schedule to start Vayakhel next week.  I am very curious to see how much Chana will remember from Teruma-Tetzave, since there should be a lot of the same vocabulary.  It will be MY fourth run with this vocab, too, since I did it twice with Sarah (Teruma Tetzave, and Vayakhel Pekudei) and once with Chana (Teruma Tetzave).  Do I know the vocab yet?

(On a side note, on Tisha B'Av eve I've been going through Megilas Eicha for about 10 years, mostly in English.  This was the first year that I read it mostly in Hebrew and just spot checked for English words.  Maybe in another five years I'll understand most of the Hebrew without any English.  Learning is a lifelong process.)

Monday, October 14, 2013

one of those days i'm extra glad i homeschool

It's 3:15pm.  Elazar made a pinata today and he is whacking the bejeebers out of it.  Whack, whack, whack.

When he's tired, he loses the ability to control his impulses.  I think of it like the metaphor of a ball being held under water.  If you let go of the ball, it pops up to the surface.  Elazar's impulses are like that.  All day long, he holds the ball under water and controls his impulses.  When he is tired (which happens almost daily within 5 minutes after his bedtime), he often loses that ability and the metaphorical ball bounces up.  He starts destroying things.

This morning, we were woken up very early by giggling.  Lots and lots of giggling.  Elazar and Jack were up playing.  They laughed and played.  I found Chutes and Ladders out afterwards.  It was lovely.

The day devolved, though.  Jack had numerous tantrums.  Fortunately, hand in hand parenting has equipped me to deal with that.  Then Elazar had 2 or 3 fairly intense episodes where he was frustrated and began screaming.  Usually he can tolerate a pretty strong degree of frustration, and he usually doesn't get upset because he keeps figuring out a way to accomplish what he wants to achieve.  But today he kept detonating.  It was fine, I disciplined, listened, negotiated, etc.  In the course of things, he did throw some chairs and other objects.

I'm not sure what time a first grader in yeshiva gets home these days, including bus.  3?  4?  Would he be able to navigate the bus ride in such an inflammatory mood?  Would he be able to sit in class?  How would the poor teacher cope with him?  How would he feel?

Some people maintain that it is important for a 6-year-old child's development to be able to hold himself together in class.  Me, I'm just glad I'm homeschooling him.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

the up side and the down side

The good thing about homeschooling is you can be weary at 9pm and decide, "Ah, forget about decimals, I'm too tired."  The down side is if 10 years go by and your child doesn't know decimals, it's your fault.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

project elazar ran out of steam in the middle of

He was trying to make a menorah.  He very much wanted one that would work.  I thought about telling him that a flammable menorah was not a great idea.  I provided duct tape because it is stronger than regular tape.  I held it when he needed my help cutting.  I tried to unfold numerous pieces (duct tape sticks to itself ridiculously well, which I guess makes it so great for a 6yo to make building projects with).  I'm not sure why he got stuck at this phase of the project, what he envisioned that didn't come to fruition.  He got it to stand up, which impressed me.  I think it's possible he wanted to put another menorah on top of it, which was a flat platform of wood with nuts.  So he learned some physics.

Monday, October 7, 2013

question and answer from a unschool perspective

This question was asked:

I also would like to know whether Elazar is still interested in chumash.
I find that so many times my kids pick something up, do it in an intense way for a day ( or a week) and then it falls off the radar. Then I look up, and nobody is doing what they seemed so interested and ready to do.

I answered it from a homeschooler perspective and now I'd like to discuss it as an unschooler.

First of all, yes, Elazar is still interested in Chumash.  That is perhaps one of the things that has been driving me to unschool limudei kodesh.  When I teach it, I find that although my kids do it, they aren't as interested in it, and often lament that they don't like it.  (Maybe I'm not teaching it optimally.  On the other hand, maybe there is a certain amount of "you just have to drill to get skills.")

How much Chumash is Elazar actually doing, though, is more the question, I think.  Does he do it regularly.  Is he making progress.

I've been thinking a lot about this question.  And I realized that, fundamentally, an unschooler has no educational agenda for the child.

This means that when Elazar asks me to do Chumash, I do it with him.  I do what he wants to learn for how long he wants to learn and I teach him how he wants to learn it, if it's different than how I was planning to do it.  I have no particular interest in a first grader mastering Chumash or knowing how to read or translate.  He is free to pursue what interests his mind, with the general understanding being that in life, when he encounters skills or facts that he would like to have but doesn't yet, he will roll up his sleeves and dig in.   Just like he has been doing his whole life.

In the general environment of the home, there is reading and translating and learning Torah.  We also have interesting discussions and try to ignite a general desire for Torah knowledge.   But (at this time) I have no agenda for him learning to read the Chumash.  If he does or does not, it is the same to me.  Doing it in first grade or in 6th grade makes no difference.  (If he approaches his bar mitzva and has no desire to read or daven or understand the Torah, I will probably freak out and question everything reevaluate.)

Practically, Elazar opens the Chumash every few days.  He likes me to sing him the trope.  Sometimes he tries to read some words or decode rashi.  He originally had hoped that he would memorize each pasuk with trope, but when that didn't stick in his head as easily as the first pasuk, he was a little discouraged.  He wants to learn new pesukim, but he can't remember the previous pesukim.  Things aren't going as easily as he had imagined, and without the inducement of success, it's not as exciting.  Odds are, if he tries it again in 4th grade, it will go much more fluidly.  He's a little first grader with big dreams.  Let him keep dreaming.  Some of those dreams will work out.  And he's still excited about Chumash.

question and answer from a homeschool perspective

This question was asked:

I also would like to know whether Elazar is still interested in chumash.I find that so many times my kids pick something up, do it in an intense way for a day ( or a week) and then it falls off the radar. Then I look up, and nobody is doing what they seemed so interested and ready to do.

I would like to answer it in two frameworks, as a homeschooler and as an unschooler, because I think the answer differs, depending.

As a homeschooler, I would say that very often young children (meaning under high school age) pick things up in an intense way for a day or a week and then don't follow through.

One possibility is that they are actually learning in these intense bursts.  Think of night and day, spring and winter.  There are intense times and fallow times.  The fallow times actually are times when there is unconscious processing or a gathering energy for an active time.  Many times I had students who would be so quick at reading and writing some weeks, and other weeks it would be like pulling teeth.  I learned to do extra during the bursts and just keep a bare minimum during the draggy times (or sometimes, perhaps, skip it and bring it up in a couple of weeks).  Working with the child's natural energy ended up being more efficient.

Another possibility is that they ran out of energy because it is more difficult than they anticipated.  The "fun" does not outweigh the "drudgework."

In this case, it's best to look on a case by case basis.  Is this something where you think the drudgework is worthwhile?  Will the child learn important self-discipline and follow-through?  Is this an important long term skill to have?  Is this work something I think is manageable for the child and s/he is capable of?  In that case, it is my responsibility to set up the follow through and help my child achieve those skills.

Is it just a project that s/he thought was going to be awesome and now it's not actually fun?  Did it cost me money?  Did s/he make an actual commitment?  If the only down side is that my kid seems to be a bit of a flake, I would let it go.  There are many opportunities where your child will have to follow through on commitments and responsibilities that he or she has made.  If you don't let him or her wiggle out of those, then they make great situations for practicing responsibility and follow through.

unschooling writing

Last night, before bed, Elazar pulled out a notebook and delightedly started writing lower case "i"s.  Then he remembered about alephs (I skip hebrew print writing--we only do recognition/reading for hebrew print and when they want to write I teach script and say, "This is how we write Hebrew"), and did those.  Then ב then ל, which he got a big kick out of.

I had actually been wondering why an unschooled child would ever write Hebrew.  Chana doesn't write much Hebrew, even though I occasionally have her write a story for practice.  Sarah's Hebrew writing was fairly dismal, though she caught up quickly when she went to school.  But it seems that Elazar is motivated and perhaps will indeed eventually want to learn all the script letters and will practice them enough to write.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

how much of shemona esrei does she understand?

So I said to Chana (age 12), "We never finished going through the brachos in shemona esrei."  And she said, "That's okay, the siddur I'm using upstairs to daven with has them all written in English and I look at them every time I daven."

That in itself is nice to hear.  She takes some time during tefila to understand what she is saying.

I said I wanted to go through the shemona esrei with her and see how much she understands without it written in English.  I handed her the siddur and was happy to see how quickly she flipped to shemona esrei.

She remembered most of the brachos that we had done together.  She forgot "selach" until i said "selicha." Of the ones we hadn't done, she was able to pick out words she understood and figure out the main idea of most of them.  She thought "boneh yerushalayim" was children of yerushalayim until I emphasized "boneh" and she realized it was build.  She didn't know "modim" until I said "todah."
We didn't go through "elokai netzor."  Something for another time.  When we finished, she thanked me for helping her out.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

relaxed homeschooling

Things I kind of let go over the summer and think about picking up again:

  • Targum tefilla (never did finish shemona esrei)
  • Hebrew writing (sentences, stories, essays)
  • math
  • Hebrew reading comp (of picture books that I have in the house) (I never even got started on that one to let it go)
How does this jive with unschooling?  I say, "Chana, I've been thinking that your Hebrew writing could use some practice.  What do you say?"  

or "Chana, we never finished going over the translation of Shemona esrei," and see what she says.

or "I'm curious how your Ivrit comprehension is.  Will you read a Hebrew book with me?"

It's not purist unschooling, whereby I wait until she wants to do it and does it herself, perhaps as an adult.  It's more like relaxed homeschooling, which is when you let the kids play and play and play and then one day you wake up and realize they're almost grown up so they probably can sit and work hard by now and also understand the rationale behind doing so, and you introduce certain skills you are panicking thinking they should know, and they amiably pick them up pretty quickly.  Because, after all, it is one on one and they are pretty old.  


Revi'i of Ki Sisa was completely frustrating to Chana.  She started out in a bad mood.  We had a bit of a time crunch today, with a lot going on.

The entire aliya is anthropomorphic, about Hashem's honor crossing over and His palms covering Moshe to protect him and showing His back but not His front.  Chana expressed frustration numerous times that she didn't understand it.  I attempted to explain basic pshat, and she got more frustrated.

And yet she does not want to sit through an explanation of the metaphor.

I often find that my kids have a lot more energy about the question than they do to find the answer.

I feel it's better to leave it as a question than to try to sit them down and give an answer.  Without an answer, the question will hopefully burn brightly in their hearts.  Maybe one day they will be motivated to search hard, and to work until they understand.