Sunday, November 24, 2013

al pi darko

Would an ADHD kid sit and do a puzzle from 8:20-9:03pm?  43 minutes.

Aleph Bina: unschooling Hebrew reading

Shabbos morning Elazar climbed into my bed holding his Chumash.  I guided him through the word "sefer" in Hebrew.  When he realized what he read, he said, "Hey! It says "book" in YOUR language!"  It seems he just realized that all the stuff he was doing with the aleph beis that would help him read the Torah was actually also the language I've been speaking to him in.  He was pretty excited.  He decided he wanted to learn all the nekudos.  He ran to get a flip card aleph beis book that someone gave us, that has the nekudos in a little bag.  We went through those.  Then he wanted more, so we scoured the house for the aleph bina.

We seem to have acquired an array of aleph beis paraphernalia.  I myself bought 3 puzzles that are used with medium to rare frequency, depending.  (I'll admit I hid them a lot because these days it's more that they are dumped than that they are being used).  My grandmother got them flash cards, I printed out something like this and hung it in a random high foot traffic area.

They got these aleph beis flip books that they adore and have sadly ripped apart one of, but they still play with it.  A fellow homeschooler gave us a cloth book and they drag it to me constantly and asked to be quizzed.

On Shabbos morning, casually, in under an hour, Elazar blitzed through all the nekudos.  He did each page until he got them all correct.  I don't know how much he will retain.  But I'll find out next time he brings me the book.

This reminds me of an article that a fellow homeschooler posted last week which I keep thinking about.  It talks about the debate between whole word reading and phonics (We did phonics when I was a kid, and when I started teaching, whole word reading was in, and they've since gone back to phonics).  When I taught Sarah, before I started unschooling, I used phonics.  The question: Why is it that all readers who are allowed to learn to read at their choice, use whole word reading?  But phonics is shown to be more efficient in the classroom?  Another question: Why is it that in the classroom, teaching reading takes 3 years to achieve proficiency, but children who learn on their own, although the age range varies from 3 ("precocious readers") to 11, learn quite quickly (in weeks or months).

**warning: quote of extremist rhetoric*** but I keep thinking about it:
While children out of school learn what and because they want to, children in school must learn or go through the motions of learning what the teacher wants them to learn in the way the teacher wants them to do it.  The result is slow, tedious, shallow learning that is about procedure, not meaning, regardless of the teacher’s intent.
The classroom is all about training.  Training is the process of getting reluctant organisms to do or learn what the trainer wants them to do or learn.  Under those conditions, methods that focus on the mechanical processes underlying reading—the conversion of sights to sounds—work better than methods that attempt to promote reading through meaning..

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

resumption of sfatenu: Filling in Gaps

So, if you are a casual homeschooler who leans towards unschooling, you might wake up one day and realize you completely forgot that your 7th grader had agreed to work on her Ivrit and you haven't been doing anything like that for 5 months.  You haven't done reading, writing, speaking, Sfasenu...


So I handed Chana the book this morning.  With juggling rashis on top of Chumash, and now adding in serious math so she can be prepared for high school, and now Ivrit, that's a decent amount of work per day.

She needed my help reading the story.  (She's towards the end of the 4th grade book.  I would consider Ivrit one of the weaker parts of my homeschool.)  Part of it is just that she needs to read it out loud, and once she did that, she understood a lot more.  But the story is a bit tough.

One of the things I really like about homeschooling is probably something that gives new homeschoolers a lot of anxiety.  I've been homeschooling for 15 years now, and even though periodically I wake up and realize I have dropped the ball on a particular subject or skill, it's really so very easy to just pick it up and incorporate it into the daily schedule and cover what needs to be covered, quickly and efficiently, in just a few months.  That's why I don't really stress about writing skills or Ivrit (or math etc.).  A few months of intensive focus with an older, motivated child can really fill in any gaps.  In fact, I've stopped calling them "gaps" and started thinking of it as "learning when there is motivation and efficiency."

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

In an ideal world...

Chana's been blitzing through the fractions on  Yesterday, when she was doing some of the mechanics I realized that she doesn't quite grasp some of the concepts.  She doesn't intuitively realize that when reducing fractions, the larger number fraction is the exact same amount as the fraction with the smaller numbers.  When simplifying improper fractions, she doesn't realize intuitively (or even explicitly) that she is dealing with the same amount in two different forms.  In an ideal world, she would understand this...

Then I realized that in many ways, Chana is in an ideal world.

She has one-on-one instruction exactly geared to her level and her understanding.

She goes as slowly or quickly as necessary.

When things were too complex for her brain, she had the luxury of taking a break for a while until her brain could comprehend the concepts.  And she now has the extravagance of efficiently and speedily working through it after years of a more relaxed approach.

She participates in her learning and is given the space to think things through and figure things out, instead of doing it the way it's "supposed" to be taught.

She has the freedom to stay longer on concepts and problems that are difficult, and to go more quickly through topics that are easier for her.

"Don't be a chazer!" I said to myself.  In so many ways, homeschooling has given us the remarkable luxury of an ideal educational world.

But then I think to myself that in homeschool, I can be a "chazer."  If I want something different, then it is in my power to do something about it.

Truthfully, though, like Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid, sometimes it's best to just have the student practice the moves until they are fluid, and then understanding comes later.

Different discipline possibilities

Jack, my 3yo, spilled out Elazar's crate of clothes.  (Yes, his clothing is in crates.  That's probably a different blog post but I'll just say that from ages 3-7 I've often found that my kids use a "dive in and toss out all clothes until I find what I want" method and it's been easier to just keep everything in crates and toss them back in afterwards.)  Why did Jack spill it out?  It's irrelevant (he wanted to climb onto something so he used it as a step stool).  And that wasn't high enough.  So he dumped out the laundry hamper.  And now I want him to clean up.  And before he cleans up the hamper, he should clean up the crate.

I've learned a few disciplinary tactics over the years.  One of them is:
Children should clean up their own messes.  Once a child has to clean up a big mess all by himself, he doesn't make that mess again.

Whether or not that is actually 100% true, it does make good sense to me.  If the child makes the mess and is physically capable of cleaning it, then he should do so.  I do him no favors by allowing him to make messes that I clean up.  He spills (let's say on purpose) and I say, "Hey, don't do that!" and then I wipe it up.  What am I teaching him?  I'm teaching him that he spills, I don't like it, and I clean up.  If he spills and I hand him something and he cleans up, he may not learn not to do it in the future, but at least I'm not teaching him that there are no consequences.

So I told Jack to clean up the clothing and put it back into the crate.  He began to cry, "Help me, help me."

Ordinarily, in the past, I would have been kind but firm.  You made the mess, you clean it.  I will stand here and you will clean it up.  This seems to me to make good sense and teaches the child to be responsible.

A tactic I didn't even think of this morning, but am only thinking of now, as I write this, is Playful Parenting.
Make a playful way for the child to clean it up, such as a race, a game..something that elicits giggles and gets the child enthused about it.

People are often reluctant to do this because they feel that the child has to learn.  And the child will not be responsible if you make things fun.

(This is actually a fallacy and there are plenty of opportunities to teach responsibility and we don't have to worry about making chores fun causing a long term problem.  In fact, this gives them a valuable technique for doing things they are reluctant to do in life.)

This morning, I was about to stand there and firmly insist that Jack put the clothes away himself, when I realized that I had been parenting differently for the last few years.  I read this article about unschooling chores and housework a while back and it really had a profound impact on my attitude.

It's more of a shift in the parent's attitude than the kids at first. If a person appears grumpy about cleaning, the kids will pick up on that and immediately assume that cleaning is a real bummer. If you hear yourself complaining about something needing cleaned, everyone else hears the complaining too. If YOU obviously don't want to do it, there's a good chance that your kids won't be overly excited about it either. Complaining leaves a bad vibe in the air—not a good selling point.
he is now much more likely to help out and to do things spontaneously because he sees us helping each other, doing things that need doing simply because they need doing, not because it's "my turn" or "my job"— we don't have assigned jobs, whoever is able and available does what needs doing. 
I've really gotten into the mode of doing things this way.  When I am cleaning up and it feels overwhelming, I will ask my family for help.  They've become used to cleaning up messes that they didn't make, and it's been very pleasant to be able to ask for help and get help.

When Jack said, "Help me, help me," I suddenly realized that our home atmosphere has been that we ask for help cleaning when we need it.  Which then contradicted the method of having him do it himself because it is his responsibility because he spilled it.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Proposal: Special Ed program for "active" children

Some students, particularly boys, have difficulty sitting and doing work in the current school climate.  This is a proposal for a classroom setup and curriculum for active children who would otherwise require a shadow or medication, and who might be able to thrive in a modified educational environment.

There are different academic stages.  Early Elementary, Late Elementary, Early High School and Late High School.  A major premise would be that more play and activity in earlier years will make it easier for these active children to focus academically in later years.

We will discuss classroom setup, recess and activity level, academic expectations and goals, and special concerns.

Early Elementary (kindergarten - Grade 3)

classroom setup
Imagine trying to walk a group of active students to the lunchroom, when all of these students have a tendency to wander off or dash away.  A ratio of 3 active children to 1 adult will be manageable, but will still leave the adult feeling somewhat frazzled on a tough day.

The classroom should have space for the students to move around a lot.  Having a classroom set up like a preschool room would be ideal for active children all the way to 3rd grade.  The toys can be geared for older children and educational: small legos, gears, tangrams, magnets, construx, pipeworks.  There are numerous toys that will give active students opportunities to learn kinesthetically and interact with their environment in an educational manner.

The library corner and choices of books are very important.  Books about science, animals, body systems, maps, atlases, aleph beis, parsha, navi, etc can be provided with detailed pictures.  Active children often spend hours poring over these books and learn tremendous amounts when they have the freedom of movement and the choice to walk away and to pick them up when they want.

Auditory learners will do well with a selection of songs or stories about the aleph beis, davening, parsha, and other Torah subjects.

Charts and posters are also very useful.  Active children will often spend time looking at what is hanging on the walls and asking questions about them.  Make sure they are laminated so that they can withstand being touched by these active learners.

An arts and crafts section with scissors, markers, pencils, tapes and glue will also provide many opportunities for active learners to be creative.

Make sure there is a lot of space in the classroom for these children to move around.

recess and activity level
The children should be able to play outside or on some type of climbing structure or in an area where they can run around for a half hour in the morning, a half hour at lunchtime, and a half hour in the afternoon.

As mentioned above, the classroom should also be set up so that there is space for active children to move around.  Being able to move around sufficiently will more than halve discipline issues.

academic expectations and goals
In the early elementary grades, active children should primarily be allowed to play.  Activities and games that are holiday themed or parsha themed can be offered to create a Torah environment.  The skills most focused on should be basic reading and writing in Hebrew and English, and basic arithmetic.

All writing and sitting down work should not be for more than 10 minutes.  If you don't expect active children to sit and listen for over 10 minutes, and they are allowed to play or move around, they function much better.

What if an active child was allowed to play and move around when he is younger?  What if even a 3rd grade active child was not expected to sit and passively listen for more than 10 minutes at a time unless s/he chooses to?  What if he didn't get burnt out, didn't have discipline issues, and continued to love and enjoy learning?  What would he be able to do in the later grades, when he has greater self control and greater abstract ability?

The goal in the younger grades would be to be in a Jewish environment and learn basic and minimal academic skills, with an emphasis on being able to touch things, ask questions, interact physically with their environment, and function as a Jew.

special concerns
How will the active child learn self control and discipline?
Demanding more than the active child is capable of does not increase self control, it increases frustration, anxiety, negative self-esteem and stress.  Many children who are not subject to years of negativity because of their inability to function in a constraining environment will find it much easier to focus and control themselves when they are in the later elementary and early high school years.
Will the active child fall behind if he plays so much and doesn't focus on academics?
No.  It is possible that expanding his mind in a more hands-on way and being respectful to his need for movement will enable him to think more creatively as he grows older.  Bear in mind that many of these children struggle academically in their current environments and are not gaining the academic achievement that they are capable of.
How will the active child learn sufficient davening, Ivrit, mathematics, and Torah skills?
I would suggest an evaluation in 5th grade and another evaluation in 7th grade to see which areas need more intensive focus.  You will be surprised to find a. the child will not be as behind as you might imagine and b. the child will be much more willing to help himself close these gaps than you imagine.

This is what I have so far.  Comments and suggestions welcome.

Special Ed for "active" children

I was talking to my brother.  He has an active 4yo.  He himself had some trouble in school back in the day, 25-30 years ago, when it was suggested that he be placed on medication so he could concentrate.  This is well before the current trend of medicating.

Let's put it this way.  If he were in my homeschool, I'd want him to have a shadow.

So I said to my brother that what I think would be ideal for my nephew would be to get another 2 or 3 active boys whose parents don't want them on meds, hire a teacher, set up your basement, and have him at school that way.

My brother, ever more community minded, said he'd prefer to have the school separate out a few kids, put them in their own classroom, have their own curriculum, and that way all the resources of the school--gym, playground, computers, etc. will be available to them.
As a homeschooler, I tend to think personally, not globally.  I'm not in the habit of thinking about sweeping reforms for education.  If I want something different educationally, I take care of it myself.

But I've spoken to many people over the years who need Special Ed, not because of learning difficulties, but because of their inability to function in the classroom.  I've seen it mentioned over and over again particularly regarding boys, though there are definitely girls that encounter this problem, too.

I read an article by Rabbi Kelemen in Jewish Action:
Frum inflation” is also a factor. Our kids can’t keep up with the rising emotional and physical tolls of being an outstanding Orthodox Jew. While young boys during the times of the Mishnah weren’t expected to start learning Talmud until age fifteen, today we demand that of children under ten who can’t possibly fathom what they are learning. The length and intensity of the school day is unprecedented and torturous, and those children who can’t sit still and concentrate through classes from morning until night are left behind or encouraged to take stimulant medications to help them become more “healthy.” In certain segments of the Orthodox world, playing ball is often discouraged, and team sports are virtually nonexistent.

(The bolding is mine.)  I don't actually think the length and intensity of the school day is unprecedented (though I do think it is torturous).  I'm pretty sure the Rambam quotes the gemara of those little boys who started at age 6 or 7 and sat all day in tinokos shel beis raban.  I'm also pretty sure corporal punishment was used, though the Rambam brings down that you should use laces, not whips.

In no way am I bringing the following video to criticize Chazal.
I would suggest, though, that sitting for that long without either corporal punishment or medication is going to be difficult for many children in our society.  Which leads me to thinking about a Special Ed program that can be implemented in schools designed for active children like my nephew.  I'm going to work out a rudimentary proposal.

Friday, November 15, 2013

back to rashi

So today we sat down to do the rest of the first paragraph and a bunch of rashis.  Ordinarily, on a short Friday I would skip chumash altogether except for what Chana can do independently, and we'd probably do it motzei Shabbos.  But in a rare situation where Aharon is napping and Jack has strep and Elazar is showering for shabbos, we have a trifecta of calm to work on Chumash.

However, Chana is having none of it.  After our rashi break I'm dragging her back kicking and screaming.  And to add insult to injury, we are resuming with a Chumash without nekudos in Rashi.  If I was on the fence yesterday, I am more determined today.  She is in 7th grade and it is time to practice reading rashi without nekudos.

So she crabbed and kvetched and complained and was generally in a bad mood.  I must emphasize that in a bad mood without hormones is a completely different experience than a bad mood under the influence of hormones.  Even though she was annoyed and whining and complaining, when I said, "Come on, Chana, let's get going" she said, "I'm in the middle of a tantrum" and laughed.  And it wasn't even very intense.
That is not to say it was pleasant.  Basically, Chana has always been upset when we start something new (training her to get a spoon herself for her breakfast cereal when she was 4 took at least 2 weeks of screaming) and her nature is to be crabby until she adjusts to the new reality.  My job is to be patient and show her that even though her feelings are screaming at her that she can't do it, she can and she will.  Despite the pressure, my job is to firmly but nicely insist on her doing it.

In my opinion, her ability was decent and she read a lot of it correctly.  I think she's ready to do it without vowels and although I would have liked her to read it correctly one more time after I read it to her, she refused and I didn't push it.  We did 5 pretty small rashis.  I lost track of how long it took.  And she didn't do more than 4 pesukim.  But they had a number of new and unfamiliar words.

I think it would have gone better if she wouldn't have talked herself into being so negative about it.  But maybe she just needs to adjust.  We'll see how next time goes.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

So how is Vayikra going?

Today is Thursday, which means we go to Parkour, and we usually do Chumash in the car on the way over.  It's about a 20 minute drive.  I was surprised that Chana brought the Chumash, since she doesn't really like to do new pesukim while I'm driving and can't really look at the pesukim.  It goes like:

Chana: mumblemumblemumble
Me: What?  Can you read it again?
Chana: vayakmumblemumble
Me: What? I can't understand you
Chana: somethingIDon'tUnderstand
Me: I don't think that's a word.  Are you sure you have the nekudos right?
Chana: Never mind!
Me: But how can you translate it?
Chana slams the Chumash shut.

Anyway, today she muttered a bit about the spacing.  I said I thought maybe now that she's older it won't bother her that much.  She muttered some more and then did 5 pesukim.  She had planned on doing until the first parsha setuma, which is 4 more pesukim.  They had enough unfamiliar words that she wanted to wait to do it when we were sitting next to each other.

Lots of things happened today, and now Chana is at a bat mitzva from someone she met in sleepaway camp, and so we won't be doing any more work this evening.  Haha, in our homeschool she works in the evening so she's "missing a day of school" to go to a party.

There are a number of fascinating rashis on the first pasuk that I am completely unfamiliar with.  They are a bit complicated so I'm picking out phrases and underlining them so she doesn't have too much difficulty with them.

And I can't believe I have never seen these rashis!  And then I realized: When did I even learn Vayikra in high school?  I didn't.  I'm not sure how much we did in elementary school, either.  I know the high school trends have changed and I think more schools are covering it now.  But this is new to me!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

chazak chazak v'nischazek!

Chana finished Shmos.  I fished out Sarah's Vayikra.  Chana prefers a different version, with wider spaced words and the rashi with nekudos.  But I only have the classic version, so we will start with that and see how much she complains.  Maybe now that she is older she will find it less overwhelming; maybe she's artistic and her aesthetic sense is offended and she is sensitive to layout and learns better with a different sefer.

We like to give a gift for finishing the sefer.  Sarah's 5 gifts were:
Bereshis: jewelry
Shmos: camera
Vayikra: (we can't remember! maybe a new DS?)
Bamidbar: cell phone
Devarim: laptop

Chana got a laptop for Bereshis.  True, we were starting at the top.  But Chana is a very serious animator and needed it for her work.  I asked her what she wants for Shmos.  She didn't want to go out to eat, because that doesn't last.  I was trying to decide... a dress?  Jewelry?  She said she doesn't really want anything.

Then I had a brainstorm.  She has been asking for Japanese language software recently.  So I think that will be her siyum present.

way of practicing ivrit conversation with older kids

Whew, I must have been wiped out last night!  I came down and last night's blog post was accidentally still unpublished.

I read Orthodox Jewish educational message boards like Lookjed.

This is from mifgashim.  It's the kind of idea that I think is terrific, but I probably won't do because I'm a lazy unschooler.  But if my kids ever told me they wanted to beef up their Ivrit speaking skills, this is exactly the way I would create the lesson for them.

 Increasing Hebrew conversation time in class

I've found a very easy idea for bringing conversational Hebrew into a classroom. The goal here is to create a natural and authentic experience of Hebrew conversation. I have a class of 11th and 12th graders in our evening program, but this would work well in a day school, too.
I begin with a list of conversation starters. You can get them from many sources: on line, board and card games, or, as I do, from an app called Table Topics. I've divided the class into groups of 5-6 students and posted a listed of group leaders and the questions for the two coming months.
This week's question was, What is more important, justice or mercy? Next week we will ask, Is your cup half full or half empty?
The leaders are responsible, not only for introducing the question, but for keeping the conversation moving through follow-up and probing questions. Each student has a slip of paper to give him/herself a grade. (I don't take those grades too seriously, but they do insure that students participate well.)
I do NOT participate or even sit with the students; I want the conversations to be natural and unmonitored. They usually last about 30 minutes. From across the room I can see that students are intensely engaged, laughing, arguing, looking surprised, telling interesting stories, interrupting each other, more concerned about communicating than about learning Hebrew — which is exactly what I want. The leaders and participants are highly motivated, and the students are very excited about the activities each week. 
This part of the lesson is also very easy for a busy teacher to prepare. 
Yosi Gordon

Basically, from what I understand, we would choose an interesting conversation starter.  I think I would also write up a bunch of phrases on cards or on a paper that have to do with the topic or the main vocabulary words that have to do with the topic, so that the students can glance at them when they get stuck on a word or phrase.

This is the kind of lesson plan that has me daydreaming of going to my high school principal and asking to teach an Ivrit class, to see if a semester of conversational starters like this get the students more comfortable with speaking Hebrew.  Then I think to myself that, hey, I homeschool, I can do this with my kids.  But that takes a lot of preparation and I tend to be more fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants type of homeschooler.  But if any of you are more the type who prepare lessons, let me know how this works!


Night learning with Jack (almost 4) and Elazar (6).  I sat down to read them a book and opened an aleph-beis book.  Jack and I sang it together.  Jack didn't know aleph, despite us going over it many times in the past.  While I was trying to read, Elazar was breaking a pencil.  I have asked him many times not to break things.  He said we didn't really need this pencil.  Jack didn't see him actually break it, so he got another pencil (one that nobody uses, he said) and spent some time trying to break it--with his hand, with the bed, and finally he succeeding with the knob of the dresser.  I was beginning to feel a little irritated because I usually try to teach something at this time.  And then I realized that Elazar and Jack were learning.  They weren't learning what I was interested in putting into their minds.  But they were extremely interested in learning exactly how much force and what type will break a pencil.  It got me thinking of how Adam was told "v'Kivshu'ha": go forth and conquer [Earth].  And how all humans, but especially boy humans, really prefer to learn by making some sort of impact on their environment and seeing what happens.  Why am I fighting their design?

Elazar then moved on to sharpening his pencil.  Then he spent a while writing.  He's making a list of things he wants to buy.  It had: TOOLS, CEMENT, GRAHAM CRACKERS.  Tonight he added MARSHMALLOWS, CHOCOLATE BARS.  He remarked how his S has greatly improved.  It's true.  His writing is looking pretty good.  He only writes at his own initiative.  When he wrote the CH, Jackie, who was lying on his stomach in bed watching him write, said, "Is that an aleph?"  It does look a little bit like a script aleph C l.  A bit out of order.  Jack had insisted on writing alephs a few times when Elazar wanted to, and I guess he does know what it looks like.  In script.

During snuggle, Elazar was thinking about Minecraft, so I told him the mitzva of not cutting down a fruit tree.  And about orla.  He thought orla was strange, but isn't abstract enough yet to ask more specific questions.

Chana and I did last night.  We went through the first unit on fractions.  We only used the video if I couldn't explain it in a way that Chana understood.  They have a few different people explaining the same problems.  We already have our favorite teachers.  The videos are often under a minute long.  Perfect.  Chana was actually looking forward to doing it tonight.  In Chumash, she breezed through chamishi so quickly this afternoon, I had her sit down and do shishi tonight.  She complained, but finished it in about 5 minutes.  Hoping for Chazak Chazak V'nischazek for tomorrow...

But it's just about 9pm and we still have to do math tonight.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

night time learning dry bones and vampires

Chanoch L'na'ar Al Pi Darko

Elazar is very interested in Super Mario Bros.  He spends a lot of time playing it on game cube, on the computer, and watching videos of people playing it.  Today he printed out a picture of Dry Bones to color and hung it on his ceiling (he has a bunk bed).

So tonight I told him about the Navi Yechezkal, and the prophecy of the dry bones.  He was talking about Dry Bones, and I said I would tell him about dry bones in the Torah.  He could not believe it was in the Torah.  I told him about it.  He was mildly disappointed the skeletons were human form and not turtle form, but overall he loved it.

Then he asked if there were vampires in the Torah.  And I told him about the prohibition of eating blood.


Chana suggested to me that perhaps she wouldn't be so bad tempered if I sometimes spoke to her about something other than her responsibilities.  I realized how true it is, that she does her own thing, and I'm busy with the littles, and I only speak to her to have her sit down to do work or do chores or something.

Over the last few days I struggled with this, and realized just how infrequently I'd been emotionally, physically, and conversationally connecting with her.  As per Dr. Neufeld, discipline issues were coming up because of our lack of connectivity.

I made a number of efforts over Shabbos.  Motzei Shabbos, when the littles were in bed and Sarah was out, we invited Chana to watch a movie with us.

This morning, Chana came downstairs and one of the first things that came out of my mouth was an aggressive joke.  Chana didn't explode, but she did calmly say that she didn't think that was very nice.  I agreed with her (I guess that my unconscious is simmering from our conflict over the last week).  After she davened, she pulled out the Chumash to do chazara.  I asked if she wanted me to sit next to her to give her word definitions, and she said yes.  Since I wasn't expecting to do Chumash Sunday morning first thing, I had no expectations, and it was pleasant when she took breaks to chat about various things.  She got up to shlishi, and I said it was about the kohen gadol's me'il, and she remembered an argument we had about that translation in the car going to visit my parents.  It seems that some parts of Chumash are forever going to be intertwined with highlights of conflicts that she and I had.  It seems that in our homeschool, adolescent females and their mom engage passionately with each other using the medium of Torah, since that is mostly the time we talk to each other.  I hope there are good memories as well.

They finished building and making everything for the mishkan by the end of shlishi, and Chana was a little dismayed, since she had been planning on breezing through it because she was familiar with the keilim et. al.  I'll let her discover that the rest of it is setting up everything (at least, that's what it looked like when I glanced ahead).  She plans to finish on Thursday.  I'm looking forward to Vayikra.  I think I may need to prepare a bit, to use some charts or diagrams to keep the different korbanos straight.  I also remember Tazria-Metzora being tough.  But I'm looking forward to the review.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Math decisions

And the third thing that's on my mind is math.  I am still not sure what to do about Chana's math.  We've been making very decent progress on positive and negative integers, and manipulating decimals.  I started combining them to make sure she knows them.  Now I think it's time to revisit fractions (last night's problems were very simple positive and negative fractions).  Then we just have percents and ratios and order of operations.  I've been thinking maybe I should just start algebra.  Take it slowly, keep it fun, and we'll have a year and a half, which is enough time to do it leisurely.
Although I wanted to truly unschool math, I also want her to be ok in school.  Unschooling was fantastic from 4-6th grade, and I don't think she suffered a bit for it and she's quickly picking everything up now.  I'm sure we could chill out and I could put her in the lower math in school, and she'd learn algebra in 9th grade.  But I'm an overachiever (one of the reasons I don't have my kids in school, because I didn't want them involved with the pressures of school) and I want Chana to have the option of the higher math class if she's capable.  And since she seems willing to sit and do the math, and we have time so it won't be pressured, why not?

But what math?  Now I'm beginning to have some more empathy for all you homeschoolers stressing about what curriculum to use.  I don't use curricula.  We just start at the beginning and keep going.  I was planning to use a math curriculum and Chana responds better to my lessons and my math problems than to a book.  And when I can write my own math problems, I can set them up to work on precisely the skill that I want her to work on.  Yep, I'm a control freak like that.  That's why I homeschool.

But for algebra, I would like to be methodical.  Sarah's algebra wasn't great.  I had a fantastic book but Sarah really needed at least a year and a half to cover it thoroughly, and she wanted to take the Regents, and by January we switched to working straight from the Barron's Regents book, teaching to the test and in my opinion not really grasping algebra.  I adore algebra, and it was not fun.  Sarah did ok on the Regents and was placed in honors math in high school, and ended up very mathematically inclined and is taking a lot of Math courses in college.  But I'd really like Chana's algebra experience to be more enjoyable, especially as math became so uncomfortable we ended up taking a break from official math for a few years.

So I put a call out to the homeschooling community, and they are terrific.  I got 5 suggestions:

Math U See
Life of Fred
and just now I got an email suggesting a combo of
Spectrum and Singapore

systemath and Lial were not from the SOS I sent out; they were from online reviews of Math U See.

Here is what I learned.  Some of the math curricula are hundreds of dollars.  Some people love them; for some kids, it's not great.  I might get lucky and hit the jackpot, or I might need to go through a few different hundreds of dollars curricula until I find what clicks.

There are curricula with manipulatives.  There are curricula that are largely self teaching.  For the mathematically inclined and those who are not.  etc. etc.

Oh how my heart yearns for unschooling!

But it is part of unschooling to teach your child when she requests it.  And when she requests to be prepared to enter high school, I have to figure out the best way to teach her.

So I knocked off all things that cost more than $25.  Some of them really called to me.  Systemath looked so nice and like the lessons were clearly laid out and it got great reviews... No.  I will not spend hundreds of dollars on algebra.

The Lial textbook was so highly rated and when I went to amazon and found it used for a dollar plus 3.99 shipping, I almost bought it immediately until I remembered I don't want to clutter my house with things I may or may not use.  Basically, it's the math textbook that community colleges use for remedial math, to teach basic math to one semester all the kids who haven't learned math in school (can someone say "unschooled"? Sounds like a great deal to me! Play and explore your interests and then learn twelve years of math in 4 months!!!).  People online mentioned they were going to continue using it for algebra.  I sent some links to my Mom's friend who is a math teacher.  She gave me great guidance for Sarah's math curriculum.  She wanted to look inside the book, and I ended up finding a free download of the book.  Whew.  Glad I didn't end up buying it.  Just saved myself four dollars and some space.   So that is one possibility.

The other possibility is  I'm not sure if I will register and become a member (that costs $25 for 6 months and you get unlimited access to their textbooks).  It appears that the videos are free.  I watched one yesterday.  It was under a minute and clear.  I'm thinking this might be the way to go.  Chana, as a rule, does not like videos.  Me neither.  But maybe we'll try these, since they looked so quick, clear, and systematic.  And then I will use the internet's handy dandy worksheet generators to make problems.  Or else I'll make them up.

So I'm thinking about Lial or mathtv.  And I'm wondering if I should use mathtv to be a little structured about the fractions and decimals and factoring.  Maybe she'll understand it better.  So maybe this week we'll try out a few videos and see if we like it.

Musings and bedtime Torah

I've got a lot going on in my own mind, which means I'm taking a few days to figure things out and the kids are playing and doing whatever.

First, my schedule is so busy that last night I told Chana to do Chumash with her father.  I think she finished rishon of Pekudei.  I don't know about Chana, but I am definitely getting better at the vocab of the Mishkan.

Second, I've been lax with Elazar.  He's perfectly happy to learn Torah at bedtime, and I fell out of the habit of taking advantage of that.  His Chumash is in a room he doesn't go into very often.  I'm sure if I left it in his room, he would bring it to me more often to learn for 5 minutes.  Two nights ago I decided to talk to him about the 10 dibros.

Interestingly, even without going to preschool, he somehow through osmosis has the idea that "being nice" is a mitzva (that's kind of a pet peeve of mine).  I already told him, earlier in the week, when he asked me to tell him about the mitzva of bikur cholim, that it's a sub-mitzva of "v'ahavta l'reacha kamocha."  I explained that means to love other Jews like you love yourself.  He said there are some people he doesn't love because they are mean.

With the 10 dibros, he was surprised at the concept of the "lav," that a "don't do" is a mitzva.  Don't kill, don't steal...  He was sure that being nice would be one of the 10 dibros.  He was kind of chagrined about "don't steal" and this morning he actually went and returned some tools to a garden a few houses away which he apparently had ransacked.

Last night he was thinking a lot about spitting (he had a phase in the last few months where every time he was unconsciously angry, he would spit, and eventually it evolved into a spit without actual saliva just the noise (yay) and it slowed down, but of course, by then his 2 brothers have imitated it..).  I told him there is a mitzva about spitting.  He was positive the mitzva was "don't spit on people" or "apologize after you spit on someone."  I told him about chalitza.  He's in first grade now, and he's pretty conceptual.

Monday, November 4, 2013


Tonight was one of those nights that people are talking about when they say, "I could never homeschool my kids!"

My daughter is preteen.  It's been building up for a few days, the bad mood, the surliness, the crying at the drop of a hat, the fury at anything and everything, most especially her mother.  Tonight, some of the things she said had me mentally filing them to share with my sister and another friend with a preteen daughter, for example: "Don't say 'Good'!  I can't stand it when you say that!!" and "Don't tell me to reread it!  I was going to reread it" after she deliberately mumbled a phrase and she hadn't reread the last phrase she deliberately mumbled last time without prodding.  etc etc.

The line from the Princess Bride kept going through my mind:  Never go against a Sicilian when death is on the line!  Hahahahahahaha.. until he keels over.
But I substituted: Never do Chumash with a preteen daughter when she is hormonal! Hahahahahahaha.. and then I keel over.

Last week I felt we were speaking too sharply to each other.  This mostly comes up during Chumash because we (thankfully) aren't in much conflict at other times during the day.  I told her on Shabbos that I felt like I wanted to try to react better.  Most of our conflicts last week ended up like this:
Me: Stop screaming.
Her: I should stop screaming?! You're the one screaming!
Me: I'm only screaming because you screamed at me first!
Her: I didn't scream first! You're the one who screamed first!

I figured that since we always end up arguing over who started screaming first, maybe I should just try to control my powerful negative reaction when I *perceive* that I'm being screamed at, and maybe if I'm nicer, we won't explode.  I shared that with her on Shabbos, and she appreciated it.

This evening, every time her tone got obnoxious, I reminded myself inside my head that I was going to be pleasant when she was obnoxious.  I think I did this 6 or 7 times.  (At one point, I said to her, "You are screaming at me."  And she said, "I'm not screaming.  I think you think screaming is louder than I think it is."  And I was thinking at the exact moment she then said: "Actually, you think my screaming is louder than I think it is, and I think your screaming is louder than you think it is.  So we actually both think screaming is exactly equal, but reversed."  Yes!!! A moment of rare accord.)

Also, I decided to do a rashi tonight.  She asked why she has to do rashi.  I asked her to tell me.  Seeing as we have this conversation every time I ask her to do rashi.  She shrieked said, "I don't know! That's why I asked the question! Why would I ask a question unless I want you to answer it!"  Then I said I want her to learn to read and understand rashi.  And she shrieked said she already knows how to read rashi.  And I said she needs to learn how to understand rashi.  (Never mind that she didn't know the samech from the mem sofis and when I mentioned that, she shrieked said, "I forgot! I'm allowed to forget!" Yes, you are allowed to forget, but not if you insist that you don't need practice because you are already great at it.)  Then she pitched a fit objected that I was asking her to translate too much.

I think she did a pretty decent job translating.  I'm still a little disturbed that we are using rashi with nekudos and I don't know how she would be at rashi without nekudos, which is really what I'd like her to be able to read.  But hopefully with more familiarity will come fluency.

I was pretty irritated by the end and, while I did manage to hold onto my Zen (mostly), I think this whole thing was a valuable experience for us.

While it's not delightful to interact with each other when she is in a bad mood, this gives us a lot of practice working on our self control and conflict resolution.  It's an opportunity for me to model kindness in the face of provocation.  It's an opportunity for her to restrain herself to snarling instead of a full-blown freak out.  We are trying to be respectful of each other while we are both extremely irritated.  It is during the crucible of these moments that I find my better self (after sometimes also finding my most hideous self) and refine my patience and my character.  It is these moments that will be some of my daughter's most valuable lessons.

It is not pleasant to homeschool through these times.  But when you ask me, how do I homeschool and teach and discipline when my children are obnoxious and difficult and horrid?  The answer is, I'm glad I do.

Luckily, I also get a lot of "do-overs" when I don't handle things as well as I'd like to.  Tomorrow will be another night.

Oh, wait.  We still have math.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

the schedules in our own minds

Just 3 perakim left to Shmos.  It's November 3rd and I wanted to be done with Shmos in October.  Luckily, in homeschool we can just keep going into the summer or into next year.  We can learn at odd times and during vacations and in the car.

So Chana has done pesukim about the menorah a number of times, including Parshas Teruma and chazara.  And today she said, "The menorah has 6 branches?  I thought it had 8."

This from the same person who 5 minutes later, when she was getting confused about the knobs and the almonds and the flowers etc. said, "Don't show me pictures!  You showed me pictures already and I know what it looks like."

She did zip through these pesukim, though.  I think we'll finish this week.  And I do think she has a better grasp of it than she did before.