Wednesday, December 31, 2014

v'shinantam l'vanecha v'dibarta bam

I've been feeling like I'm constantly trying to keep up this last couple of days.  I've had lists with things like "go down to basement and get wipes" because I'm too tired to run down and get them, and have too many details on my mind to remember that I want wipes upstairs until I walk into the bathroom and see streaks on the walls where someone wiped his finger.  Today's to-do list had 18 things on it.  For me, that's a lot.  Before this week, I had about 4 things on my to do list.  One of them is make salted caramel hot chocolate.  That's still on my list.  Just not today's list.

Being so whelmed, I started a post a couple of days ago full of anguished self-flagellation about how can I unschool if my son comes over to me and I can't give him attention because I'm working or with a sibling.  Because then I'm missing the windows of learning opportunity.

What I like to do with these anxious moments is, rather than beat myself up, take it as something that my binah yeseira is alerting me that there is an issue, and try to pay more attention to that in the future.  So I decided to try to pay a little more attention to Elazar's needs for attention and to make sure to try to be available if he is seeking connection.

Tonight, instead of doing my thing while he does his thing and then rejecting his desire for connection when I send him up to bed at 10:30 and I am fried and don't want to snuggle and connect and talk, I pressed pause and asked him to sit with me on the couch for 10 minutes at 9:30 (this was before Chana and I had done Chumash yet.  Playing catch up all day).

He was all excited about whatever funny thing it was he was watching.  He was paying attention to what I was saying, and I think he even comprehended it.  But he was jumping around a lot, and he kept telling me funny things he had seen.  We were continuing in Shema, and I was doing v'shinantam l'vanecha and I asked who his banim were, and he said he doesn't have any, and I asked who my banim were, and he recited them in a revved up singsongy voice.  And we talked about v'shinantam and shnei and shinayim (teeth) and it means teach your children and speak about Torah when you are sitting at home.  And I said what are we doing now? And he realized we were sitting on the couch at home learning Torah and that was exciting.  And I asked him if we ever learned Torah while we were going on the path, and he couldn't think of a time, so I said we should try that out.  And when we go to sleep and when we wake up.  I'm not sure how much he got of that because he was wiggling and jumping.

It turns out my brother helped me figure out minecraft on the current computer, which is good, because the idea of a siyum is completely not on Elazar's radar.  He's not motivated by it, it means nothing to him, and he's perfectly happy to learn not for the sake of a siyum.

But as much as I dragged him and myself through that little lesson of explaining those pesukim in shema, and as much as he even grasped it and it might stick with him...  It felt like I was trying to coax him and like I was dragging him through learning what I wanted him to learn and which he was receiving.  It is not the same type of learning as when he is the one dragging me over and begging to learn or to understand or to know.  And I don't think it affects his heart and his soul the same way, either.

Part of Torah is mitoch shelo lishma, ba lishma.  Not everything has to have that passion.  Skills and learning can be something a person drags through because it's important to acquire knowledge and skills.  I hear that and I accept that.

But it feels like I'm slogging through mud.  It's inefficient.

If I'm finding 10 minutes a chore, at least he enjoys it and can tolerate it.  I cannot imagine him in school.  Well, I can, but it involves imagining my sunny-dispositioned, energetic child being in trouble a lot and chewing his clothes and having horrible eczema.  I'm so grateful we fell into homeschooling.  

math and testing

We finished most of the algebra program I was doing with Chana (I skipped the last two parts because I don't think they are on the regents) and I bought a pamphlet of tests for us to work on.  I may have mentioned that Chana has only taken about 5 tests in her life.  I used to test Sarah every year, but when Chana veered more towards unschooling (not reading much between kindergarten and 4th grade, or not doing math between 4th and 7th grade) it didn't make sense to test, especially when NYS homeschool laws, despite being just about the strictest in the country, are designed to give flexibility to unschooling as a legitimate educational approach.

So from October to January in 7th grade, Chana learned fractions, positive and negative integers, percents, etc.  Then we started algebra.  That took us a little under a year to cover, and now I figured we'll take from January to May to study for the regents.  Since she has to learn how to take the test.  Plus there are gaps in what she learned and what is on the common core algebra regents.

So far we've done 5 questions in 3 days.  I have to explain to her what the question means, and show her that she already knows how to do the math.  (Some questions cover topics that have nothing to do with algebra, like quartiles, which is statistics.)  She has to learn the testing lingo.  Today she was practically in tears.  There was a problem that I thought was pretty straightforward, but she thought it was overwhelming.

But that's why I've set aside a few months to help her get used to it.

But now that I'm thinking about chemistry and geometry for next year, I have the luxury of thinking about how to learn it so that she understands it for its own sake, to enjoy it, and to not be bound by any type of testing.  I still think it is valuable for her to learn how to take this test, but I don't think it's as valuable as people think it is.

Tests notoriously:

  • cause students to mainly focus on learning for the test
  • lead students to ignore deeper understanding in favor of what will help them succeed on a test
  • create an artificial timeline of learning and "covering" material that will be on the test
  • stop students from concentrating on true understanding, and motivate cramming information for short term and then forgetting it within 24 hours
  • encourage learning to take the test rather than learning the actual material
  • don't accurately indicate the level of mastery for people who are poor test takers
  • cause anxiety or an overfocus on what will be on the test and distract them from true learning

I was going to spend some time reviewing Hebrew grammar with Chana for the scholarship test for high school on Sunday.  But now I'm wondering if she should take the test.  I do not think that her performance on this test will be an accurate representation of her knowledge, her abilities, and her skills.  And if Problem #5 in the algebra review booklet is any indication, the questions might cause her pain and stress.  To what end?

I thought it would give her a sense of what types of things a 9th grader knows.  But I remember that Sarah failed just about all of the first couple of tests in many subjects in 9th grade.  She had to learn how to take notes, how to study, how to memorize, and focus on things that weren't interesting.  If Chana is so unfamiliar with the test taking culture, how will this test be a positive experience or have any benefit?

Thursday, December 25, 2014

high school homeschool curriculum

Chana is preparing to take the scholar's exam for the high school she is applying to.  I have absolutely no idea what this exam will entail.  Chana has almost no experience at all taking tests.  I used to test Sarah every year; according to NY state law, students need to be tested every other year beginning 4th grade.  Chana tested in 1st grade, 5th grade and in 7th grade.

To prepare, we just went through fractions and decimals.  We'll review percents tomorrow.  I had been thinking about preparing her to take the Hebrew regents and working on reading Hebrew paragraphs and answering Hebrew multiple choice questions, but we didn't get to that.  We didn't get to review Hebrew grammar.  Plus, Chana is slow at taking tests.  I wonder why we are asking her to sit for the test.  I suppose on the off chance that she'll breeze through it and do well on it.  It's very possible she won't know a lot of the answers or she will not get to finish it, since our idea of education is vastly different than standard education, and learning how to take tests is not a high priority at this time.

As we were reviewing fractions (it made my heart sing to see how easily Chana zipped through them, remembering how difficult they were for her 4 years ago and how wonderful it was to unschool Math and how smoothly she understands it now and can do it), I started thinking about her curriculum for next year, if she decides to homeschool, and we started writing down a basic plan.

I said that I was thinking that she might want to take a break from math next year (she can always take remedial math in college, and I'm sure it will be very easy for her and she can go further after that if she enjoys it), but she might want to try geometry.  She asked what geometry entails, and I described it vaguely, and she said, sure, she'll try that.  So we wrote it down.

I asked her if she wanted to study biology or chemistry next year.  She asked what they both were.  I said biology is the study of the body and the classification of animals.  And chemistry is the study of molecules and atoms.  She chose chemistry.

I asked her about history, and she said she wasn't very interested in that.  But she decided she would study WWI and WWII.

I said for Literature she should read 3 books.  She mentioned Hamlet.  I said I would get her a reading list to choose the others from.  She said that she wanted to read How to Win Friends and Influence People.  She asked if that counts.  I said okay.  She said she'd like to read that now, though, and not wait for next year.  (I'd better go see if we have it on a shelf somewhere or if I gave it away.)

I said for writing, she can either hold off a year and we can sign her up for an online writing course next year, or I can do it with her next year.  She asked what writing is--is it handwriting?  I said no, grammar, structure, essays, papers, etc.  She asked how it would work, and I said I would give her assignments, she would do them, and I would correct them.  She said she'd like to do that.  I asked her how frequently she would like assignments, once a week, once a month, once every 2 weeks.. She chose once every two weeks.  She said she'd like to improve her vocabulary.  I remembered that Sarah had a box of words from her SAT course so I gave them to her.

For Limudei Kodesh, we said we'd have to talk about it.  We'll see what she wants to do once we finish Devarim.  I asked her about Nach and she doesn't know much about it.  I asked her to choose a month to devote to Torah Sheba'al Peh.  I have my sourcebooks from high school and I think we can go through a whole year's worth in a month, since homeschool is efficient like that.  She chose March.

I am going to discuss options with the principal of the high school she is applying to and see what they are open to.

If Chana stays home, I still have to figure out 1) how to teach chemistry.  2) how to teach geometry.  3) how to stay on top of writing assignments.  and limudei kodesh.

home for high school

Chana went for her interview this week.  I'm having the parent interview on Monday (they know I'm home with the kids and couldn't come in if Chana wasn't home to babysit, so we scheduled the parent interview for a different day).  Chana liked the school, and she came home somewhat in conflict, but still inclined towards homeschooling.  She just doesn't think she can tolerate sitting in class all day and thinks it will be incredibly boring.  I think until she actually saw what class was like, she had been planning to try school out for a year, and try to make friends.  But when she saw what class involves, she balked.

Academically, secular-wise, I think homeschooling is a better choice for her.  Although I mentioned in the last post that the thought of high school kind of freaked me out, I remembered what was so exciting and thrilling about it.  Mainly that high schoolers are basically adults with fully capable brains and the ability to be in charge of their own educations.

And with the possibility of taking college courses at around 16  (I glanced at both Queens College and Nassau Community College and both have programs for high schoolers) it doesn't really make sense to go to high school.

I do think limudei kodesh would be better in high school.  She'd get more bekius, she would learn more detailed halacha, she might gain more skills.  But if Chana doesn't want to go, then we'll see what we can do at home.  I always did have grand plans for high school, but the reality is I have 3 younger children at home plus I have found that by nature, I tend to be a bit lazy and disinclined to sit and teach for hours, which means I won't be sitting and teaching things, most likely.

And, as I mentioned, I have hesitations about Chana being home socially.  Yes, homeschoolers are able to socialize beautifully.  Chana's social skills are fine, she is capable of making friends and socializing.  But I think she'd have more social options if she goes to school.

At the end of the day, I'm going to discuss it with the school and see what the administration thinks, and Chana is going to choose.  If she chooses to stay home, that's not written in stone and I think if she chooses to matriculate in 10th or 11th grade, the school will welcome her.  If she chooses to homeschool and then decides closer to the time that she wants to go to school, that's fine.  If she chooses to homeschool, then that's fine.  If there are things that make her unhappy, we will reevaluate.

I'd like to add that Sarah wanted very much to make a lot of friends, and transitioned to 8am-5:15pm sitting in class with no trouble.  Her major complaints were that the learning was inefficient and that they often moved on when she wanted to think more deeply about something.  She noted that at least you can daydream during class, which you can't in homeschool, because your mother notices immediately.  So although you are in class longer, it doesn't require the same focus as homeschool.

high school homeschooling decisions

I've been agonizing a bit about the high school decision.  Chana orginally said she wanted to go to high school.  After visiting the open house, she realized that sitting through class is not something she wants to do.  She became more inclined to continue homeschooling.  I had hesitations about this for two reasons.  1) If she expressed a yearning for socialization, then not having socialization is probably not a good idea.  2) I was looking forward to the variety of exposure she would have to different teachers for limudei kodesh.  I am capable of teaching her just about every subject, but I thought it would be nice for her to hear other people's approach to Torah.  3) I thought it would be valuable for Chana to have more Jewish peers and spend time with girls who are both struggling with Torah and girls who are passionate about Torah.  (Yeah, that's not two reasons.  I thought of a third.  What, I should go back and change "two" to "three"?) and 4) Although I had always yearned to homeschool high school, and I was disappointed when Sarah chose to go to high school, I realized that deep down I was looking forward to giving up her education to someone else's responsibility.  I realized that I was blithely unschooling for elementary school because I knew that high school would "fill in the gaps."  But if I'm homeschooling for high school, then I either have to put my money where my mouth is for unschooling or else I have to step up and teach her math, writing, science, etc.

Although socialization is somewhat of an issue, one thing that changed from 7th grade is that her very good friend who had been homeschooled and then went to high school for 9th grade (last year) came home for 10th grade (this year).  So Chana sees her a lot more.  It's possible that we'll be able to work out her socialization.  However, I think she would make closer and better friends in high school.

I talked to someone who suggested sleepaway camp.  Chana did attend sleepaway camp (Camp Dina) going into 7th grade.  She enjoyed it immensely but also felt she didn't make permanent friendships, it was very structured, and she didn't have enough time to herself nor enough down time.  That doesn't rule out future sleepaway camp, though.

high school homeschooling

Chana is in the middle of applying to High School.  When she came home from sleepaway camp going into 7th grade, she told me she wanted to go to High School.  My older daughter Sarah went to High School (SKA) after never having gone to school at all and after being unschooled for the last few years of elementary school except for Chumash and Math.  Chana was completely unschooled until 3rd grade, when we started doing Chumash.  I did not unschool Chumash but unschooled everything else, including Math.  A lot of math came up naturally until fractions, when we just dropped math completely for about 3 years, except for an occasional lesson when it came up, where I tried to help Chana understand fractions, or the occasional math conversation, which didn't intimidate her or annoy her, and which she enjoyed, because she wasn't generally feeling overwhelmed with math.

When she told me she wanted to go to High School, I said, "Well, you're going to need to do math."  It turns out that unschooling math, which was a bit of a terrifying step for me, was an incredible choice.

  • She easily picked up 3 years of math in 3 months (I heard these kinds of things happened in unschooling and I wouldn't have quite believed it if I didn't see it myself)
  • She got to play for 3 years instead of struggling with subjects her brain wasn't ready to handle yet
  • She doesn't feel intimidated or stressed by math
  • She doesn't feel bad about herself or feel like she is "bad" at math
So she is preparing for the Algebra regents now, so she can enter 9th grade.  She filled out her application and she went to the open house.

She sat through the mini lessons.  6 mini lessons, 6 minutes each.  About half an hour of lessons.  They were very cute, interesting, some of them hands on.  (For example, the English mini lesson had us write our own 6 word memoirs.)  Chana came out of them a bit shell-shocked.  Chana has always been a kinesthetic learner, not as inclined to read or to listen or to see as to touch and do.  The idea of sitting from 9am to 5pm and passively have people talking at her was a bit horrifying to her.  

She drew up a list of pros and cons of school vs. homeschooling.  You can see that something that annoys her about homeschooling is that I drag her to classes for things she doesn't want to sit through.  Kal V'chomer for more hours a day.  I suggested part time, but she didn't feel that she gains advantages from that.

potential friends

less time for animation
violin difficult
lots of work
bored in class for lots of hours
being with people I don't want to be with

full time homeschool
more time for animation
more time for violin
more time to do stuff I want
freedom of movement 
choice of activity
can make fun of teacher

few friends
forced to be dragged to classes I don't want
have to be friendly to other homeschoolers

part time school/homeschool
can have a school atmosphere but for less time

still no time because have work and other stuff
have to do schoolwork
can't make friends part time

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Sibling Rivalry II

In addition to the techniques discussed here, there is a theory underlying many of my reactions to sibling rivalry:

I assume that a great deal of sibling rivalry is due to fighting for love of the parent.

It seems to me that children often fight with each other or resent each other because they are under the impression (and there is some truth to it) that a parent's time and attention are limited, and they are competing for their share.  Although parent love does certainly stretch (I grew up the oldest of six with this on our fridge:)
the fact is, caregivers do have limited emotional and physical resources.

There is a psychological principle that humans behave differently in an abundance mentality than in a scarcity mentality.

In an abundance mentality, there is always enough resource to go around.  People tend to be generous when there is abundance, because giving doesn't take away from their needs.  A child will share candy when there is plenty of candy.  A child will share a ball when there are plenty of balls.  I will generously let everyone eat my cereal when I know I can easily get more cereal.  There is no danger/pain/stress/negative consequence associated with giving, because there is always more.

In a scarcity mentality, there is fear, tension, and aggressive competition.  People must hoard their resources because they don't know when they will get it next, they don't know if they will have enough for themselves, and they don't know if they might have to steal from someone else in order to get their needs met, or if they might have to defend what they have against others trying to take the precious limited resource away from them.  This makes them extremely miserly about what they have and very unwilling to share.  Instead of being friendly and generous, they view others with suspicion, as competition, and as a threat.

With siblings, I always strive to create an abundance mentality.  I want to make it as easy as possible to "share" Mommy, since there is a sense that there will always be "enough Mommy."  As this is a homeschooling blog, I will note as an aside that homeschooling can make this easier, since I am home with the children for many, many hours.  People often ask, "How can you be home with your children all day?"  I find that since I have hours with them, there is a lot of opportunity to nurture the parent child relationship and to be available for the children. (This doesn't mean I don't experience burnout or that I don't sometimes feel like a wrung out dishrag by the end of the day.)  This is a conscious and underlying goal that I have as I am with my children.

In addition to being aware of the abundance and scarcity mentality and the ramifications, I have a few practical tips.

if seeing aggression, remove and give attention/love
I mentioned before how I move the child away and how I usually scoop them into roughhousing play.  But now I want to add that although it may seem counter-intuitive, instead of having an emotional response of "this child is 'bad' or 'misbehaving' or 'aggressive' or 'annoying'" or whatever negative association, maybe you can think of it as "this child is showing a need for love and attention."  Try to make loving eye contact.  Snuggle.  Roll around on the floor.  Pretend to be growling monsters.  I can't tell you how often I grab a child and pretend to growl and battle because I am trying to give them a positive outlet for the aggressive energy (and if I'm annoyed, too, it gives me a positive way to "be mad" by playing and "pretending" to be mad), and the game evolves into Mommy and Baby monster and involves a lot of cuddling and cooing and stroking and snuffling.  

Play "Mommy and Baby" with young children
A very popular game with my 5 and 3 year olds is me wearing a giant T-shirt and them climbing under it to make a pregnancy tummy, and me giving birth and then cuddling and nursing them (I give them my finger to suck on).  I speak to them in baby talk and I gaze at them like I gazed at my adored babies.  

special time
Here are articles explaining Special Time.  I have a lot of trouble with this and usually only manage to do it (if I manage to do it at all) with the child who is in the most difficult phase at the moment.  But the experts say it works and I'll add that it is extremely effective.  It also is onerous for an overwhelmed Mama to add to the list.  But the payoff is enormous.

when you are playing with one child and another comes over
I have two different approaches, depending on which child is needier.  Both use the abundance mentality.

  • I always try to welcome the newcomer as if there is infinite love and room on my lap and room for them to join


  • I take turns.  If the one I'm playing with will resent the intrusion of the newcomer, I put up firm boundaries. "It's not your turn, now.  It's his turn." (I can see the one in my lap preen with happiness when I do that.) "In 5 (or 10 to 20) minutes it will be your turn." And then I enforce that.
    Ideally, the one in my lap will naturally have enough time and leave of his own accord, at which point I will go and find the next one and tell him it is his turn.  If the newcomer is hovering, then I switch turns, 5 minutes and 5 minutes.  With each switch, I try to convey that there is "enough Mommy."  You have your turn and you will get your turn.  You will get enough time.

sibling rivalry I

In Pirkei Avos 5:21 it says "ben chamishim l'eitza," age 50 is the time to dispense advice.  I've noticed that in any given scenario with a suggested action, there is a scenario which is almost exactly the same except that the ideal thing to do is the exact opposite of the suggested action.  So although I have found certain things useful and I share them in the hopes they might be useful to you, bear in mind that they might actually not work at all in your case or be the opposite of what would be ideal for your situation.

My daughters are 5.5 years apart.  There wasn't much conflict.  I dutifully read Siblings Without Rivalry before Chana was born.  It wasn't such an issue, though I'm sure I integrated the advice and that helped.  Likewise, there are 6 years between Chana and Elazar.  (Ironically, Chana played with Elazar more than Sarah ever played with Chana.)  Then we were blessed rapidly with two more boys.  Now we had three boys in row.  Age differences: 2.5 years, and 17 months.  I knew I had to get on top of my game regarding sibling rivalry because no longer was it going to be "I'm leaving the baby on the floor next to the computer while you play and going to take a shower."

This is looking like it's going to be a two part post.  First I'll discuss techniques that I've been using, and then the next post will be the main thing I've been thinking about recently.

tandem nursing
This is not usually practical or relevant to a lot of people, but I mention it because when I was about to give birth and my toddler was still nursing, I read up on it and saw mentioned, over and over, how it affected the sibling relationship positively, how close the children were from it.  And since I, too, have noticed this, and I do think tandem nursing affected my first two boys' relationship positively, I bring it up now.  My middle boy weaned himself while I was pregnant, and I am sure that had he had the experience of breastfeeding while holding the hand of his little brother and gazing into his eyes, it would have cut down on his aggression.  Unfortunately it was not an option.

hovering, blocking, teaching "gentle"
These are the tried and true techniques of teaching a toddler to handle his infant sibling.  Hover over the toddler whenever he comes near the baby; do not assume he will not hit or be rough.  Be on standby to block any hits, pinches, squishing, etc.  Take his hand and have him stroke the baby and make "nice."  I think a lot of irritation and agitation can be cut out with proper vigilance, supervision, and prevention-- which is practically difficult and exhausting to do.  But when I make it a priority I don't regret it.  It's not fair to the older one to get angry at him for being unable to control his aggression when out of the two of us, I'm the one who is mature enough to control myself. ('Cept when I'm not...)

moving away without speaking or giving off disapproving body language
When the older sibling attacks the younger sibling, intervene by scooping up the aggressor and moving away.  I don't say, "Don't hit your brother" or "we don't" or "it's not nice."  I've found they know all that already and either they want to be aggressive or they can't control themselves.  I don't bother to "teach" them not to.  I just stop it.

I've written about these concepts and techniques a few times.  It mainly involves only stepping in when there will be harm (blood, bruises etc.) and when the aggressor is not responding to genuine distress signals by easing up.  I see my last post was about 2.5 years ago, and I am reporting now that they don't fight that much, they do get into physical conflict that ends pretty quickly, and the smacks are, from my observation, usually with a careful amount of force.

Playful Parenting
When I move the aggressor away (without criticizing or scowling or negative body language) I often ask if they want to wrestle or roughhouse or play out their aggressive energy.  This has been hugely helpful in navigating their feelings.

assuming that a great deal of sibling rivalry is due to fighting for love of the parent
To be continued in the next post.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014


I was thinking today that maybe I made a mistake about Elazar's computer.  Maybe we should just get him a computer because it's an educational aid and it helps him do research and learn things.  Because trying to teach him when he's not in the mood is painful for him and painful for me, and annoying to both of us.

I remember when I was in my 20s and I was idealistic and energetic about teaching.  I felt like anyone could be coaxed into learning if I found their learning style and made it pleasant.  But now it's 2 decades later and I feel like it doesn't make so much sense to try to coax children (or people) to learn things.  How about you go play and learn/do whatever you want, and if you want me to teach you something, come over to me and I'll teach you whatever you want to learn.  This way you're attentive and motivated, and it's efficient and painless.

I know there are many, many educational situations in life where people learn things that they would not have learned otherwise and gain tremendously and even change the course of their lives.  I think there are wonderful teachers out there, trying to engage students, trying to motivate them, and that's great.

A friend of mine posted an article by Peter Gray that really does reflect a lot of my experiences with Elazar (and some other kids I've seen with diagnosed adhd).

the ADHD characteristics don't vanish when the kids leave conventional school, but the characteristics are no longer as big a problem as they were before;
-  ADHD-diagnosed kids seem to do especially well when they are allowed to take charge of their own education.
 children's behavior, moods, and learning generally improved when they stopped conventional schooling, not because their ADHD characteristics vanished but because they were now in a situation where they could learn to deal with those characteristics.
The ADHD label is applied to two very different sorts of kids. One type really has "Attention Surfeit Disorder." Most of these get deeply involved in exactly what they want to do... They get labeled ADD not because they can't attend but because they have no coping mechanisms for enforced boredom..... The other type are simply physically active to the point of being problematic when quiet is called for. 

This had me thinking, why am I bothering trying to get him to sit down?  I know a lot of beginning unschoolers grapple with the questions of "will they ever learn to focus" "will they ever learn self-discipline if they can always follow their learning inclinations" "will they ever learn they have to do things they don't want to do."  If I haven't already addressed these questions to your satisfaction, let me know and I can write more about it.  For now, suffice it to say these questions no longer concern me.  It's more the opposite: why am I attempting to motivate him when it's more efficient to just wait for his own motivation to carry him?

As I was thinking about this, I turned to Elazar and said that when we get home, I'd like to learn Torah with him a bit before he goes onto the computer.  I asked him what he wants to learn and he grinned and said, "Shema!"  We started reviewing it in the car and he reviewed what part of the pasuk means.

Monday, December 22, 2014


So we're at that poetic point in Chukas where it pays to be a professional Chumash learner because I've given shiurim on it.  I've studied it with mefarshim before, so I can kind of hack through the translations as we are sitting there, having put in hours of prep understanding this in previous years.  First of all, I could not hold back from pulling out the map.  The Stone Nach has a great bunch of maps in the back showing the territories of Sichon and Emori and Moav and cities in them.  So I showed her where they were and she rolled her eyes a little.

We decided since the rashis are overwhelming we'll do half of them a day instead of all of them.

As we were going through the new pesukim, she said, "I never want to review these.  I'm not going to remember any of these words.  Either I'm going to ask you every single word or--"
I said, "Fine, no problem.  I'll review them for you.  I'll read it and translate it all for you and you'll listen."

Chana said, "Well, can you not pause and ask me a word here and there?"
I said, "I'm sorry, I can't not do that."
She said, "You can't not not do that?"
I said, "What? No, I cannot not not do it.  I can't not do it."
She said, "No! Then I'm going to whine and yell that I can't do and I don't know it--"
--"And you're going to say 'what's the shoresh'""and I'm going to find the shoresh and them I'm going to be annoyed because I DID know it."
I said, "Deal."
Chana said, "No! Abort mission!"
I said, "No.  That's exactly how it will work.  I'm glad we worked that out."  I stuck out my hand, and we shook on it.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

getting a new computer

We have a mouse.  It's probably mice.  It's very exciting and there are lots of learning moments and it/they are very cute.  But.  It squeezed into Elazar's computer (very fascinating comparing the size of the hole and the size of the mouse) and chewed through and now he has no more computer.  We actually have another computer in Ari's home office (that Elazar's using now) but it isn't capable of minecraft.  The computer that the mouse chewed cost about $150 and it wasn't ideal for minecraft; the computer was always whirring, indicating that it was overworking.  It always reminded me of an out-of-shape, no-longer-young computer, wheezing trying to keep up with Elazar's demands.

Since I don't want my children thinking that hundred+ dollar items are easily replaceable and are coming to them, I was trying to think of some way for Elazar to earn a new computer.  Originally, I thought when he finished his reader, that would be a good time to get him a faster, better computer, in six months to a year.  But the mouse brought our timetable forward.

So Ari and I were trying to think of what we can learn with him that will be significant enough for a siyum, but still suitable for Elazar's 7yo, adhd temperament.  And doable in a short enough time that he won't have to go too long without minecraft, which he is using to learn to read (English).

Mishna is too abstract conceptually.  I thought maybe Sefer Shoftim, and he might enjoy the stories.  Or I was thinking that maybe there is something like the kitzur Shulchan Aruch--we used to learn the kitzur in elementary school and the Hebrew was very simple and the halacha was straightforward (except we don't hold by a lot of it).  I was wondering if maybe there was a halachic area with straightforward halacha that he could learn in about a month.  Then Ari thought of the idea of learning Shema with him.  I suggested that Ari teach him the trope and have him repeat after him until he can say it fluently.  And hopefully he'll be able to teach him what it means, too.  We'll see how that goes.

happy chanuka!

This post has nothing much to do with Chanuka, other than chronologically.  I've decided to let Elazar's Hebrew reading go for now, since I feel it's more efficient to read only when he asks to read.  This left me with a little bit of a dilemma, since I still want to maintain daily Torah learning with him, and when I ask him what he wants to learn, he says he wants to do the Hebrew reader.  But his heart isn't in it and it takes him longer to do a page, whereas when he's in a learning phase, he blitzes through the pages.  So we've been doing a small halacha about Chanuka.  One night I read through al hanisim with him.  I started off reading the Hebrew and then translating, but he got bored in the middle, so I hustled and dropped the Hebrew and gave a gist/translation.  He cheered at the end.  That little cheer of appreciation of the miracle of the battle victory has kept me smiling at various times this week (often when I am saying al hanisim myself).

Chana is making her way steadily through Chukas.  We have about 30 rashis and her pace of getting through the pesukim is faster than her pace for getting through the rashis.

Right now, our rashi protocol (which I personally find bedieved; I do not think I've discovered an optimal rashi approach yet) is

  • I choose rashis that are pshat oriented (or easy to read and understand)
  • I read them to her and explain them
  • I read them and explain them for 4 days
  • They are familiar enough to her for her to read them and I still explain them
  • She reads them and then remembers the main idea of it but still doesn't know a lot of words
  • And that's how we leave it (even though I'd rather she learns the words)
I'm feeling in general that we are working nicely on skills but less well on analysis, questions, and deeper level of comprehension.  Chana does not have much patience with that and often tosses off a question but does not like to sit and ponder it or discuss it.  I brought that up to her a few months ago and it has definitely improved-- she will take a moment or two now to discuss things, but she generally prefers to "get it over with."  In my opinion, this is a side effect of my emphasis on skills over enjoyment of Torah learning and is one of the reasons I am turning more towards unschooling, even for limudei kodesh, for the boys.  (Note: this does not mean that I think that it is impossible to teach skills and foster an enjoyment of learning; I just think that my personal methods have stifled certain joyful aspects of learning and I'd like to experiment with that.)  If Chana does decide to stay home for high school (I started a post on that last month but I don't think I ever finished it) we'll probably work on deeper conceptual and analytical skills.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

unschooling math

Back in the 1930’s Benezet proved that children who had only one year of math, in sixth grade, performed as well or better at math than children who had several years of math teaching in the early grades. Research since then has supported these results.

Monday, December 8, 2014

hebrew reader

I tried to find a link online but was unable to.  So here is a picture.  I got it about 14 years ago when I went to the local Judaica store and asked them for a reader.  I personally think any reader will do.  It just has to run through the letters, the nekudos, combine them, and then combine letters with other letters into words and poof! your child can read.  A siddur would work, too, except that kids generally it broken down like this.  If your child was older (say 11) and learning because s/he wants to, I would think a siddur would be fine right after mastery of letter sounds and nekuda sounds.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

unschooling Hebrew reading

Elazar went through a burst of Hebrew reading for the past couple of weeks.  He's been working towards a siyum.  He got up to page 42 out of about 200 pages in the Hebrew reader.  He totally gets the idea of blending, is pretty quick at it (but not yet fluent), and we are going through it letter by letter with various nekudos.  He's up to gimmel.  His interest has kind of petered out and he has stopped asking me to do it.

So now here is the question of unschooling vs. not.  I don't really think there is a wrong answer here.  I can continue to nudge him along, and he would probably do it.  It won't be painful for him and he would learn to read Hebrew.  Once he knows Hebrew, we can practice tefila and maybe start Chumash text (he's done some, but it's extremely desultory).  He's in 2nd grade.

Or I can just drop it.  I can leave it alone until he decides to pick it up again.  One disadvantage is that it's a little nervewracking, but I'm pretty confident he'll choose to pick it up again.  Another disadvantage is that he won't be on the same level as his peers, but the benefits of him going at his own pace outweigh that.  Another disadvantage is that he is possibly missing opportunities to learn all the skills that scaffold on top of reading Ivrit.  Is it true that learning skills at a young age is easier?  Is he missing valuable years of learning?  Am I teaching him that play is more important than Torah?  Is play more important for a 7yo with ADHD?  But doing 5-10 minutes a day of reading is not going to cause him agitation.

A benefit of dropping it is that I know, from experience, that a motivated child will do more than quadruple the work in less than half the time.  Even when I wasn't unschooling, I used to notice waves of learning, lulls and peaks, two weeks of rapid assimilation of skills and information vs weeks where they would need more play time and the work seemed harder and more complicated for them.  In unschooling it is even more extreme.  It seems like 6 months go by and then a few days of intense interest and study or a couple of weeks and they master things or parts of a skill and then they taper off.  It seems to me that if I leave it alone, it will be much more efficiently mastered.

Despite that, I feel the urge to ask Elazar to read every day.

I think I will continue to ask him in the evening if he'd like to learn, and let him choose what he wants to learn.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Rambam Laws of Prayer 4:16**

A lot of times when I sit down to work with Chana, I'm feeling stressed or like work is something that I have to "get over with," or that I have so much else to do (clean the house, prepare food, do errands, be with the little ones).  It's never great to sit down to learning when feeling I have "so much to do" or feeling rushed or reluctant.  Or like last night, when it was 8pm and I had forgotten about it and I was just tired from the day.

It's negative because with my teenager, we don't get so much together time and this is the time we have.  It can be a bonding experience or it can be something that increases strife.  When I walk into it with a negative attitude, I'm stacking the deck against building a positive relationship with her.

Another reason it's negative is because it gives her negative associations with learning.  The learning isn't fun and spending time together isn't fun.  I give off the impression that I'm a sourpuss who just wants to get things over with.  That's the opposite of the impression I want to give her--that learning is joyous, interesting, and something to savor.

Yesterday I was cranky and since Chana's in a good mood these days, it didn't affect her much except that the learning wasn't joyous or pleasant or especially  positive.  (And had it been during a phase where she is more moody, it could have easily slid into disastrous.)  Today I made an effort to be pleasant,* and spending time learning with her can be so much fun and with lots of laughs and jokes.

It made me remember how important it is for me to make an effort to be pleasant when we sit down to learn together.  It seems like such an obvious piece of advice: Make an effort to relax and to smile and exude pleasant and positive energy.  It may seem obvious.  But when I think back to the amount of times over the years that I have neglected this, I think it pays to say it.

*Actually, I said to Chana, "Let's learn now."  And she said, "Let's learn later."  And I said, "But I'm grouchy when we do it later."  And she said, "So don't be grouchy!" which was very funny and helped me turn around.  Because on one hand, it's not so easy to just shrug off grouchiness.  But on the other hand, don't I have free will?

**One should not pray as one carrying a burden who throws it off and walks away. 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

tefila cards: pesukim before and after amida

The pasuk we say before we start Amidah:

ה' שפתי תפתח ופי יגיד תהילתך

Hashem-- Open my lips
and my mouth will tell Your praise
תהלים נא:יז

  • Why do we ask Hashem to open our lips?  Can’t we praise Hashem without His help?
  • How does He open our lips?  He doesn’t control our speech--don’t we have free will?
  • How does it affect you to begin tefila by acknowledging that we even need help in order to daven properly?

The pasuk we say at the end of Amidah:

יִהְיוּ לְרָצוֹן אִמְרֵי פִי
וְהֶגְיוֹן לִבִּי
לְפָנֶיךָ ה' צוּרִי וְגֹאֲלִי.
May the utterings of my mouth
and the thoughts of my heart
be desirable
before You, 
Hashem, my Rock 
and my Redeemer
תהלים יט:טו

How does it benefit us to ponder whether or not our thoughts and words are something that is in line with Hashem’s ideals for the Jewish people and for humanity?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

tefila cards: elokai netzor

אלוקי נצור

This is adapted from what Gemara Brachos 17a says that Mar son of Ravina said after he finished davening:

💬 Why ask for this? Isn’t this our free will?  😯
אֱלֹקי נְצֹר לְשׁוֹנִי מֵרָע
My God: Guard my tongue from evil
💬 Same Q as above. 😯
😕What’s so bad about speaking falsehood?
וּשְׂפָתַי מִדַּבֵּר מִרְמָה
and [guard] my lips from speaking falsehood
😯 (this emoji keeps being relevant)
It’s SO hard to keep calm when people curse me.  I need help with this!
וְלִמְקַלְלַי נַפְשִׁי תִדֹּם
and to those who curse me, my soul should be silent
💬 But I want everyone to like me, not think I’m dust!
וְנַפְשִׁי כֶּעָפָר לַכֹּל תִּהְיֶה
and my soul should be like dust to everyone.
💘 Please make me open to what the Torah says
פְּתַח לִבִּי בְּתוֹרָתֶךָ
Open my heart to Your Torah
💬 I’ll do the mitzvos, but love them so much that I chase them?!
And how does davening for that make me like them more?
וְבמִצְוֹתֶיךָ תִּרְדֹּף נַפְשִׁי.
And my soul should chase Your mitzvos.

וְכָל-הַחושבים עָלַי רָעָה
And all who plan evil against me--
Yeah, no disagreement here
מְהֵרָה הָפֵר עֲצָתָם וְקַלְקֵל מַחְשְבוֹתָם
quickly break their plans and confuse their thoughts.
Really? How does helping me out help out Hashem’s reputation?
עֲשֵׂה לְמַעַן שְׁמֶךָ
Do it for the sake of Your name
*metaphor alert*
What is Hashem’s right hand and why does it need help?
עֲשֵׂה לְמַעַן יְמִינֶךָ
Do it for the sake of Your right hand
How does helping me out help out Hashem’s Torah?
עֲשֵׂה לְמַעַן תּוֹרָתֶךָ
Do it for the sake of Your Torah
How does helping me out help Hashem’s holiness? (Note we are telling Hashem to help us for Him, not for us… But Hashem has no needs..)
עֲשֵׂה לְמַעַן קְדֻשָּׁתֶךָ
Do it for the sake of Your holiness
Yeah! I always want to jump up and yell this.
לְמַעַן יֵחָלְצוּן יְדִידֶיךָ
הוֹשִׁיעָה יְמִינְךָ וַעֲנֵנִי
So that Your beloved ones will be rescued, let Your right hand save and Answer me!

tefila cards: Elokai Neshama

This isn't homeschool at all.  The principal in the high school I teach at asked me to make up some cards for students to peruse if they finish davening and are bored.  Hopefully we'll get some artistic students to illustrate them.  I just made my first card and I'm proud of it.  So I'll share them here for your printing pleasure, if anyone wants to use them.  This one is for Elokai Neshama

💬Why “MY” God? (vs. “our”)

💬 What makes a neshama “pure” or “tahor”?
אלה-י נשמה שנתת בי טהורה היא
My God: The Neshama you put in me is tahor
💬 What is the difference between “create” and “form”?
אתה בראתה,
אתה יצרתה
You created it
You formed it
💬 Hashem doesn’t breathe..
What’s the metaphor?
אתה נפחתה בי
You breathed it into me
💬 In what sense does Hashem guard our soul?
ואתה משמרה בקרבי
And You guard it inside of me
💀Pause to ponder your mortality
ואתה עתיד לטלה ממני
And in the future You will take it away from me
🙋 Ponder Techiyat HaMeitim (Resurrection of the Dead)
ולהחזירה בי לעתיד לבוא
And return it to me in the future

😍 Are you really?  
כל זמן שהנשמה בקרבי מודה אני
The whole time that the Neshama is inside me I am thankful..

💬 What is a “master of all works”?
לפניך ה' אלה-י ואלה- אבותי
רבון כל המעשים
..before You Hashem my God and God of my fathers

Master of all works
💬 What does it mean to be Lord of all souls?
אדון כל הנשמות.
Lord of all souls
Didn’t realize the ending was gruesome, did you?
Ponder Techiyat HaMeitim (Resurrection of the Dead) again
ברוך אתה ה' המחזיר נשמות לפגרים מתים
Blessed are You Hashem

Who returns souls to dead corpses

How does this set the tone for your day?