Friday, January 31, 2014

slow down

One of my favorite things about homeschool (how many times do I write that phrase :)) is the slower pace of life.

It doesn't have to be that way.  Many homeschoolers have a frenetic pace of going to a tight schedule of fantastic activities and classes, and an intense academic curriculum.

But a lot of times when people ask me, "How are you home with your kids all day? I could never do that!" I ask them back, "How do you handle the morning rush and then dinner and bedtime and homework crunched into 3 hours? I would hate that!"

My friend posted this post about maple syrup snow candy this week.  It looks lovely.  By now I know that I'm not the type of homeschooler who does this (see my post: "Acknowledge your personality type and cut yourself some slack."  Oh, wait, I didn't write it yet.  Well, the title says it all).  If we still lived near her, perhaps we could have benefited like the time she did the mentos and pepsi experiment in real life.  But I was vicariously enjoying it and thinking about how absolutely wonderful it is that the very nature of homeschooling is that there is so much wonderful TIME.  There is time to take a day to make candy.  There is time to go to a museum and meander through it and think about the artwork.  There is time to stop and think about a pasuk.  There is time to go off on tangents, have discussions, and ponder things.  There is time to fling a rubber band 500 times to really integrate how it works. There is time for a cuddle on my lap and playing a song 4.5 times in a row until the kid moves on to something else, and to read books over and over and over.  There is time to work on character and time to work on interpersonal relationships and time to handle crying the way you actually want to handle it.

And if, during all that, you didn't get to the academics you thought your child "should" get to, well, there's time.  Tomorrow.  Next week.  Next month.  Next year.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Everyone has a little freak-out once in a while

I had a small freak-out moment yesterday.  I've been thinking that it might be time to beef up Chana's Ivrit writing.  It got triggered by a conversation I had with someone last week.  I can't even remember with whom.  It was about education (this happens a lot, as it's one of my interests).  We were talking about boys' chinuch, and I said I don't know much about what the norms are, since I am not a boy and never had a boy's education, plus the Modern Orthodox yeshiva that I went to does not have the same curriculum as the local schools near me (boys start aleph beis earlier, Chumash earlier, Gemara earlier...).  I didn't even know what the Ivrit curriculum is like.  Whoever I was talking to mentioned that they do need to write Hebrew script.

Since I'm unschooling, I wonder how likely it is that Hebrew script will come up.  Pretty unlikely, I'd say.  They'll probably want to read Hebrew, very likely want to understand Hebrew, but how much will they want to write it?  I don't know.  Right now they don't much want to write anything.  They type, though.

So, every homeschool parent knows that sometimes you get on these anxiety worry binge freak-outs.  Where you start wondering if you're making a huge mistake, if your curriculum is a really Bad Idea, if your methods are going to screw up your child for his/her whole life, that kind of thing.  After 15 years, I don't get these often, and I'm already really comfortable with most of my methods and am pretty sure I'm not harming my children.  But this freak-out attacked some insecurities that I hadn't worked through.

I was worrying about the mesorah.  Am I going to raise children who have a fun childhood and play a lot, but end up being somewhat Jewishly illiterate and not know how to read mefarshim if they are interested in learning?  Am I not doing our part and our personal obligation in teaching Torah to the next generation?  I'm not teaching them enough skills for them to feel comfortable teaching their own kids.  My skills are fantastic, but theirs won't be.  Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaagh!!!!  (Once you mentally stop thinking hysterical thoughts and just move to "aaaaagh" you've really lost it.)

I tried to have a parent teacher conference with Ari but he rolled his eyes at me and said everything is great and everything is going to be fine.

So I have to talk myself down.  My first step was to think about their future happiness.  I am comfortable that we are not compromising their future happiness by teaching them this way.  In fact, we might be enhancing it.  And if they particularly want to work on skills, they will.  I am comfortable that we are not compromising their future ability to earn a living by teaching them this way.  This is one of our important goals in educating our children, and I don't think our methods will shortchange them.  I am comfortable that we are not compromising their ability to learn Torah by teaching them this way.  I personally do value skills and the ability to study Torah texts and to learn inside.  A rare day goes by where I don't open a sefer and read Hebrew text.  But I chose this unschooling route because I felt it was more likely to lead to thinking as a way of life, thinking deeply about learning, and having it affect their hearts.  If they end up learning fewer sources but spend more time pondering them, discussing them, and being affected by them, then we consider that a successful education.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

al pi darko

Sometimes I wonder how many of my blog posts are called "al pi darko" which means "according to his way," which is part of a pasuk in mishlei often used to mean that we should teach children as individuals, not cookie cutter people.

Bedtime Torah is getting a bit more complicated now that Jack (age 4) is on the bandwagon and he wants Torah, too.  First I asked the boys how many mitzvos they thought there were.  Jack (predictably) guessed 4, Elazar 20.  I kept saying, "more" "more" "more" and Elazar went up to 100, 200, 300, etc.  (Then Jack had a little tantrum because he didn't get to guess and I thought about how bedtime should have been a half an hour prior but they were eating...)  They were both surprised how many mitzvos there are.

So Jack mentioned butterflies and I asked him if they were kosher and he said no.  Then Elazar said all insects aren't kosher and I reminded him about some species of grasshopper and he said, oh, yeah, and asked which ones and I said I'll have to look it up (if we even know).  Then Jack asked me if nonJews are permitted to eat kosher and I said yes.  This was a surprise to him.  (All nonJews can eat kosher, but Jews are not allowed to eat non kosher.)

Again, by the time we got to Elazar (age 6), he wasn't as fresh since he participated with Jack's.  But he was very excited to learn Torah and he cheered.  When I asked him what he wanted to learn, he yelled, "Torah about penises!" and he cracked up.  I said, "There is Torah about penises.  What do you think the Torah says about penises?" and he said, "No showing penises to other people?" (Yes, this has come up in practical life.)  I wasn't sure what to say to that.  I thought about it.  Is it actually a halachic problem to do that. What is the exact violation.  Does it fall under tznius or is it a brachos/tefila question.  So I said I'm not sure if that is exactly a mitzva, but I'm thinking about bris milah.  And we talked about how Hashem told Avraham when he was 99 to do it.  He thought it was cutting a hole so the baby can pee, so we had a very basic anatomy lesson.  I asked him who is obligated to do the mitzva, if the baby is only 8 days old when we do it and the baby doesn't do mitzvos.  He wasn't sure, but when I said the daddy, he liked that.  I added that when a boy becomes bar mitzva, if he doesn't have a bris, then it's his mitzva.

Then he said, "Now do a butt mitzva!"  I am just so happy that this type of joking around which seems so normal for boys is not becoming a power play between him and his teacher, and not being viewed as disrespectful or inappropriate.  (My personal sense is that it's not great for a student to be thinking about or talking about penises and butts during Torah time.  But let's say it happens.  And let's face it, with boys it happens.  I think how the teacher reacts to it does affect their attitude towards sexuality, bodily functions and Torah.)  I also find it an enjoyable challenge to try to think of some mitzva or Torah relating to whatever he brings up.

So I told him the mitzva about if you are camping for war, your weapon has to have a shovel on it so that you can dig a place for excrement, to keep the camp clean so that you can daven.  He asked if it is the same halacha about camping, since camping is the same situation minus the war (I deduce from this: is it an issue of that a weapon needs a shovel? Or is the mitzva to achieve the result of a clean camp?).  I said I didn't know, and he asked how come I don't know things.  I asked him why he doesn't know things.  He said he's still young.  I said so am I, and the there are more things to know than we can know in a lifetime.

Then Jack cried that I haven't taught him any mitzvos, and I said, "What do you mean? We learned about kosher tonight..." and he said, "I told you that.  I want you to tell me!" I said okay and a few minutes later he said, "I got one! How about you aren't allowed to break your finger?" and I said that's a good one, that's the mitzva that you have to take care of your body, called VeNishmartem Meod LeNafshosechem.  Then Elazar perked up and asked him if he knew that one yet--did I teach that to him?  And I said I'll teach it to him next time.

It's 9:30 and Chana and I still have to do Chumash.  She finished Shmini and tonight we are starting Acharei Mos.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

class clown

Tonight we were reviewing "don't stand on your friend's blood" and then I was trying to think of a different mitzva to do.  Immediately prior, I had spent a lot of time learning with Jack (age 4) who was so excited that he's old enough to learn Torah, too, and he chose hilchos Shabbos and we were running through what he knows about Shabbos and then I asked why Hashem made Shabbos and they were pretty stumped.  It was good learning but explains why Elazar (age 6) was already kind of worn out by the time it was his turn (he was participating with Jack).

I didn't realize it, though, so I said, how about Maakeh?  Elazar repeated it and I said it again so he would get the correct pronunciation.  Then he got silly and when I said, "So what is the mitzva of maakeh?" he said, mimicking the exact intonations I used, "So chicken chicken the chicken of chicken?" and then he cracked up.  I didn't realize at first what was happening and said, "Do you want to learn the mitzva of maakeh?" and he said, "Chicken chicken chicken chicken chicken?" and cracked up some more.  At that point I realized that he was fatigued from learning and didn't want to learn anymore.

Although this doesn't come up that frequently in home school with individualized learning and small ratios and tailored lessons, I think it happens that boys (though girls, too) have a hard time realizing they are fatigued and are not able to express it.  So they stop paying attention, lose focus, or start acting silly.

There have been so many times where I felt a lesson was very much within the capacity of my child.  But my child communicated otherwise--whether by fidgeting, not focusing, being silly, refusing to do the work, or tantrumming.  It's always a very tough balancing act when to push them that little bit harder because it teaches them to persist through it and achieve, vs. when it's time to reevaluate the lesson or the way it's being presented or the duration or the type of work you are asking them to do.  Listen to your gut.  You won't get it right every time.  But over the course of thousands of interactions, you get a sense.

Silliness is a big indicator to me that my child is overloaded.  I like to take 5, cuddle, be silly together, have a good laugh, and regroup later.

Monday, January 20, 2014

my thoughts are not your thoughts

I read an evaluation of an "active child" age 4 who is considered to be not functioning well in the classroom.  To be fair, they were careful to say that it's not a problem with the child, it's just that they are not equipped to manage him.  And it's true, in a classroom of 20 children in a small space, an extremely active child is going to be difficult to manage, even if he has a shadow.

Some of the issues that were brought down:

  • doesn't play with toys in the appropriate manner.
  • brought a chair over to reach something
  • is not able to attend lessons about letters etc.

  • There is no "playing with toys in the appropriate manner." The appropriate way of playing with something is however the child's interest or imagination drives him or her to play with it.  If you are trying to say that the child is using the toy in a way that breaks the toy or that injures or disturbs others, then say so.  It is ridiculous that adults think that children should play with toys in specific ways.  This kills creativity.  It is specifically those children who find ways to use toys that are not the way they are "supposed" to be used who are the people who can think out of the box and find solutions to things and ways to use resources that other people don't see.  This should be encouraged and certainly not inhibited.
  • I understand that dragging furniture about in a classroom with 20 children is disruptive and I am not criticizing the teacher.  I am critical of the underlying assumptions that allow the classroom to be set up so that this is a problem.  If a four-year-old child wants to reach something and has the independence, the strength, and the ability to move a chair to reach it, then this is an obvious and excellent method of problem solving.  This is to be commended, not criticized.  I personally would guide the child to put the chair back when he is finished, and consider this child resourceful and capable.  
  • There are some children who are capable of sitting in circle time and of learning letters and other "academics" via passive listening at age 4.  AGE FOUR.  {The Mishna says 5 and the Gemara says (or 6 or 7).}  Leonard Sax says that boys most commonly diagnosed with ADHD in kindergarten are those who are the younger half.  Some children are highly tactile and energetic and the LEARNING that they are engaged in at age 4 is exploration and mastery of their environment.  They like to touch things, explore things, climb things, build and break things, look at things, try things and see what happens.  This is very important learning.  A child who learns this way should not be stopped.  He should not be forced to sit and listen to circle time.  You are interfering with the efficient way that he is being impelled to learn.  You are making him miss out on extremely valuable learning opportunities.  You are boring him.  Instead of letting him learn what he wants and allowing his creativity and urge for discovery to guide his learning, you are stifling him.  An active child like that will learn in his own way if you let him.  He will learn how things work.  He will increase independence.  He will do amazing things.  Forcing him to focus on letters is absurd for a child of his age with his temperament. It's painful and it's actually impeding the learning he is psychologically and intellectually designed to do.

homeschool vacation

I'm on vacation from the high school I teach at (1st period, 5 days a week).

Before I had kids, I once saw a news story about a woman who homeschooled her 5 children.  She woke up at 5am every morning to do housework and prepare lessons.  The kids had off from school on two days: Christmas and I can't remember the other one.  All other days of the year they homeschooled.  I remember thinking it looked like a lot of work and that she was an unusually dedicated person.

Unschooling is very different than that model.  It's predicated on the premise that humans enjoy learning and that they will be driven to seek knowledge and that what children pursue will lead to acquisition of knowledge in the most effortless and pleasant way.  

During "vacation," Chana (7th grade) finished Parshas Shmini.  She's reviewing now.  We didn't do very many rashis in this parsha and I don't think she knows them very well, but perhaps she now knows what אע"פ stands for and that is great.  She is also continuing along the algebra program of  Jack (age 4) has been counting things all over the place.  He's counting and subtracting and counting in different groups to make sure they all add up the same.  I assume this will eventually lead to a certain math intuition.  It's kind of funny that at some point in life, a small child isn't really sure his hand always has 5 fingers.  

Yesterday, when I was up to my elbows in pizza dough, with Jack helping me, Sarah (college) started playing with Jack and he started talking about his bones by his mouth.  I asked her to show him some pictures of skulls and jaw bones, and Sarah pulled her ipod out of her pocket and Jack was fascinated to see what the bones looked like under the skin.  He noticed there were sockets for eyes and nose, and Sarah explained that those weren't made of bone and she told him about cartilage and they squeezed their ears and noses.  (Just how unbelievably cool is it that children have access to science images of whatever they want whenever they want?!  In their pockets!! What a world we live in!)  
Jack is also (and Aharon, age 2) asking me to run through the aleph beis flashcards nearly every day.  He's learning a few of them, too.  Personally, I don't care whether he learns them or not, at this age.  He also keeps looking over my shoulder when I'm reading and pointing out different letters.  Also, during commercials, he keeps seeing letters that he knows and shouting them out.  I'm not teaching him anything (though of course, when he asks me which letter that is, I answer).  Even before I unschooled, I always considered 4 an age where I don't really have to actively teach anything, and I find a lot of kids learn the letters somehow and get a rudimentary grasp of biology and body systems.  

Elazar (grade 1) woke me up this morning at 8am (I'm grateful he held himself off for so long) because he needed help writing.  He has a piece of paper with a few words that he writes frequently, but he needed some more words.  He's discovered that when he creates games, he can make a text box pop up and taunt the player (Hahaha! Bowser will get you!).  Also, he needed some help for some of his google searches.

So "vacation" doesn't really end up being different from any other day.  

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

unlimited media: it's not always like this, but sometimes it is

Jack, age 4, yells to me as I'm closing a drawer:  "I WANT that!!"

I look around.  There is his DS with a little cartridge next to it.  He must be talking about that.  I pick up the cartridge and hand it to him.  "No! Do it with me!" he says.

Okay.  Maybe he needs help. I pick up the cartridge and begin to insert it into the DS.  "Noooo!  Thaaaaat!"  He's pointing to the aleph-beis flash cards.

Monday, January 6, 2014

a night off

7:30pm and I'm thinking about who is in bed and who has to go to bed and what work Chana has left to do.  When I realized that Chana asked me to do math with her earlier (we started algebra already, woohoo!) and she also did chumash earlier without me asking.  It almost makes me want to do some Ivrit with her.  But maybe I'll clean up the house instead. hahahahaha just kidding.  Maybe I'll curl up with a book and enjoy the evening off.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

beware lest

Chana suggested I not get too carried away with giving her rashis.  She reminded me of a time not too long ago when she had so many rashis that she got burnt out we had to take a break for a few months and do no rashis whatsoever.

I'm happy we are still working in the book with no nekudos in the rashi.  Some of them she's not getting, but some of the words she reads really nicely.