Wednesday, March 26, 2014

hagada and seder

Here is the Hagada I printed out this year.  There's not much to it.  I made it so they can color in the Hebrew letters.  I made some spaces for them to practice writing (script or print) and left room to color or to cut things out and paste them.  We use construction paper to cut matzas and karpas and maror etc.  I'm doing this because I've been hired to teach it.  For my own kids, I do nothing to prepare for Seder.  (Nothing with them [unless they request].  I do think about each child on his or her level and how to engage them best at the Seder.)

As a rule, Ari prefers that our preschool children walk into the Seder knowing nothing or as little as possible.  He prefers to do as much teaching as possible that night, and if they don't know the story yet, he wants it to be for the first time at the Seder.  He doesn't want them to know the order of what is coming.  He wants the strange order and strange things to be a surprise.  He wants those things to get the children to ask, to engage them, to get them interested and questioning.

He does not want the Seder to be about children telling what they learned.  He wants to do "והגדת לבנך ביום ההוא," to tell his children on that day the story of what happened.  

Monday, March 24, 2014

overall attitude vs skills

Chana frequently complains about Chumash and not liking Chumash and Rashi.  At the moment, she's acquired enough skills where it's not so difficult and she doesn't complain too much.

She is in 7th grade.
Every day she:
- reviews one aliyah of the parsha she is in the middle of
- does 4-10 new pesukim (depending on how complex they are)
- reviews all the rashis we've done in the parsha
- does zero to 4 new rashis (depending on which rashis I've chosen on the new material, if any)

So now we are in a good phase.  But we had many hours of fighting and whining and complaining, as you will see in the early years of this blog.

Overall, I don't know how much she enjoys learning Chumash.  She's often said she dislikes it.

On the other hand, we've done Navi only very sporadically over the years.

Chana has a wonderful attitude about Navi and great associations with learning it.   She frequently speaks about it with enjoyment and happiness.  But she hasn't spent much time learning it.

In terms of unschooling, I think the theory is that eventually she would get to a point where she would be interested in it herself, and then she would pursue it (or I would help her learn it), and she would learn it quickly and efficiently and with great motivation.

However, I have "discharged" my obligation to teach her skills with Chumash.  If I did Chumash the way we did Navi, she wouldn't have these skills at this age.  Is this age necessary?  She's only 12.  The unschoolers I've spoken to said that they didn't really pursue serious Torah education until leading up to and after their bar/bas mitzvas.  So it's a bit of a scary risk having your children reach almost "grown up" and not having "taught" them.  

Also, I'm not sure that "enjoyment" and "positive attitude" trump "perseverance" and "putting in consistent effort."  (Though perhaps I can argue that I didn't teach perseverance and consistent effort, I just forced it and she will resist and and stop doing it when she is permitted.  As opposed to inherent motivation, which will keep a person learning.)  (And I can respond to that that if a child is forced to persevere and put in effort, and then they gain skills, they feel good about their accomplishments and learn that's what works.)

I do think perseverance and effort are valuable things.  I know a lot of unschoolers are concerned that their children will not gain these skills (which I addressed here and here and here, for example).

I choose to unschool not because I think that enjoyment is more important than learning to put in effort.  Unschooling as an educational approach resonates with me.

Chana's attitude towards Navi as compared to her attitude towards Chumash gives me something to think about.  Chana's Chumash skills compared to how much time she has put into learning Navi is also something to think about.  At 12, though, the unschooling journey is really just at the beginning.  Chana herself is preparing to go to high school.  The boys are right now completely 100% unschooled.  It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

a game

A bedtime game I like to play with Jack (4) and Elazar (6) is that they pick a topic and I try to think of Torah to teach them about it.

Tonight Jack said "belly" and I told him a little about Sotah.  Then he said "wall" and I told him a little about tzara'as.

It's fun and challenging to see what we can think of to come up with when they think of topics.  I think this might be a fun Shabbos table game.

Emotional Phases

I've had this on my mind for a while.  Kids go through phases.  Some of the phases are really pleasant.  I try to notice them and enjoy them.  The child is happy, friendly, in a good mood, gets along with you the parent and siblings, asks for what s/he needs or wants, is understanding and tolerant.  I try to take note when a child is going through a phase like that.  Human nature is to assume that is how things are supposed to be, and to only notice when things are not smooth.  When I was a teenager, I went through a phase being fascinated with Murphy's Law ("Anything that can go wrong, will, and at the worst possible moment"), until I realized that the times things go right are actually more frequent than the times things go wrong, except that we are not programmed to notice them.  So I try to notice them.

Obviously, the times when things are not smooth are naturally more noticeable.  The child is grouchy, moody, prone to anger and fury and fighting and unhappiness.  It's not me, but I do things that exacerbate it.  I often spend a lot of time during a difficult phase looking at my parenting and trying to troubleshoot.  Although this might improve my parenting (it probably does) and it might or might not help the child cope better with the phase (it probably makes no difference, but at least does not make it worse), I've come to the conclusion that it's not me, it's them.  I tend to perhaps overthink my parenting, and this was brought home to me very clearly when Sarah was a teenager and I was rethinking all of my parental decisions and considering sending her to therapy, when she got her period and morphed out of a banshee and back to a normal human being.  Since then, I try to keep myself as even-keeled as possible (difficult when they are shrieking at you) and to try to just accept that some phases are fraught with emotion and anger and anxiety, and the best I can do is be loving and stable and look forward to the phase ending.

During a difficult phase, I try to look on the bright side and remember how many great months the last phase was.  And I notice all the children who aren't having a difficult phase at the moment, and experience gratitude that they aren't tag-teaming.  At the moment.  One day I was getting out of the house and my six-year-old, my four-year-old, and my two-year-old were all hollering, sobbing, and shrieking.  And my twelve-year-old, who was often the moodiest of all, was walking along pleasantly, smiling, in a sunny mood.  And I was grateful.  I still remember that walk with fondness.  It ended up being kind of funny, and I'm glad I got to notice my preteen in such a good mood.

All this is an introduction to my six-year-old, Elazar.  He is in a fantastic phase now.  He was a difficult infant, an extremely difficult toddler, and his twos and threes were extremely challenging.  He started calming down at ages 3 through 4 (as my mother-in-law promised me), and by six, he's just in a really good phase.  Independent, amiable, mostly stable moods, infrequent temper tantrums, mostly feeds himself, gets along with others, doesn't run away when we are out.  A dream come true.  One of my easiest kids at the moment.

I just keep thinking about how if he were in school, I'd be getting calls from the teachers and the administration.  He isn't sitting in class.  He can't focus.  He can't pay attention.  He talks.  He wiggles.  He won't do his work.  He is disruptive.  Then he'd come home and he'd chew his shirt.  He would have eczema that he scratches from stress.  We'd argue about his homework.  I would yell.  I would speak harshly.  He would feel bad about himself.  He would act out.  I would worry about him.  I would spend a great deal of my day trying to figure out how to deal with him, how to get him to behave, how to handle him.

But because we've chosen to unschool him, he is a delight.

Unschooling does not make every phase a delight.  I don't think it's possible to avoid the growing pains of growing up, not from the child's end and not from the parents' end.  But this particular phase would look very different if he was in a different situation.  And this is not something that his bechira (free will) has control over.  I see that a lot.  The child is "good" or "bad" but it's not actually the child--it's the situation.