Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Relaxed lifestyle

I ran out to the gym this morning at 8am so I could rehab my knee before Ari left to work.  It is a glorious autumn day.  I watched people waiting for the bus, people driving to work and school, and I thought about unschooling.

Every day is like a relaxed weekend.  Except the kids are more inclined to do "academic" things as part of their play or in pursuit of their interests.  

I left my 7yo with a piece of paper with the numbers "383" so he could remember the code for Bowzer in the level he's designing.  (I don't know what that means, but that's what he said.)  My 4yo snuggled me briefly and ran outside to play with the neighbors.  The 3yo opted for TV.

My schedule today (unusually busy) is we are hosting playgroup this morning, then a trip to the library to get a book my 13yo reserved.  Then I call in to my Rabbi's class.  Then my 13yo and I will do algebra and chumash (we scheduled this last night.  Usually it's more fluid when we both have free time but since today is busy, we compared our schedules and chose a time).  Then I'll feed everyone and then take 13yo into the city to Carnegie Hall for a Sphinx Virtuoisi Concert.  On the way we'll probably read some more Dracula.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

i feel this way a lot about homeschool

If I had the time to actually decorate.... Eh well...

When I reflect, I'm not sure this is a negative thing.  Simplicity and natural are things I strive for.  And it also leaves a lot of space for things I didn't plan, but I'm glad there is space for.

Monday, October 27, 2014


Chana is doing about 40 Rashis on this parsha.  I estimate she knows the general idea of 80-90% and not very much of the vocabulary.  I think she would be able to read more than half and remember what they are generally about.

I made a choice in the story of Miriam's lashon hara about Moshe to just do pshat.  Chana didn't question extensively about the Kushite woman that Moshe married.  I did remind her that we had learned about Moshe's wife and that she was from Midian.  She did ask what that had to do with Miriam saying that they are all prophets.  But she didn't seem overly curious so I didn't give her more information.

In the last few days, I forgot to do Pirkei Avos with her (Did I mention that I decided to do a little bit of Pirkei Avos every day after Chumash?).  I put it away last week and I forgot about it.  She reminded me to do it today.  That's a good sign--it means that I'm doing it in a way that is pleasant enough to her that she asked to do it.

Sometimes she asks questions but doesn't have much patience for the answers. She asked, for example, what it means to make a fence around the Torah but she didn't really feel like thinking about what the possibilities could be.  Today I asked her what fences are for.  All the reasons she gave didn't seem relevant to a fence for Torah.

The main reason I chose to do Pirkei Avos is because many times in life I find myself thinking about personal development or about a political or interpersonal situation and some words of Pirkei Avos seem relevant to me.  So therefore it seems to me that if Chana is familiar with the words of Pirkei Avos, they might seem relevant to her in some of life's situations.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

our current rashi efforts

I still do not have a handle on the best method to gain rashi skills.  Right now, in 8th grade, I go through the rashis every day on the pesukim we've done.  I keep an eye out for pshat oriented rashis or famous rashis or rashis with straightforward vocabulary.  I underline them to begin them the next day.  In Parshas Baha'aloscha she is doing about 30 or 40 rashis (I'll count tomorrow if I remember).  Chana and I have evolved, via bickering negotiating, that I read it and translate it for 4 days.  By the fourth day she is familiar enough with it that she knows the general idea of the rashi, and she is comfortable enough to read it herself.  I'm finding that she generally does not learn the vocabulary of the rashis.  She relies on knowing the general idea.  There are phrases and words that she can't translate and that she can't pronounce.  When I brought that up to her, she agreed that when she reads and mispronounces a word, I should interject and correct her pronunciation.  But I'm not finding that it's a really efficient way that helps her remember it.  She is getting decent practice reading rashis and she'll probably remember a lot of the general ideas of the rashis.  I don't know how much of the actual words she is learning, and how to improve on that.  It's just that there are so many skills in doing a rashi-- reading the words correctly, translating, understanding the main idea, understanding the different phrases.. and that's not even analyzing the rashi itself, thinking about what rashi's question is and how this answers the question, and what this adds to the understanding of the pasuk.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Bamidbar haiku

Before we started, I ask Chana to do a little sikum.  She said, "Haiku?"  She decided to give a summary in haiku form:

Moshe was angry
Hashem gave no meat to Jews
They missed being slaves

Monday, October 13, 2014


It's chol hamoed and Chana mostly works at night so after the boys have been going to bed, we've been doing some algebra (about 15 minutes worth) and yesterday we did Chumash and Rashi.  It's the end of a long day and I don't look forward to dredging through the skills work.  (Mostly it's the Rashis; the pesukim go pretty quickly.)

Yesterday I was reading a lookjed digest and I saw there are online course offerings in Nach.  They have for grades 8-9, and grades 10-11, I forget the exact grade breakdown.  I perked up when I saw 8th grade and looked at what was being offered for Chana's grade level.  There were two Melachim courses, the first half and the second half of Melachim I, and there was a course on Eliyahu.  I was thinking about looking into it more, and how exciting it is, and then I was thinking about how I could actually do this with Chana myself instead of registering her.

Which got me thinking about how many things I've wanted to do as a homeschooler over the years vs. what actually gets done.  I'm sure there are homeschoolers out there who have an 8th grader (or any other graders) and actually get through a schedule, and have regular Nach sessions.  In choosing the unschooling route, our lives don't take that path.  I'm comfortable with the science and social studies and halacha that comes up that way.  But occasionally I have twinges.  I imagine starting school at 9am and going til 3, with an hour for lunch and maybe a 15 minute break in the morning.  And we learn academics.  I imagine how much Chana would learn if we did that.

Then I think about all the things she does with her time that she wouldn't get to do if I structured her time that way.  And all the things she learns.

I figure one of these days I'll sit down with her and confirm that she knows basic conjugation of Hebrew tenses, past, present and future.  That probably won't take very long.  And this evening, after algebra, I said let's do Chumash, and she sighed, and I asked her if she wanted to do Nach instead.  She eagerly sat down and we delved into Dovid Hamelech.  It was a lovely chol hamoed treat.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

homeschooling #fail ?

Yom Kippur.  After we finished the Seuda Hamafsekes, I went through the selichos with the 13 attributes with Chana.  She was unimpressed.  Uninterested.  Didn't relate to it.  I asked her to sit in shul at night and try to keep the page and read through in English whatever she liked and see if anything interests her.

I ended up coming into shul for about 15 minutes as the boys played outside.  I stood next to Chana in shul and she told me how boring and pointless shul was.  As we sat there, though, she whispered huge fundamental questions about life and purpose and God and meaning.  She shrugged away when I pointed to parts of the tefila that I liked.  I don't know how much it was okay to whisper in shul.  I tried to answer her questions to some degree.  I think some part of her wants to know what I think, or wants to know the answers, and most of her feels the questions but has little patience to try to unravel or work towards answers.  Her questions make me realize that in my own life, I have questions.

Then Aharon came into shul screaming that Jack hit him and Jack came in after him, defending himself, and I took them home and left Chana in shul.

I thought about it a lot afterwards.  Does Chana not relate to the purpose and concept of the day?  Isn't this because I failed to sit down and discuss it with her and explain it to her?  She doesn't understand atonement (though we did come across it in Vayikra a lot, she usually shrugged away when I wanted to talk about it more in depth).  Hey, can I even explain atonement "al regel achas" on one leg, in a succinct and clear way that a homeschooled teenager has patience for?  How do I expect her to relate to the day when I haven't put in the time and energy to make sure she is prepared?

And I don't mean talking about the prayers.  For a few days we've been debating the mechanics of what she would do on Yom Kippur, how she would pray, what she would pray, where she would pray.  We learned Yona.  After shul that night, Ari sat with her and discussed the different tefilos and brought up the concept of teshuva.  We planned to learn Viduy together (which we ended up doing, the next day.  She didn't really relate to it).  I mean talking about what the High Holy days mean to the Jewish people, what their purpose is, what their design is, how they work.  What teshuva means, how it works, why it's important.

On one hand, unschooling maintains a trust that eventually, she will engage with the day and look for meaning and ask questions and take it seriously.  On the other hand, I wondered if I could have done more to help her understand the significance of the day.

Then I think maybe I'm being too hard on myself.  Maybe she did think about things.  Maybe she's only 13.

As always, when thinking about unschooling, I use the rule of thumb that if I'm concerned about my child not learning, I flip it inwards and focus on my own learning and growth.  Focus on my own understanding of the Days of Awe, and of Yom Kippur, and of kapara.  If I see she doesn't relate to it, that just gives us an opening of where and how to begin.  Maybe next year.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Teenage learning

Today's learning was uneventful, which I really appreciate, since yesterday was a doozie.  Aside from very brief and practical interactions, my teenager and I usually only spend time together twice a day.  Once for algebra, and once for Chumash.

This results, on occasion, of her emotions coming to the surface during our Chumash sessions.  Sometimes I wonder if my girls have negative associations with Chumash because it's the only time of the day when they have my (mostly) undivided attention and so all the feelings that they avoid or keep at bay end up coming up in the safe time with their mommy.  Sometimes Chana (and Sarah back in the day) will just start talking about things on her mind.  Sometimes she will share feelings of anger, sadness, doubt, or fear.  Sometimes, she gets more and more agitated and ends up crying ("I don't even know why I'm crying!").

In the middle of all that, we started Yona.  I wanted to do Rashi, too.  We argued about that.  Chana felt Rashi is part of Chumash.  I said I wanted to do it.  She said but it's not part of Yona.  I didn't answer.  She said, "Why aren't you answering me?"  I said that I can't think of anything to say that will be convincing to her.  She said, "Why do you want me to do Rashi, anyway?"  I said that I want her to work on her Rashi skills.  She said but she knows Rashi.  (Which I disagree with).  Same old.

She didn't think Yona really happened, she thought that the sailors were very superstitious, she felt that if there was a storm and they cast lots and someone's name came up more than once, she would think it was just a very big coincidence.  She thought that Hashem's approach was bossy and an abuse of His power.
We talked about the fact that Yona, a navi, disagreed with Hashem and even though Hashem is clearly more powerful, Yona stood his ground and didn't agree.  We talked about the concept of "conquering your nevua" i.e. not telling a prophecy a navi is told.

We started off with her translating.  In the middle, she said, "I just really can't stand Chumash."
I said that translation is difficult and not so much fun.  She said she doesn't need to get good at it; she has the English right there or google translate.  (I rolled my eyes a little because does she really think that's as good as being able to translate herself from the original?).  I said I am sorry it's not so enjoyable to work on translation skills, but I think it's important for her to be able to translate.  She said maybe I make her translate too much.

I ended up taking over the translation.  She had been complaining about how even when she knows the words, since everything is switched around, it's confusing.  And the tenses are confusing.  And the ways of expressing things is confusing.  So I translated the rest, which was good because we got into Yona's tefila which is a poem and I was assuming I'd translate, anyway (and I peeked at the English).

Today, we opened Yona and she started translating herself.