Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Back to Chemistry for a couple of days

Well.  So much for skipping some of the more mathematical parts of Chemistry and just moving on to Biology.  Chapter 3 in the AP Bio textbook is all Chemistry.  Luckily, the work we did in chemistry this summer provided an excellent foundation and it gave us no trouble.  But now we are up to molarity and molality.  I skipped a few of the more mathematical topics in Chemistry specifically because we couldn't find an enjoyable book.  So today I was scouring the internet for websites that would explain moles in a fun way.  It took me a few tries, and I consider myself a champion googler.  I can't remember which search finally hit jackpot.  I was searching "fun chemistry moles" "easy chemistry molarity" "chemistry is fun" but nothing gave me that perfect blend of technical math and clear explanation like I discovered with Mr. Parabola Guy.

I gave up and went back to the textbook, only to turn back to the internet for another attempt.  This time we got lucky and found this site, which looks like it will be helpful with the math.  But it wasn't fun and basic enough so I bookmarked it for after we finish with this, which looks fabulous, but it sent us to an even more basic page about what a mole is.  We did half of that today after scientific notation, and I'm looking forward to using it to explain the relationship between moles and atomic mass tomorrow.

I love how all the sciences are interrelated and we can just pause in the middle to spend some time digging a little more deeply into some background information in another branch of science.

I love that we have no time pressure and no test pressure and are exploring what Chana wants to know.   I love that we can take 2 years to learn Biology and take detours into chemistry and physics.  I love that we found a great website for explaining the chemistry we were looking for.  I love the internet.  I love how Chana's mind has expanded.  I really would like to start thinking about how to introduce her to Torah on a deeper level.  We are in Nitzavim now.

Update on Shema

It's been 9 days since Elazar got his tablet.  He has read about 30 lines of Shema and has about 15 to go.  Which means he's been averaging about 3.3 hours a day of tablet.  He has unlimited access to it during the day.  I mentioned already that I was feeling mildly uncomfortable with pushing him like this when he clearly has enough skills to be able to pick it up quickly when he will actually want to become a halacha-abiding Jew, which will hopefully be as his bar mitzva approaches.

So I've been straddling 2 ideals here.  On one hand,  I am drawn to the ideal of him learning to read when he is the one motivated, and I don't love the idea of external motivation (ie "bribery" or "incentive") because it implies that tablet is the "good," and not reading.
On the other hand, he doesn't mind it; he's been reading happily enough.  And I think it's important that desired things (like a tablet) are not achieved without effort and without a sense of working for them, so as to minimize spoiling and a sense of entitlement.  And I like to try to associate them with chagim or a siyum.

So since I made reading Shema a prerequisite to his official ownership of his tablet, and since he is not finding it painful, I am sticking to it.

But one of the things I noticed the more I unschool, is that what other people talk about, "feeling good about his accomplishment" or the benefit of him "feeling proud of himself that he did it" almost feels foreign to me and not like something I want to strive for.  I don't feel great when Elazar reacts with pride when I compliment him for his reading.  Or when he feels accomplished that he is reading when he isn't the one who wanted to get better at reading.  It feels different to me than the utter joy and natural delight that emerges when he does it because he wants to do it in pursuit of his inner calling.  I think the learning that results from him wanting to know or wanting to do has a different quality; not only is it acquired more efficiently and with a different type of joy, but I think it resides differently in his heart and mind.

I know, what about responsibility and perseverance?  I've discussed it.

more unschooling and multimedia

Today I want to talk about is a silly little game where you are a circle and you go around eating other circles.  If you touch a circle smaller than you, you eat it.  If you touch a circle larger than you, it eats you.  Some circles are just dots.  Some are other players.

Aside from the debates I often hear and read about multimedia time, I also hear debates about multimedia content.

I can understand parents limiting screen time and being cautious about content.

I have tried to interest my children in "educational games."  I found, unfortunately, that educational games are not as interesting as other games (except minecraft, which is mind-bogglingly educational and endlessly absorbing).  Radical Unschooling, I discovered later, theorizes that if the child is fascinated by something, the child is learning something.  And it is in pursuit of that fascination that learning other things occur.  The classic example given in the unschooling world is the child who, let's say, is fascinated by airplanes, and who eventually at age 9 learns to read when he discovers that reading unlocks the world of knowledge that he is interested in.  This happened with Elazar when he realized that reading taught him coding.

Unschoolers are pragmatically brutal: the knowledge must be intensely useful or fun, or else they don't pursue it.  Elazar and Jack are currently both at a level of reading that is satisfactory to them, and they independently read many things in the course of their day.  When they eventually get frustrated with their level of reading because they want to know more things, they will naturally and efficiently improve their reading levels.

Chana spent many preschool hours watching, pausing, and rewinding cartoons, a classically "pointless" activity--which later gave her the ability to have nuance in facial expressions as an animator.  I also bought her fancy animation software which she taught herself at age 10 or so.

So back to  I would have thought it's a purposeless game.  You name your circle and you go.  But the naming of the circle has brought about all sorts of surprising outcomes.

1) There are something called "skins."  When you name your circle, if you name it "CIA" then you get a little circle with cliched sunglasses.  If you name it "Sir" then you get a circle with a mustache and a monocle.  There is a world of adorable skins, and discovering them and making them yours is a delight.

2) You can't communicate with other circles.  Or can you?  Jack has been naming his "Please help me" (he spells it "ples") and all sorts of other communication phrases.  This lets him build teams, something that Elazar discovered.

But the most shocking (to me) aside from Elazar and Jack writing and sounding out words, is Aharon.  Aharon is only 4 and in playing this game, he asks me how to write things dozens of times a day.  He often writes things down on paper so that he can refer back to them.  He wants to write things like "All of you in are all garbage" (he's trash talking the other circles).  This does not fit in the allotted space, but he has tremendous patience as he yells across the room to me "..L.  What's next?"  Jack learned proficiency with the keyboard when he was 5 and wanted to write "candy crush" all the time until in desperation I created a google account for him so that google would remember his searches.  I am shocked by how much Aharon is immersing himself in typing so that he can write what he wants.  He is so patient (and he usually has quite a temper) and spends so much time working on the letters as he writes his messages and skins.

When Elazar got his tablet and realized how easy it is to use a microphone to google search I was afraid that he wouldn't learn to write as much because he can just say what he wants.  But I'm beginning to see that fear was unfounded.  Unlocking the door to more knowledge, to easier access to information, is better than I could have dreamed.  We live in an astonishing time in history, when my small children have instant access to knowing whatever they want about anything they can think of.  All they have to do is ask.  The efficiency and delight is staggering.

(Sidepoint--I have a rule that all screens stay on the main floor so that I can sort of keep an eye/ear on what they are searching/watching.  No unsupervised screens in bedrooms.  Both Sarah and Chana had those rules (with ipod and ipad) until they were at an age where they brought up that they thought they were mature enough to police their own content and decide for themselves what was appropriate or not for themselves.  I don't know what my rules will be with the boys.  I tend to veer towards open information and towards training to practice self-regulation.  But we will see what emerges.)

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

joy intertwined with torah sort of

Elazar realized he wants the full version of Geometry Dash.  He asked his friend to count up his cash and he has $1.12.  The app is $2.  He asked if he can buy it.  He said from his saved up money.  He had 78 - 35 and now minus another 2 so he has 41 dollars and he will have to buy head phones for his tablet.  I wanted him to think about the purchase for 2 weeks, but he said it was only $2.  So I said okay, just finish up the first paragraph of Shema.  I like try to intertwine as much as possible the excitement of getting something they are yearning for with either a chag or with a learning milestone.  He only had 2 lines left of the first paragraph of Shema, since he's been reading to earn play time on the tablet.

His reading is improving ridiculously quickly.  He read the two lines pretty quickly and crowed that he's also earning 2 hours of play at the same time.  I feel pretty comfortable about his reading.  Even if he doesn't read any more Hebrew between now and age 12, I'm certain that with a year of practice he will be absolutely fluent and capable of all davening/brachos etc. required of him after his bar mitzva, the "shagur b'fiv" goal.  I complimented him on his reading and he grinned.  Then he bounced away so I could figure out payment for his game.

As I was trying to figure out the parental controls on the tablet so that he can't buy anything without me putting in a password, Chana told me she heard him say to himself: "This is one of the happiest moments of my life."

the tablet, rewarding for reading, and unschooling Hebrew reading

So Elazar just came over to me and asked me to do another line of Shema so that he can earn another hour of tablet.  He's only played on it for a few hours and he mentioned that it's already getting a bit boring because all the great games he was anticipating playing only have a few levels for free and it turns out he'll need to spend more money.  He also was quite upset about having to earn it for a Siyum when he is paying for it with his own money.  He brought up "Ploni Almoni" whose mother bought him a tablet AND gave it to him for nothing.  I valiantly tried to hold off but eventually the words "every family has different rules" and "when you are grown up you will make the rules for your household" came out of my mouth.

So as he is reading through his line in Shema, I started thinking about unschooling reading again.  It was an excruciating 5 minutes.  He is improving, he is remembering the letters and nekudos better, he's blending beautifully, etc.

As I look back at my blog posts about reading Hebrew, I hilariously discover that I have this same question every year at about this time.  Two years ago, Elazar learned the nekudos ridiculously quickly and efficiently.  I am just about positive (scary scary scary unschooling!) that he will learn to read Hebrew fluently in about a week when he wants to.  So why am I hocking him?  Why am I nudging a reluctant organism to do things his brain doesn't really want to do, when if I leave it alone, he will do it with joy and alacrity and it will take him a fraction of the time?

Monday, December 21, 2015

elazar's tablet

Elazar wanted a game on the computer (Geometry Dash).  Our computer is not top of the line, and apparently the program that you need so you can have apps on desktops doesn't work on our computer because our graphics are not advanced enough.  So Elazar decided to save up for a tablet.  He's 8.  Chana bought herself an ipad when she was 12, half with money she had saved up plus half given to her by us for babysitting for a year for me while I taught.  The boys have no phones, no tablets, and no ipads.  Even though I allow unlimited TV and unlimited video games (we have gamecube and my brother lent us his xbox about a year ago) and unlimited computer, the kids are not allowed to touch our phones and they are restricted to the desktop in the main area and my old chromebook whose screen is green and wobbly.  And there are 2 or 3 Nintendo DS's lying around, but nobody has used them in a while.  Jack (not yet 6) has a Nintend 2DS that he saved up for for about 2 years.

Elazar finally saved up about 78 dollars since Rosh Hashana and wanted to buy himself a tablet.  I agreed to get him one and found one for a good price.  It was such a good price I almost bought one or two more for the other boys.  But I feel strongly that devices have to be earned.  Chana got her first computer because I was on bedrest and my brother gave her his old one for being my go-fer for 8 weeks.  She got her second computer as a siyum for Shmos.  She will get her upgraded computer (it's been about 4 years) when she finishes Devarim.  So I held off and didn't get the boys tablets.  I was waiting to give Elazar his tablet for Pesach.  (We don't do birthday gifts or Chanuka gifts but we do give a gift for Rosh Hashana, Succos, Shemini Atzeres, Pesach, and Shavuos.)

Today, Elazar realized that he himself was paying for it, so he shouldn't have to wait until Pesach.  I thought that was an excellent point.  However, I wanted to give it to him for some type of siyum.  I mentioned that if he ever finishes halacha yomi, I will get him a top of the line gaming computer so that he can play the latest version of minecraft (ours is so slow and old we need to run a previous version; I am not sure what they are up to but we can run 8 and not 11 or something like that).  I told him it took Chana almost 7 years to learn the Chamisha Chumshei Torah, so it will take years to go through all of Shulchan Aruch.  So we were trying to think of what he can do for the tablet.  Since he still can't read, I asked him what he thought about reading Shema.  He thought that was a good idea.

When we got home, the tablet had arrived.  Elazar tried it out and he loves it.  (Unfortunately, it has speech-to-text, which means he won't need to learn how to write for searches anymore.)

When he started reading Shema, I realized that it was going to take him a while to gain enough fluency to earn his tablet.  And it might be a good idea if he wouldn't have to wait until completing Shema to use the tablet, so that he doesn't get discouraged and give up.  Why not read some and then earn an hour of playtime?  He's been reading a line and earning an hour.  I set the timer.  Then he wants to read another line and earn an hour.  He's basically doing the same multimedia use that he generally does, but he's been reading to earn time.

I assume this is not strictly in the spirit of unschooling, where I would not be pushing him to read Hebrew before he himself feels like doing it.  I guess I'm still a bit too chicken to do that.

On the other hand, I feel pretty strongly that it is so easy to spoil the kids in our society full of abundance.  Kids used to have to help for hours with chores that were necessary for survival.  Adults used to have to spend a day baking bread and a day doing laundry by the river.  Now kids have so much free time and so little input in contributing to survival that I feel like I'm often fighting against a mentality of "בא לי"/"It's coming to me," I should get it because I want it.  A sense of entitlement.

I want there to be a sense of working for it.  And I want to cultivate a sense of "הוי עמלים בתורה" the area for toil is Torah.  I want the excitement and delight of his first tablet forever mingled with the accomplishment of Torah.

crazy unschooling

Aharon, age 4, just came over to me and asked me how to write "shoes."  I said s-h-o-e and he interrupted me and told me he wants to write it down.  I figured he was going to type it.  But no, he got a marker and apparently went to write it down on a piece of paper.

"Okay, go!" he said, marker ready.

"S," I said.

"Yeah?" He is writing.

"H," I said.  "Chana, he doesn't know how to write, does he?"

Chana shrugs.  Neither of us have seen him write.  I'm pretty sure he knows his letters (I'm not sure how, probably from TV shows or the computer.  They don't really like "educational" games but they all learned their letters without me teaching them).

"He knows his letters," Chana said.

But I didn't think he could write letters.  Just because he recognizes letters doesn't mean he can write them, does it?

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Unschooling and Science

Homeschoolers are supposed to be great at science.  We can do hands on experiments.  Great fun.  Kinesthetic learning.

Guess what.  I hate experiments.  The "simple" experiments always have ingredients (like glycerin) that I have to leave the house to get.  Science experiments always induce a slight feeling of guilt and overwhelmedness in me.

We did Mad Science when Sarah was young and it was incredible (though we got a simple experiment to try at home and I never did them, and they lingered reproachfully around the house for months until I would throw them out with a mixture of bravado and regret).  Chana never really enjoyed science trips and was always resistant to any I tried to bring her to.

The funny thing is how much she's enjoying science now.  She loved Chemistry, she is loving the AP Biology book, and she wants to know when we can learn Physics.  It's really amazing how her mind is just exploding with intellectual curiosity--and in the realm of science!  I never would have thought.

So many times when I worried about how much she disliked it and I didn't push it because she disliked it so much and I would tell myself that not everybody has to be good in science or learn science.  I so wanted her to understand the scientific principles that we use to understand the laws of nature and the world around us.  But she wasn't interested.

And now she is!

Friday, December 4, 2015

A Subtle Misconception About Unschooling Part III

Do unschoolers need to learn to tolerate situations they don't like and people they don't like?

This is often an argument purported as to why children should go to school.  In the homeschool world, we don't consider it a strong argument.  We agree that children need to learn to be responsible and to tolerate things they dislike, but not for seven hours a day, every day.  I discussed cultivating responsibility and self-discipline in a different post.

People are often concerned that if you "allow" unschoolers to choose their own activities and interests, they will not learn to "buckle down" in the "real world."  Preliminary studies show that this is not the case.  Unschoolers tend to choose careers that have to do with their childhood interests, tend to choose enjoyable and meaninful careers over lucrative careers, tend to creative arts and entrepreneurship.  All of these things imply that unschoolers don't "need" to tolerate things they don't like; instead they are more likely to blaze new trails to figure out their needs in more creative ways rather than tolerating painful situations.  Preliminary studies also show that unschoolers do not have trouble in college or holding down jobs.

But the nuance that is nudging me is the idea that the benefit is that child is learning to tolerate being in situations that she doesn't like.  

I think it is because I don't think that Chana (or any mature unschooler) needs to "learn" how to tolerate being in situations s/he doesn't like.  I think every single mature unschooler already KNOWS how to tolerate being in situations they don't like.  It comes with maturity and a sense of responsibility and character development.  They tend to be gracious and polite, self aware and sensitive to a sense of community.  All of these qualities mean that if they are in situations they don't like, they handle them with aplomb.

I believe this is a quality that develops from being unschooled, from having a sense of being in charge of their own choices and their own lives and their own actions and their own learning.

And yet, I said that the experience of being stretched in this way is good for Chana at age 14.  So how is that different than her "learning" how to tolerate it?

About a year or so ago, I wrote a post about how I often choose emotional development over academics in the early years.

I think there is a very subtle distinction between what I am doing as an unschooler and how people perceive what is going on.  The perception is that Chana is "learning" to tolerate discomfort.  What I am actually doing is putting her in an environment where she is practicing the skill she already has.  My assessment is that she already can politely tolerate discomfort for a long term goal.  (And if an unschooler is excited about the goal, discomfort becomes largely irrelevant.)

All of these features: socializing, tolerating discomfort and authority, following through on commitments, learning things she isn't particularly interested in.  These are all things that a mature unschooler is capable of.  They don't need to "learn" them.  However, a fourteen year old unschooler might benefit from being in a situation where practicing it is useful for her character development.  The classes Chana is taking is a good forum for her to stretch herself using these skills.

I'm still trying to figure this out, so I might clarify further in the future.

"They need to learn how to...": A Subtle Misconception About Unschooling Part II

Someone I respect said: "I have been thinking about it and thinking about it, and I think it makes sense for Chana to go [to school even if she doesn't want to] because this way she is learning to deal with people who she doesn't necessarily want to be with and situations that she doesn't necessarily want to be in, and that will give her more options later in life."

(To read background about the conversation, click here.)

I have been trying to figure out why this didn't sit right with me.  After all, it's not vastly different than my evaluation.  Chana doesn't especially want to go and I am insisting.  I believe she is gaining socially, academically, and emotionally.  Even though I agree with her that socially it is a mixed bag, academically it is a mixed bag, and emotionally she isn't always happy.

However, just because she isn't always emotionally happy doesn't mean that I consider that a negative.  After giving it a great deal of thought, I concluded that I largely fell into unschooling because actively schooling Chana took so much effort.  She has always been anti-authority by nature, and responding to her nature led us, quite happily, to unschooling.  Unschooling allowed Chana to develop her interests and her intellect without the conflict that classical schooling would have caused.  It allowed us to have a very pleasant childhood/raising together, and allowed us to enjoy each other with mutual harmony and respect.  

Upon reflection, it seemed to me that Chana has the maturity at age 14 to be able to tolerate some discomfort.  That it would not only be not bad for her, but also beneficial for her, to be in this situation, even if it's a mixed bag.

So what is bothering me about the original statement?

Click here to read on.

A Subtle Misconception About Unschooling Part I

Someone whose opinion I respect said something to me this week that I've been ruminating on.

Some background: Chana and I are not in 100% accord about the classes she is attending.  We started off the year strong.  Chana was open-minded about socializing and academics.  Lately, Chana has been expressing dread and reluctance when it is time to get out of the car and go to class.

Disliking school is almost a rite of passage in our society.  Although I happen to know a lot of kids who are happy in school (it feels like I know more happy kids in school now than I did growing up), it's certainly not considered a problem or an issue to dislike going to school.  But for a homeschooler, it is not the norm.  

As an unschooler, Chana has a choice about her education.  Every day I ask her when she wants to do her work (what we study together, currently Literature, Chumash, and AP Bio).  I tell her my schedule openings and she chooses when to learn.  What we learn is her choice.  What order we learn is her choice.  That is in addition to the two classes she attends at the local girls Yeshiva high school.

If she were to come to me and say, "Can we sit down and talk about this?  I don't want to go to class anymore," I would take that very seriously.  

It has not come to that.  She has expressed feelings of not wanting to go, and we have had conversations about the reasons I want her to go or why I think it's beneficial.  As an unschooler, I won't arbitrarily say to a teenager (and probably not even to a younger child) that you just have to go to school because I think it's important.  I've always felt that it is my children's obligation to respect me and listen to me, and that it is my obligation to behave in a way that garners respect and that makes sense to listen to.*  Some things she doesn't agree with but she accepts the points I make.  For example, I explained to her that I chose the Torah sheba'al peh class because I want her to get a sense of the Oral Law and its structure and see that it is not arbitrary but a system of wisdom.  Chana personally has no great desire to grasp this, and no great desire to spend her time focusing on this.  But she understands that from my perspective as a parent who values Torah and wants to pass it on to the next generation, I feel that this is important for her.  
Some days she comes home talking about an enjoyable social interaction; some days she finds it emotionally draining and is sad that she can't find people who seem to be on the same page as her emotionally.
Some days she brings up things she learned in class or points she is thinking about from class.  Some days she says she is very bored and has a hard time sitting through it.

So overall, I would say that I'm seeing the value of and benefit of Chana going, even though sometimes Chana is finding it somewhat of a struggle.  The days when she comes home happy, like yesterday, it's clear that it's a good decision.  The days where she finds it too much, it can be an effort to keep the larger perspective in mind.  It's hard to tell whether it's the emotion of the moment and overall it is good, or if the emotions of the moment are so many and strong that maybe we should reevaluate.

I often remind myself of the time that Sarah was in High School and was complaining so virulently about a bunch of different things that I had basically decided to look for a therapist and restructure a lot of my parenting.  And then a couple of days later it turned out she had been having PMS, and everything settled down and she didn't really need therapy at that time and my parenting techniques were working okay after all.

Click here to read about the thing that's been niggling at me.

* At the end of the day it is my decision because I am the parent, but I try to really hear what my child has to say and take it very seriously and come up with something that we both agree to.  And if I ultimately disagree with them, I hope that they at least respect my opinion and realize that I'm doing this not to hurt them, but for a reasonable purpose, even if it is a purpose that they wouldn't personally choose.  

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Two really frightening gaps in unschooling education

Last night, Jack (almost 6) mentioned to me that he figured out a lot of ways to make 10.  6 and 4, 3 and 7, 8 and 2, 9 and 1.  He explained to me how he took both the fives, and then took some of the five and gave it to the other five, so that he got different combinations.  I just loved how he was playing with numbers, the way I've read about.  And I know that leaving Chana alone about math had no long term negative effects and, in fact, was only wonderful.  She asked for a year's break after Algebra but recently told me that she thinks she will be ready to start Geometry in January.

Elazar is in 3rd grade.  I thought that he would eventually wonder how to borrow and regroup.  But he is still plodding through addition the long way, adding one by one in his head.  When I want to show him to juggle numbers around, he doesn't listen.  He likes doing it the way he is thinking about it.  I wonder if, with calculators all around, he may never study the nuances of borrowing and regrouping or long division.  I don't teach square roots anymore, even though I learned how to do it in elementary school (thought it was cool, and promptly forgot it).

I wonder if he will learn his multiplication tables.  I've already seen in the past decade that most students don't know them.  I drilled the girls.  Will I drill the boys?  I believe it is good to know them at your fingertips.  But do I believe it enough to prioritize it?  I'm not sure.

But the craziest thing that the boys are skipping is writing.  They type.  They know their letters.  They are learning to read and can communicate in writing (if by writing we are referring to email and text and storywriting on the computer).  But they don't physically write.  I wrote a (physical) letter to my friend a few months ago.  It was excruciating trying to keep my handwriting legible as I can't write as quickly as I can think (or type).  My hand ached.

Unschoolers learn what is useful and what is enjoyable.  It's a little scary.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Chana's first textbook

Chana and I are finally getting into a schedule here.  Most days we work for about an hour.  We do Chumash, Science, and Literature.  Chemistry didn't work out, and we haven't found a book we liked, so we decided to start Biology.  I asked my friend what bio textbook they use in SAR where she works, and she told me Campbell Biology.  I figured why not get the AP book, since I took it all those years ago.  I didn't know if Chana would have the conceptual ability to understand it, but I decided to try it out.  The current book is the 10th edition, but since the 9th edition was from 2011 and the current edition was from 2014, I figured we were safe as far as biological knowledge, and it was absurdly a fraction of the cost.

It's going to take us a while to get through, but it's fascinating and we are enjoying it.  Chana mentioned again today how much she absolutely loved Chemistry, which is one of the reasons I was so hesitant to push forth when all the books we found were boring us.  I'm also excited that she grasps basic chemistry because I think it will give biology a broader perspective.

When we opened up the Bio book, Chana said to me, "Is this my very first textbook?"  And I do believe it is.  Math was via the internet, and Chemistry was from a couple of books but not a textbook.  It was exciting and we took a moment to give it due ceremony.

The Importance of Being Earnest continues to crack us up.  High School homeschool learning is as fun and exciting as I always thought it would be.

We are still in the middle of Devarim.  Chana is not gaining the skills I would like to see gained in High School.  She is reluctant to put the time into studying and I am reluctant to push her.  We have stopped all Rashis inside.  On the occasions when I think a Rashi is warranted, I read it to her and translate it, and we don't go over it again.

When Devarim is finished, I have ambitions.  I have found in my homeschooling career that my ambitions and my children's plans invariably conflict, and that pushing my agendas onto my children leads to unhappiness.

However, I would like to achieve one of the following (I'm an experienced enough homeschooler to know that I cannot have them all):

1) Let Chana choose an area, any area in Tanach, to learn on a deeper level, and really analyze the questions and the overall area.

2) Work on reading and understanding mefarshim deeply.  Perhaps Ramban or Abarbanel or Ralbag.  Perhaps in the course of analyzing an area of Tanach deeply.  Maybe Nechama Leibowitz.

3) Improve skills in a serious way.

In my experience with Chana, working on improving skills in a serious way ends up impeding learning on a deeper level.  I know it doesn't have to be that way.  But in actuality, what ends up happening is that we have to review it over and over to improve skills, and that is a different activity than conceptually analyzing the material.  Perhaps we'll be able to focus on each of these at different times.

I also have grand plans to go through my Torah Sheba'al Peh sourcebooks from high school.  Again, to gain skills would mean review, as opposed to gaining the information, which can be gained from just running through the material.  I'm hoping to do one sourcebook around March time.  We'll see how long that takes and how thoroughly we end up doing it.  I also would like to start geometry, but Chana is still mentally worn out from studying for the algebra regents and doesn't want any math right now.

The day has arrived

The moment you've been waiting for.  I haven't been nervous about it (I'm much more concerned about unschooling Torah and apparently I have about 3-4 more years until that blossoms).  Elazar found something that he badly wanted to know and he could only learn it by reading.

On Sunday, he came over to me, frustrated that he can't make his own games.  (Never mind that he creates levels on some Super Mario game that he has).  He asked how is it possible to make my own games?  He asked me this numerous times until I finally said he needs to learn how to program.  Okay, he said.  How do I do that?  He brought it up again and again until Sarah, who was working at the table on a project for her Computer Science class in college, said that she thinks he's serious and that I should sign him up for a programming class.  I remembered that in homeschool I've seen people talking about coding for kids.  Was there a class?  Was it online?  I searched around and found that Codecademy came up a few times.  I asked my friend whose daughter is in 11th grade homeschool and she asked her daughter, who recommended this.  Elazar couldn't figure out how to play the game and he just wanted to start coding.  So we explored the website a bit and finally decided to start with the half hour lesson of making your name in bubbles and getting it to move around.  It says the lesson should take about a half an hour, which is perfect in terms of a decent amount of work for a 3rd grader but still has a tangible and satisfying outcome.  But of course it didn't take into account that he doesn't read.

Now when I say that Elazar is in 3rd grade and isn't reading, I don't mean so much that he can't read.  I know he can read words like "obsidian" from minecraft.  I hear him reading store names on the street.  But a bunch of words assembled into a sentence or a story?  His mind wanders and he doesn't comprehend it or even bother finishing to try to read it.

One of the big questions that people have about unschooling is:

If you leave your child alone and he approaches you when he wants to read, why won't he end up illiterate?  If unschooling works, there should be no illiteracy, and yet we know that there is an illiteracy problem.  

When Elazar was young and I realized he probably has ADHD is a kinesthetic learner and that having him sit down to do anything led to disaster, I decided to unschool him and let him play all day and come to me when he wanted to know something.

I had read that unschoolers learn to read between age 3 and 11.  When they learn, it takes them a few days/weeks/months, and at that point they are on grade level.  Some learn to read themselves and some ask to be taught.  Either way, I figured he'll either miraculously learn to read or he'll tell me to teach him, and so I don't have to worry about it.

A few years ago I read an article (that link might not be it but it's a good one) that described how many unschoolers were constantly read to by their parents or older siblings, and usually ended up learning to read when the people around them got fed up with reading to them and so they figured it out for themselves.  At that point, I realized that I was doing Elazar a disservice by not reading to him the many times a day he asked me to read something on the computer for him, and so I began to make that a priority and exert myself more to read to him when he asked.  About half the time he would have to wait until I was finished with what I was doing.  But I began reading to him a lot more.  Also, when he asked me how to spell things, I had always said the word slowly, emphasizing the sounds, coaching him through it (unless he got impatient and asked me to to just spell it, which didn't happen very often because he was interested in learning how to write what he wanted to write).  This went on from age 4 to age 8.  

So it wasn't like Elazar was in 3rd grade and had no idea about how to read.  He could read many words.  He just wouldn't read books or stories.

So I opened the coding instructions and was curious to see what would happen.  And Elazar began to read.  He needs a very little help with unfamiliar words but once he hears them and they fit into what he wants to know, he remembers them.

He reads and follows the instructions.  He jumps up and down and up and down as he reads, climbing all over me and yanking on me and moving and wiggling.  But he focuses intently on what he is reading.  I have taught many first graders to read and I remember the wiggling as they struggled with the new task of reading.  But in my experience with Elazar, if I would, even now, push for him to struggle through a task, what gradually happens is that the wiggling increases, his brain stops working, and he starts chewing or doing other anxiety provoked actions (a common anxiety provoked action/soothing technique that I see in children learning to read is masturbation).

But in following the coding instructions, there was no anxiety or stress, and no loss of focus.  Elazar was intrigued and excited, and his wiggling and jumping was due to the energy generated by his excitement (similar to when he plays minecraft).

So this is the level of his very first official reading:

Friday, November 13, 2015

In Praise of Homeschooling

I don't usually rave about homeschool.  I love homeschooling for a lot of reasons.  I love how relaxed it is, I love how fun it is, I love being with my kids all day (despite that being just about the #1 comment I get: "How can you be home with your kids all day?")(To which I always respond, "How do you get them out in the morning and do homework?"), and I love the educational aspects.  I love child led learning.  I love hands on learning.  I love learning that is real and meaningful and motivated.

But all that aside, those are all about my personal feelings about homeschooling.  Today I want to talk about the absolutely miraculous thing that homeschooling did for my child.  Today I want to talk about Math.

If you search for all the Math blog posts I wrote you'll know that Chana was completely unschooled until 3rd grade, when we started doing Chumash.  Everything else was unschooled.  A lot of math came up naturally, but Chana got stuck at fractions and simply didn't understand them.  Every few months I would try, and she just wouldn't get it.  So we just stopped doing math.  It was very terrifying for me to not be teaching math.  But I just felt she wasn't conceptually ready to understand it for whatever reason.  So for three years, no math except an occasional lesson or discussion that came up.  (For example, today Jack, first grade, saw an itunes gift card set with three cards at $10 each.  He asked how much all of them were and I asked him what he thought and he said $30 and I showed him where it said $30 in the top corner and it was very exciting.  An hour later he asked me how many tens made 60 and 50 and then figured out that two tens are twenty.*  He might ask me more questions and we might not talk about math for months.)

Although I was concerned, I also felt that pushing fractions when she didn't understand them was not an option.  As it turned out, in 7th grade, Chana decided she wanted to go to high school, and I said, "Then we'd better do math."  And all the magical things I had heard about unschooling were true.  In three months, Chana easily learned three years worth of math.  It was gaspingly, shockingly, astonishingly easy.  It was fun.  It was pleasant.  It was wonderful.

But the best, best, best part was what didn't happen.  I didn't watch Chana's self esteem erode.  I didn't watch her struggle and fail at math.  I didn't watch tears and misery and hatred of math emerge.  I didn't even watch her dislike math, plod through math, or be bored by math.  She wasn't intimidated by math or stressed out by math.  She doesn't think she's "bad" at math.

Why?  Because when she was having trouble understanding it, there wasn't a class to keep up with.  She didn't have to learn on a schedule.  There was no rush.  We had years to play around with.  We had the luxury of flexibility and the luxury of waiting.

The reason I'm bringing this up now is because Chana was in class today (she attends two classes at the local Yeshiva high school, for Chumash and Torah sheba'al peh) and one of the girls asked her, "Are you good at math?"

"...Sure," Chana replied.  (When she told me this story, I thought, "Sure?!  Sure!?  Do you have any idea what the answer to that question could have been if we hadn't been homeschooling!?"  No, she has no idea!  And I'm glad.)

So the girl asked her for help with an algebra problem.  Chana told me that the problem was very easy.  She showed the girl how to do it, and the girl didn't understand, so Chana explained why it worked that way, and went into some more detail, and the girl was so happy that she now understood it.

Wow.  Just wow.

* We are such a homeschooling cliche.  Doing math at the post office.

Monday, November 9, 2015

things i think about and don't follow through on

I was thinking this morning that Elazar (3rd grade) could do some sort of davening.  Right now, as an unschooler, he doesn't daven.  As I have mentioned, I feel nearly 100% certain that he will be able to daven properly when he is chayav, at bar mitzva (and we will spend sufficient time being mechanech him beforehand).

But I was thinking maybe he could say a quick little something in the morning.  What would be something that would give him a sense of tefila and be a meaningful experience?

He isn't really in situations at the moment where bakashos have much meaning for him.  So I was thinking the direction of shevach (praise) or hoda'ah (thanks).

I think Modeh Ani really is a beautiful tefila.  I hope to sit down with him and teach him what it means and have him start saying it.

I was thinking some of the birchas hashachar, too.  I think he will find the rooster one interesting.  Why do we express praise for that?

Before teaching him to daven, I think the next time I have an opportunity to learn with him, I will study these with him.  They are short and manageable.

This morning we talked about boreh minei mezonos and I explained what Mazon is, food that nourishes the body.  I said "Hashem creates different types of nourishing foods" and he said, "True!"  Then he said he didn't know that was what the bracha meant.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

My thoughts this morning

I am going to daven out loud this morning.  Maybe if I daven out loud, the kids will learn it by osmosis.  Ah, why worry about it.  Teaching tefila seriously to the girls a year and a half before their bas mitzvas worked fine.  Maybe they are old enough to do some davening every morning, though.  Wouldn't it be nice if they started their day with tefila?  Most mornings I go to work, though.  But Wednesdays I'm home.  I could do it once a week.  Would they tell me to be quiet when I sing?  I'm pretty sure when I daven out loud they shush me.  Maybe I could work on one tefila with Elazar?  I really want him to be able to daven the end at shul, the Ein K'Elokeinu part.  Should I bribe him to do that?  Maybe he's ready.  But he has no interest.  Why don't I just leave him alone?  We'll see how he is in 4th grade.  Chana started being able to sit much better in 3rd grade, and in my experience Elazar is 2-3 years behind in those kinds of things.  Speaking of Chana, I don't think I ever sat her down to do dikduk.  I should at least run through avar, hoveh, and atid with her for a basic shoresh.  I can do amar.  Oh, wait, that won't work for atid because it's an exception with the aleph.  Harag.  She likes the idea of killing. Should I also do piel and pual and hitpael and nifal?  Better stick with just pa'al. Are the boys ever going to learn how to write Hebrew script?  I don't see Elazar ever taking an interest in that, even if he does eventually want to learn Torah in the original Hebrew.  But maybe Jack.  Should I start teaching Jack?  Then maybe Elazar would show some interest.  I could do some writing lessons.  This year?  Maybe next year--

Monday, November 2, 2015

Will my homeschooled child miss out?

It must be that time of year in the school year when people who were waiting until "after Succos to see if things would get better in school" are finding that things are not getting better.  In the last two days, I've had 3 inquiries about homeschooling.  I always enjoy speaking about homeschooling.  One of the questions that came up was: Do you worry that your child is missing out, being homeschooled?

When I was asked that, I had a rush of memory.  It has been so long since I've worried about that.  But yes, I do remember worrying about that.  I remember worrying about preschool.  My child won't have that fantastic jungle gym (we actually live across the street from a playground).  My child won't have music lessons or learn all those songs (they didn't) (Chana did pick up violin 2 years ago, though).  They won't do all those projects (I actually didn't worry about that, because I did do projects with them, until I admitted they are not my bag).  I worried they wouldn't go on those great trips (turns out homeschool trips are indescribable).  I worried that they were missing out.  I worried I was depriving them of important life experiences.  Important Life Experiences.  That they were missing.  My Fault.

I'm not sure how that worry faded.  I remember worrying about it, and I know I haven't worried about it for over a decade.  Maybe because homeschooling was just so ridiculously fun.

I was thinking today about some trips that I used to do with the girls when they were little.  For example, we used to regularly visit the Museum of Natural History.  The little ones have never been there.  I just haven't been able to get out of the house with them without one of us coming home crying (including myself :-P).  So are they Missing Out?  Well, yes, they are.  They certainly are missing those great trips.

But I realized today how many fantastic memories they have in their childhood.  They have neighbors on the block that they play with every day.  Every day is a paradise of fun and joy for them (well, not for the 4yo who is currently low man on the totem pole.  But the others).  They have plenty of things that interest them and that they love.

The same way I saved some books from my childhood because I wanted to give that experience to my children (and my children weren't really interested).  The same way I saved books from the girls' childhood to give that experience to the boys.  But we are fortunate to live in a world filled with rich educational materials, places, and opportunities.  The path we choose will always cause us miss out the path not taken.  But each path has its own special delights.  And that has made all the difference.

changing direction a bit

I'm officially switching chemistry books.  We were doing a cartoon chemistry book that Chana and I are both finding boring and difficult to understand.  The periodic jokes (hehe, pun intended) are not making up for the density and the lack of enjoyment we feel wading through it.  I asked some 11th graders if anybody had a spare chem book, and I'll start with that.  I particularly want to share redox reactions with Chana, and show the conservation of matter.

I was thinking early this morning that maybe it's time to start learning with Elazar again.  Maybe back to halacha yomi or maybe one pasuk a day.  I was thinking about having him complete something for a siyum.

I was also thinking about just leaving him alone and seeing if he will truly want to learn Chumash one day, and wondering how quickly he would pick up the skills.  Or would he insist he doesn't need to because he can use translations?  Or will he want to learn it in the original language.

Since I am in conflict, I'm opting to do nothing at the moment.  We can always do it later.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Chana's first limudei kodesh test

Chana did not really study for the test.  She has also ceased to take notes in class (I think because she is finding it hard to distinguish between what needs to be written down and what doesn't).  The night before the test, she said she couldn't find the other perush besides Rashi on a certain pasuk.  I emailed the teacher, who in a timely manner wrote back that it was Rashbam, and I went through both Rashi and Rashbam with Chana.  That was the extent of my helping her study, even though I asked her if she wanted to review the pesukim or meforshim with me.  Although she did not know the translations of the pesukim and meforshim fluently, she felt strongly that she did not want to use her time reading them over and over until she knew them, or trying to memorize the translations.  She also asked me about what would be appropriate if she didn't understand what to do or didn't know the answers.  I suggested she call the teacher over and ask for clarification and assured her that writing things like "This Ramban is not ringing a bell" would be fine.

She came home positive about the test experience, said she knew some answers and not others, and that she used the words "devilishly great" to describe Yosef, and we talked about the nuances of the adverb "devilishly."   She told me about a chemistry joke she wrote at the end for the teacher.

I was in school when she got the test back, and I saw from the teacher's face that she wasn't sure if she should talk to me or not.  We gathered for a short, impromptu parent teacher conference (one of the benefits of me working at the school where my daughter goes).  She had written by Chana's test score: See Me.  When Chana spoke to her, she asked Chana if Chana had studied, and Chana had sort of shrugged and said yes.  I said, "Not especially, other than that Rashbam I asked you about."  She asked Chana if Chana wanted help studying and Chana said, "No."  Then Chana asked her what a passing grade is.  The teacher said, "Um, I think it's 65."  And Chana said, "Okay, so then we're good, right?" (Later, Chana said to me, "Why would they have a passing grade if that's not the mark where below that is a problem and above that is fine?")

So I asked if Chana seems to be participating in class and gaining from the in class experience.  The teacher said yes.  I asked if she minded Chana's grade, or felt that Chana needs to improve her grades in order to be in the class.  And she said that she thinks there is a benefit to studying for the tests and being able to do well on them, but if Chana is okay and I'm okay, then she's okay.  I mentioned that this has no relevance to Chana's future college plans, so her grades are largely irrelevant.  I asked if I could see Chana's test, and the teacher gave it to me so that I could bring it home and go over it.

Afterwards, I did a lot of thinking about if there is a benefit to Chana studying and doing well on the tests.  I mentioned to Chana that if she wants college recommendations, and she is barely passing the tests, that might affect what kind of recommendation they would write.  She scowled and said that if she was concerned about college recommendations, she wouldn't ask a teacher from 9th grade and she would apply herself more.

Then I spoke to her about the value of studying for the test.  Which basically means reviewing the pesukim and mefarshim until they are fluent and she understands them.  Chana is not fully convinced that having Chumash skills is valuable, and she definitely doesn't want to spend her precious time on that.  However, I think she did come to understand that there is a value to that (though she is not interested in it), that the teacher is trying to achieve that through the tests she gives, and that this is a goal of the class separate from what she gains merely through sitting in class.

Then, in a practical sense, we went through the test.  Some of the questions I knew the answers to, but some I didn't.  I suggested to Chana that she write down the pasuk and which mefarshim the teacher does on each pasuk, and the diburei hamatchil of each perush.  Then, if she feels like studying, at least we will know what to study.

She mentioned that a girl is switching out.  She asked if it was really true that people switch out of a class they like because they are worried about their grades.  We talked about the fact that as a homeschooler, she has the freedom to stay in a higher level class if she feels she is gaining from it, rather than being concerned about her grades.  Other students are worried about getting into college and many times they feel it looks better to have an A in an easier class than a C in a harder class.  I said that ironically, colleges end up really liking homeschooled students because they find that homeschoolers are very concerned with knowledge more than other factors.

This is something I heard about in just about every parent teacher conference in Sarah's high school, too.  All the teachers praised her for being interested in the knowledge and not the grades.  They spoke about how unusual it is.  And yet, when GPA and test grades are what colleges are looking at, it makes sense for that to be what students focus on.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

I hate science experiments and art projects

It took me many years of homeschooling to admit that.  I used to read books with science experiments, thinking maybe I would do them.  I felt bad that I didn't do them, but I didn't do them.  I used to do art projects.  I didn't really enjoy them.  I finally let go and accepted that those are not my strengths.

However, I often get requests.  There are a lot of things that are not my strengths but the kids ask to do them and so I take a deep breath and give it a shot.  I'm not a huge baker but I have made more cookies and cakes than I would have dreamed.  Once we made a cake based on ingredients Elazar learned about on minecraft (flour, eggs, sugar, milk, oil).  It wasn't bad.

Jack got a lulav and esrog for Succos.  He went to shul with them and did hakafos and naanuim.

He asked me if we could make esrog jelly after Succos.  And I said sure.*

I did a google search ("easy esrog jelly") and read a few recipes.  Who knew it takes three days to make it (and it took me 6 days because the weekend happened in the middle).  We put the esrogim through the food processor and covered in water, let it sit, simmered, drained, replaced water, etc. for 2 days.  Then tonight we boiled it with sugar.  Eventually I added some pectin.  I read that if you accidentally overcook it, you end up with more of a candy than a jelly.  Hey, esrog candy! That sounds fun!  Unfortunately I wasn't able to do that and it appears we have jelly.

I'm not sure what exactly to do with esrog jelly.  I didn't bother jarring it because what are we going to do with it?  But it has a nice jelly consistency.  

I don't think I would ever, ever, ever have made esrog jelly if I weren't homeschooling.

*After he asked three times.  I like to make sure they are serious and really want it before I commit to such an undertaking.

Monday, October 19, 2015

not getting back into the groove

The Chagim are over.  So now it's time to do all those things I kept waiting to do until "after the chagim are over."  I'm adjusted to my work schedule.  I am not quite adjusted to Chana's class schedule.  But I have hopes that will happen in the next month, especially as she hasn't yet had a full week of school.

So now I've been thinking about how to reincorporate homeschooling into Chana's schedule.  We finished Hamlet and finished a basic approach to Chemistry.  We have not finished Devarim yet (we are in Perek 19 out of 34).  We are nowhere near doing Nach, Jewish History, or Chumash with mefarshim on a deeper level.  I asked Chana if she thinks she will want to take the SATs (or ACTs) or take the community college route (for the first way she needs to focus on math) and she said she didn't want to think about it now.

My main goals are to focus on the mathematics in Chemistry, read The Importance of Being Earnest, and finish Devarim.  I've asked Chana to give me an hour a day.  She has agreed.  In practice, though, it's complicated.  For example, today, after class, I dropped her off at a friend, and she is planning to stay there until 10pm, when Ari can get her.  Tonight, if she remembers and I am still awake, we will start reading Oscar Wilde.  Tomorrow we made an appointment for 3:30 to spend an hour on work.  This assumes nothing comes up.

Even if we do eke out a few times a week to learn together, I'm finding that not doing Chumash every day makes it that we don't remember what we are up to and it's harder to get back into the subject.  The lack of continuity is affecting the learning.

I am trying to just stay pleasant in the midst of this upheaval in our schedule.  Elazar (grade 3, age 8) is not in a learning phase.  He is still very happy and busy all day.  But he gets extremely antsy even sitting for learning for 5 minutes.  We are truly unschooling him because anything else turns sour quickly.  I'm curious to see how this experiment goes.  It's slightly nerve-wracking.

Jack (grade 1) has not been in the mood to work, either.

Aharon (4) is working on the aleph beis.  Right now he can recite them when I point to them in order, but if it's mixed up, he can't.

It's good that nobody is in a phase of intensive learning now, so I don't feel so bad that I'm just running around all day and not having time to teach anything.  On the other hand, I'm feeling nervous about it.  A lot of times over the course of homeschooling I have felt that in putting one child's needs over the others, the others are suffering.  I've had this conflict many times and I suppose the consequences of that are the consequences, and we make the best choices we can and take into account as much as we can.  It doesn't stop my heart from hurting when I feel that I can't take care of one child's needs because a different need is taking precedence.

On the up side, homeschooling is a long term proposition, and unschooling holds the hope that when the boys are older they will efficiently and quickly learn the Torah skills and information that Elazar is resisting now.

Another up side is that the kids are happy.

I'm also beginning to feel like I have free time some days.  I hope that means I am adjusting and that I can begin to fill that time with some of the things I'd like to be doing instead of using the time to relax.  Right now, my sanity is important and I use that time to recuperate and chill.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

seuda hamafsekes

About 10 minutes before we sat down to eat erev Yom Kippur, I decided to put a question by each person's plate to facilitate discussion about Yom Kippur during the meal.  I put 3 fact questions by the boys' plates, and then 4 random questions for Chana, Sarah, Moshe, and Ari.  I would have put a question by my plate except I ran out of time to think of any more questions.

I had no time to type and print, and the boys were unable to read my handwriting.

Who does all the Avoda on Yom Kippur?

What are 5 things we can't do on Yom Kippur?

What is the place that only the Kohen Gadol can go only on Yom Kippur?

Why is it important/valuable to have a day of Yom Kippur in our calendar?

How are you going to make Yom Kippur mean something to your year?

What is the theme of Yom Kippur?

How does fasting help you on Yom Kippur?

The boys were pretty excited about their questions and Elazar initially thought the theme of Yom Kippur was because the Jews were taken out of Mitzrayim (probably because I frequently do this for the seder, too).  Everyone answered his or her question and it brought us some nice discussion before Yom Kippur.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

the cycle of worry-->decision

It's 8:47pm and I'm about to put Jack to bed so we can do an hour of work.  Since Elazar has been putting himself to bed at 10:30, he hasn't been learning before bed anymore.  I started thinking maybe it's time for him to learn.  But I've been through this before; every time I do it, he ends up agitated and dislikes it because he can't sit through it.  Then I thought, maybe we should bribe him.  Maybe he's old enough to have the discipline to learn regularly.

Then I thought, I think I can leave this until age 10 and see.  (Or maybe even he'll have more sitzfleisch when he's 11.  Chana became much more able to focus on work in 4th grade.  In fact, we didn't start Chumash until 4th grade with her.)

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

chana's first day of school

This isn't really about Chana's first day of school.  That went well.  She had one class today, which eases her in nicely.  She is attending Chumash and Torah Sheba'al Peh.  Today was Chumash and she was happy when I picked her up.

The trouble for me is the back and forth.  By nature, I don't like to leave the house.  I prefer to stay at home in my pajamas all day.  Loading up 3 little boys and getting somewhere on time does not show me in my best Mama Sunshine light.  When I noticed this about myself, I became more careful about overscheduling.  Like a cranky toddler, when I get overscheduled I get tense and prone to tantrums.
This year, with all the back and forthing, is a big of a logistical nightmare.  For example, the day that Chana's 2 classes are unfortunately not back to back and are 3rd and 6th period, is also the day that Jack has begged to be allowed to go to science class 45 minutes away.  And the times Chana needs to be picked up from class are I will already be gone.  Ari is kindly stepping into the gap with a lot of driving help.  I get a slight tension headache whenever I look at the weekly schedule.

Today, since it was only one class, I decided we would go to Trader Joe's during that time.  The boys were excited and even remembered to put their shoes on.

It reminded me why going on trips or generally going out in public with them is still so difficult for me.  Mostly it is Elazar.  When I only have him, it is manageable, but him and 4yo who behaves his age, and 5yo who is well behaved but bickers with his brothers, I just don't have the amount of hands I need.  Try to go out and actually accomplish anything and things get even more complicated.

Aharon sat in the child part of the cart.  And Jack sat crouched down in the back of the cart.  Elazar was already being wild and touching things on the shelves and mitchering his brothers, climbing under the cart and poking their behinds to make them yell, etc.  I left the cart and went to get cheese, and Elazar pushed the cart away, not noticing if he was walking into people and ignoring my verbal admonishments not to push the cart and to stop.  I had to follow him, put my hand on his shoulder, turn him, look him in the eye, and tell him to stop and that if he did it again, he would not get raspberries.  All this is normal with him.  I was in no rush and we chose some food for tomorrow's trip to science class and looked at the freeze dried fruit and loaded up the cart and got on line.  Despite Elazar's hyperactivity, he was behaving mostly appropriately for the store.  I kind of knew the line was going to be challenging for him.  Last time we were there, I actually had to restrain him the entire time on line.  But I wasn't thinking about it.  We got on line, and I was just taking a breath and feeling okay that we got through the store, and Elazar was hanging on the cart and tipped the whole thing over.

It kind of felt like it was happening in slow motion.  I saw him wiggling the cart out of the corner of my eye.  One of the boys dropped some change out of his pocket, and he wanted it and I was looking for it to get it. Then people started screaming.  Then I realized the cart was tipping, then Jack and Aharon started yelling, then I ran to stop the cart from tipping, and I reached for it, but I couldn't stop it tipping, and everything fell over, and I was able to slow down the cart from smashing down and sort of ease it down but it tipped fully over on the side.  Elazar sprang away from it, it landed on my wrist, a lot of things fell out, the boys were on their sides yelling.

Four or five people sprang forward to help.  I was trying to lift the cart (I had been trying to lift it the whole time but had been unable to do it one-handed; I was only able to slow it down and once it was on my wrist I really didn't have the strength to lift it) and suddenly I was easily able to lift it because all these people were helping me.  I pulled Jack to a stand and pulled Aharon out and settled them and told them it was okay and put Elazar in time out and by the time I looked at the groceries all the people had put everything back in the cart for me.  (Luckily, nothing spilled and none of the glass jars broke or anything.)  An employee came and picked up all the change (that had distracted me to begin with) and handed it back to me.  Everyone was very kind and helpful and concerned and caring.  Part of it is that people are nice and part of it is that Trader Joe's creates a really wonderful atmosphere.

I thanked everyone profusely for their help.  I overheard someone ask, "Why didn't I hear a crash?" and someone answered, "Because the mom caught the cart."

I can't say that I expected one of my kids to knock over a shopping cart, but I also can't say that I was surprised that it happened.

Friday, September 4, 2015

A typical day

I woke Chana up a bit late this morning, after making a midmorning iced coffee.  I made the boys early lunch before going up to her.  They wanted seconds, but I said that it was time for me to work with Chana, and that they can either make it themselves or wait.  It took her another bunch of minutes to rouse herself enough to get out of bed to do negel vasser and say birchas haTorah so we could learn.

I decided to work on Avinu Malkeinu this morning.  I handed her the machzor and her ipad and told her to read it in English and make a list of questions.  I gave her 10 minutes and headed down to make or supervise "seconds" for lunch.  It turns out the boys were having a giant picnic with neighbors on our porch, and were providing the food.  So Elazar had a long row of slices out, and each one had a different order (cheese, sauce, cheese and sauce, etc.).  I helped him assemble and left him to the cooking.

I went back upstairs.  Chana had written down 3 questions, and they were all vocabulary questions on the translation.  Thwart and abundant.  I explained the phrases to her, and she was already looking up the translations and thinking about how to use them in sentences.  We discussed the themes of Avinu Malkeinu, and the different categories of requests (generally divided into "forgive us" and "protect us").  When we got up to the begging of tearing up the evil decree, we started a conversation about whether a person could die without a decree.  Is a decree an explicit punishment?  Can someone die without it being decreed?  If we say an evil decree is going to be deserved, then how about people who die not as a punishment?  I'm not sure how that conversation morphed into the doing things for Your sake.  I thought Chana would have questions on that, but apparently we have discussed many times the concept of Hashem's reputation.  Then she asked if the Holocaust was an evil decree and a deserved punishment.  So to explain that difficult question I started explaining about the brachos and klalos and the bris with that.  Then Chana said that it seemed superstitious that when the Jews don't behave well, that other nations attack us.

I explained an answer I heard from a Rebbe of mine, many years ago, that when the Jews call themselves the Chosen people, this has a psychological effect on the world.  When we follow the Torah and behave kindly and generously and humbly and wisely, then nobody is aggressive towards us.  But claim to be Chosen and behave avariciously, aggressively, basely, immorally, and evilly... Well, I gave the example of if Chana was saying she was chosen.  I wouldn't love it, but as long as she was truly acting in a lofty manner I would concede that maybe there was something to it.  But if she began to be obnoxious, I'd probably punch her out.

I explained that it is pretty cool in the history of the Jews that historically, any movement that claimed the supremacy of Man (eg Hitler with the elite Aryan race) felt that they had to destroy the Jews, who stood for the "Am Hashem."  (I personally think this is a fantastic connection to the idea of Rosh Hashana being the time that the Jews concentrate on the difference between Melech Elyon and melech evyon, but I don't think Chana shares my enthusiasm.)

She didn't believe that the Jews are actually widely considered the chosen people.  I challenged her to google it ("who are the chosen people") and every single hit talked about the Jews.  I was just referring her to theonion article about the Jews as the Chosen people when Elazar came inside absolutely hysterically crying.  This is unusual for him.  His disposition is pretty sunny.

I left Chana with the article and Elazar (8) insisted that Aharon (4) smacked his sandwich out of his hand for no reason.  I said, come on, he must have had a reason.  Was he angry at you?  Nope.  No reason.  I said I would get Aharon in to discuss it.

I'm not sure what happened next.  Perhaps Elazar beat me outside to extract vengeance.  By the time I got there, Aharon was screaming that Elazar kicked him in the forehead.  Elazar was screaming that Aharon ruined his sandwich.  There was a glob of melted cheese on the porch.

I told them to come sit down and discuss it.  Aharon ran away.  I scooped him up and sat him down.  I asked who wanted to speak first.  Aharon refused.  So Elazar said he was upset that Aharon ruined his sandwich and that's why he kicked him.  I asked Aharon why he did it.  Was he angry at Elazar?

No, he wasn't.

Hmm.  Was it an accident? I asked.  Elazar said no, and Aharon seized on that excuse and said yes.  But I could see that it had been deliberate.  So, why?

There was no good answer.  I deduced that Aharon has general aggression towards his older brothers and he saw an opportunity to bother him and did so.

So on to the next step.  Repair.  I asked Aharon if he would make Elazar a new sandwich.  He was happy to agree.

In the meantime, Jack's sandwich was cooking.  Aharon and I assembled Elazar's new sandwich amid much mess (it would have been easier to do it myself, but that's not chinuch, is it) and Aharon talking in a baby tone talk because of his strong feelings about the whole situation which he is not so good at expressing, except through baby voice and nonsense words.  (Whenever I try to speak to him seriously, he erupts into it and starts smacking.  I live in hope that with maturity, he will get better at verbally expressing himself, and I live in fear that I don't have enough time, energy, or concentration to help him.)

I went to put the sandwich in the toaster and I realized that the toaster wasn't working.  (Bear in mind, I'm supposedly in the middle of working with Chana and we were in the middle of a fantastic discussion, which unfortunately will not pick up because the mood was broken.)  I thought maybe it was the outlet.  I moved the toaster across the room and yay, it worked!

Must be the fuse.  But I know how to go down and fix that, because I am superwoman!  Except, guess what.  I went down and couldn't tell which one had blown.  So I called Ari.  He walked me through it.  (Silly me, it was in the one that said "2nd floor" even though it was on the first floor.)  I come back upstairs, and the toaster is on fire.

And it's not a tiny fire that is going out itself.  (This at least the fourth time this toaster has been on fire.)  The boys were not careful about the cheese placement, which dripped, which burnt.  (I'll have to discuss that with them, but since the previous fire was because of my doing the exact same thing, I understand how that goes.)  So I'm opening the door, blowing on it, nervous that maybe the fire extinguisher is called for and opening the door is stupid and maybe it will burn itself out, except there is a sandwich in there to catch fire.  But I blow it out like birthday candles.  And it works, and I am relieved.

So.  Recap.  Great discussion.  Big fight.  Broken fuse.  Fire.

I go back up to Chana, and she is pretty much done.  I would like to discuss the difference between "Avinu" and "Malkeinu" (our father and our king) and what this has to do with the themes of Rosh Hashana.  But Chana was done.  D-O-N-E done.

So we did Hamlet.  And now I have 6 hours to cook for Shabbos and get to the library.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

unschooling continues

I woke up this morning thinking about Elazar's adhd.  I've managed to get him to dislike learning Torah, and when he snuggled me last night before he went to bed, it would have been great if we would have had some Torah that interested him.  He was questioning me at length about how the sun affects eyesight, and what happens when you look at the sun.  His brain was active and questioning.  How can I get that to work for Torah?

Jack started readers and workbooks again last week.  Every night we slog away for half hour to an hour, with me usually the one calling it quits.

And Aharon, age 4, was in the middle of a temper tantrum yesterday.  I tried to read him a book and he refused, and then I asked him if he wanted to read the letters to me.
This is hanging out in his room

He did, and it calmed him right down.  He knew all of them except 2.  I have seen him crouched there, studying it.  He also named the letters in "chart tablet."  I've never taught him his ABCs.

Chana went to orientation for school today.  We are having some family over to barbecue tonight.  Will we have time in between or in the evening to work on Rosh Hashana prep?  What should I choose?  I wanted Chana to read some of the tefilos in English and write down questions.  She was not excited about this activity when I proposed it, and after a full day I imagine she'll be less so.

I was thinking about discussing the akeida, which Chana has always taken issues with, and will probably not merit being discussed "al regel achas."  I was thinking of discussing zichronos, what it means to be "remembered" by an omniscient being that never forgets.  

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Yamim Noraim II

The lessons are going well so far.

Lesson 1:
-Talked about the difference between teshuva, selicha, and kapara.  Used a basic metaphor of me stealing from her and how all those elements would play out.
-Talked about how a day for kapara is useful to the Jewish people
-Talked about the idea of 10 days of teshuva
-Talked about how the theme of Rosh Hashana is Hashem as Melech (framed it as "Man is not melech" because of her agnostic tendencies).  Looked at piyut of Melech Elyon/Melech Evyon.  She enjoyed the death imagery.
-Talked about how Rosh Hashana is "New Year, New me" (her catchphrase)
-Left with question of why the theme for "New year, new me" would be "I am not King"

Lesson 2:
Went through Rambam Hil Teshuva 2:8-9 about how teshuva is especially good this time of the year.  She read reluctantly because it has no nekudos (she did well) and she translated with me helping out a bit.  Talked about the benefit of having a national time to focus on teshuva.

I made a list of the things I wanted to cover:
shacharis shemona esrei
musaf shemona esrei
torah readings
avinu malkeinu
concepts of shofar

Then we began talking about what her plan was for davening on Rosh Hashana.  I wanted her to try to stay in shul for the whole time.  And at this point, we began to have a classic teenage/mother interaction.  Sometimes I feel like I am saying things because I care about her and love her, and it's so frustrating because she is just finding me irritating and annoying.  And the more I talk because the more I am concerned, the more annoyed at me she gets.  So then I back down but the damage is done, and instead of feeling loving and connected, she feels annoyed and frustrated and I feel concerned and icky about the whole interaction.

She told me I'm conveying to her how much I care about Torah and mitzvos, but it also makes her dread chagim she used to either look forward to or feel neutral about.

After hearing that (I was hoping for her to stay in the entire 100 blasts), I asked her if davening Shacharis shemona esrei and musaf shemona esrei would be okay for her.  She agreed but the whole thing left a bad taste in my mouth.  I want to just go back in and reconnect but I still have 2 more interactions with her that involve responsibilities.  I can knock one off til tomorrow...

After some thought, I am putting both of those aside.  Tonight I will try to reconnect with no agenda.  I read a parenting book over the weekend and one thing that I remember from it is that kids can sniff an ulterior motive from a mile away.  The idea is to spend time with them without having opinions about how it should go, what they should do, how they should benefit, what should they gain, and what the interaction should engender.  We'll see if I can try that tonight.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Yamim Noraim

I woke up this morning thinking about tefila over Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.  What can I do to make the hours in shul meaningful for Chana?

This is the first year in a long time that I see myself spending any significant time in shul.  My youngest is four, capable of playing outside with all the kids and not being in danger of running into the street, or needing his mommy, or needing to be closely supervised.  I imagine that he'll be in and out of shul visiting me, but it means I will hopefully be able to stay in shul for a portion of the time.

And aside from the time spent in shul, I was wondering what to teach Chana in terms of the yamim noraim altogether.  I thought about going through some of Rambam's hilchos teshuva, but she has numerous objections to Midas Hadin as expressed in Bamidbar, and I'm not sure that the concept of viewing oneself as a beinoni would be most suited to where she is emotionally right now.  I was thinking about which themes to highlight that she would find relevant and meaningful.

I'd also like to review the musaf shemona esrei with her.  And perhaps study the Torah readings and maybe look at the haftorah (Chana's story, which of course she knows well) on a deeper level.  And then I was thinking about going through the machzor just basically so she knows the different tefilos and what is happening when.

Then I realized that I'm likely being super over ambitious.  I wonder if it is better to drop Devarim until after Rosh Hashana.  Well, I just looked at the calendar and it's about two weeks.  So I think that is definitely what I'll do.

I'm not sure if the story of the akeida is best to address right now with her, either.

I think today's plan will be
What is Rosh Hashana
Vayikra 23:24, Bamidbar 29:1
Maybe some ideas of the mitzva of shofar.
Maybe some thoughts about the concept of teshuva specific to this time of year.

And now I'm thinking maybe Elazar (grade 3) and perhaps even the other 2 boys might be interested in the procedure of the avoda of the kohen gadol on Yom Kippur.  We'll see if that pans out.

Monday, August 31, 2015

It ain't all sunshine and roses

Some days I just roll my eyes that I ever had the smugness to write some of my blog posts.  Not that I don't agree with what I wrote, but for example, yesterday. My 8yo woke up and the 4yo and he were arguing about who sits next to me on the couch.  They bickered back and forth about where each one's body parts were or were not allowed to be.  I finally moved 8yo and had him sit on my lap.  He struggled out of it and went right back to bothering 4yo, who was kicking and pushing and yelling.

I extricated myself, saying that if they were arguing I didn't really want to be in the middle of all that, and I went back to my room and curled up in bed with a book.  5 minutes later, 8yo came down, incensed that 4yo...I can't even remember now.  Elbowed him?  Sat on his head?  Banged his head into his elbow?  He was angry at me for not forcing 4yo to sit elsewhere.

"But I moved you and you moved back," I said reasonably.  "If you are 8 and you didn't want to move, why would he, who is 4, want to move?"

He looked at me with disgust, repeated that I didn't make 4yo move and now he is hurt, and he left, slamming the door (presumably to exact his own brand of justice).  I was surprised, since 8yo has a sunny disposition and I wouldn't have considered him a door slammer.  Gave me a glimpse into teenage years, possibly.  On the up side, I curled back into bed and read for another half hour before 5yo came wandering in for morning snuggle.

And on a happy note, 4yo asked me to play banangrams with him and he seems to know just about every capital letter in the alphabet  #unschooling
I was commenting with surprise that he knows his letters and he asked if he can go to the local candy store.  I said that's for learning aleph beis.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Another flip flop

Since the last time I thought about Elazar's Torah and decided that the discipline would be good for him, he's been reluctant to do it and has a really hard time getting through the 5 minutes and is very impatient for it to be over.  I started having him do 5 jumping jacks before we start, as the latest research says that ADHD kids need to move (duh!) and it does help keep him from being so wiggly.  BUT it's beginning to feel like I am single-handedly destroying his desire to learn Torah by making him do 5 minutes a day.  And what is he gaining?  Bekius?  How much of this is he processing?  And the cost is dread.

So I'm going to ease off.  I'm going to start putting the halacha yomi emails into their own folder.  And when he wants or if he asks, they will be there.

We have about 2 weeks left to the summer and we are in the middle of Re'eh.  We are about halfway through the sefer.  All things being equal I would have liked to be done with Sefer Devarim before Chana goes to high school.  But I guess we'll keep plugging til we finish.

We are reading Hamlet right now.  We read an act together every day.  I'm the Ghost.  She's Hamlet.

Jack read quite a few pages from Little Bear yesterday.  Yet again, I put him to bed too late for him to do all the work he wanted to do and he got upset.  The night runs away with me and bedtime is a little out of control these days.  Tonight in theory I plan to get him upstairs at 9 so he can work for an hour.  But will I?

Friday, August 7, 2015


We finished a basic understanding of chemistry.  I certainly learned a lot.  It was a lot of fun.  The question is what do we want to do next.  We haven't yet tackled the mathematics of chemistry.  Redox equations, moles, and all sorts of math that I remember vaguely from high school and college.  I would like to take Chana's chemistry knowledge to the next level and show her how it works mathematically.  But I also feel that she might be a little "chemistry-ed out" and want a break.

So I was thinking it's not time for geometry yet, and our next plan was to read Hamlet.  (Chana wanted to do this.  We are currently in the middle of Dracula and Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People, which is enough for me, who has never been especially enamored of Shakespeare.)

So I asked the English teacher at the school I work at, and she recommended "No Fear Shakespeare."  I went first to the library to see if I could borrow it, but it wasn't there.  So I went online to see what there was.  Well, it turns out that Sparknotes has it online.  Will we end up reading it on Shabbos?  Well, not if we don't have it in hard copy.  To buy a used edition is $1.50 plus $3.99 shipping.  But I think we'll start with the online situation.  I am not sure how to do it.  Do we read it out loud?  Take turns?  I guess I'll ask Chana what she wants to do.

Elazar is still having a great time in camp.  Jack is reading things around him, and still loves doing R' Winder.

Chana and I are still plodding through Devarim.  As usual, in the rashis, she runs out of steam and is bored by the repetition before she achieves the degree of fluency that I think the rashi should have.  Next year, she is going to try two classes in school, Chumash and Torah SheBaal Peh.  I decided against Nach simply because the classes weren't clustered closely enough together.  As it is, I will be driving back and forth numerous times a day next year.  To work and back.  To bring Chana there and to pick her up.  Sometimes twice in one day, when Chumash is in the morning and TSBP is in the afternoon.  I hope I can maintain my sanity doing this.

I have concerns about whether Chana will enjoy classes.  She basically told me that she would prefer to be homeschooled completely, and is going because her close friend (who is homeschooled, and two years ahead of her) is going to not be homeschooled in two years and then she will be lonely.  In fact, when this close friend tried out 9th grade (when Chana was in 7th), Chana was lonely and that was when she asked to go to school.  Then this friend came back home, and Chana no longer wanted to go to school.  I can't remember a single class that involved passive listening that Chana has enjoyed in her life.

I am not sure whether Chana will be better off in the honors or the nonhonors Chumash.  The teacher in the nonhonors class is absolutely delightful and I know Chana will like her.  But she thinks Chana will be bored in her class.  The principal thinks that Chana will be adjusting to coursework and that an easy class would be okay for her.  I feel more inclined to give her a harder work load and have it be okay if she's scrambling to figure out how to take tests.  It's not like her Chumash grades will be on her transcript for college, since as a homeschooler, it's not a required course.

Chana is also somewhat of a closed personality.  The girl she is close friends with now took her two years of seeing each other at the same events and being sort of forced into proximity before they became friends.  It even took Sarah, who strongly desired a group of close friends and who excitedly embraced the high school social scene, two years before she found her chevra.  I don't know if Chana will open herself up to friendships.

Whenever I expressed concern, Chana hilariously assured me that she is quite adept at socializing and knows how to conduct herself.  She just doesn't want to.  I know long term she will be fine, and as soon as she wants to put herself out there, either for purposes of getting a job or to find friends, she will be fine.  I guess we'll see how next year plays out.