I found the chinuch aspects of the seder difficult to manage this year. And I think this is relevant to homeschooling multi-age, multilevel children.
We started off with good preconditions for the seder. I was remarkably relaxed. The cleaning and cooking and prep seemed very manageable this year. (Having to do with no Shabbos Chol Hamoed and no 3 day yontif, I think.) We were having company for day meals (18 ppl both days) but the sedarim were just us. That meant that we didn't have to take anyone else into consideration and we could do what was good for the children.
Elazar routinely stays up until 11ish. No problem. Jack can easily stay up until 10 or 10:30. Aharon, age 3, fades around 8. Just when the seder is starting.
Both nights, I was profoundly glad that we were in our own home and that we had no guests. Ari said that sippur was great with the boys. I was fielding the tantrums and the fights. The boys were high energy, wild, active. Just the sort of behavior that three boys ages 3-7 have past their bedtimes. That in itself was okay. Like I said, I'm glad we were home and their behavior wasn't inappropriate or disturbing to others.
But there were two other parties at the seder. Sarah and her husband, and Chana, the teenager.
And here is where I felt like I was in one of those homeschool situations, trying to teach too many levels at the same time and simply being unable to. In theory (back when I wasn't unschooling and used to teach) in a homeschool day, I choose the divide and conquer approach. Older children do what they want or help with the youngers until it is their turn while I work one on one and rotate through the subjects and the children. In this case, at the seder, I actually had help because Ari was doing half the "teaching." But I was left with five very disparate situations: 1) a young man who was having his first seder away from home, and who was used to long and technical drashic discussions, 2) a young woman whose mind was awakened to knowledge and who thirsted to have the story discussed in the framework of our history and our current lives, and 3) a teenager who was bored out of her mind, 4) fighting children and 5) a tantruming 3yo.
I simply felt unequal to the task. I felt like there were needs that I couldn't fulfill. I felt that tonight is THE night charged with passing on the mesorah to the children on their level, and that it was simply not working.
I must say, that as a homeschooler for a decade and a half with large gaps between my children, this feeling was not an unfamiliar feeling. I was sorry it was happening at the seder. I want the seder to be a special, exhilarating night, that resulted in the littles having fun, the medium learning something new, and the olders experiencing growth, wisdom and understanding.
Perhaps I am too focused on the frustration. Ari said that telling the story went beautifully to the boys. Aharon asked about every single change and we had the joy of seeing him realize that something very special and unusual was happening. Chana decided to tell me the story, and she remembered a lot of the details. We did not come to a satisfactory resolution about why she should go over the story again when she clearly knows it. I wanted to convey to her:
- just because you know the facts of the story doesn't mean there is not a lot to learn about the nuances
- now that you know the facts, you can move on to thinking about the purpose and the themes of the story
- you can try to understand the story on a more sophisticated level
I was frustrated in attempting to explain or demonstrate these points to her by her intense boredom and by the boys needing me so much. This, too, is a familiar feeling from homeschool, where I am trying to work with an older child and the younger ones are fighting or crying or needing me.
The first night, was, I believe, frustrating for Sarah and Moshe. On the second night ("second chance seder shel galuyos," I think of it as), I put Aharon to bed quickly, in order to prevent meltdowns. And soon after, I sent Jack and Elazar up to bed, since they were extremely wild (knocking chairs down wild) and loud, even though they could have stayed awake. Even in that case, I felt like Chana got the shaft this year. The seder ideally would have been at her level, trying to bring her to a new level of understanding, while going quickly enough to not bore her. Alas, she was very bored. I felt like I was trying to navigate the needs of both parties, and ended up doing a mediocre job of both. It was emotionally unpleasant and disheartening.
Ironically, I belong to a group called "One positive action one day at a time" and the one small action I chose was to to let the seder unfold however and be in the moment and not have preconceived notions of how it "should" go.. I think expectations are an enemy. I think they cause people to feel bad about themselves for not conforming to something that is in the imagination and to lose sight of the perfectly adequate and good things that are happening. However, despite my desire to have no expectations, I did indeed have unconscious expectations, and, expectations aside, I was simply overwhelmed with the many things that were happening. Like I said, this was a familiar feeling. I think had I not been hoping for a grand educational experience, I wouldn't have been so bummed out by how the seder went. But it still would have been chalked up to "one of those homeschool days."
I believe (but don't quote me, since Chana tells me my memory is notoriously unreliable) that when Sarah was this age, the first seder we talked until she was finished, and then she sat on the couch while Ari and I went through the rest of the seder very quickly without discussion. And the second seder (where we hosted Ari's family) she begged to be excused and reread Harry Potter. So I know I have to be patient and be understanding of Chana's emotional and intellectual level.
Not every day goes well. Not every dynamic is great. I try to think about what aspects didn't go well and if there was anything I could have done to improve it. And keep doing my best.
As I sit here writing this, Aharon is putting bissili on his fingers and doing arithmetic, subtraction, comparing and contrasting (all things I see in workbooks, except he's making up his own problems and figuring it out himself and thinking it is tremendous fun).