Wednesday, July 22, 2015

back to unschooling

It's getting worse with Elazar.  When I try to do 5 minutes of shulchan aruch with him, he rolls around on the floor and wiggles and doesn't pay attention.  Today I stopped in the middle of a sentence because he was lying on his back, staring at the ceiling and squinting at his hand.  At that point I began thinking this really is counterproductive.  What am I doing.  I began to formulate a plan to send all the shulchan aruch yomi emails to a specific folder, and then, if Elazar ever asks to learn, I'll go to that folder and do one by request.

As I was thinking about that, Elazar turned to me and asked, "We're done?"

"No," I said.

"How come I didn't hear you talking?" he asked.

"Because I stopped talking."

At this point he started squinting at his hands and the light again.  I presume he was thinking about some cause and effect in the physical world.

A minute later he asked if we were done.  I said no.  He started talking about something else.  Then he asked if we were done.  I said no.  He asked why we weren't doing it.  I said because he wasn't listening.

I was feeling like this was pretty pointless and that it was time to let go.

But then he focused and we finished and even asked a few questions and it was good.

So I'm not sure if I'll ask him to learn tomorrow.  Maybe I'll wait and see.  Maybe it's time to go back to learning hilchos Shabbos.  That kind of fizzled out when we started shulchan aruch.

I'm not sure why I'm pushing it.  I know a lot of people have concerns regarding unschooling about whether or not the child will learn to be disciplined, will learn to buckle down and have what it takes to persevere.  This does not concern me with Elazar.  I think he will be able to do what he needs to do when he grows up, and it doesn't feel to me that causing him pain now by forcing him to listen to me talk about a topic he's not interested in for more minutes than is physically comfortable to him will in any way help him be more disciplined in the future.

I'm not sure that the knowledge he will acquire in these painstaking minutes is worth it.  If in the future he wants this information, and he is motivated, it will take him less time and he will be able to focus better.

When he is interested and he asks questions or realizes that there are two logical possibilities to the halacha, it is a joy to behold and I love that I get to experience that with him.  

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Midsummer update: pros and cons of not unschooling halacha

I'm still using Konmari method to declutter.  It's almost done.  The siren song of "my house is always tidy" beckons to me.

Bear in mind that my youngest is 4.  When my children were ages 6 months to 3 years old, the house was like a hurricane and I had to straighten up 4x a day to be able to see the floor.  Now that the kids are older, the mess just isn't the same.  However, I did find myself bad tempered from mess or feeling like I "have" to clean up and like I didn't want to and that housework was taking me away from relaxing or being with the children.

Chana and I finished the first chemistry book.  It gave a great foundation and maybe we'll look through a few others and read about Antoine Lavoisier before getting into the math of chemistry.  I might just borrow a Barron's regents book for that.

Jack has stopped being interested in reading.  He is up to lesson 71 out of 100.  He can basically read, and apparently he is satisfied with his level of reading and whatever practice he gets reading things around him.  He does not want to do the reader anymore.

Elazar is still doing the daily Shulchan Aruch.  Unfortunately, I think that this is causing him to dread learning.  It is under 5 minutes.  He has a hard time sitting still.  And from morning to night he is busy with things he wants to do.  He doesn't ever come over to me bored.  So whenever I want to learn with him, it would be interrupting his flow.  I am considering giving him some money for it (not a lot, perhaps 5 to 10 cents, which would build up after a while).  I am not feeling that a strict unschooling policy is called for here.  I think the very mild discipline it takes for him to learn is beneficial for his character.

However, the down side of that and the reason I was pulled to unschooling in the first place, is that his attention has waned and he is not enjoying it.  And I believe he is associating annoyance to learning.

I have to think about this more.  My sense is that it is a good idea to push him, even if he doesn't like it.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

decluttering homeschool materials II

On one side: my hoarding tendencies and my general difficulty parting with things.
On the other side: the tantalizing promise of easy cleanup, less overwhelmedness, and the ability to find things quickly.

It should be no contest.  Work through my emotional resistances and live a life of minimalism and simplicity.

I have read a few times that people feel that konmari doesn't work when you have children.  I can't talk about other family's conflicts, but in my particular case my children are not overly attached to their things.  The disorder or order in the house is really about how I am choosing to establish things.  In our gloriously abundant culture, having 20 toys or 100 toys or 1000 toys is all on the same continuum insofar as there are ample things to occupy them.  In fact, it causes stress, crankiness, mess, waste, and an inability to use all of your stuff (or even find all your stuff).

As a homeschooler, I would estimate a large portion of my home management is taken up by and frustrated by dealing with the stuff.  That's less time for teaching, less time for hanging out, less time for doing fun things, and more frustration, irritation, anger at the children, and exhaustion.

In my particular case, my children don't really care how much clothing they have.  If they go to their bins and there are clothing, they are fine.  They have a couple of favorite pants and sweatshirts.  (I'm not talking about teens here.  I shut the door.  It's confined to the room.)

The question is regarding toys and homeschooling materials and books.  I probably could remove 80% of their toys and they would not miss them.  But once in a while, they rediscover a toy and spend hours and hours with it.  They go through revivals every few years.  How do I know what to keep?  I can't predict it.

I have grammar games and fraction games and math manipulatives and coloring books and all sorts of homeschooling paraphernalia.  One of the principles of unschooling is "strewing," where there are educational materials around (like the map on the wall, or the biology chart that the kids drag over to me so I can show them how the human body works).  If I get rid of things, what will they pick up?  I have held on for two years to a bucket of fraction pieces that annoys me  tremendously (but I can't get rid of it because, you know, fractions).  Chana never used it.  The boys play with it periodically (once in a few months).  I'm not sure how much it does for them.  I know it drives me crazy, taking up space and barely being used.  In fifteen years my children have rarely picked up a math workbook or a coloring book.  Very, very rarely.  But I have over 30 of them, waiting on shelves, because once in a while, once in six months, they will drag it out and start tracing letters.

I have wonderful books full of information and facts about science and social studies that are explained clearly and beautifully.  My daughters barely looked at them.  Occasionally I paid them a dollar to read one.  Did that help their education?  Maybe a bit.  But have these things been hanging around, bothering me with their general lack of use?  Yes.
But what if they pick them up?

I wonder if I'm lacking trust.  I live in the fearful world of what "might" be instead of removing all that and making space for what IS.  Because surely by now I know that my children are never bored.  They always find something to do with whatever is around.

What exactly would happen if I don't have these things in my house?  At the moment when they might have been ripe for fractions and would have had the materials to learn them... they look around and find something else to do.  (In theory, something productive and joyous just like they do pretty much all the time.) What if they would have taken that workbook and done some math problems or writing but it's not around?  They "miss" the opportunity.  What if they don't learn that science or social studies?  They'll learn it as an adult or perhaps (and I guess this is what terrifies me) not at all?  Or they'll read about it on the internet?  Or take a college class?  I almost feel like I am waiting until they all know how to read so I can just get rid of all those workbooks and coloring books without guilt.  But in the meantime, they are in a giant laundry basket (no room on the shelves--those are filled with seforim and other books that we might use) and I walk by them every day and cringe.

According to konmari, the way to not revert is to do it all at once and do it to the point where the joy is manifest because everything has an obvious place (hint: if you are trying to fit things into places then there is still too much stuff).  Chipping away at this instead of doing it all at once means that decluttering for the next while is going to be something that I have to do regularly instead of getting it all done forever.  I read the book over Shavuos and got up the courage to do the first step (my own clothing) in July.  She says that decluttering in the order she recommends helps build the skill of only keeping what sparks joy.  And if you do it in a different order then you haven't built the skills or practiced enough.  For example, trying to declutter things with a lot of emotional charge like picture albums (!! Those weren't even on my radar!  I have 22 albums and that's not including that in the last 4 yrs we are primarily digital and that we rarely take pictures) before you have eased into the skill by doing the other things will not be so effective.

Now I'll go clear off my dining room table.  Apparently if I had less stuff, I would have obvious places to put the things that end up hanging around my table.  And then I wouldn't have to clear my table regularly.  The concept beckons like a hazy utopia.

decluttering homeschool materials I

Summer has been coming along.  Jack (5.5) had a week of camp that he liked. He slowed down on reading a bit; he is over 60 lessons through 100 Easy Lessons and no longer asks to do it every night.  According to unschooling principles, he will do it when he is interested in improving his skills.  Elazar (8) is going to camp in the afternoons, skipping the morning (davening/learning).  Chana and I are enjoying chemistry in the morning and continuing with Sefer Devarim at other times in the day.  She also takes Japanese and violin.  I have a meeting next week with the principal to discuss what classes she'll be taking in the high school I teach at.

Yesterday, I finally got up the stamina to konmari my clothing.  It's a method of decluttering.  I have been fighting the tendency to hoard for over a decade, and I think I really turned a corner when I hired organizers before Aharon was born (about 5 years ago).  I learned things like "things shouldn't fall out when you open the door."  Perhaps that's obvious.  I still haven't quite gotten the hang of "when you look, be able to see at a glance everything that is there."

One of the things I thought was that decluttering is a constant process.  Like being tidy or being neat or being clean (none of which things I am, especially), it needs constant vigilance and work.  I learned a lot from flylady, but she has morning routines and evening routines and daily routines and weekly routines.  It has been a constant struggle to get myself into habits of daily straightening.  Or even to figure out what daily straightening looks like.

A big piece is decluttering.  The fewer objects there are, the easier it is to clean up.  Things are less overwhelming.  I have embraced decluttering (though I'm not very good at it yet) and the principles of minimalism.

I began to understand that decluttering and tidying have the same problem.  You have to always be doing them.  I'd rather sit down and relax or read.  People who are tidy are often doing a bit of tidying.  I'm chilling instead.

But then konmari's book says that if you do her method once and thoroughly, you never go back.  You don't revert.  You don't need to declutter every few months.  You do it all and are so swept away with the joy of
a) being surrounded only by things that you love and spark joy and
b) the extremely easy way to put everything away because there aren't so many things and it is obvious where they go and simple to put them there
that you never go back.

Intriguing.  Can you imagine Pesach cleaning in that type of situation?  Can you imagine living like that?

But implementing it is challenging.  All sorts of psychological issues crop up.  What is emotionally preventing me from removing things in my life that don't spark joy?

I did clothing yesterday.  I cheated and put some of the clothing that I wear to work but don't spark joy in the back of my closet.  If I get through September and October and don't use them, then hopefully I'll be able to let them go.

After I did it, I asked myself questions such as:
Why do I have the boys' summer clothing in two bins, when I also have two dressers for them?  And why do I have a third bin with future winter clothes?  What in the WORLD can possibly be in those two dressers?

(Don't get me wrong.  I adore the simplicity of bins.  Wash the clothes and dump them in the bins.  T-shirts and shorts for Elazar in one bin, and for Jack and Aharon in the other.  No folding.  If they dump it, very easy to cleanup.  So then the question is what are the dressers for?  Storing things I don't use???)

After clothing comes books in the konmari method.  And this gets me back to one of my conflicts about homeschooling and decluttering.

But it's time to wake up Chana and do chemistry.  I'll write part II later.