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.