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.