Thursday, December 22, 2016

unschooling reading and spelling

I went to sleep pretty late last night (watched Blazing Saddles discussing Civil Rights history with Chana) and this morning I was still asleep at 8:50, when Elazar cracked open the door to see if I was awake.  I beckoned him over for a snuggle.  He snuggled into me and said, "How do you spell 'does'?"

Other words he asked today: stagger, device, to do, down, passage.  He's making signs in Minecraft.  

Other boys asked about "to" and "too."  They ask me how to spell things all day long.  I love it.

I was about to press "publish" when Jack said, "Mommy, what does B-O-O-G-E-R-S" spell?"

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Gotta Make Some Choices

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is finished.  Fantastic book.  We need a new one!  Great Brain and Rats of Nimh were unsuccessful.  No idea what to read next.  Help!!

And we skipped the rest of cellular respiration AND photosynthesis and moved on to cellular division.  That seems to be working.

Also, I downloaded The Evolution of Physics by Albert Einstein and we read the intro.  Looks like one of those things that in theory we might read, but in practice we might end up reading only a sampling of.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

not yet halfway through the year update

Elazar really enjoyed Matilda by Roald Dahl after Pippi Longstocking.  So that was great.  Next we moved on to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by Ian Fleming, which is surprisingly relatable considering it's a couple of generations old.

Last night, suddenly Bio became boring.  This is very sad, because until now, Chana had really been loving it.  We were doing it slowly, but it was fascinating.  And I have to agree with her.  The chapter was indeed boring.  She said no more ATP; she doesn't care how it's made; she's done.

The question is whether to skip this chapter (and probably skim photosynthesis) or to find a new book.  I gathered a couple of leads that I now have to check out.  This is the kind of thing where the right book or curriculum really makes a difference.  I think we fell off the whole math wagon from not finding a great curriculum, which is a pity, because she was enjoying math.

The truth is, though, that just going to two classes in school is seriously sucking all of her energy and she doesn't really have much left over to learn.  Since switching to learning after 9 or 10pm, she's been more energetic and eager but I am thoroughly zonked.  So even though I would love to learn more Navi with her and do math with her and read more frequently, we are at the moment sticking to Science (and now we are back to reading the Stranger and hopefully will finish that up before reattempting Science.

The boys are pretty happy, asking me how to spell things pretty much all day long.  Not a huge interest in Judaics, though things come up in discussion.

A friend of mine is looking at high schools for her son now, and thinking about sending him vs. keeping him home.  She mentioned at this point, her second son (in 6th grade) is planning to stay home for high school.  Unless Elazar is interested in sports or loses his social group, I suspect he will do better at home for high school, too.  I told her that I will probably freak out around his bar mitzva time, but to please remind me that my assessment of him at age 9 is that he will probably blossom between age 15-18.  Please remind me of this when I am freaking out the year before and of his bar mitzva.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Chinuch in the Teen Years

My boys still refuse to wear tzitzis.  They aren't comfortable; they scorn even the soft cotton ones.  I've been thinking a lot, having been through the teen years with my oldest and now going through them with my second.  And it's really changing how I'm thinking about parenting the boys in their teen years.

I was talking to a dear friend of mine who parented 5 wonderful boys and her sixth is a girl.  As I was talking to her about girl teenagedom and mother-daughter relationships, she said to me that it's too bad she'll have gained all this knowledge from parenting her daughter through her teen years and then she won't have another girl to parent with the benefit of this knowledge.

I half joked: "Take it from me--it doesn't help."  But that's not strictly true.  Some of the lessons I learned with Sarah: how to de-escalate during conflict, how to take a step back, take a deep breath, how to shift my tone and my body language out of "bristling" and into "listening" mode; how to assume that if they say I'm yelling at them or if my tone is aggressive, then to dial it down, whether I think I've been aggressive or not; how to cool down from an encounter and then later, when we are more calm, ask her to please explain her position and really, really try to listen without explaining where I'm coming from-- all of these things have only been helpful as I stumble through these years with the next teenager.  However, with each child being so different, and the challenges being so very, very different, I am often just as much in the dark now as I was the first time.

I simultaneously grapple with major issues (as people always used to say, which I never really understood, "little people, little problems; big people, big problems"), while I am also very immersed in little people and the drudgery of caretaking.  I have the experience of parenting littles while having an awareness that within the decade, the boundless desire for them to be in my personal space and have me share their lives is going to shift into the desire to separate from me, to individuate, to reject me, my values, and everything I stand for in clarification of where they stand on things.

This has gotten me thinking about a lot of things that I never realized would be an issue with boys.  Growing up a girl and feeling the burden of halachic modest dress and later covering hair, I never realized that boys grapple with minyan, waking up for shema, wearing tzitzis and covering their heads all the time.

When I was a young and naive parent, I assumed that at bar and bat mitzva, my child would joyfully pick up the "עול מלכות שמים" the yoke of mitzvos.  My daughters would dress with skirts to knees and shirts to elbows, and would daven every day and make brachos before and after meals, and their newly bursting intellects would enjoy the wondrous Torah that we would learn together.

Well.  Suffice it to say, reality is different.  Even with Chana's (not so) recent transfer into full nocturnal, along with recent studies that say that teenagers should start school not before 10am made me realize that in a few years I'll be heading into a monumental battle, especially with my middle son, who has naturally preferred a 10pm-10am sleep schedule since he was two years old.

I've observed teens AND adults fully grown, those who attend minyan regularly and those who don't.  Of the minyan go-ers, some tell me their parents instilled it in them, and some tell me they came to it themselves.  Of the non-minyan go-ers, a huge percentage tell me that their parents pushed and annoyed them.

Personally, I feel that telling my teenager what to do is generally an exercise in futility, frustration, and conflict. (To a large degree I feel that telling any of my children what to do tends to devolve into that, which perhaps is why I gravitated towards unschooling, which has a different approach to that whole issue.)  However, I also feel strongly that the internet exerts a very strong pull on the concept of identity and values, and although my teens are smart and skilled at analysis and tend to make good decisions, I want our family values and our Torah and Judaism to be one of the voices in the conversation.  As I may have mentioned before, when I consulted with my Rabbi, he suggested that I take opportunities to share my thoughts and values in conversation, and stay away from nagging and being annoying.

More recently, I've been thinking about my own upbringing.  I was brought up "Modern Orthodox," and when I stopped wearing shorts and began covering my hair when I got married, I crossed over into the land of "crazy""strict" according to my parents, even though I had studied the halachos in school and considered them to be as binding as the laws of Shabbos and kosher that I had grown up keeping.

Modesty was something my mother cared about in terms of the spirit of it, not in terms of halacha.  We wore shorts to midthigh and went swimming in bathing suits; very tight shirts and dresses were our battlegrounds and it had nothing to do with halacha.  My mother rarely told me to daven; davening was between me and God.  Brachos were between me and God.  Everything was between me and God.  I decided what I wanted to keep and how much and what I really thought.  My parents didn't have much opinion except being extremely supportive of my education and my Torah study.

My approach until now, which was to be mechanech my children to keep the Torah so that they will be keeping Torah halachically when bar or bat mitzva, did not take into account the complexity of teens wanting to figure out for themselves who they are and where they stand.  It didn't account for the fact that they often use their parents as a safe space to push against as they discover themselves, as the book Untangled describes with a pool metaphor--we are the walls of the pool and we need to be stable and be there as they push against us to swim, and come back to us to take a rest and breathe, and push against to go swim again.

And inserting myself into the ruminations doesn't seem to be useful.  If a person is grappling about halacha and God and values and restrictions and meaning, isn't the grappling simply about that person thinking about those issues?  What possible good can it have to throw into the mix their complex and conflicted relationship with their superego/parent?  Waking up for minyan and going to shul should be about the question of tefila and being part of the tzibbur; is it a value to have the person also grappling about whether this act is going to please or annoy the parent?

(One might say that there is a value in doing things to please the parent, as per Yosef Hatzadik seeing the image of his father and refraining from adultery with the wife of Potifar.  I don't disagree with that.  But it does seem to me that me pushing for certain halacha observance during the teen years does muddy and cloud their thinking and grappling unnecessarily.  They get distracted thinking about halacha observance vis-a-vis parental opinion instead of it just being about their values.)

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

November Rain

It's one of those delightful homeschool days where it's raining outside and we are just pattering around the house.

Chana has switched things up in her schedule.  She was taking Mishlei 2x a week in the morning and although she was enjoying the class, waking up in the morning was excruciating.

I also had been a little concerned that she was spending the entire week recuperating, to the point where she had no energy to read the Stranger and no energy to learn Bio, despite the fact that questions keep coming up and the answers are in the Bio book, if only we would learn it!

She also missed Torah SheBaal Peh from last year.  That was amazing.  I specifically wanted her to get a feel for the halachic process and gain an appreciation for the complex system of halacha and that's not my area at all.  I am beyond thrilled that she got that from the class last year, and that she was missing it!

The school, as always, was incredibly wonderful and accommodating and agreed she should try it out.  She went yesterday and enjoyed it.  We'll see if the schedule change works for her.

Another change we made is that we've begun doing Bio at 10pm.  Pretty agonizing for me, as my brain turns off at 8 or so.  But I'm not as exhausted as I used to be (though Aharon is STILL on daylight savings time and waking up an hour early) and if I'm feeling awake at 10, I'll ask if she wants to learn, and 90% of the time she says yes.

And here's the kicker.  She literally has THREE times the attention span at 10pm.  She could only get through a paragraph before.  Now she can do a whole section.

She's given up on Teaching Textbooks for geometry.  It was clear, but slow and boring.  Her best friend tutors her once a week.  I have no idea how that is going.  I insisted that she take the PSATs (much to her annoyance) and I guess we'll see how she does.  She didn't have enough time to finish any of the sections and when she was tested by the state, they agreed she was slow but since she's working at grade level, she didn't get an IEP.  We have to decide if further testing is called for.  She also wants a specific calculator.  Not sure if it's even worth investing in that if she doesn't end up going to college/taking math.  It may be that going to community college first and then transferring is better for her.  It may be that she won't want to go go college right away or ever.  (As I'm thinking out loud here, I think it is a good idea to buy the calculator.  I already spent more than the calculator on Teaching Textbooks, and she wants it to take the ACTs, so it's probably worthwhile.)

The boys continue to bombard me all day long asking how to spell words.  They have been making videos and uploading them to youtube.  They've also been playing Draw Something.  So there have been a lot of things to read and write.

The house has also been getting pretty messy.  Since KonMari, I haven't needed to clean up so frequently.  The basement and their room keep getting messy as they make their videos and use all sorts of props.  And the floor keeps getting littered with paper scraps.  Even when they vacuum after themselves, they just don't clean or neaten up to what I like.  So after being spoiled for over a year with KonMari neatness, it has been a bit of an adjustment to clean up every day.  But it doesn't take that long.
Minecraft swords.  A bunch are taped together to make some of them 3D

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

unschooling writing

This morning, all 3 boys were awake and I sang parts of Hallel out loud.  I'm not super consistent about davening out loud in the mornings but I have been making an effort and I think it makes a difference.

It's certainly gotten me thinking about some of the words and ideas in Hallel and I'm singing them to myself as the day goes on.  (The gratitude and joy lasted all through the morning giggles and fizzled out a bit as the two youngest started bickering, teasing each other, physically fighting and I eventually separated them.  I was wondering about the juxtaposition of "This is the day that Gd made, we will rejoice and be happy on it" with "Please, Hashem, save me!" but I think I got my own personal interpretation. And things eventually chilled out again.)

Elazar opened up his story that he works on sporadically.  Today he corrected all of his spelling using a combination of the right click option and asking me how to spell a lot of different words.  He focused on capitalizing proper names and beginning of sentences.  He also stopped frequently to move around and then went back.

I don't know if one of those giant balls that classrooms are incorporating to sit on would do the job

Unschooling is pretty cool because there is a huge difference in his spelling and grasp of sentence structure in just a few months.  He corrected all of his "creative spelling" to standard spelling and Jack was reading his story over his shoulder.  My job in all this was to be around and answer his questions, and to enjoy his story.  I know I always marvel about how effortless unschooling seems.  In truth, it probably has a similar amount of parental involvement.  I do feel like I frequently answer questions about how to spell things, and he physically pulled me over to the computer so I could check his work.  I much prefer him yanking me to do his work as opposed to me trying to get him to do it.

Sunday, October 30, 2016


In doing Bio, we were discussing bioluminescence (when animals produce light, like fireflies and some fish).

"Like Moshe," Chana says.

"Really?"  I know Moshe (my son-in-law) recently psyched himself out of blistering when he burnt himself (like those people who walk on hot coals), but can he really make his cells light up?

"Moshe Rabbenu," Chana says.

וְרָאוּ בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, אֶת-פְּנֵי מֹשֶׁה, כִּי קָרַן עוֹר פְּנֵי מֹשֶׁה; וְהֵשִׁיב מֹשֶׁה אֶת-הַמַּסְוֶה עַל-פָּנָיו, עַד-בֹּאוֹ לְדַבֵּר אִתּוֹ

Extraordinaires Design Studio Pro: Review

I've been reading about "strewing" recently.  Sandra Dodd, who is an unschooling guru, wrote a post about putting things around the house that your children might find interesting.  I'm not a huge "strew"er.  I used to, when I was trying to "get the kids to learn."  But having a little more confidence with the process of unschooling at this point, I don't bother keeping maddening fraction manipulatives around to give them a feel for fractions, because cleaning them up drives me nuts.  Fractions are cool and I imagine eventually they'll enjoy fractions inherent usefulness and interestingness.  (Did you know that interestingness is a word, despite the red squiggle showing up as I write it?  I just googled it hoping to find a synonym.)

This morning I read something that really hit me strongly.  Someone asked about how much to get involved with being the initiator of ideas in unschooling (which is related to strewing) and this mom said that the simple act of saying "Yes" instead of "No" has been life-changing.  Letting the kids go through old boxes and drawers, touch things, mix things ("baking") in the kitchen, take apart old electronics, jump and use furniture.  She said things that she would have said "No" to because of inconvenience end up being tremendous fun and make up some of her best memories.

I still try to find trips that I think the kids will like and I still pull them out of the house to walk down the block to see a fat spider in an amazing web.  And when Timberdoodle sent out a call for reviewers, I checked out their products and requested ones I thought were age appropriate to my children and in line with their interests.

Since my 15yo has always been interested in animation and art but has disliked official art lessons, Extraordinaires Design Pro looked interesting to me.

For some reason, I thought it was for the computer and she would be able to use it with or instead of the Paint program she uses for drawing her figures.  This was an error.  Note to self: read things more carefully.

It's a game.  It is great to do with a few people together or alone.  In addition to art, it promotes thinking, creativity, and I read in a few places that STEM teachers got it for their classrooms.  Basically, it is a game that teaches product design.  It assumes that you are the product designer and you are designing something for a client. There are 4 categories of cards: Extraordinaires, Design Projects, Improvements, and Sketching. You "meet your client" (choose a client card, called an "extraordinaire") who has some unusual qualities and unusual needs.  Then you choose a design project card, which is what your client wants designed.  Then the other cards guide you as you plan and execute your design for what the client "hired" you to create.

It's sort of like Writing Strands insofar as having a guided assignment with a lot of room for personal creativity.

Here is a summary of my tenth grade daughter's assessment:

It's a visual guide for drawing. You have the option of drawing digitally, but the guide itself is physical.  I am disappointed it is not a program for the computer.  It is structured, and is initially a bit confusing and seems to involve quite a bit of effort.  But after sitting with it for a bit and playing around with it, it is basically a guide to help you visualize and draw a whole picture.

I think it could be useful for someone that does not know how to do that on their own. It provides questions to make you think of the history and small details of the character in the drawing.

It also helps when you don't know what to include in the backdrop.

The Extraordinaires are the characters. There is a selection of them to choose from and they each possess normal human attributes. For example, the Superhero looks like she is absolutely amazing, but even she needs a cup of coffee every once in awhile. It shows you that everything has more than one side to it. The design projects are little categorized cards, divided by objects (clothes, vehicles, buildings, etc.) that give you ideas on at least one thing from that category to draw. Improvement ideas are given with the help of Think Cards. These are also divided into the same categories as the Design Projects. They ask you specific questions that make you, well, think about what you drew. For each card within a category, it will give you three different topics to think about complete with three complementary questions corresponding with that topic. As an example, I have taken out the Think Cards for the category "Gadgets." One topic of the card is "Interaction" where it asks "How will the Extraordinaire interact with the gadget? How will their physical abilities influence your design?" I particularly like this question because it is more so something that goes over your head and/or seems a bit obvious. Say your character is a pirate and the gadget is a sword. What if that pirate lost his right hand? He would have to hold it with his left and, based on statistics, odds are his right hand was dominant, making it even more inconvenient for him. It also gives questions to make you think about design and structural ideas, such as "What if your gadget had to last 1000 years? What if it was disposable? How would you change your design?" Sketch and Present would be the full category. It says it on the book, you sketch and annotate your design to highlight specific features and details. 

Obviously there are a lot more tips and such, but those are the basics. I think this could be quite useful for both people who want to pursue art as a hobby and people who are striving for profession.

Timberdoodle recommends Extraordinaires Design Studio Pro as the self directed Art class in their 11th grade curriculum.

Friday, October 7, 2016

unschooling: advice for when they don't want to learn what I want them to learn

When I'm feeling frustrated about my child's lack of Torah and lack of engagement, I have a few approaches.

1. Learn more myself, study the area myself, work on my own learning/spirituality/middos instead of imposing that onto my child
The concept "כל הפוסל במומו פוסל" is at work here.  If I'm accusing my child of not davening, then work on my own tefila.  If I am concerned my child isn't engaged enough in learning Torah, then engage myself in Torah learning.  (This might be a good idea for me, who is challishing to learn Shmuel II with Chana).  Leave my child alone and address any inner insecurities and deficiencies I might be projecting onto them by dealing directly with the source.

This also has the added benefit of having Torah more "shagur b'fiv" (fluent on my lips) and it makes Torah come up more naturally in conversation in a way that children can easily relate to.  If I have just read about Shimshon, for example, odds are that when my child asks if a human being can knock down those columns of the house we are next to, I will know the story well enough to tell it, instead of having him sit down or be bored or on to the next thing before I look it up.

2. Daven
Let's say my desire for them to learn doesn't come out of my own issues or insecurities, but from a genuine desire to pass knowledge down to them.
Pushing them or pressuring them is probably going to be counterproductive anyway, so even if my heart is purely motivated, practically a lot of what I do is going to be perceived as annoying or pressuring.  So I can pour that energy, that fear, that anxiety, that passion out in tefila.  The evaluation aspect of tefila really helps me focus on what my goals and priorities are.  What my fears are.  And where I want to put my energy.  And the emotional aspect of tefila is very relieving.
In my recent tefilos, I realized that I desire very strongly that some day Chana will want to learn.  So that is where I put my focus.  Every interaction with her is in the context of my desire that she will one day want to learn.  This brings some clarity and makes it a lot easier to refrain from activities or comments that would be counter productive to that goal.  I'm not sure if there is anything I can do to achieve that goal, but it definitely clarifies for me things I shouldn't be saying or doing and "First do no harm" is one of the my habitual motivating mottos.
In my recent tefilos, I also discovered that I'm delighted with Elazar and his progress and learning at the moment, but I fear greatly that he will not be interested in Torah in the future.  So that also affected how I am relating to him now, and helped me relax in the now and also gives me some focus and clarity for the future.

3. Make the relationship the most important thing
I've written before about choosing the relationship over academics.  This is a slightly different angle.  I came to this idea in the context of when I'm time crunched (hello, Tishrei and Nisan) and how I often used to try to cram in academics while I was short tempered and stressed and how I felt that did more harm than good.  But now I'm thinking about it in terms of frustrations about the children not learning or fears that they won't learn.  I try to keep in sight that the important thing here is my relationship with my child.  I want that gut feeling that they have when they walk into the room and see me to be positive.  Not irritation.  Not disgust.  Not stress.  Not annoyance.  Just glad to see their mom.  And maybe, if I'm lucky, to share with me something that they've been thinking about or doing, because they know I'm interested.  This comes so naturally when they are young, yelling, "Mommy, look!" a thousand times a day.  And it gradually erodes when we start having conflict about their "responsibilities" and I am asking them to do things they don't want, and I'm nagging...Add in that I'm conveying that they should be different in terms of their learning and how they spend their time and that doesn't make them overjoyed to see my face.

So when I have in my head that the important thing here is a positive relationship, it helps me be more careful about what I say, how I say it, what attitude I have when I engage with my child, and what my overall principles are with respect to managing this emotionally difficult situation.

They are more likely to seek my wisdom if they like me and don't dislike me.  We are more likely to have conversations if the conversations are pleasant and not yucky.  I find myself chanting to myself numerous times through these phases, "Worry about the relationship, nothing else."

Aseres Yemei Teshuva ramblings

I cracked and finally asked Chana when we are going to resume bio.  Only because it seems like every couple of days something comes up in conversation and if we had done Bio, then she would know it or understand it, and I found myself saying a couple of times, "That's in Bio."  Finally, last time it came up, I said, "That's also in Bio.  When do you want to start again?"  She was hesitant, I think mainly (as I mentioned) because she's feeling burnt out schedule-wise.  I suggested just once a week and she was pretty enthusiastic about that.  She chose Mondays and then changed it to Sundays.  So this Sunday I'll ask her if she wants to and we'll see.  I asked her to read with me last night and she declined.

Spiritually, she came for Rosh Hashana shofar and sat around outside shul the rest of the time.  On the second day, after I finished my personal musaf Amida, I went outside to discuss some of it with her.  I'm sorry how that turned out.  I chose the part that was really speaking to me this year.  And she happens to be extremely sensitive to repetition (her mind apparently works very quickly and grasps quickly and it drives her bonkers when I repeat myself, which she's mentioned to me repeatedly, because apparently repetitiveness, redundancy, and saying the same thing in slightly different ways doesn't really irk me :-P).  So what I thought was nuanced and new (to me) was pretty similar to what she remembered from previous years and she ended up being bored and slightly irritated from the repetition.  And I felt bad because she was so sweet to sit there and give me ten minutes to talk about a subject that I care so much about and is so important to me and I wasn't able to make it interesting to her.  There were other passages in the machzor that probably would have worked better but I didn't choose them and I felt sad that I didn't make the most of that opportunity.  I keep telling myself that this is not the end of the road and if the liturgy is appealing and has a lot of depth then maybe one day it will draw her in to explore it.  Trust the inherent fascination of the topic.  Trust the human mind.  Trust curiosity.  Trust the learning process.

I don't know if I mentioned it on this blog (haha, I probably did, but I tend to repeat myself, as my teen tells me constantly), but I think I made a mistake which is probably a common parenting mistake.  Some of the points of Torah that I found SO illuminating, life changing, eye opening, fascinating, are points that I tried to convey to her.  And perhaps that was short sighted.  Perhaps she had to dig for them herself.  Perhaps I make those points so often that she rolls her eyes at them (yeah, yeah, Torah is about self control and moderation.  Yeah, yeah, remembering you're not the center of the universe.  Blah blah blah this time of year thinking about mortality, whatever).  (And she is very thoughtful and respectful and doesn't say this to me--I just suspect from her facial expressions.)

She's been going to my chumash class where we did the Yom Kippur avoda inside the chumash, and then I ran through it in the musaf.  So we did the pesukim, then the shemona esrei, then I photocopied a page from the Yom Kippur Pictorial Avodah book that gives all the steps.  By that point, Chana was bonkers with the repetition.  I had originally planned for her to be in shul to experience it but I think that would just be unnecessarily painful to her.
So maybe mincha.  Maybe just Yonah.  That has the benefit of not being tefila (since she has communicated clearly that she is not interested in tefila at this time).  It has the downside of being something she's read before and might find repetitive.  I guess I'll ask her.

Which reminds me, I wanted to see if she will learn the Akeida with me.  I think this is actually the perfect age for an in-depth discussion of the difficult theological issues and lessons it presents.

The boys and I haven't been doing much, scholastically, but every single day all three of them have been asking me to spell words and checking if they are writing certain words correctly.  So unschooling reading and writing through unlimited media is alive and working beautifully.  I have thought to myself that to try to make sure all three of them were working on their reading and writing (typing ;) would have been too much to manage during this chag-heavy time; but with unschooling, they come to me instead of the other way around, and it's super efficient and pleasant for all.

I've been thinking a couple of things about unschooling that I was planning to write about, but this is long enough so I'll just make it a separate post.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Review of Wordsmithy: Hot Tips for the Writing Life

Timberdoodle is a great catalog.  They have high quality materials and it's always fun to browse.  So when they sent a call asking for people to review their products, I immediately took a look at what items they were offering that my kids might be interested in.

The first was the book Wordsmithy:

My 10th grader is a natural writer so I thought she might find it useful and/or interesting.  The reading level is 9th grade+, and it is recommended on the site as part of their 11th grade curriculum kit.

Since we unschool, I handed her the book and said, "If you read this, then you can give me your opinion.  If you don't read it, I'll have to read it because I said I'd review it."

That was the first test of the book.  Is it interesting enough for an unschooled teenager to pick up and read?

She did read through it.  She was even interested enough to also look up the author and see what kind of writing he does, since he was dispensing advice.  (Note: he is a devout Christian, and mentions God as part of his guidance.)

As she was going through the book, she felt that he was giving advice more about the technical aspects and less on simply writing for pure pleasure.  She wondered if he writes fiction or nonfiction (which led to her googling him) and was unsurprised that he mainly writes nonfiction.  She did feel that his suggestions are useful for those who want to improve in mechanics and proficiency of writing.

When she was in the middle of the book, she often commented to me about things he said that were or would be useful.  She just as frequently commented that she disagreed with this or that.  (When I say "commented," I mean mainly on chat, lest you think we actually speak, except for the time we went on a short walk together and she spent a good portion of it talking about the book.)

The impression that I got is that her mind was engaged in the book; she was taking him seriously and giving him the respect of looking at her own experience with writing and seeing if what he was saying fit in to that and if she thought it would be useful and true, or she didn't think a particular piece of advice would be helpful.

I have the feeling that a lot of what he said in Wordsmithy is going to be in the back of her mind as she writes, whether she agrees with him or not.  His style of writing is straight, talking directly to the reader.  It is compact and readable; each tip is not longer than two pages and has a takeaway point.  It's the kind of information that sneaks in and settles in to your world view of how to write.

If I could sum up her opinion in one sentence (and this is an exact quote): "He has good tips."

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

They need to get used to...

Elazar and I are now in a groove where I read him a chapter every night.  After me being concerned about TV always being a thing before bed, unschooling won out and he asks for the book.  Note to self: relax.

We are reading Danny, Champion of the World (which interestingly, references the BFG).  I LOVED it when I was a kid and frankly I'm finding it a bit dull now.  Elazar is content enough with it (doesn't love it like Pippi).  I think the Great Brain came in to the library so maybe when I pick it up we'll give it a whirl.

Chana is having trouble adjusting to her current schedule.  As you know, we haven't gotten back into Bio.  I think her schedule is pretty decent: Monday is a chill day (which she needs, after the social Shabbos), then Tues/Wed she has morning class AND my class.  Wednesday she chose to have lunch and club at school and the strain is telling on her.  Waking up for morning class 2 days in a row and having a day from 9:30-3:00 is pretty excruciating for her.  Thursday is half a chill day, since she just has my class and it's pretty late in the day.  But most weeks, by Wednesday, she's ready to crack.

I think this happened to her last year, too.

People who send their kids to school are usually horrified at this point that I'm even considering her difficulties.  Life is hard, they have to get used to it, most kids (especially in Yeshiva and her age) are out of the house almost 12 hours a day, how is she going to cope with real life, she needs to learn she needs to learn she needs to learn...

I've said numerous times that they don't actually "need to learn" or "get used to" these things.  A homeschooler who has emotional maturity is capable of doing what needs to be done.  And Chana has shown herself capable of going to class even if she doesn't want to.

The question is, is there a point?

Chana has always been a night owl.  In first grade she preferred to do her work after 8pm.  Jack, too, at age 2, preferred a 10pm-10am schedule (I'm trying not to future-think, but I am concerned about zman kriyas shema.  Though perhaps my worry energy would be better off directed towards trying to raise a child who desires to say shema...).

I have recently read a couple of articles saying that science is seeing how acutely painful it is for night people to be made to function in the morning.  I personally am a morning person and my productivity is shot after 8pm most nights.  (Just when Chana is getting started...)  Is it true that Chana needs to "prepare herself" for a 9-5 job when statistically, unschoolers prefer to live more frugal lives so that they can do more meaningful work suited to their taste that pays less money?

Sometimes I feel like I hear two competing views echoing around me (I know, only two?  I'm lucky).  One opinion is that teens don't know what's best for them; they are impulsive creatures who make poor decisions, they need structure and they need their parents to firmly put their feet down.  Another opinion is that teenagers are mature and wise, they are capable of amazing things, give them their space and their freedom and always keep an open dialogue and listen carefully to their opinions and thoughts.

I've experienced both.  I've been completely confused by the paradoxes of teenage-hood.  I struggle with my role as mentor and guide to what is basically an adult.

Sometimes it feels like the problem is if I go in the direction of firmness when what is actually needed is bending, I make the problem much, much worse.  And the converse is also true: If I go in the direction of bending when what is actually needed is firmness, I also make the problem worse.  When I spoke to my Rabbi about it last year, he suggested I "walk the tightrope."  Nudge, but don't nag.  If I'm being annoying, then drop it.  Have frank conversations where I share my views and seek to understand hers.

Anyway, this reminds me of why Chana and I embarked on unschooling in the first place.  When her learning is arranged around her emotional and physical nature, Chana is amenable and a pleasure.  Our homeschooling has been an utter joy filled with incredible learning.  When things are off, though, she becomes grouchy, reluctant, angry, quick to fight authority, and her mind isn't as receptive to knowledge.

We will see how this plays out.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Yamim Noraim 2016 (or 5777--and I had to google that)

I have to thank Pesach.  (And a Rabbi friend of mine, R' Pinny Rosenthal, who gave a shiur where he explained this point).  The seder is the night where we pass the mesora down to our children.  The whole night is designed around figuring out where your child is at (the 4 sons) and preparing to explain the story on their level, catching their interest by doing strange things (karpas and taking the seder plate off the table), trying to elicit questions (ma nishtana), making the story as dramatic as possible (מתחיל בגנות ומסיים בשבח, start with the negative and end with the positive), using props ("pesach, matza, maror"), giving a taste of drash (arami oved avi), and making it personally relevant ("every person should view himself as if s/he left mitzrayim..").

Pesach really is the model for education.  And the model for the rest of the year.

I was trying to figure out what to do for Chana for tefila this year.  Last year her tefila has been steadily declining (I think 14 is when Sarah also stopped davening, and she recently only began motivated to start again at age 20, which is well past the age where I am responsible for her anymore).  I had gotten down to a "shevach/bakasha/hodaa" model where I took quotes from Amida, and gave her a daily tefila and a shabbos tefila that was only a couple of lines long.  And then I think she stopped doing even that.  

So I wasn't sure what to do about Yamim Noraim davening. I was talking with a homeschool friend of mine (it's always wonderful when you can get together with other homeschool moms and chat about educational and parenting issues that are coming up) and I was telling her that I'm covering the Yom Kippur avoda in school and Chana is in my class, so hopefully if she comes for that hour of shul on Yom Kippur she'll follow what's going on and it will be somewhat meaningful.  And I was trying to figure out what to do about Rosh Hashana, considering that she's not davening these days.  My friend suggested I tell her to come to shul for shofar and not discuss davening at all.  Which I thought makes tons of sense.  She can have the experiential emotional experience of Shofar.

Then I said that usually I would ask her to set aside a couple of sessions to learn about Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur with me.  Does she think I should do that or should I leave it alone?  And she felt that if this is what I have done in the past, I absolutely should do it for this year.  And I asked Chana, and she is amenable.

So then the question I've been thinking about is what to learn with Chana about Rosh Hashana that will be suited for her temperament, personality, life stage, and current situation?  (Agav, this is what I love about homeschool.  THIS is, imo, "chinuch.")  Should we study a portion of the tefila that I think she might be able to relate to, philosophically and emotionally?  Or should we study general concepts of the Yom or time period?

(Last year I think we did "Avinu Malkenu" and possibly musaf.)

I asked her which she preferred (why figure it out if she'll just tell me) and she said to please ask her later.  So no help there.

For the boys, we are going to a "make your own shofar workshop" by the local Chabad this Sunday.

September update

Even though Elazar is not much interested in Judaics at this moment, a lot of his energy is directed towards science.  He keeps watching science videos--apparently there are a lot of different stinging bugs and they have lots of variety and different types of exoskeletons, and he watched someone intentionally get stung to see if the hype was true about this species (it was).  I signed him up for an engineering class, 8 wks, on Fridays.  Friday is not a great day for any class, especially as Shabbos gets earlier.  But it is for 3-4th grade (putting him on the older end, which hopefully increases his chances of being able to sit through it).  It is LOCAL.  A ten minute drive!  And supposedly they are building a robot using power tools and then programming it.  They need to get a few more kids to enroll in the class for it to run.  I really hope it works out.  Elazar's been asking me to go with him to "the dump" so he can salvage scrap and build things with it.  But he really doesn't know how to build things.

Every day the boys are working on their reading.  Not a day goes by where I don't field a few questions from each one about either how to spell something or what this word says or where a certain letter is on the keyboard (Aharon is working on that now, apparently).  The boys also often help each other out with reading and writing.

All this gives me the time to deal with the rather copious amount of conflict and fighting that has been going on.  When I reflect, it's not even the majority of the day (I've had those months and those years).  It's probably 2-5 blowups a day.  Not terrible.

(And all you homeschool mamas who are trying to deal with the rather copious amount of conflict AND do school lessons--you need an extra hug.)

We finished Pippi Longstocking.  I tried a chapter of Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing.  The genius of that is the older sibling dealing with an annoying younger sibling.  That worked nicely for the girls at that stage.  Elazar doesn't quite relate to that.  I'm thinking of trying All of a Kind Family since it's on my shelf.  But I think he would prefer humor.  I tried to buy The Great Brain for my kindle last night (actually, I just wanted to send a sample to see if Elazar would like it) but it's not coming out in kindle version until January.  So I'm still looking for the next good book that will be funny for Elazar.  Maybe Matilda.  I also tried a chapter of Danny, Champion of the World and although Elazar was polite about it, it didn't captivate him.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

16 days

She doesn't want to learn with me.

I'm spending most of our time together trying to build emotional connections and having pleasant interactions.

And today when I asked Elazar to come here so I could tell him something, he said with slight trepidation, "Is it Torah?"

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

In the scary part of unschooling

So how many days has it been since I decided to wait for Chana to ask me to learn?  9 days.  I asked her to read a chapter in a book with me and that reminded her that we are in the middle of the Stranger, so we have been reading some of that.  But no biology.  No navi.

Without spending that hour+ a day with her, I feel like I barely speak to my teen.  She spends most of the day in her room, except when she's out.

Instead of trying to get back to schoolwork (even though I love learning Bio with her and I really, really miss it), I'm going to try to focus on connection.  When I feel the urge to ask her to learn with me, I'm going to try to channel that urge into seeking a meaningful and positive emotional interaction with her.

I feel like I'm back in the baby steps of unschooling.  Can I trust my child?  Can I trust unschooling?  Will it work?  I have to go over and over again in my mind the principle that if she chooses to do it, it will be more interesting and more meaningful; it will take shorter for her to understand it and she will remember it without much effort.  Patience.

I asked Elazar if he wanted to learn with me this morning and he said No.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Automatic Yes instead of Automatic No

Something that I began to do when I was a very new parent, almost twenty years ago, when Sarah was a toddler, was to begin questioning every "No" that was about to fall from my lips.  Sarah was inquisitive; always moving, touching, tasting, going.  Being a parent was a new experience, and I was learning on the job and seeing what I could learn about it as I was doing it.  And I found that a lot of times my gut was just to say "No, don't do that."  But then, when I thought about it, I wondered, "Why? Is that really a problem?" and it turned out it wasn't really a problem.  (Although I have always been particular that my children be makpid about other people's homes, belongings, and personal space.)  Can they climb up that?  Sure, if I spotted them to make sure to be there to catch them if they fell.  Can they taste that?  Well, I suppose so--it's disgusting but it's not poisonous or dangerous.  (In retrospect, the crumpling of the styrofoam is not something I care to repeat because the cleanup was pretty difficult.)

It became something of a habit for me to say, "No.  Oh--wait a minute.  Yeah, I don't see why not."  I would think about reasons not to and if they just made me uncomfortable but weren't actually dangerous, then I would agree.  I got more used to saying, "Well okay, but I'm worried about the mess.  Will you help me clean up afterwards?"  And most things they did weren't bad, and it gave them freedom, and they got to follow their curiosity, and they learned a lot, and things were either just fine or they discovered it was distasteful for themselves, and really, why should they trust me that something is yucky?  Let them decide for themselves.

I recently joined a radical unschooling group on facebook, which a. made me realize I'm not 100% radical unschooling and b. reminds me of a lot of very loving and kind parenting practices that unschoolers have.

So we were on the beach today, and we were fortunate to see some fishermen seining.  And we looked at all the little fish they were catching as bait.  And they were kind enough to give all the kids some fish for their buckets.  And some of the fish died.  And Jack asked if they were kosher.  And we looked for fins and scales, and there were.  And the man happened to have explained to my mother-in-law to pinch off the head and squeeze out the guts and fry it.  And Jack asked if he could take them home, and I said No.  Because even though I don't say an automatic No anymore, the time Elazar brought a dead crab home still resounds in my olfactory memory, even though he left it outside.  And then when Jack asked if he could bring them home and eat them... I said ok.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

fighting to completion

We went on a homeschool trip today.  It was a walk through a wildlife preserve, a marsh.  We had enough Jewish homeschoolers for two groups, littles and bigs (so exciting how our homeschool community is growing), and everyone got binoculars.

(As a sidenote, I am still not able to comfortably go on trips with my brood.  In the 20 minute, blissfully short drive home, my little ones managed to dump the entire garbage bag on the floor of the car.  All the carefully collected orange peels and squeezed oranges and spit out parts.  And wrappers...)

We were on the littles walk, and I'm not sure what happened exactly because I was looking at an egret, but Jack (6) suddenly started shrieking.  He had dirt on his face.  He and Aharon (5) were screaming at each other and crying and hitting each other.  There was a fight over a fruit roll up and someone was throwing dirt on or putting his finger on someone's eye or touching someone or taking something.  Lots of screaming.  They started chasing each other around, smacking each other, kicking each other, etc.

I eventually realized they were arguing over whose fruit roll it is, assured them that I had packed one for each of them as per their requests when I had asked them the night before what to pack, and that I had packed each child's food in a separate bag inside the large bag I was carrying.

Despite Jack being reassured that his food was safe, he was still upset at Aharon.  Or was it Aharon who was still upset at Jack.  They kept attacking each other.

Everybody stopped and turned to look.  I'm kind of used to this going on in the home, so I hadn't reacted or gotten involved (other than to reassure them that they both had a fruit roll up) but seeing everyone frozen around me, I realized how intensely they were fighting.

The ranger stepped in when they were writhing on the floor throwing gravel at each other.  She told them to stop throwing the gravel.  I don't know if she was concerned about the environment or she just wanted them to stop fighting.

I stepped over to her and said something like, "They just need another minute to finish fighting" or something like that.  I wasn't explaining myself well and I don't think I conveyed what I was thinking and I wasn't even sure exactly what I was sensing.

I've been thinking about it, trying to clarify my thoughts.  Why didn't I step in and what was I waiting for.

Basically, I've sensed a pattern in their fights.  Children who are more or less evenly matched or who live together and get into frequent disagreement have a sense of when the fight is over, and both parties tend to agree.

**Irony: I just got interrupted from writing a post on sibling rivalry because J came in and poured a bucket of water on A because A stole his kippah and jumped on him because J kicked him because A...  Forget it; I'm not qualified to write a post on sibling rivalry.  Well, I'm qualified to write a post on the phenomenon but not the solution.***

So what ends the fighting interaction?

They hit back and forth and finally one agrees that the other gets the final smack.  Sometimes the smaller one knows he is just going to get smacked harder.  So it goes like this: he smacks..then his brother smacks him slightly harder...then he feels upset so he smacks again to even it out...but his brother smacks him slightly he realizes this is just going to keep happening and he backs off.

Or Sometimes one knows he's been a bit of a jerk and agrees that the other one deserves to get in a final smack.  That's the best way for it to end, because they both feel that justice has been served.

If they don't feel complete, then you end up with the anger or hurt or frustration still simmering, and it bubbles up again, and comes up again.

That's why when they were chasing each other around, I wanted to give them a chance to work out their conflict physically.  I know that it's popular to learn to use your words.  But I've just seen that it is waaaaay more efficient for them to fight it out.  It's quicker, it addresses the feelings in a thorough and complete manner, and it resolves.

I wonder, in fact, if the bucket incident is a result of this unresolved conflict simmering between them since they couldn't fight it out completely at the wildlife refuge.  And me stepping in to stop it because I don't want water spilled all over my house also frustrated it.  If it doesn't work itself out at bedtime, I suppose there is always tomorrow.

I do find, though, overall, it is best to allow them to "fight to completion."  When I get involved, I tend to over-complicate things, I miss facts, I'm unfair, and I often exacerbate the conflict.  When they fight it out, it usually takes a few minutes, they always only use just enough force to make their point, and one or both of them back off in a way that they both agree to.  I'll try to observe more about at what point they break off fighting.  I'm sure I'll get some opportunities if they are in a conflict-ful phase.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Postscript to Unschooling: Putting my money where my mouth is

I meant to include this in the unschooling post.  I often feel somewhat bad that I don't read to my boys very much.  Reading To Your Children and Family Dinners are two areas where I don't get to nod satisfyingly as I read all the articles touting them since I'm Doing The Right Thing.

We've gotten into a terrible habit at bedtime which is that the boys like to watch TV before bed.  The reason this is terrible is because time before bed is a great time for intimate conversation, feelings that we've been avoiding all day coming up, answering questions about how things work and life philosophy, and reconnecting.  All of which is neatly avoided by watching Rabbids Invasion or Bloons TD fighting M.O.A.Bs.
The reason this habit came about is because I was thoroughly overwhelmed at bedtime for many years, was out of patience and energy, and was negotiating with my husband to the point where we would play chicken as to who would fold first and not be able to stand it and put the kids to bed (which often missed the window and headed into overtired) and eventually evolved into an extremely rigid schedule based on our evening activities, and eventually morphed away from that as the kids' bedtimes shifted around.

The point being that sometimes I have the energy to follow through on all the things that I feel are "important for their development" and sometimes I feel like I'm negotiating with myself for sanity and I have to make extreme choices about what to drop (read Greg McKeown's book Essentialism for more about that).  And philosophically I shift between "this is a pleasant life" and "relax, everything is fine" and "you need to be on top of those things."  It's a continuum and I feel different degrees of joy, comfort, and anxiety at different times.

So on Friday night I decided, Hey, won't it be nice if I read them a book?  That will stop the maniacal fighting and boundless energy and we can read! And it will be wonderful!

I went and got Caddie Woodlawn, which I adored as a child.  And The Secret Garden.  Elazar, age 9, adhd, was willing to listen.  Jack, age 6, and Aharon, age 5, were a disaster.  They were fighting and giggling in that "we want attention and won't let you read" way.  So I ended up giving warnings and then disciplining and this is pretty much exactly what I don't like to do.  I think I realize now why I avoid this.

I did stop the Secret Garden and switch to Pippi Longstocking.  Aharon was not allowed to sit on near us, so of course he desperately wanted to, and tried to sneak quietly next to us, which was okay with me but not okay with my law-abiding 6yo... But Pippi was a better choice.  Ironically, our lives are a bit closer to Pippi's because we are unschoolers.  Elazar was riveted.

So I have one kid that will love reading.  And one kid that might be able to tolerate it, but the third is wreaking havoc in reading time.  How do parents get their little ones to sit during reading?  I feel sure I've heard of this phenomenon.

I asked Elazar last night if he wanted me to read more to him, and he did.  He fell over laughing when the children asked Pippi who tells her to go to bed and said she tells herself once nicely, and if she doesn't listen, she tells herself much more strictly, and if she still doesn't listen, she's in for a spanking.

Unschooling: Putting my money where my mouth is

When Chana went away in August, she left me dangling in the middle of Camus' The Stranger, Bram Stoker's Dracula, and in the middle of Biology and Physics.  I have really missed learning with her every day.  I miss banging my head against biology.  (Physics is not going as well as I'd like and I think I need to search for a better book.)

So Chana has been back for almost a week.  I spent the first bunch of days dealing with scheduling her year next year, arranging appointments and transportation and lessons.

She has not asked to resume our daily work.  And I really want to.  I'm curious about the cell and about what happens next in the books we are reading.  I miss learning with her.  I'd love to read the next perek in Shmuel with her.

But Chana is not showing any inclination to pick up her learning time with me.  She would probably be amenable enough and schedule it in if I ask her to.

I'm thinking about the gains.  What is the benefit of asking her to start learning with me?  What is the benefit of waiting until she asks me to learn with her?

If I ask her to learn with me, we learn more information.  We cover more ground.

If I wait until she wants to learn, she desires it.  She feels the want.  She is motivated.  She is pushing me instead of the other way around.

So it seems like the more long term gain to wait.

Sometimes waiting when I feel anxiety kind of backfires on me... I've been known to hold my tongue and then the feelings are still there and when I do express my feelings it ends up not being straightforward and informative, but angry and intense.

But in theory, I will wait.  I'll keep you posted...

High School Judaic Studies plans for this year

I cannot believe how the air turned crisp as soon as September 1st happened.  Chana is back from her August travels.  I start teaching out of the house tomorrow, one class.  I'm working out babysitting trades with my homeschooling neighbor so I can go to work because I told Chana to choose one class in the school I work at, and she chose two.  She chose Mishlei, which students in the school usually describe with hyperbolic enthusiasm.  However, since that class is only given for 11th graders (and she is in 10th--yet another shout out to the incredibly flexible principal I work with), Chana decided she would like to hang out with some of the students she met last year, and she decided to come to my Chumash class.  These are the girls she was in Chumash with last year.  She dropped out of Chumash in January.

The whole last year I wasn't sure if I was making the wrong or right decision by insisting that she go to class.  She complained about it a lot and felt that the girls were not really her speed.  This is true.  But also true is that she's a slow warmer upper and maybe she would make some relationships.  What was definite is that the girls in the school were very receptive and friendly to her, liked her, and were willing to embrace her.  I figured even if she doesn't click with any of them, it's not like it's an emotionally horrifying experience to be around people who like you.

I think a lot of people feel like socialization is a problem to worry about  if you decide to homeschool.  We have certainly been asked "What about socialization" in many different ways and it comes up in most conversations when people discover that we homeschool.
But I also know many, many parents whose children are in school who have deep and painful socialization woes with their children.  There is loneliness and conflict and socialization in school isn't all sunshine and happiness.  And in my experience with my own children, my first daughter was lonely in homeschool when one friend moved away and another friend matriculated and then she decided to go to school.  But it took her almost TWO YEARS in school before she made friends.  And she was a very social child who was eager to make friends.  My second daughter is seeking a very specific type of person and type of intimacy which is also not so easy to find, even in school.

Anyway, she's not joining my class for the Torah (I can easily teach it to her at home and in a fraction of the time) and I have no doubt she'll dump it in five seconds if my class bores her too much.  But it does confirm that nudging her into attending last year was not terrible.  We'll see how it plays out.  Right now she is thinking about skipping my class once a week so she'll mentally have one day with nothing scheduled.  I'm not thrilled about that but in terms of conflict-fatigue with my teenager, this is not something I'm up for making an issue about.

Chana was ambivalent about not taking TSBP again.  She really liked the teacher.  She really liked the subject (and that is exciting to me, since one of my goals for Chana was that she should gain an appreciation of torah sheba'al peh).  She enjoyed the chevrusa part and expressed that she will really miss that.  But ultimately, she decided against it because she found it pretty excruciating that after the first 10 minutes of presenting the material (which she found highly interesting and stimulating), a great deal of class time was used explaining material she already understood.

I hear that is a problem that homeschooled students encounter.  They are "selfish" in their learning in the sense that they haven't really learned to adjust the pace to group learning or to other people.

I am a little disappointed that Chana won't have TSBP this year, but I'm hopeful she'll take it next year (even though the "ONE YEAR AT A TIME" mantra of the homeschooler echoes resoundingly in my ears).

This summer we were in the middle of the Rambam's introduction to the Talmud (which she wasn't crazy about) and we finished Shmuel I.  I hope she'll be inclined to continue learning Shmuel II with me.  We also were going through some of the bein adam l'chavero mitzvos from the TSBP booklets I have from high school.  It turned out I need to prepare beforehand and Chana was finding those a bit boring.

And now the next post about Chana's 10th grade secular studies:

Sunday, August 28, 2016

chinuch suggestions for boys from an educator

I read this with interest.  Since I'm unschooling the boys, I imagine we will be doing all of this a lot later than his suggestions, but for people who are doing traditional homeschool chinuch (hahahahaha whatever that means) and have only the education you received as a child, or if perhaps you didn't have a day school education and you aren't really sure where to start, or if you have some ideas and you'd like to read some more ideas, Rabbi Pesach Sommer wrote some very specific suggestions in his blog post The Chinuch Our Boys Deserve- Creating a better Torah curriculum for boy's yeshivas

Friday, August 19, 2016

Still summer

It's been a while since I posted.  Chana went away for August and I'm left dangling in the middle of Camus and physics.  Aharon has been in daycamp and is lapping up the Rebbe and his puppet antics and his singing (except for mild anxiety that every time he eats without making a bracha that he is "stealing" from Hashem).  This is the first time in his life that he's been with a peer group for a prolonged period of time.  At home (I might have blogged about my dissatisfaction about this), two years ago, he was the youngest of the band of boys, always last, always miserable.  I would have sent him to preschool but he was a biter, hitter, tantrummer, and I just didn't feel that they would handle all that in the way I would have liked.  Then last year, the girls in the family of our homeschooling neighbors grew up enough to be good playmates for him (he generally plays less aggressively with girls) and he had a pretty happy year.  But this year he got to have his band of boys and it was lovely.  I would send him to kindergarten if not for the $9000 price tag.

I would say none of the boys did much academically.  This past week Elazar enthusiastically decided to write a story.  I helped him with punctuation and spelling.

He asked me yesterday for Scribblenauts Unlimited.  After he attempted to download for free and infected the desktop with no fewer than five viruses, I found out that for twenty dollars there is a desktop version available to purchase.  Sadly the ones in his current price range (he has $13 and change) are only for the WiiU which he has not been able to save up money to get.

I suggested that we spend two weeks learning and I would pay the remainder of the money.  He was enthusiastic about the idea but not thrilled about learning.  As always, I continue to be pulled in two directions.  The unschooling philsophy of patience and trust and the idea that when it is meaningful or useful or interesting, they will learn it.  And the idea that items have to be earned.

I don't think the idea of earning what you want is anti-unschooling; probably the opposite.  But using learning as a way to earn--using the "lo lishma" interferes in the lishma aspect and definitely creates some negative feelings towards learning.    Yet I persist.  Either because of fear that he won't learn otherwise, or the thought that if I just keep presenting it to him some of it might click, or the Rambam and Pirkei Avos's idea (which is not unschooling philosophy) that you tell the children to learn for what they value, until they value Torah.

What to learn with him?  I suggested hilchos Shabbos, which we learned a while back and I have happy memories of.  From his frown, we clearly had abandoned that pursuit a bit too late for him.

"That was boring," he said.

"You are two years older now," I answered.  "Maybe you'll like it."  He disagreed.

I went back to the halacha yomit that I had received in my inbox for a while.  There were fewer halachos than I thought there would be.  But still plenty to learn.  I did the first one with him.  It was under five minutes, during which he stood, picked up something plastic to play with, attached it to his face, and stepped up and down repeatedly on my chair.  But he was also thinking pretty carefully about the halacha we were learning (which is about kavana during Shema) and it was meaningful to him.

I've been thinking for months that I'd like to get back to learning a teeny bit with him every day.  But I hadn't gotten to it.  This was great.  I often feel like I love learning with my children way more than they love learning with me.  It is a joy and a privilege.

And on a final note, I was trying to daven out loud in the mornings this summer since I'm home.  I have also been trying (with mixed success) to remember to say brachos out loud.  I kind of ran out of steam to sit there davening out loud as the boys play on their tablets.  But perhaps when the school year starts I will ask them to turn down sound during tefila and maybe join me in some songs.  We'll see.  I have a different schedule this year so I won't be running out most mornings anymore.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

summer plans

It's been about a month since I posted.  Summer plans have gelled: Elazar is in half-day camp (skipping morning learning) at the camp two blocks away from us.  He can cross both streets himself and get himself to and from camp.  Very exciting for both of us.  Aharon tried out a week in the same camp (full day) and opted to go full time for the whole summer.  This is a big treat for me because he is still somewhat screamy and it has been very quiet and peaceful for me at home.  Jack spends most of his day with our homeschooling neighbors.  All of their upper boys are in camp (walking Aharon back and forth) and their girls, Jack's age and one younger, are in Mommy camp with Jack welcome to join and go on trips.  The house is much neater and I'm not spending all day feeding everyone.

I'm spending all day prepping madly for teaching my new class next year (I teach one class a day at a local girls' high school).  This year it is Vayikra AND Bamidbar in one year.  It's an honors class so I figure I'll be teaching about 4x the material that I've taught the last 3 years.  I have to figure out educational goals, content, presentation, assessment, and testing.  I'm putting in about 6 hours a day in prep.

Chana finished chapter 7 in the AP Bio book and we took a break for simple physics.  We are also reading the Rambam's intro to the Talmud.  She is not enjoying the torah shebaal peh so much from my high school sourcebooks (we are in kibud av v'em--maybe that's it ;-P).  Probably because I am not so well prepared  prepared at all and stumble through the sources instead of knowing exactly what to teach and teaching it dynamically.  We are taking a break to power through the end of Shmuel aleph which we've been desultorily reading through for years.  Here is a classic unschooling tale-- I think we've been doing it for about 5 years.  We barely do it, only when she asks, but she has an extremely positive association with it.  I hope we don't ruin that by doing a full perek every day until August.  She wants a smartphone (until now she's been using Ari's old phone which is cumbersome) and I asked her what siyum would she like it to celebrate, and she said Shmuel.  We don't have time for Shmuel aleph and bet before she goes away to camp.  Chana is also reading Camus' the Stranger to me and I'm enjoying it a lot more than I did in high school.

Chana has not been doing her geometry.  I asked her if she was doing it and she told me flat out that if she's being unschooled then she can take a break if she wants.  I personally am fretting a bit regarding the SAT/ACT because I feel like she needs time to learn the test in addition to learning the material.  But the ball is in her court.  Worst case, she can take classes in community college and transfer.  She did fine in her end of the year test.  We did the untimed CAT since she does better with untimed tests.  I didn't realize it was a much longer test.  But she got through it, even though it took weeks, and I finally sent the paperwork out last week (I chose "on or around June 30th" for it to be due).

Jack (6) pulled me over the other day to do some R' Winder workbook and to read 100 Easy Lessons.  He had stopped a while back, saying he could read well enough and he didn't want to do the book anymore.  He opened to lesson 78 where the bookmark is, and zipped through it.  So it seems he was right.  Yesterday I heard him reading the nekudos on a sheet from Aharon's camp that I put on the fridge last week.

Elazar just asked me how to spell papyrus and was quite surprised by the "y."

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

erev shavuos learning

Normally, I'm a big proponent of: NEVER, ever, ever try to teach on erev yontif.

Erev Yontif can be stressful.  There is a time crunch.  There is a lot to do.  There are huge meals, fancy meals, possibly company.  The kids in theory should be bathed ;-).  house straightened etc etc etc.  No good ever comes from feeling that you want to get that math lesson done or those couple of pesukim covered.  I sit down tense, the kids sense my mood, and it all spirals downhill from there.  Just let school go and be pleasant.

And yet I found I really wanted to carve out a half hour of my day erev Shavuos to learn some Torah with Chana.  My cooking was under control (since I was planning to do half the cooking on the chag) and it's a looooooong day.

There were a couple of things I wanted to do with her that I felt were Shavuos themed.  One was a blog post by Kol ha'Seridim which translated the Rambam's understanding of the twofold objective of Torah.  To help human beings understand truth, and for human beings to be in society/physical situation where they have the ability and peace of mind to seek truth.

We read through it and I think Chana liked it and could relate to those two things being ideal goals for mankind and to see how Torah attempts to do that.

The second thing I wanted to do with Chana was some sources on a source sheet that I got over email.  It was for a shiur that I couldn't attend because Chana and I were at a concert on palindromes and music.  It was Yirmiyahu 23:29

הֲל֨וֹא כֹ֧ה דְבָרִ֛י כָּאֵ֖שׁ נְאֻם־יְקֹוָ֑ק וּכְפַטִּ֖ישׁ יְפֹ֥צֵֽץ סָֽלַע:

that the words of Hashem are like a fire and like a hammer that splits a boulder. And the gemara Sanhedrin 34a that explains this pasuk as one pasuk having many ideas.  And the pasuk from Tehilim

אחת דבר אלהים שתים זו שמעתי

meaning that we hear one pasuk but it means many.

I've brought up many times that there is a lot of vagueness in pesukim and that words, phrases, and pesukim can have layers of meaning, more than one meaning, opposite meanings.  And that the vagueness leaves room for many interpretations.  I think it was nice for her to see that Chazal explicitly say this.  That it is part of our official Torah she'baal peh that things have more than one meaning, which leads to the richness and infinite depth and possibility in Torah.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

erev erev shavuos

I made menus, but have I cooked for the 3 day yontif?  I have not.  Shopping isn't complete, either.  Tomorrow is a loooong Friday and I will be cooking on the chag.  I have to choose between being tense pre-chag but having things done beforehand, or not having so much to do pre-chag but then cooking a lot on the chag.  Different years I make different choices.  Pros and cons to both.

So today I was out all day.  Proctoring, teacher's meeting (I know I'm a homeschooler but I teach one chumash class a day at the local girls' high school and today it took up all day).  Then I came home and the shoes I had ordered for Aharon were too small so I took him to buy more shoes.  Luckily both Sarah and Chana were around all day so I had childcare.

My plan was to work with Chana at 7pm.  Chana came down at about 7:10, and then things were happening, and we started at 7:25.  Aharon is supposed to start bedtime routine at 7:30 because every night for the last month he's been crying himself to sleep and bedtime consists of him completely losing his shiz.  But tonight I'm trying to get in Bio, TSBP (Rambam on lashon hara but we moved into the next batch of interpersonal halachos in the perek), and I recently picked up Rambam's intro to the Talmud which is a short blue book with his understanding of a lot of parts of torah she baal peh so I figured let's see if Chana finds it interesting and we've only read about 4 pages but so far so good.  And I wanted to do Animal Farm.

In the middle of this, it turns out that my darling husband fed himself dinner and went to shiur, which is great.  But he ate the pasta Elazar asked for and then there wasn't any.  My sister, who is visiting for Shavuos, was kind enough to make him dinner.  And I was in the middle of making chicken and rice for Chana and Jack.

So I'm trying to make dinner, trying to teach Chana, trying to put Aharon to bed, would love to get started on Shavuos cooking but folks, that just ain't happening tonight.  I got through some of Chana's work.  I got through dinner and Jack dropped his chicken on the table, the chair, and the floor.  I told him to clean it up and went to put Aharon to bed.

Bedtime went well.  Aharon (5) asked to read The Carrot Seed because he can read it himself.  He also asked to do aleph beis.  He hasn't made huge progress.  He knows about 6 of the letters.  But it was nice sitting with him.  Then when I said it's time for bed, the screaming began and he cried himself to sleep.

I'd still like to read Animal Farm with Chana.  I'd like to clean up the table.  Forget cooking.  Oh, and I forgot to eat dinner.  And the only reason I didn't lose my cool this evening is because my sister rescued me.