Sunday, January 31, 2016

SO FORTUNATE to be homeschooling in the era of google and the internet

In the last hour, 4 things came up that I didn't understand, know, or wanted to demonstrate, and I didn't even have to move.  I just typed a few keys and it made teaching so easy.

1. Mount Paran bible
In V'Zos Habracha, I didn't know where exactly Har Paran was or its significance.
The first hit was a little map with the explanation that it is traditionally where Ishmael settled.  It helped us understand the pasuk.

2. retina images
I wanted to show Chana where the retina is exactly when the Bio book was talking about a chemical reaction that happens when light hits the retina.  In a few seconds we had a diagram of the eye so she could see exactly where light enters the eye and hits the retina.

3.  skeet shooting images
In Catch-22 it mentions skeet shooting and I wasn't sure exactly what it is.

4. what does colors of the day mean in the army
Also from Catch-22.

Would you believe we once would have had to look things up in an encyclopedia, which may or may not have had the information.  Or go to the library.  Or just move on, and lose the opportunity.  As much as instant gratification is looked down on, and as much as it is important to learn to delay gratification, I must delight in the sheer joy of having access to all sorts of information at my whim and fingertips, and how wonderful it is when we are learning.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

how is homeschool chumash coming along?

Our Limudei Kodesh in High School homeschool is not progressing very much.  First of all, we are still on the elementary school curriculum, because we haven't finished Devarim yet.  We are almost done with Ha'azinu.  And we still have the last parsha.  And we haven't been doing much Rashi.

Chana is taking Chumash and Torah Sheba'al Peh at the High School I work at.

And this week we decided on the first area of study that we will do after we finish Devarim.  She was asking me about Moshiach and does the Torah talk about it.  I said definitely the Navi talks about it.  She seemed interested so I asked if she wanted me to put together a sampling of the different nevi'im and what they say about Moshiach.  Offhand I vaguely remember Yechezkel, Yishayahu, probably Micha, Malachi all talk about Moshiach.  She was interested.

So this is actually something that is going to take preparation on my part.  Not my usual "okay let's open up the book and I'll google whatever we get stuck on."

So I'm off to go hunting and compiling a lesson plan for text-based Moshiach information.

How will I go about this?  The Rambam quotes Chazal and maybe pesukim.  I'll take a look at that.  And I'm literally going to hunt through the Stone Nach in the above books (and others) and read the little side notes 'til I encounter the ones about Moshiach.  Then I'll decide which ones are most salient/likely to be interesting to Chana.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Book Review: The Explosive Child

The book The Explosive Child by Ross Greene was recently recommended to me.  It is, according to its subtitle, a new approach for understanding and parenting easily frustrated, chronically inflexible children.

At first glance, I didn't really feel like I especially needed this book.  My 8yo who has ADHD does tend to be very tunnel vision (if you want to call that inflexible) when he gets an Idea.  And my 4yo does explode in temper numerous times a day, but I have noticed that when I respond gently to his explosions, he calms down fairly quickly, once he realizes his concerns and needs will be met.  Homeschooling allows us the flexibility and time to work with frustration and inflexibility, so I didn't think it would be so relevant.

Boy am I glad I read this book.

I love a book that tells me a truth that resonates deep in my heart.  That when I read it, my soul whispers yes, that is true.  That clarifies something I suspected or vaguely felt, but now that I read it, I can see absolutely that I didn't really understand that truth before, and now I see the world differently, and a little bit more accurately.

The Explosive Child did that for me.

It starts with the premise that the classic way of approaching discipline: conditioning.  Where you reward the behavior you want to see, or punish behavior you want to stop.  Personally, I'm a pretty big fan of conditioning.  But this book talks about the cases where conditioning doesn't seem to work.  Where the threats and punishments and reward charts don't seem to be effective.*

The first huge lightning bolt is the notion that the explosions and tantrums are not actually all the time and unpredictable.  They are, in fact, highly predictable once you put some thought into it.  That, itself, is a game changer.

Then the book explains the most startling and simple concept that shifted my entire perspective.

Don't get bogged down on the disturbing behaviors.  That means the tantrums, the kicking, biting, punching, pinching, screaming, knocking over furniture, hitting, etc.  We've been misunderstanding the problem.  I thought the problem is that my child pinches and bites and shrieks when he's upset.  That is not the problem.  That is the behavior that he exhibits.

So what is the problem?

The books sends parents to a checklist on a website and gives directions to uncover what the actual problems are.  But let me list a sampling:

- has trouble with transitions
- has trouble coping with frustration
- has trouble thinking straight when angry
- has trouble verbally expressing strong feelings
- difficulty adapting to changes in plans
- difficulty managing time
- difficulty seeing consequences of actions
- difficulty seeking attention in appropriate ways

You can immediately see a huge paradigm shift.  The problem is NOT the behaviors.  The problem is whatever skills the child is lacking, and the solution is to help them navigate these issues.

The book has turned a frustrating, hopeless situation completely around.  And the solution is much more compassionate and productive than I could have imagined.

The rest of the book walks us through how to have productive conversations with our child so that we can uncover specifically which difficulties they are having with the tasks that cause the meltdowns. One of the features, brainstorming with your child, I am familiar with and have practiced from How to Talk So Kids Will Listen by Faber and Mazlish.  But the reframing of difficult behaviors so that I now see them as an indication of lagging skills is something that I think every adult who deals with children can benefit from.  I can hardly believe I didn't understand this before now.  And I'm sorry I didn't.  Because every child who has lagging skills and therefore is exhibiting "difficult" behavior deserves our compassion and our help.

* I have to admit, it did cross my mind many times with my ADHD child that normal means of discipline were practically ineffective with him.  (I used a different approach, which I can detail at another time, which I was pretty happy with.)  So it was intriguing to read about an approach that acknowledged that "normal" discipline wasn't working with some kids.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

general thoughts on chinuch

Someone (not a homeschooler) asked for my general thoughts on "best practices" to teach Torah/Judaism to your children.  My first thought is that I have no idea and the longer I am involved in chinuch, the more I realize how complex it is and how little control we have.  But after thinking about it, I realized that in the 18 or so years I've been involved in chinuch, I have developed some thoughts.  Here is my response:
  • What works for one kid doesn't necessarily work for the other. What works at one age won't necessarily work for a different age.
  • Some kids love stories. Some kids LOVE halacha. Both of those are great to run with. A good halacha yomi email can give you plenty of material with minimal prep.
  • Try to end a couple of minutes BEFORE they are bored. If you missed that, definitely end as soon as they start getting wiggly. You don't really gain much by forcing them to sit through the wiggles. You gain a ton by stopping immediately (without conveying disappointment) and saying, "We'll continue next time." They look forward to it because it's not painful.
  • The more you learn, the more things are on the tip of your tongue, and the more you'll end up discussing with them. If something makes you think of that time Yaakov Avinu did such and such, you'll share that with your child.
  • Some of the very best "learning" is having the time to listen to their thoughts and to have conversations with them about things they are thinking about.
  • I try to answer their questions in only one sentence or they lose interest.
  • At bedtime, I ask them to pick a topic, any topic, and then I try to think of a dvar torah about it. "pumpkins" "bunk beds" "curtains" etc. It's a fun challenge.
  • I try to stick to pshat with Tanach. I take the Stone Chumash and read it to myself and tell it as close to pshat as possible.
  • I try to prioritize the goal that the learning should be enjoyable over a goal of learning anything specific.
I'm editing this to add the essay that the person who asked this question directed me to.  It is by R' Aharon Lichtenstein On Raising Children.  It explores some of the basic questions of Chinuch, and some of the basic objectives.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

chazak chazak

Elazar's first siyum.  He finished reading Shema.  He has earned the privilege of playing with his tablet (that he paid for with his own money) without needing to read a line to earn an hour.

  • Elazar's reading in 3rd grade is ridiculously more fluent and came faster than then "normal" teaching I have done numerous times with new Hebrew readers in kindergarten and first grade.
  • Instead if it taking months and months of patient and slow incremental building, it came in bursts.  A week of working on letters.  Months go by with nothing.  A day of working on letters.  Nothing.  One hour on a Shabbos morning where he decided to learn the nekudos.  Then six months later another look.  Then six months later another.  A few minutes every week at Avos U'Banim.  
He wanted to finish up Shema this morning.  He decided to just blast through til the end.  He only had 4 lines left.  It took him just a couple of minutes to read.  He started reading Shema on December 21st and he finished on January 6th.  He could barely remember the letters when he started.  Now he isn't quite a completely fluent reader, but he is much more skilled and capable than I would have dreamed after practicing only 45 lines of reading.

Part of me wants to run with this and start him on tefila.  But I suspect that would be disastrous.  No, the thing to do is to have confidence that he will easily be able to master tefila fluency with plenty of time before his bar mitzva.  

On one hand, it would be nice if he would be "grade level" and read fluently like other 3rd graders and daven like them and learn like them.  On the other hand, school would probably be dreadful for him and he's having a grand ol' time every day, wakes up with a smile, excited and delighted to enjoy his day.  And everything indicates that he will be able to focus later on in order to accomplish his chiyuvim with ease. 

So, maybe, upon further contemplation, this way is nice.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

I keep thinking about this sentence

I read an article a couple of weeks ago, a book review about a children's book depicting homeschooling.

So many schools now are steeped in a stressful, false urgency, treating learning like it needs to be jammed down children’s throats, as though they’re ducks at a foie gras farm. 

These words keep coming back to me.  Not the duck image, vivid as it is.  But the idea that schools are steeped in a stressful, false urgency.

I see this a lot.  I've felt it.  I have worried when my children were in early elementary school and couldn't read or daven like other first and second graders.  I've seen 5th - 8th graders panic about tests and grades while my daughter sat down to do about an hour and a half of book work a day.  I've seen that the math curriculum repeats in 5th, 6th, 7th grade, when kids could be playing more and instead they are worried that they will be "behind" if they don't do it.

It feels like there is never enough time in the school day to learn all the subjects.  In Yeshiva Day Schools there are 8+ hours a day plus homework, and there is an underlying feeling of panic that there isn't enough time, we have to finish the curriculum.  In Limudei Kodesh there is more leniency, but there is still that nervous tension that we have to hurry.

Contrast it with this article that explains how child-led learning progresses.

I am not saying this to criticize schools.  I work in a school.  Every time I have contact with teachers and administrators I am struck by their passion, their commitment, their creativity, their love for education and the incredible amounts of energy and time they devote to it.

But school is a very strange system when you think about it, where we make children sit and not move and barely talk for so many hours a day and they have to concentrate on subjects and areas that they are not interested in and don't want to know about and there is an implication of terrible urgency that it is vital to their lives and would be a great tragedy with long term consequences if they don't apply themselves.  And that is, largely, false.

In this atmosphere home schooling, which once seemed like the province of a kooky fringe, looks like a potentially sane, enlightened alternative

unschooling reading

Aharon (age 4) asked me yesterday to please tell him what sounds the letters make.  It seems he's been encountering frustration trying to write or read and he realized the letters make sounds that he isn't familiar with.  He pointed to letters and I told him the sounds.  I heard him discussing it with the neighbor a couple of days later.  He's thinking about it a lot and he comes over to me and confirms a particular letter's sound or asks about a specific letter.

It's funny how they learn in dribs and drabs and spurts.  Like when Jack was 5 he learned a degree of reading that he was comfortable with and now he's been using that skill to do his activities and I see him sounding words out all the time but he won't sit down with me and read a book or move forward in the reading lessons.  I think Jack stopped actively working on reading about 5 months ago.  It annoys him to do official reading work or lessons but he is very happy reading things that come up all day long.

I feel like he is capable of making progress in reading and I probably could coax him.  Out of all my children, I figured Jack would be the most amenable to classical education and not "need" unschooling.  But I'm finding that it is more efficient and pleasant for him to do it on his own timetable and driven by internal motivation.

In regular schooling, they do little bits every day and make slow progress.  Back when I was classically homeschooling, I noticed that even then, there were weeks or months where they picked up skills intensely and weeks/months where it was like dragging them through molasses.  But we always drudged through incremental progress.

With unschooling, it's more like playing playing playing and then spurts and bursts of skills.  Then more playing (and playing with the skill) and ignoring it for months or literally years, and then renewed interest and ridiculously fast assimilation of the information or skill.