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: