Sunday, December 31, 2017

Every day is vacation when you unschool

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This was a funny one.  Since we are unschoolers, and I've often mentioned that every day is like a Sunday or vacation day, this is our every day!  Haha.  Also no Santa.  And no early bedtime, since I've somehow lost the grip on bedtime and it's around 10:30pm these days.

We actually don't have a tremendous amount of fighting these days (As long as I don't try to leave the house with them.  Still building up to that trip to the Museum of Natural History with K and the boys that I think we might be ready for this year).  I was trying to decide if it was because we homeschool and we have lots of time together and the days are relaxed and peaceful, or because we are just lucky based on the different developmental levels that they haven't been fighting so much.  I think b.
For example, 6yo just shrieked that 10yo should stop singing.  And 10yo did.  And there was no physical eruption of violence.  Weird, right?

I note that there is no dinner on this list.  Just like my house!  I have actually been thinking that I have to set up some type of dinner plan.  What I used to do with the girls was have them tell me 5 meals they were willing to eat for dinner and then I would either have them available or actually make them.  Jack is getting hungry every night (I know, shocker--but since my other kids eat like birds or live on lebens or make their own food this is an adjustment) and asking for 2nd and 3rd dinners.  I'm wondering if it's time to move out of wacky macs and pizza bagels and over to real people food.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Roblox is a great game. & internet safely

Aharon, first grade, is playing Roblox and is manager of a pizza store.  He plays this for hours a day.  Apparently, he just wrote this sign for all his employees (who are other real people; it's a multiplayer game):

We need more cashiers and cooks
less suppliers

So in addition to spelling and written communication, he also is practicing employee management and economics.

He tells me that after he wrote this, people stopped being suppliers and staffed the jobs he needed.

I was going to end there, but after a conversation I had recently, it's a good place to discuss my approach to filters and internet rules.

We have no filters on our computers or tablets.  I (at this point in time) really appreciate access to information and value their ability to search online for all sorts of things.  I think that access to information is important.  And I hope to discuss moderation and self regulation with them as the antidote to multimedia issues.

All desktops are in the main area of the house, for easier adult awareness of what's going on.  At this age, no tablets or laptops are permitted in their rooms.  My daughters began having their devices in their rooms at around 14, which is also when they began choosing to watch content that I thought was a little too adult for them and they disagreed with me.  I don't know what will be with the boys at that age because of the pornography issue, and we will have to give some thought to an approach.

We allow unlimited screen time and if they watch something where I feel uncomfortable, we talk about it or I ask them to please turn it off (if the content has a lot of cursing or sexual talk).

Regarding Roblox or games where they can chat with other players who are not known to them in real life.  (And now we just got an xbox live account so they can game with their uncle.)  Basic internet safety:
  • don't tell your real name
  • don't tell your age
  • don't tell your location
  • don't tell your time zone (this can give them hints about your location)
  • assume that the person you are talking to might be a 35 year old man, even if they say they are a little girl or a little boy
  • if someone says something, does something, or shows you something that makes you feel uncomfortable, walk away and tell me immediately
  • don't put people on your xbox friends list (or facebook, back in the day) if you haven't met them personally (as kids get older, they do "friends of friends," but we talk about the risks that may be involved in that)

My goal is not to prevent them from being accosted or shown uncomfortable or sexual things.  My assumption is that they will come across that on the internet, and they should be comfortable and confident about what to do when it happens.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

When Strangers Quiz Your Children

I just drove a half hour with my three boys in the back seat.  They got along pretty decently, no major fighting.  Lots of arguing and tussling.  Why don't regular cars come with that limo glass panel that slides open and closed so the driver can't hear what's going on in the back!! 

Last week, I took Jack (2nd/3rd grade) to an allergy doctor.  The doctor was a frum guy, and when he saw me speaking Hebrew to Jack, he spoke to him in Hebrew, too.  Happily, it was one of those situations where my kids actually understand Hebrew--he spoke with a strong American accent. 

Upon discovering that Jack was homeschooled, he proceeded to do what so many doctors have done--he began quizzing Jack about what he learns and knows.  Jack can actually read and do math somewhat on grade level--which has not always been the case with unschooling.  He hesitated about Chumash, and actually blanked on the question "Do you know how to say elephant in Hebrew?"  (It's so much easier to translate "pil" than to be asked to produce the Hebrew word...)

I let most of it play out, keeping a pleasant smile on my face.  Afterwards, I asked Jack how he liked the doctor (he's introverted, so the major achievement here was looking the doctor in the face and answering his questions in a decibel the doctor could actually hear) and Jack commented on how the doctor asked him so many questions.

And it's true, as a homeschooler, I've found that doctors often ask my children questions.  They want to "make sure" my kids are being educated.  Or maybe they are just curious.  And, since I unschool and the younger grades are frequently spent mostly playing, my kids very often don't know the answers.  I've sat there placidly as my children didn't know Judaic bekius, simple math problems, geography, history, science, you name it--and my kids have not known the answer to it.

The only time we had slight vindication was when Chana told the pediatrician she was planning to go to Japan in the summer and he asked, somewhat satirically, how her Japanese was.  And he was absolutely floored when she said, "Well, it's mediocre; not as good as I would like, but I hope that the trip will improve it."

I used to be incredibly stressed out when my kids were being quizzed.  I worried that they didn't know the answers.  I worried homeschooling was failing.  I worried they'd feel bad about themselves for not knowing.

As I got more confident about homeschooling, I trusted that it was OK that they didn't know the answers at age 10.  I also felt that if I didn't exude stress that they don't know the answers, the kids probably wouldn't be unduly disturbed that they don't know the answers.  (And the doctors always told them the answers, so it was kind of like having a mini homeschooling tutoring session thrown in for free in addition to the doctor appointment.)

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Interesting Development

K and I are still not sure about what we will read next.  We finished The Most Dangerous Game, which she didn't love.  She wants to reread The Importance of Being Earnest, and I'm thinking maybe we should try some of his other plays.  I also thought maybe Little Women.  Is it witty?  I don't know.  We want a strong character to identify with.  And humor, if possible. 

Most interesting is that last week, K said that she was disappointed that I no longer speak Hebrew with her.  But that my vocabulary isn't so good, so what would be the point.  I said, actually, my vocabulary is not bad.  I know vastly more words than I end up using. 

I had stopped speaking Hebrew to her about a year or so ago, because the topics we were talking about were complex and our relationship had the fragility that teen-mom relationships go through, and I felt that it was a priority to communicate as optimally as possible, which meant using English.

But now, as she is very interested in languages, it turns out that she is motivated to put in the time to try to understand me as I speak in Hebrew.  She wants me to use words she doesn't know, to increase her vocabulary.  I don't have to try to work out my Hebrew so that she'll understand what I'm saying, or worry that if she gets too frustrated that she'll give up.  I can speak how I want to, and she desires to make the effort to understand. 

So now I'm back to Hebrew.  With the goal of speaking as quickly and sophisticatedly as I can (and with the accent).  So we are all upping our Hebrew game.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

an unschooling quote

Parenting a teen in addition to the boys now that they've gotten over the tantrumy, crying, messy, screaming years gives me a hearty appreciation for the quiet peaceful life.  But I just read this quote and it's nice:

Sandra Dodd has a quote “Unschooling should and can be bigger and better than school. If it's smaller and quieter than school, the mom should do more to make life sparkly.” 

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Lazy Sundays and the Baby/Toddler Years

I once spoke about unschooling and said that our every day is like Sunday.  Meaning that relaxed day of the week where you wake up and have no responsibilities and obligations and can relax, take your time, and do whatever you want.

Today IS actually Sunday.  I woke up early and read in bed for an hour.  Aharon (6) is finally sleeping late.  He came in to say good morning and went downstairs, leaving me to lie in bed a little more.  I came downstairs and davened out loud so Aharon could hear me.  It's Rosh Chodesh, so every time I saying "beis Aharon" I paused and pointed to him and he filled in "Aharon" to give him a little thrill that davening has his name.  Just as I finished singing, Elazar came in from a sleepover.  He davened (Ari's been working on him reading the first line of birchas hatorah, baruch she'amar, ashrei, shema, and shemona esrei) and then had breakfast and went to another playdate.  During breakfast he asked me why he has a hard time realizing when he's hungry.

Jack found a k'nex set and is sitting with the neighbors doing it.  Aharon is watching.

I watched a chemistry video song parody and noted which parts K and I have learned together and which parts she doesn't know yet.  I sent it to her to enjoy.  We'll probably go on a long walk later.  Maybe we'll try to time it with sunset.  We finished Pride and Prejudice and watched the BBC miniseries, and we are planning to watch the movie, the 1940s movie, and PPZ (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which I hear is surprisingly decent).  We have to pick something new to read.  I have The Most Dangerous Game and Lord of the Flies.  I'm also thinking about Mila 18.  But it would be nice to find something funny.  She wants to reread The Importance of Being Earnest.  I already know that her personality is that she likes to go deeply into things rather than study many things. 

Then I looked up Wales because K and I were looking at the map yesterday and couldn't find where in England it was.

A homeschool friend of mine expressed this week that she is putting her preschooler into preschool and she feels like a failure.  Aside from the fact that I know homeschoolers who davka put their preschoolers in school so that they could teach the older kids.  And aside from the fact that there is nothing wrong with doing things for your sanity or for the benefit of the family as a whole.  And there is nothing wrong with having some kids in school and some kids homeschooled.  (Or putting your kids back in school, if that's what you decide for your family.)  I realized that I never really was in that situation.  I had very large spaces between my two older ones.  So I was usually only teaching one older child when there was a baby/toddler.  And the boys are kind of growing up close together so there are no babies/toddlers now.  I remember when homeschooling was a blur of trying to teach one older child while having a baby and two toddlers.  But one older child doesn't take that much time to teach.

Homeschooling with no babies and toddlers is a really different time of life.  I have a full night's sleep (except when my worry about my teenager gives me insomnia).  My house isn't as messy.  Things are more relaxed.  A friend of mine, a veteran homeschooler with six children, told me that every year a baby is born is a lost year homeschooling.  And I tried to remember that piece of wisdom as I lost years.  I lost months to nausea, months to tiredness, months to doctors and medical situations, and months to being not optimally functional.  And I worried, how will my children learn if I am always too busy or tired or overwhelmed to teach them?  It was a constant, in-the-background kind of worry for those years.  Unschooling did alleviate a lot of that for me because the focus is more about spending time and being mentally present with your children and less about "teaching" them.  I suppose eventually the kids grow up or you have enough older kids to form some sort of rotation of childcare while you teach.  Every family juggles it differently, but there is no question it is a juggle.

Have I mentioned that the kids are really enjoying the multiplication chart on the fridge?

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

On Agenda vs Agenda-less Strewing

One of the very nice things about unschooling is that I'm no longer trying to get anyone to learn anything.  Any parent, but perhaps especially a homeschooling parent, feels a constant underlying stress of being responsible for how their children "turn out." 

So a lot of interactions that could just be nice interactions where we enjoy each other's company end up being colored by a sense of "let me use this opportunity to teach xyz" or "to explain abc" and then there is an agenda. 

Schools and educational philosophies have agendas.  When I took an education course, it was full of educational goals and "the learner will..."  And knowing our goals gives us the most chance of achieving them.  I have advocated and still believe in taking a lot of time to think about what your goals are with regard to your children so that you can prioritize your time, energy, and educational efforts effectively. 

But I admit it is mentally exhausting to be agenda driven when interacting with my children, and ironically, it's usually the times when I have no goals at all other than being fully present and spending time with my child that things go best.  That is one of the points that unschooling makes (called "deschooling").  Quote: "Look directly at your child. Practice watching your child without expectations. Try to see what he is really doing, rather than seeing what he’s NOT doing. If you hold the template of “learning” up and squint through that, it will be harder for you to see clearly. Just look."

Strewing. When I first started unschooling, I read about this thing called "strewing" which means that you place educational objects around and the kids end up picking them up.  I thought this was brilliant, because the kids learn when they want to.  And strewing is a big part of unschooling. 
But.  It also can be agenda driven.  And if I'm trying to relax and see what my child is interested in and not be subtly trying to direct his energy into "productive" and "educational" places, then strewing has the potential to mess with that vibe.  So I did put up maps when they were requested and the Periodic Table when requested.  And I put up body systems because I love that stuff.  And the names of the Parshios.  And a Jewish History timeline that keeps falling down for some reason.

Recently I bought a multiplication chart poster
because I felt the boys were interested in multiplication and their brains were kind of yearning for it.  (Although I deeply, deeply believe in rote memorization of multiplication, it is not going along with unschooling and I think they are going to end up with their calculators.)  I do find the kids clustered around, studying it.  They call me over and ask me questions.  They notice patterns. 

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Sometimes it's nice to acquire more tools for the toolbox

So you think you settle on an approach, and then kids change, or what worked for one kid isn't working for the next, or you change, or you understanding things differently.

Lord knows I moan about being conflicted about unschooling vs teaching until even I am sick of hearing myself.

I want to talk about sibling rivalry for a bit.  When my kids were 5 or 6 years apart, there wasn't that much sibling rivalry.  When my kids were 2.5 yr and 17 months apart, sibling rivalry became part of my daily existence.  I've waxed eloquent about the bullies2buddies methods and how useful they are.  He gives actual scripts to use, which have been very helpful.  I've even written to him with questions and he has helpfully written back.  I stand by this method and I really love it.  I combine it with playful parenting, which means that I try to take aggression as a cue that they need active and playful wrestling/roughhouse type attention.

I have found this to be more robust and more fun and efficient than what I used to do in my twenties, which was to sit the kids down and have them make eye contact and share their feelings and take turns speaking and make sure they both have a chance to talk and feel they are being heard and brainstorm for solutions. (It even is exhausting to type that up.)

And then.  

I'm in a radical unschooling group.  You think I'm crazy? :-D I don't qualify as a radical unschooler.  These people are fully committed to unschooling not just academically, but as a way of interacting with their children in every way.  This affects bedtime, meals, discipline, and all sorts of areas.  Some of the underlying principles are abundant generosity and respecting your child as a human being.

So I'm reading with interest, and they start talking about sibling rivalry.  Here is a link (with further links on the bottom of that page).  What sparked my interest is how many of them expressed that leaving the kids to deal with things on their own was not something they would do.  A lot of unschooling (contrary to popular assumption) has pretty hands-on parental involvement, having the parent there coaching, helping, empathizing.

Since this is exactly not what bullies2buddies advocates, and since I am apparently exceedingly defensive and a glutton for punishment, I kept reading.

The truth is, even using bullies2buddies I do keep a fairly close eye (looking for these factors).  But I have heard many people speak about how they felt that they were brutalized by unequal sibling situations (my own sister included, with me being the manipulative and obnoxious older sister), so I wanted to see what advice there was.

What I got from it (though it generally astounds me how much I don't grasp in the first few readings of things) is, like the other radical unschooling principles, to approach their conflicts with a genuine desire to hear both children's needs and a strong desire to help them get their needs.

Obviously, in a sibling rivalry situation, two sets of needs are in conflict.

And I still use bullies2buddies in the sense that I don't go to them or stop them while they are fighting.  I'm usually sitting in the same room or close by, and they know they can come to me.  I still use a lot of the same scripts from bullies2buddies.

But now there is an added component.  I really try to understand what is deeply upsetting to each child (as opposed to in the past, where I was mainly focused on finding solutions.  Yes, I empathized, but I never get really worked up about lego like they do).  I hope this attempt to understand naturally gives them the sense that their needs are valued by the family.  I think it gives a different tone to the arguments.  There is a sense of "both of your emotional/practical needs are important.  What can we do?"

This played out a bit yesterday when (naturally, just about 10 minutes before I had to get ready to go to work), Jack came in screaming that he had a lego set that he couldn't build last year, but THIS year he can, but Elazar made a fidget spinner with an important piece.

Basic bullies2buddies script, I didn't get involved, I agreed with Jack that he has rights over that piece.  Jack left.

In comes Elazar, blazing in fury that Jack just took his fidget spinner and broke it.  No warning, no discussion, just grabbed and broke.
Well.  I agree with Elazar that this, too, is unfair and upsetting.

Looking at this in the framework of the radical unschooling, I perceived that both of them make perfect sense.  Both of them have claims.  Our goal is a peaceful, happy home for all members of the family.

Perhaps this is obvious.  It was not obvious to me.  It was not clear to me to view conflicts or sibling rivalry in the framework of a goal of having a peaceful, happy home for all members of the family.

As I said before, obviously not all members of the family can be peaceful and happy at all times.  By definition, if there is more than one person, then there will be conflicts.

But I don't know that it was ever so clear to me to enter conflicts with the idea that each person's peace and happiness is a priority to us.  So if there is a way to work it out and that increases your peace and happiness, that's what we are trying for.

When that is the goal, peace and happiness becomes an abundance mindset, not a scarcity mindset.  Everyone becomes more generous because there is a security that the family goal is as much peace and happiness for every individual as we can work out.

So Elazar agreed that Jack had the rights to take the piece back.  He objected to the manner in which it was done.  I asked Jack to look at Elazar and for Elazar to say how he feels while looking at Jack.  Because Jack knew that his claim of the piece was protected, he was able to look at Elazar and hear his pain and see the effect it had on Elazar that he took the piece so abruptly and without discussion.

Part of the abundance mentality is that Jack readily agreed to rebuild Elazar's fidget spinner.  And to even improve on it so that it worked.

A follow up blow-up occurred when Elazar was not satisfied with how Jack fixed it.  (I even overheard Elazar say to Jack, "Should we work this out later?" because they were in the middle of cleaning up the neighbor's playroom when this argument went on.)

Again, the goal of peace and happiness for everyone is such that Jack agreed to keep trying until he found something that satisfied Elazar.  But it was also agreed by everyone that the original piece--belonging to Jack--was not an option and if that was the only piece that would satisfy Elazar, Elazar would have to compromise.  Jack did try and Elazar did graciously accept a lesser vision of his fidget spinner (albeit one that functioned better).

Monday, September 25, 2017

Al Pi Darka

First a small update: Ari decided that he is going to focus on reading with the boys every day.  He's been reading a page in the Aleph Bina with them every day, and they've all been happily reading.  Elazar is still having trouble sitting for learning (even though he enjoys the Friday night Mishna very much), so Ari felt that getting him fluent in reading will be key to increased participation in brachos, tefila, etc.

Next up, Yom Kippur.  K was away for the three day yontif of Rosh Hashana, and on one of our beach walks leading up to the chag, we discussed themes of Rosh Hashana and how she was feeling about it.  It was uncanny how much she remembered from previous years.  All those years I fretted that I wasn't teaching her enough, and it turns out she has an incredible grasp of the basic and deeper ideas of the chag.

So I am trying to figure out how to make a meaningful Yom Kippur for her.  The boys are not really chinuch age for Yom Kippur just yet.  I can maybe go through some of the facts of the Yom Kippur avoda with them.  But for K, who strongly dislikes shul, we decided on one tefila.  She was indifferent as to whether it was mincha or Neila.  (I thought of Musaf, but it's very long, and as I discovered about Rosh Hashana, I don't have to push the themes so hard.)  So I will choose which tefila on the day, depending on everyone's mood and how the boys are doing.

She asked if it is allowed for her to socialize.  I said yes, but everyone will be in shul.  Although I appreciate the solemnity and awe of the day, my assessment is that taking that approach this year with this child would be counterproductive.  We will get books out of the library so that the boredom of the day will not be overly painful for her.  And she agreed to grant me one hour of learning.

I am thinking of learning the Rambam's Moreh Nevuchim with her On Evils (Friedlander pg 267) since that is something that has come up in conversation before and I hope she will find it interesting.  And if it works out, I'll turn next to Moreh Nevuchim about Iyov and his analysis of the book.  She has asked about that, too.

I'll let you know how it goes.  In my experience homeschooling, my plans and what ends up happening usually have very little in common.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

A small grief about unschooling

I was (and still am) a very serious student.  I am very focused and capable of spending hours in a row learning.  I remember a lot of my school education (despite having found it extremely stressful) and have often been glad that I know the things I was taught, both secular and Torah.

I was pretty excited at the thought of homeschooling, because I thought I would have the opportunity to learn with my children.  And in truth it is very exciting to be on hand for so many of their explorations and discoveries.  (Last week at the grocery store, they discovered a spider dangling from a web and spent a few minutes playing with it and seeing how touching the web affected the spider's movements--hands on bio and physics.)

But it has been a disappointing reality that none of my children have been that interested in studying in the "normal" academic way or the "normal" subjects.  Perhaps a large part of that is because we've had so many years of deschooling that our homeschool education looks completely different than "regular" school.  Another part of it might be that spending so much time sitting and so much time on frontal teaching/lecture and so much time studying things that the children find utterly boring is no longer part of our repertoire.  And taking the step into unschooling brought us even further.  In homeschooling, a big goal is to make learning pleasant.  But in unschooling, if the children don't want to learn it, they don't.  So while all battles about math and Chumash and history have ceased, that also means that my children aren't acquiring the usual skills and information.

I can talk myself down about that.  I know that what they are getting instead is

  • an extremely integrated sense of learning and life
  • a positive attitude towards learning and a long lasting curiosity 
  • the confidence that any time they want to learn anything in life, it's a good time to start learning it
  • the resourcefulness to look things up and ask for help in learning what they want or acquiring the skills and understanding they seek
  • a tendency towards creativity and joie de vivre
But a part of me mourns that they won't learn standard multiplication and division (unless they want to).  They won't read a good selection of the classics (though I always felt that high school was too young to understand a lot of them).  They won't have a sense of history (unless they study it).  They won't have an encyclopedic knowledge of halacha and Tanach.  Things that I consider "basic knowledge" they eschew and blithely tell me they can google.  They might end up with any of this.  But ultimately, a lot of their education is in their own hands and the particulars of what they pursue are not my decision.

I know that in removing the long and involved curriculum (that bores the bejeebers out of many students), we have made space for play, for joy, for contemplating, for deep thinking, for hands on learning, for emotional development, for pursuing interests, for delving into unusual topics, and for learning about the world in a deeply personal, enthusiastic, and individualistic way that naturally tailors itself to the student's needs and abilities.  

But sometimes I think about the "standard" curriculum: Tefila, bekius, Jewish history, a tremendous amount of time studying Chumash and Nach and Mishna and Gemara.  And history and Lit. and math and Science.  
And I wish I could teach my kids that, and feel a bit sad, and take some time to feel the ache before I move on.  

I have long felt that the only way to succeed in homeschooling without going crazy from overwhelmedness, anxiety, or guilt, is to get very clear about your priorities and your goals.  Then focus on those and let the rest go.  I've been practicing that for over a decade and a half.  And I will continue to practice.

Friday, September 8, 2017

unschooling tantrums

7:30am.  My shower is disrupted by my 6yo asking, with increasing agitation and finally a tantrum, for help spelling "piranha."

I've homeschooled "regular" and I've unschooled.  When I used to homeschool there were a lot of tantrums as I tried to get unwilling kids to do schoolwork.

Seems like this way, there are still tantrums.  But I prefer the tantrums to be because they are demanding help with their work, this second.  Rather than the other way around.

(He needed the word for  Also let it be stated that I'm not great at spelling without also seeing the word to see if it looks correct, and that from the shower I gave him the wrong spelling (pirhana instead of piranha--which I can immediately see as I type it, but couldn't tell in my head), but it was close enough for him to figure out what he needed.)

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Beginning of No School

Yesterday I finally filled out the paperwork for NYS and sent it in.  The 11th grade IHIP (individualized home instruction plan) was fairly simple--oddly, I find high school paperwork a lot easier than elementary school.  The boys all had previous year's paperwork that I could use except for 5th grade for Elazar.  I have done it 2x before with the girls, but apparently it was before things were in the cloud and so I had to make a new IHIP for him.  A tip that I use for Math and Language Arts is to google "5th grade curriculum" for the subject I want, and then copy the ones that are most likely to come up or that he already knows.
Excerpt from math:
- learn to choose, describe, and explain estimation strategies used to determine reasonableness of solutions to real-world problems.

- estimate quantities of objects to 1000 or more, justifying and explaining the reasoning for their estimates.

Examples from Language Arts:  
- Compare and contrast the varieties of English (e.g., dialects, registers) used in stories, dramas, or poems.
- Use context (e.g., cause/effect relationships and comparisons in text) as a clue to the meaning of a word or phrase.
- Use common, grade-appropriate Greek and Latin affixes and roots as clues to the meaning of a word (e.g., photograph, photosynthesis).
- Interpret figurative language, including similes and metaphors, in context.
- Recognize and explain the meaning of common idioms, adages, and proverbs.
- Use the relationship between particular words (e.g., synonyms, antonyms, homographs) to better understand each of the words.

Even though we unschool, Elazar is involved in these activities.  Mainly from youtube videos, which are pretty sophisticated and have introduced him to most of the above concepts.

Chana started college Russian.  Since she came home from Japan the day that class started and took a couple of days to recover, she only had about 3 days to do the first week's worth of work.  It was a bit overwhelming in addition to figuring out the online system but I think she got the hang of it.  She hasn't asked for any more help.  And yesterday she went to Gulliver's Gate Museum (#socialstudies) and there was Russian there and she was able to read it and look up some of it online.  So she's already happily using it.

I signed Jack up for engineering once a week and Jack and Aharon up for Science class once a week.  We also have parkour once a week.  Elazar adamantly refuses to go to science class (for the older grades there is more talking and sitting and less hands-on activity so I agree with him).  Chana started Gemara class 3x a week and has already asked me about Bahaaloscha and Dovid and Golyas in the last couple of days.  I also hope that she will continue her once a week math sessions with her friend.  The $200+ chemistry set that I bought at the beginning of the summer continues to be unopened.  I wonder if I should hire someone to do chemistry experiments once a month with her.  I'll ask her.

Aharon and I reviewed the aleph beis today and he only knows them in order.  When I pointed to them and asked him if he knew them, he doesn't know most of them.  He did not want to review nekudos and was not interested in learning more.  Aharon is somewhat unhappy socially.  This is not a new story and has been somewhat of an issue for years.  Because the boys are close in age, he doesn't have his "own" friends.  I would have sent him to preschool because of this except that he was a particularly aggressive toddler and I didn't want to send a biting and smacking preschooler to preschool.  Now that he has outgrown that, I did send him to camp this summer so that he could branch out on his own and make friends his own age.  But he wasn't happy in the second month.  And in fact, one of the boys in his bunk that he liked actually plays a lot with Elazar.  So I have to schedule separate playdates (because the boy only plays with Aharon if Elazar isn't there) and it often doesn't work out.  Elazar is extremely social and extremely proactive about making playdates.  So he often has already arranged a playdate before Aharon even thinks about playing.  So this is an ongoing issue that I am grappling with.  If I knew he would be happy, I would consider sending him to school.  But he was unhappy in camp.

I've been making some effort to daven out loud as many mornings as I can and sometimes I hear the boys humming the tunes.  

Overall, the boys are pretty proficient at English reading and doing basic math problems.  I want to learn with Elazar and start a daily seder with him but he is extremely uninclined.  As usual, I go back and forth between thinking I should just unschool and leave it all up to him.  And feeling concerned that I am not being mechanech him about how important Torah is by not doing it regularly when he is old enough.

Also, their playroom is utter chaos.  I think it's time to remove a lot of things that they aren't playing with anymore and revamp it.

That's my news.  Happy unschool!

Friday, August 11, 2017

unschooled kids don't learn what they don't want to learn

I got this great book out of the library.  Historical fiction, all three boys can read it, it explains about American History and the minutemen.  I had it in the house for weeks, all of them refused to read it and said it was boring.  I gave it to K, and she also declined.

I'm off to return it and I'm giving myself a little pep talk that when they are interested in the American Revolution, they'll learn about it.

A lot of made-to-be-educational materials don't go over that well here.  They are already out of duct tape and almost out of stuffing, though.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

starting the college options route

Since K has been reluctant to learn math in the "classic" way that math is taught, she's been learning once a week with her friend.  On the IHIP under Math I've been writing "Preparing for SAT/ACT."

I had assumed, if K wants to go to college, that she'll have either the SAT or ACT, and a certificate of completion from the NYC homeschooling office, and I would make a transcript and she would apply, possibly writing essays about alternative education theory.

My neighbor came in last night (I've often joked, when people ask about socialization, that if possible, you should recruit your neighbors to homeschool with you, so that the kids can run back and forth for playdates all day long) to tell me about all the research she did for her son (who is entering high school) to do online college at HVCC.  It's a community college and part of SUNY, and the credits are "real, live" college credits, i.e. they are transferable and 24 credits is high school equivalency.  Meaning after 24 credits, you can transfer to college.  No diploma, no SAT/ACT.  Just simple go to college.

So there is a rigamarole of forms that are pretty difficult to understand and get through. Ari and I hacked through some of them.  To get proof of residency involves traveling into Manhattan (#homeschooltrip!) to present ourselves etc etc.

After showing K the list of courses (and hoping for a science, or a math, or a history, or an English), she chose...Russian.  She would have chosen German if she could.  Or Japanese, obviously.  So this unschooler is currently spending a lot of time on Languages.  And more languages.  We'll see if we can get her registered in time to take the online course in the fall.  That will be getting her feet wet in college.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

the arts and crafts bin

Our giant A&C bin has been mostly emptied except for a bunch of cloth that someone donated to us.  I asked the boys to make a wish list:


scotch tape


staples and more staplers

light sensitive paper

giant paper


and then I finally decided to go for


and I threw in purple duct tape to hit free shipping

How 11th Grade Unschooler comes to learn Earth Science

It all started with the Office.  I looked for a clip of the scene but only found a picture:

Kiisu (going by her Japanese name these days because of her great love of Japan) was enjoying the scene but didn't understand the subtleties of this joke.  She decided she wanted to have a better grasp of clouds.  She then spent about half an hour researching clouds, how they are formed, what the different clouds mean and what conditions cause them.  She then discussed this with people online, telling them about what she learned and answering their questions, which led her to more research.

This is probably more efficient than classroom learning because it's very targeted and she will probably remember it better, since it emerged from her desire to know it.

She said to me, "I know you asked me to jot down when I do things like that, but it's pretty impossible because this happens all the time.  I don't even notice when I'm doing it."

That's because for unschoolers, learning and life are not two separate activities.  They don't try to avoid learning or have negative associations with learning because they generally don't learn what they don't want to.  The only reason I even became aware that Kiisu had studied some Earth Science topics is because we were walking on the beach and it started raining and she began pointing out all of the different types of clouds.

unlimited media

Anyone who wonders how unschooled children learn how to persevere and how to deal with disappointment has never seen my children weeping over video games #unschooling

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Cleaning the Bathroom

I had a list of things I wanted to do this summer.  I don't love "to do" lists.  Mostly they happen when I have too much to do and can't keep track of it mentally.  And I prefer my life to be so simple I can actually keep track of what needs to get done in my head.  (Except what I put on google calendar.  Obviously, I love google calendar.)

But this summer, with the kids finally getting older (Chana asked me why we haven't done homeschool trips in years, when so much of her elementary school education was done via trips, and I said, "I haven't been able to leave the house without losing my mind in the last eight years.") and me having free time, things I wanted to do kept occurring to me until I finally started keeping a list.  It is a delicious list, though.  It's a list of things *I* want to do.  Not as a mom, or a person in charge of a household.  But as a creative, intellectual human being who wants to stretch.  (Or merely as a person with some spare time.  For example: "bring broken necklace and bracelet to jewelry store to be fixed.")

One thing I didn't put on the list but did come about because of this new phase of life is that I ended up training the boys to clean the urine from around the toilet.  Their ages are 10 (adhd), 7.5 ,and 6 (mature).  Turns out it is the perfect time of life for these particular children to learn this skill.

Ages ago, before I had any sons, a friend of mine mentioned that the urine gets intense in the bathroom and that she had to clean it regularly.  So when the boys started using the bathroom, I duly got spray and kept it nearby and wiped up regularly, grateful for the heads up.  Instead of lamenting that life was this way, which I undoubtedly would have done without the warning, I just accepted that this was how things were, and handled it.  Whenever I came in to use the bathroom and it smelled like urine, a quick swish and swipe and everything is great.

At the beginning of the summer, I went in and smelled urine, and thought to myself, "Why am I doing this?  They are all capable."  I decided then and there to train each one of them.  I pulled Elazar in and taught him.  And then the other two, the next two times.

Get spray bottle and rag from cabinet.  Spray around toilet, including front and including walls.  Wipe with rag, especially near bolt caps.  Return rag and spray to cabinet.

And now, whenever I go into the bathroom and it needs a swish and swipe, I call one of them in.  So far they've done it about five times and I'm still supervising them.  I think one more time and Elazar can do it himself without supervision, and Aharon is not too far behind.

One of my friends (who also has three boys) told me that when she toilet trained her boys, she taught them to check for pee on seat and floor and wipe it up with provided baby wipes.  Another friend told me that her husband was taught to always put the toilet seat down after he wiped around the toilet bowl with toilet paper, and he modeled that for their two boys.  Perhaps one day we will move on to some of that.  For now, I'm delighted that when I ask one of the boys to clean around the toilet, they do so.

unschooling summer 2017

It's been a while since I posted.  I guess unschooling is doing its deep work.  (That's code word for I can't think of anything we've been doing that resembles classic schoolwork.)  Chana introduced Elazar (and therefore Jack) to Animal Crossing, which is an amazing game with a small town.  You build a house, you make money, you speak to the villagers.  Their talk sounds like mumbling and you have to read everything, and you write letters and respond to them, so they are using literacy.  I am still asked to help with spelling numerous times a day and Chana asks me lots of history questions and philosophy and literature and vocabulary and science.  (Oh, yeah.  I'm supposed to look up the causes of and the end of the great depression.  I already sent her an article explaining how scientists discovered that electrons behave differently when they are being observed vs. not being observed.)

Aharon (age 6) is in camp and enjoying parsha and davening.  He wants me to daven with him, but then I don't do it exactly like he does in camp and he screams.  He came home from camp with kriah sheets that are Hebrew letters saying English sentences, which is a cute idea.  I'm torn about it.  On one hand, it helps the children with reading comprehension and is fun to figure out.  On the other hand, I'm a purist and feel like it's better to read Hebrew words in Hebrew and get a sense of the language that way.  (I'm such a homeschooler--I have an opinion on the minutiae of education even when I don't even use either of those approaches with my own children.)  I put the sheets on the fridge with a magnet in case any of the boys wants to play with them.

Chana and I have made no progress in the expensive chemistry set I bought her.  I did go so far as to send her a list of experiments, of which she chose one, and then I read the lab on it.  Since we haven't opened the box, I don't know what the items or, what they look like, how to use them, etc.  If you know me, you know I hate science experiments and I finally had to embrace that part of my homeschooling personality and admit science experiments are not my bag.  And having an expensive chemistry set is like upping my game at admitting I hate doing science experiments.

We are reading Pride & Prejudice together.  She reads it out loud to me in a British accent and her Mr. Collins has me convulsing with laughter.  It's everything I dreamed about High School Literature: actually reading the book, discussing it as we go: character, plot, themes, turns of phrase, foreshadowing, symbolism.  And enjoying the book.

And we take long walks on the beach together.  I'm really focusing on not having any agenda for our time together.  The teenage years are extraordinarily tricky.  I feel like in a lot of ways I spent ages 12-15 putting out fires and worrying excessively about "issues" and wanting her to "understand" things and desperately hoping to impart my wisdom to her.  I'm carefully refraining from that now.  I just want us to enjoy spending time together.  I read Parent/Teen Breakthrough: the Relationship Approach last year and it said that things are really extremely simple: In each interaction, ask myself if my behavior/reaction will improve my relationship with my teenager or deteriorate my relationship with my teenager.

And in all the things I worry about her being able to handle and manage?  If it affects me, bring it up (in a way that will not deteriorate our relationship, of course).  And if it doesn't affect me, it's none of my business.  The entire rest of the book was to explain how to do this, because honestly, some of it sounded like a foreign language to me.  Sof kol sof, it is the most useful and wisest book on raising teenagers I've read so far.

I've mostly given up trying to convince Chana to learn Bio with me.  It's like every unschooling move I've made over the years.  Why do I keep going more and more towards unschooling?  Because Chana told me, over and over, in all sorts of different ways, that she doesn't like to learn that way.  She told me that she doesn't like to sit down and read from a textbook.  She does LOVE when something catches her attention and then she hunts down information about it and videos that show and explain it.  And then talking about it and explaining to to people, and then researching their questions and finding answers, and talking to more people about it.  That is a dynamic and organic and interactive and social way of learning.  And it feels completely different and more exciting and more relevant than learning from a text.

In the same way, she learned to read by wrestling with texts she was interested in reading.  Or learned bits of math because they caught her attention (probably her most favorite homeschooling lesson ever was when her father taught her binary one Friday night ad hoc during family snuggle.  And one of the oddest math things she ever did was teach herself how to divide polynomials at 3am to help some stranger online with math homework).  And how she delves deeply into philosophy and Social Studies because of conversations she has with people. I now have to trust that when different things in Science catch her attention, she will pursue them.

All that was supposed to be a short introduction to what I came here to write today!  I got distracted talking about unschooling high school.

Friday, June 16, 2017

4am fractions

Kiisu (that's Chana's Japanese name, which we have taken to using) took the CAT test this week.  As per homeschool regulations, 7-12 graders in our state have to be tested every year.

In my facebook memories from 2011, there was a post about testing reminding me why I unschool.

This year we were armed with a 504 and extra time.  (I don't know how to make this happen in homeschool.  It is only because she needed it for her 2 classes in yeshiva that she got this accommodation, which gives her extra time for testing, and since last time she took the timed CAT test she was unable to complete it in the alloted time, I applied it).  So when she needed up to double the time for reading comprehension because her preferred method is to read something slowly four times, she had it.

The Math sections drove her nuts a little.  The math was all things she's done and forgotten long ago.  Long division.  Fractions and decimals.  I'm pretty sure she got the required 33rd percentile but she was frustrated to tears.

To "study," we had reviewed some basic fraction-decimal-percentage facts.  She quickly remembered most of how to work with fractions with the reminder.  Some things she remembered the mechanics, but didn't "get."  The next day, she asked her friend (who is a homeschool high school senior and also tutors her in ACT math every week), who explained it to her.  But then the next day on the next section, when she encountered some conversion problems, she again struggled.

Last night I was awake in the middle of the night and Kiisu and I ended up hanging out for a bunch of hours until the sun rose.  (Yay for random insomnia and nocturnal teens.)

We were talking about converting fractions into decimals and she was telling me how her friend told her to do it.  And she didn't remember learning it that way from me.

"Yeah, that's not how I do it," I said.  "I think my way is easier and makes more sense."  I explained how the fraction line means "to divide" (which she's heard me say a million times during algebra) and how you move the decimal place over.

"That's what I don't get," she said.

It was pitch dark, and we were just chatting desultorily about fractions to percents.  There was no purpose, no lesson, no point.  No pressure because we weren't trying to achieve anything.

"You know, maybe you never really wrapped your head around the whole fractions thing," I said.  "You didn't get it in 3rd or 4th grade and while eventually you did understand how to do it, I'm not sure you ever really spent a lot of time thinking about how it all worked conceptually."

But as I said that, I realized that she did understand fractions, pretty much.  "You know what might help you?" I said.  "Maybe you aren't really getting the relationship between fractions, decimals, and percents.  And I think it's because I left something out.  I never taught you this--and I think it will all make sense."

And I told her about something that I did in school in first grade when I was a kid.  And spent many hours on, in many of my elementary school years.  I had never taught it to her because it hadn't really come up.  (Not because I didn't have a cardboard hands-on flip number chart that taught it that she never wanted to play with and that I eventually konmaried, because I did.)  I taught her Place Value of numbers.  Hundreds, tens, and ones I barely had to teach her because they were so intuitive and it was clear exactly how that worked.  (See? We said to each other.  Kids spend hours doing that in school but when you are older it's quite simple and quick to grasp and makes perfect sense.)  Then I introduced her to tenths, hundredths, and thousandths.  And working with 50%, 0.5, and 1/2.  And tenths being actual 1/10ths.  And 0.25 being 25/100ths and also 1/4.  And 1 being a whole and 100%.

We were just playing around.  Talking about it because she was genuinely grappling with trying to understand conversions.

And when she understood it, it was so enjoyable for her.  She was absolutely delighted about how it all fit together and how it all made sense and how they were all talking about the same relationships.

I looked at the clock.  "It's 4:30am," I said.  "We've spent a half hour in the middle of the night learning math for fun."

Then she told me about how her friend was teaching her derivatives and how interesting it was.

Unschooling math looks really different than how I thought math would go.  It's a process of learning to trust and learning to let go.  I thought that since she loves math, she would learn geometry, learn trig.  Instead, she loves fiddling with math.  

I have so many things that I want to teach my children, that I want to share with them, that I want to give them.  But so often trying to do that causes friction, conflict, and stress.
And it's amazing what happens when you make space for what they want to learn and follow their lead.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

the day finally arrived

I was davening shemona esrei and Aharon was calling me and calling me, getting more and more urgent.  Eventually he came into the room and saw me.  He didn't scream.  He didn't yank on my clothes or try to pull me.  He realized I was davening and quietly said, "Aw," and walked away.

He'll be 6 in a few days.

He is finally mature enough not to interrupt my tefila.

He wanted help spelling the word "simulator."  He wasn't sure what came after s-i-m.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Plans vs Reality

Now that I'm unschooling, I don't really make educational plans.  But I do recall the first year that I was homeschooling two children simultaneously (1st and 6th grade, I think) and I actually made a weekly schedule, complete with blocks of times dedicated to different subjects.  I even had Mishna on the schedule, which I never quite ended up learning at all with my oldest daughter.  Not once.  Boy do I laugh when I think about my grand plans.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Hippocratic Oath for teaching Torah

This morning I read this:

Prof. Nechama Leibowitz z"l once asked a group of senior Jewish educators in her living room/ study space in her home (of course, in Hebrew!): "What is the goal of teaching Tanach?"
As she called on one principal/ head of Jewish studies after another, she rejected each of their proposals: 
"To learn the mitzvot," "LO!"  
"To learn Jewish history," "LO!" 
"To learn ethical behavior," "LO!"
"To learn about our forefathers," "LO!"

Exasperated, she finally said: "The goal of teaching Tanach is that the child will not hate the Tanach."
In other words, "First, do no harm!"

Friday, May 12, 2017

Scraps of thoughts

I've been grouchy.  The kind of grouchy where I get snappy when the boys jump on top of me, instead of being glad that they are seeking contact and interaction.  They've also been fighting a. lot.  I don't know if they are fighting because I'm grouchy or I'm grouchy because they're fighting.


Elazar has expressed a couple of times that he's concerned that he won't be able to read by his bar mitzva.  I'm actually not that concerned about that.  (Just a smidge, in basic paranoid anxiety-ridden unschooling, but not really.)  But the second time I told him it won't take him that long to learn to read.  And I told him that I'm sure when he wants to, he will be able to.  But I feel like he was dissatisfied and I'm not sure what he's telling me and what he is looking for.


Jack asked a couple of times to start learning Torah.  He wants a siyum so he can get a big present. (That's how the girls earned their phones and computers.)(Not unschooling!  Using incentives!  Small inner conflict about which way is ideal!)  I keep saying, Sure, let's do it.  But then we don't.


I'm thinking that decisions such as whether or not to unschool or to teach formally.  Or whether or not to incline towards permissiveness or strictness.  Or whether or not to do xyz approach or abc approach.  None of those actually matter.

Oh, sure, they may affect things like what inclinations the child has--scientific, musical etc.  Interests or philosophy or way of looking at the world.  But in terms of the essence, in terms of will the child be well-adjusted and emotionally stable--it's beginning to seem to me that there is a lot of wiggle room and particular decisions don't matter as much as we might think.


I had a whole methodology for teaching Chumash: start with speaking Hebrew.  Then, when they learn to read, do the R' Winder books for a few years.  Then, start Chumash when they have basic vocab and prefixes and suffixes.  That's what I used for the girls and it was great.  But it doesn't seem to be going that way with the boys.  I used three different methods for teaching them to read, so doesn't it make sense that they will learn Torah differently?  It's wrenching to be flexible.  I think, at heart, that I love structure.


You put your heart and soul into your kids and you care about how they turn out.  Then they become teenagers and it turns out that caring how they turn out is counterproductive and causes conflict.  Because they are individuals fighting to be their own people.  Especially not what their parents want them to be.  So you have to adjust to parenting and putting your heart and soul into it but not being invested in the outcome.  Like all of life, I suppose.  You do hishtadlus but the outcome is not in human control.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Figuring out summer plans

Chana's schedule was a bit much for her this year, and she's looking forward to a quieter summer.  We discussed whether or not she would want to spend some more time on her math (studying for ACTs), and if she would focus more on the Bio book that she enjoys but often isn't in the mood to do.

She said she'd really like to focus more heavily on Chemistry.  I came across this blog post and requested the All Lab, No Lecture book on Chemistry (perfect for a kinesthetic learner, I hope) and here is the kit that goes along with it, that I haven't purchased.  I also requested The Disappearing Spoon from the library.

We'll see if she ends up pursuing this.  If she reads the beginning of the lab book and wants the chemistry kit, we'll do that.

Friday, April 28, 2017

adjusting to the parental role in unschooling

As I was making myself cappuccino this morning,* I pondered the excellence of my education.  I was particularly thinking about how much halacha I learned in high school.  I'm on a halacha group, and very often I know the answers to questions because of the halacha I learned in high school.

I wondered if I am depriving my children of this education.  (I wonder this despite sending my oldest to a high school that was pretty similar to the one I went to, albeit not putting her in the honors Hebrew classes because I didn't want her under that stress and because in 8th grade she didn't have a love for learning that would carry her through hours upon hours of intensive skills work.  So this is not even specifically a homeschooling question, it turns out.)  I wonder if they are going to be "missing out" by not having the details of halacha tripping off their tongue.  I wonder this as my two youngest have a picnic with the neighbor children, which they set up and cleaned up themselves, and my oldest son gets sick of the computer after three hours and is trying to figure out the best way to get some fluff out of the spring of a broken hinge.  And I wonder this despite the fact that my son asked me this morning a theoretical question displaying an involvement in the sugya of "amira l'akum" that I don't see that often.

I chose to homeschool, I often joke with my daughter, because I am an "educational control freak."  I had fantasies of passing on the tremendous repositories of knowledge and information that I have to my eager children.

The reality is much different.  Yes, I am an educational control freak, but most of my education consists of "First, do no harm" (something I can barely manage) and of not teaching them.  Not teaching nonsense, not having them spend hours on "academic" activities when they can be playing or exploring or experimenting or following the whims of their curiosity.

One of the bigger adjustments I've had to make in homeschooling is part of the reason why I had a hard time getting rid of old books my children never read or materials they never play with or experiments they never want to do.  The idea that it is important to have space--to make space in our lives for them to fill with whatever--and that "whatever" will be wonderful and meaningful and expand their horizons and delight them.  This idea competes constantly with clutter from my youth or even the present that was so meaningful to me that I yearn to give them, to hand it over the precious gift it was to me--so that they can reap the benefits it gave to my life.

But they don't want it.  They don't want my gifts, my talents, my knowledge, my information.  They want to march their own way, explore their own environment, to discover their own magic.  They come to me with questions and I have a few precious seconds to give them dribbles and drabs of pieces of the giant gift I have for them: the sum total of my life experience that I want to wrap up with a ribbon and give to them, but which they only want a sprinkle of if it can be a bit useful in whatever they are working on.

I certainly shrugged off my fair share of my own mother's knowledge and experience (and, she will tell you, I continue to do so--the most recent example being that I still don't have my crockpot on a timer for Shabbos).

It's been and continues to be an adjustment that self-directed education means that the knowledge I have to impart is only the harmony to what they are learning, and only if they request it.  Maybe it's even the background music, giving richness and grandeur and depth and framework.  But the main music is what they make themselves.

*Yes, my youngest is 5, and I finally have time to spend the indulgent six minutes it takes to make myself coffee, and perhaps even the 15 minutes to drink it while hot.

Monday, April 24, 2017

unschooling reading and writing

It's really amazing how it works.  Aharon (age 5) wants me to sit next to him pretty much all day long so that he can ask me how to spell things.  All so that he can either play games online (he loves Roblox) or look up things on google.  This morning he woke me up to get help writing "pizza."  It's months of him asking and asking and then, when he's independent (like Jack, age 7), he'll be able to write most of the words he wants to use and only ask me a few times a day, instead of every 5-10 minutes.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

To go see a whale or Not to go

A fellow homeschooler posted that there was a beached humpback whale on B' 118th street yesterday.  She posted a cool picture and I was trying to decide if I should go today or not.

It immediately presented itself as a basic conflict I have about homeschool.  On one hand, it could be a once in a lifetime experience.  On the other hand, they are perfectly happy watching Jeffy videos.  How much do I try to create a childhood with amazing experiences and how much do I trust that if I can refrain from abusing them, their childhood will be plenty magical because there just happen to be many wonderful experiences that come our way?

(PS I have this same conflict about homeschool materials.)

There is no substitute for seeing something in real life.  I waffled a bit but brought up my conflict to a friend who quickly urged me to go (as she herself, across the world, was at that exact moment going on a quirky graffiti tour in Tel Aviv).

I made myself a cappuccino, calculated how much time I had until it was time for me to go to work (3 hours), googled the drive (20 minutes), and asked all the boys if they wanted to go.  They all did.  I even woke up Chana to ask her (she told me to take pictures).  We hopped into the car.  After all, that's what homeschooling is all about, right?  The ability to spontaneously hop into the car and go check out a dead humpback whale beached on your home beach 20 minutes away.

When we got there, it was a bit disappointing.  The police were there and had set up blockades so we really could not see very well.  Jack took a picture (I wouldn't have bothered but here it is):

See the whale? Barely? Us, too.
I contemplated the frustration of not being allowed near the whale by bureaucracy, marine biology as a field, and moved on to thinking about and how frustrated I would be if I were a marine biologist and the public was standing only 3 feet away from me commenting on my work.

I also felt frustrated that this is the type of situation where the human drive for knowledge is so obvious, so blatant, and so thwarted.  People are fascinated.  They want to see.  They want firsthand experience.  But they are stuck behind barriers.  (Not saying there aren't good reasons for this, just saying it's frustrating.)

The kids pet some dogs, played in the sand, and got a rousing game of ball going with some other kids there (#howDoHomeschoolersSocialize)

On the way home, Jack asked me to sing Ma Nishtana.  He happened to see the Maccabeats new video on facebook and had me play it for him yesterday.  Then last night he wanted me to sing it.  And then today.  The kids all caught the words "kulana mesubin" and started laughing.  I asked them if they know what it means, and they didn't.  And I told them leaning.  Jack noted that Elazar does eat leaning sometimes.  I said that the song says on all other nights we eat both ways, leaning and not leaning.  But on Pesach we all lean.  Elazar said: Hey, like kings!  I said yes.  He was thrilled that he realized the intent of the leaning.  We talked a bit about other things we do that are king-like at the Seder.

So did this end up being the once in a lifetime experience I was so nervous about not availing to my kids?  Nope.  Was it a pleasant interlude?  Yep.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Just google it, Mommy

Aharon (5) has been asking me to google things recently.  How many children are there in the world under age 3?  Why is sugar bad? (I don't think sugar is bad; luckily, the internet highlighted search suggested that what is "bad" is that it is a problem for diabetics, which is what I had told him)

Just now he asked me to search "How could Hashem see Moshe."  I asked him if he wants to know because Hashem has no eyes.  Yes.  I said that Hashem doesn't see Moshe, He knows what Moshe is doing.

Then he asked me to google How long it took Hashem to make the world.  I tried to tell him that I don't need to google this; I can just tell him.  He was quite insistent that I google it.  I said but I know what the Torah says.  The Torah says six days.  He was quite surprised.  I said but a day is not a day, it's a span of time.  I then googled "How old is the universe" and got

and I said that the billions of years it took for a molecule to turn into a planet etc. is called "one day."

Then he asked me to google "Why Hashem created the world" and I said we don't know why because Hashem doesn't need anything.  And he said I should just check.  And I finally said Ramchal says it's to give us good things.

Then he and Jack spoke a bit about keeping Shabbos because Hashem made the world to give us good things.  (Not quite sure of the conceptual leap there.)

And then he said, "Right I kept Shabbos when I was a baby and didn't do anything?" and I said I guess so.

I just searched it for him ("why did hashem create the world").  He was not moved by: "The most we can do, as the Abarbanel points out, is work backwards; now the world is created, what is our role and what does it look like its ..."

He did like's teaser: "World of Love hashtag one Purpose of Creation"   and asked me to click through (Actually titled World of Love #1 - Purpose of Creation.)  When it wasn't a video, he lost interest.

As an aside, we had a HUGE thunderclap this morning and I recited the brachos for lightning and thunder.
Aharon asked if we make the brachos so that Hashem will protect us and we won't get hit by lightning.
I said no, we make the brachos so that we think about Hashem when we see and hear lightning and thunder.  The best way we avoid lightning is by lightning rods and not being out in lightning storms, especially with umbrellas.  And we talked a bit about how lightning rods work and about how lightning is attracted to metal and about grounding.  So a bit of science in there.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Playing the Loooooooong Game

I haven't written in a while.  Because we haven't been doing much.  I go to work.  I'm having a good year teaching with a nice bunch of girls.  The boys do what they do.  Mostly on the computer or their tablets all day.  Aharon does Roblux, Elazar plays a lot of Geometry Dash, and I'm not quite sure what Jack is doing.  They all three ask me how to spell things all day long, so I'm sure their literacy keeps improving.  I hope they learn how to read Hebrew soon so that I can type to them in Hebrew.  My husband and I went away for a couple of days and they all chatted me and I was pretty impressed with their written communication abilities.  And my mom (bless my parents for watching them and giving us a gift of a vacation!) said their arithmetic is fine.

I'm having thoughts/concerns/worries about their Judaic studies but they are still too young to really be concerned about it.  They definitely ask halacha questions and hashkafa questions.  Elazar asks for things and I offer to learn with him and give it to him as a siyum (gaming computer, cell phone, dinner at a five star restaurant) but so far he's not interested.*

*btw, offering a kid a reward for learning is NOT unschooling 

I was thinking this morning that there is something that is kind of amazingly wonderful about the idea that I feel pretty sure that Chana feels that IF she becomes interested in Advanced Calculus, she will simply go learn it.

Chana's been somewhat cocooning this year, which is a term I learned about unschooling teenagers.  I know she learns best by talking to other people, and I know she is talking to lots and lots of people on the internet (which is amazing, because she learns things and debates with and discusses things with people all over the world), and she is also coming to me to discuss a lot of things that come up with people she's talking to over the internet.

It reminds me of this John Holt quote that pops up periodically:

So even though she doesn't want to finish reading the Stranger with me, and even though in theory she is enjoying Bio but most days is not that interested in learning it so we end up not doing it, I think she's learning a lot about... I have no idea.  But she is thinking and maturing and growing and is curious about things.  So I trust the process.  And, like I said, I get the sense that she feels pretty comfortable that she will be able to learn whatever she will be interested in in the future.  I think this is one of the richest things about unschooling: that she is curious about things and interested in lots of things and fearless about pursuing learning.  I have spent almost two decades teaching in school, coaxing people to learn things they don't want to learn, and it's disheartening.  It is refreshing to be around people who are just endlessly curious about things (even though the things are often odd and nonstandard).

Another possibly amazing thing is happening about school.  I've discussed that I'm not sure if pushing hard for Chana to take classes in the high school I teach at is/was a good idea.  It certainly isn't "unschooling."  (I'm not married to unschooling as a philosophy; I'm pragmatic.  I've found it the most pleasant and efficient way to handle education in our family.)  I'm not quite sure yet if things are actually happening.  But.  I mentioned that Chana switched from Mishlei to gemara.  She really loves gemara (and she has a truly amazing Rebbi).  She loves it so much, she started learning it with Ari once a week.  (It only happened once, but she loved it. And they picked an actual scheduled time, which is once a week at 10:30 at night, so it will probably happen.)  And I may have mentioned that it takes her three years to settle into things, and maybe, maybe, some of the girls in the school are beginning to grow on her.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Moving goals and the end game

I used to think 8 was old.  When my oldest was still a toddler, a friend of mine was hired to homeschool some elementary aged children, and I asked her when they started making brachos.  "Eight," she said.  Eight! That's so old!  Surely three year olds are all trained to make brachos and keep Shabbos.

Elazar is now 9.  I've moved the goal post.  He is still very inconsistent about wearing a kippah and point blank refuses tzitzis except on the rare occasion that he takes a class with Jews.  I know that it's a minhag, and he still has difficulty keeping Shabbos, and how can I get hung up on a minhag when he's still struggling with d'oraisas.  He tells me 10.  We'll see what happens when he gets to 10.

I know that I've always said that he's three years behind.  I don't mean "behind" insofar as any negative connotation whatsoever; I love homeschooling because it gives those children who need three years of wiggle room plenty of wiggle room.  There are no age-(in)appropriate expectations and we can work with his capabilities.  So I guess I will see at 11 if he is capable of things I would have assumed for an 8 year old.  And if not, we will work with his abilities as they present.

Removing all academic expectations and having very broad end goals (will be able to read as an adult, will be emotionally capable of making a living as an adult, will have loving and functional relationships as an adult, will care about Torah and be equipped to keep mitzvos as an adult) is the difference between a miserable, stressed out, anxiety-ridden childhood (for both the child and the parents), versus having a child who wakes up every day thrilled to enjoy his day and explore the world.

Is it a mistake to set aside academic expectations for him?  Will he grow up incapable?  Sure, I worry.  But the other possibility seems more painful and equally doubtful of producing results.