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.