Tuesday, February 28, 2012

diving into books

I got up early and worked out. By the time I got home, the kids were all up, but nobody was in the mood to get dressed or have breakfast. Eventually, they did get dressed. My husband was home, so he regaled with Greek myths. 7 yo read a few of those, so they had a lively discussion.

Davening did not go so well, lots of running around and chasing each other. Then the oldest went to do Rosetta Stone, while 5 yo picked handwriting. Today's letter was i, he claimed he already knew how to write it, so we skipped to e. Now e is a big deal, as he realizes that once he can do e, he can also write shin. HTW uses baseball example to teach e, so he loves "running around the bases", making the curve part. I hope he remembers it. Then he picked megillah. I read to him probably 7 perakim in English, stopping every once in a while to make sure he understands. 2 yo walked around, sat on my lap, sat next to us, etc. She is definitely getting unschooled here.

Then the boys switched. 7 yo asked to do math first. We finished up length and I explained why there are metric and customary units. He is eager to do multiplication, so I printed out some pages from teacher's corner, setting one of the factors less than 6. He did it in a flash ( thanks to Schoolhouse Rock). Now I have to check whether he knows higher numbers.

Then he did arranging sentences from the megillah. I found this activity on http://chinuch.org/ I explained how the sentences will be formed and he dove right in, making sentences. 5 yo finished up and came up to help at this point. 2 yo kept moving the cards around, but at the end, they did form all possible sentences.

Then we went for ice cream and the library. It feels giddy to be able to take your kids for ice cream at 11 am and not to worry about school or crowds or lunch, and just enjoy it. Afterwards, we got to the library. Mercifully, they had a toddler class that morning, so my 2 yo was not the only one running around. 7 yo found Encyclopedia Brown and got lost inside. 5 yo  scanned shelves. I was trying to find books for the toddler group tomorrow. Then everyone helped my check out. When we got home, the boys just pulled out their books and were not heard from again for a while. I keep on forgetting that on the days we go to the library, I will have to distract them from new books to get anything done.

Later, much later, we did finish formal school work. 7 yo read 7 more pesukim from the megillah, did his spelling and another page of Lashon HaTorah. 5 yo learned tzadi sofit, which he called a lamed carrying a pretzel. He even drew a house for tzadi sofit--somehow this pretzel letter moved him. In Yesh Lanu Lama, we read the next page. Then we did math, even and odd numbers. 

All of this was finished by 3 pm. Then the boys watched "Alice in Wonderland" from 1915. I had to explain about black-and-white silent movies and how music came separately. I also realized that reading captions ( I do not know what is the proper name for those flashes of story in between) is good reading practice for 5 yo. They were quite drawn in.

After Alice, 7 yo went back to reading something or other. 5 yo checked on his beans and noted their roots. Then he wanted to make masks, something that I wrote down in optional section. I made an eye mask for 2 yo; he wanted a full face mask. I ended up drawing the shape fro him, with eyes and mouth, he cut it out and wrote ninja on it ( hehe, spontaneous writing). Then he decided he wants eye mask after all, so more cutting and coloring.

After dinner, 7 yo made a mask too. I am discovering that what I thought was itty-bitty bullying problem as probably larger than I thought. Last year, he dressed up as Batman for dress-up day ion school. From that day on, a certain girl teased him, calling him Batman, even though he did not like it. He sort of brought that up, but never in a way that warranted action. Now, with this new mask, he tells me that she cannot tease him, because sometimes he's a ninja, and sometimes he's a ferocious beast. Now that he's home, he hasn't seen her in weeks, yet he's still concerned. Hm, how do those itty-bitty bullying problems affect people?

Monday, February 27, 2012

observing kids observe nature

I am typing this to decompress and to avoid folding mounds of laundry...

Yesterday, 7 yo asked to make Mishenichnas "Our Door" sign. At 7:30 am. I printed out multiple page poster, that kept everyone busy and the floor occupied for a bit.

After breakfast, I insisted on some Chumash and I got what I asked for: he told me he does not want to do Vayeira any more. I suggested doing megilah instead, and he read first pasuk. The language is easier in megilah at this point.

Then we went to the nature center, finished off winter hikes on a gorgeous warm day. We saw geese, turtles, ducks. 7 yo wrote in his hike booklet: mallards. I asked 5 yo to write ducks. He got d down and then sat there, not sure what comes next. Not a, not e... t? ( What? Why can this kid sight-read, but he cannot do this?) I told 7 yo to keep his mouth shut and let his brother figure it out. Y? C? After 10 minutes of sitting there and complaining that he has no idea and I should do it, he finally squeezed out u. Then he followed it by c and k, fluently and on his own. Weird.

Then we had lunch at picnic tables. 5 yo laid down on the bench and stayed on his side, not moving, for good five minutes. Just as I began to wonder what is he doing, he informed me that there is a spider under the table and he was watching it. This is the kid who cannot sit still, yet a spider is worthy of his undivided attention. When he was 3, we used to go to arboretum and he just ran and ran ahead, so happy that he does not have to hold anyone's hand or constantly listen. I see him and I know that in traditional school, he would be like a square peg in a round hole.

When we got home, everyone did Moon Dough. Thank you to the genius who invented non-chametz, non-staining, always pliable and sweepable substance. You are highly esteemed in my eyes.

That night was local dayschool's dinner/Chinese auction. My husband got back from work just in time to go, yet he had a patient in labor, so we had a romantic drive there.. in two cars. Past all local adult entertainment. Beyond the train tracks. The event itself was fun, there was boys' choir, and we won one of the prizes: tickets to puppet shows, INK family visits, local art studio time, tickets to the Children's Museum.

Gotta tackle that laundry now... I tried getting boys to help, but somehow " matching socks up" turned into "slapping socks".

Sunday, February 26, 2012

some general musings

I think the real reason people are afraid to homeschool is that all influences in child's life become family-centered. You cannot blame teachers, morahs, babysitters, friends, bullies, etc for the way the child turns out. YOU, as a parent, are solely responsible for that. It is true even if your child is not homeschooled, but then it is easier to blame problems and lack of success on others. When the child is with you, day in and day out, you just see yourself and all your character traits reflected back.

Our local dayschool printed a letter from the principal, reinforcing that while school provides academics, the middos ( positive character traits) come from home. Schools do not teach kids to behave, parents do. Now, the thought of that sometimes leaves me so overwhelmed, that I want to hide under the covers and not see the light of the day. I am really afraid of irreparably screwing up my kids. But, on the other hand, this is a real opportunity to work on yourself. Your kids will learn not only from your nice moments, but also from the moments when you are short-tempered; when everything is falling apart; when you lose it. I think there is a lot to be said for learning how to lose it consciously. Say to yourself: I am losing it; this situation is infuriating, but what do I want my child to take away from it?

This "working on yourself" brings me to another issue which I keep observing in myself, as well as in others. Where do your energies flow? When kids are tiny babies, all energies naturally flow to maintain them: to feed them, to change them, to get them to sleep. Once they are not so tiny, all of a sudden you find yourself with surplus of energy. (For me it happens around the time the youngest is two). What are you doing with it? Do you place it into making your house spotless and your kids prisoners of only one "messy" area? Do you place it into Shabbos meals to stun others, while your kids would happily eat chicken and potatoes? Do you feel that now you need to find a job, so that you have approval of others while the little people who look up to you are now forced to look up to someone else? Do you find a new fad to follow, which will take your energy and then you will be too busy and tired to read a book to your kids before they go to sleep? Or will you take that energy and use it towards your family's needs, whether it means playing a board game, taking your kids to ride bikes, reading umpteenth book for the umpteenth time, or answering your child's question in a thought-out manner.

I am not for people martyring themselves for the sake of the children, but I am against accidental parenting.

Friday, February 24, 2012

mishkan building

We did something crazy last night. My husband was home before dinner. I cannot recall last time THAT happened. In honor of Rosh Chodesh, we went out for pizza. Note to self: we cannot order just one pie any more. The kids clamored for soda/dessert/french fries. My husband suggested Krispy Kreme, which was met with great enthusiasm. As we were heading out, we noticed a thin sliver of a new moon and I remembered that a local science museum/observatory has open telescope on Thursday nights. Before, it was never a possibility: kids are too young, 7 yo has school early the next day, what about toddler, etc. But I thought and realized that the answer is: why not? It is literally 15 minutes from our house; if kids get cranky, we can head home and nobody has to wake up early the next morning.

The kids were beyond thrilled by the possibility. Well, by the time we got there, clouds rolled in. The telescope was not going to open till 9, and they were not sure whether the clouds would prevent viewing or not. They have nice free exhibits, on space and reptiles in addition to some dinosaurs and a bee hive. The boys explored those and 2 yo walked everywhere, looking at birds. Even though we did not get to use the telescope, it was a nice late outing.

This morning everyone slept in. 7 yo and 2 yo woke up by 7:30 and 5 yo slept in till after 9. So the morning got off to slow start. I consciously made effort last night not to overschedule erev shabbos. I decided to focus on the parsha. So I told 7 yo that we will learn it and build a mishkan out of legos. I also told him we will do chumash, read megillah, plant seeds and decorate our door for Adar (this joke was well received). He could not wait to get started and I kept holding him back, as I wanted to teach parsha only once, and 5 yo was still getting his sleepies out.

7 yo read the Megillah ( in English) and then said he is ready for Hagaddah. He got one down and started reading.

Then we started on the parshah. Since we were doing measurements, I figured why not measure out in real life how big everything in the mishkan was. We assumed that one ama is two feet. The boys liked using yardstick and measuring tape. I was blown away by the size of the objects. When you read that the planks were 10 amot and picture 20 feet, it is not the same as having to rearrange living room furniture to measure out 20 feet on the floor and then adding in width. 7 yo was obsessed with finding the perimeter of the aron, so we got math in too.

Then I got boys to clean up downstairs, so they can get all legos out to build a mishkan. 5 yo suggested using yellow for gold. 7 yo ended up doing all the building. I also had cut and paste page, with placing appropriate objects in various areas of the mishkan. That was more to 5 yo's liking. 7 yo drew a couple diagrams of where everything was, he likes making maps and charts.

After lunch, 2 yo went for a nap and we did chumash. Yesterday's pesukim went smoothly and today the only new word was sulfur. I googled it, to show what was raining down. Then he drew a small picture and asked to play computer games. I sent him downstairs and sat down to Yesh Lanu Lama. 5 yo wanted to know why can't play. I said that we need to do some work. He could do it, but tummy aches started again. I said that once he's done, we'll be doing a science experiment. That motivated him enough.

Then we planted seeds in egg cartons, one with closed lid and one with open lid. I gave them pinto beans and corn kernels. I asked them which ones they thought would sprout first. They said, the open ones. We'll keep our eyes open. Then they ran all over the yard, planting surplus seeds. This will not produce nice lawn...

Now the boys are coloring in parsha sheets. 7 yo pulled out 39 Melachot book to look up the color of "griffins" on the curtains.

Shabbat Shalom!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Money management

Today was another day when I scheduled too much.

After we davened, I asked 7 yo whether we should start with chumash. He said, yes. I wrote a bunch of mi amar el mi, he answered them quickly. Two were wrong. When I asked him to look them up, he just tried guessing. I asked him to open the chumash and look inside. He started moping and claiming that he did not want to do chumash. I said that we'll review and then do two pesukim and they are short. After more hesitation, he found them. Then I asked to review pesukim from yesterday. More resistance. I sort of brought up the "vayomer" issue. He said that it is probably just one mal'ach talking. I said that it could be someone in charge of overturning the plain. His eyes lit up. Then we did new pesukim. I explained Tzoar according to Rashi. He drew a map illustrating where Lot was going.

Then we went to Costco. The boys brought their allowance. Inside the store I insisted that boys walk together. I have a juicy story of 5 yo running away and hiding behind canoes and me having to alert workers to find him. ( FYI, Costco, does not do a floor page for anything, so try not to lose your kids there). They did stay together. They could not find toy section, the gift-giving season being over. I got my items and the boys showed up with: kite for 5 yo and sand play kit for 7 yo.

My policy on allowance is that I give it to you weekly, you give tzedakah and the rest is for you to do as you wish. I do not buy them toys. I do not buy them soda. I do not remind them to bring their allowance, but I do not manage how they spend it. I think it is better to learn money management this way than wait till you are older and the mistakes that you make are much larger. I went away for high school and was faced with the problem of managing very limited money without being able to work. Growing up, whenever I was gifted any money, it went to my parents. Needless to say, there was a sharp learning curve and I am naturally tight-fisted. It takes a lot for me not say anything when I see kids choosing to spend their money recklessly, but I am hoping that some recklessness now will help bigger lessons to sink in in the long run.

So they got their toys. They also got chips and cookies from the vending machine ( their money). On the way over and back, we listened to Purim music. I explained mishenichnas Adar, marbim besimcha. Then there was layehudim haita ora. I asked boys to guess when we say this. They seemed confused. I said that daddy says this every week. 5 yo guessed havdalah. Then he asked whether driving up to NY is going north. I confirmed. Then we discussed how NY is really to the north-east, while Toronto, where we went last summer, is truly north. 7 yo piped in that Lake Ontario is in the way of going straight north. Then he went on about which lake borders which state. This kid enjoys poring over maps, tracing rivers, studying borders, the sort of creative activities that I would like him to do, only he comes up with them on his own. The results stick better, too.

When we got home, they helped me unload the car. I got a large platter of macaroons for Pesach, but 2 yo picked it up awkwardly and half of them became squirrel food.

Then I was rushing through formal schoolwork, hoping to get to Adar project. It did not go so well. At some point, 7 yo did finish planned activities. Then he suggested using rice in his sand kit. I hesitantly agreed. He happily played with it. Creative thinking, out-of-the-box thinking, we got that. But that creativity produced quite a mess.

By clean-up time, it did not look so good. He felt that other kids made more mess. He did not do a good job sweeping spilled rice and then sulked. He talked about losing his temper. At some point, I lost mine and sent him to his room. After some minutes passed, he asked for a dictionary. I told he can get it, unsure what was his plan. A few minutes later, he told me that he looked up "temper" and now he's sorry, because he did not realize how bad it was what he was saying. I like to see internal guilt, instead of external pressure to improve behavior.

Looking forward to Rosh Chodesh pizza dinner.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

home economics

Today was co-op Wednesday. I was out of ideas for things to do with toddlers and we haven't made it to the library to restock on books, so late last night I kept mulling over: cats? dinosaurs? sheep? I settled on faces and printed out some without eyes, figuring we can add sticker eyes and draw hair.

A lot of people were out today, so it was a pretty quiet time. I ended up catching up a bit with a friend of mine and now we have a whole shabbos lunch planned out and another chance at grown-up conversation.

7 yo did clock series in art: he drew pictures of analog and digital clocks, hourglass and sundial. He said that he was influenced by Catlanta(?), some bizarre artists who is still alive and works locally. I think he was amazed that artists could be contemporary, not just dead people.

5 yo came out of his art with Eye of G-d project. It is basically two sticks crossed over, tied with multiple strands of colored yarn. He said it's called eye of G-d in Mexican language. I am staring  at this thing and hoping it is not a cross that my child has been working on... I googled it later, it's not that bad, but will probably be quietly disposed of in the next couple of days.

On the way home, the boys started haggling over the price of sitting in the back seat, where 7 yo sits now. ( I have five car seats in the car now for carpool, so certain spots are off limits and certain others are valuable). He was trying to sell the rights to his seat. We used to have a rule that nothing could be bought or sold, since the older always took advantage of the younger. This time, I bit my tongue and wanted to see where all of this went. At some point, 7 yo was selling his seat for 2 years for all of 5 yo's allowance, which is upward of 20$.
5 yo: But then I will have no money. So you want me to be poor?
7 yo: It's not that I want you to be poor, I want to be rich.
Thinking a bit: How about I pay you back a bit? I can give you a penny every day.
5 yo: And I get to sit in the back? It's a deal!
As we got home, I told boys I will have to think whether this is fair.

We came home and had lunch. Everyone asked for bagels, got their own plates and cleaned up. 2 yo went for a nap. The boys did Rosetta Stone. 5 yo did handwriting and ketiva. I wanted to focus more on lameds, he wanted to move on to pei sofit. To my amazement, he got it.

7 yo asked for spelling, he said it is his favorite. He was a bit discouraged, as he got three words wrong today. One of them was "yelled", he forgot one l. The he tried squeezing it in. Then he blacked out the whole word. I told him that nobody will see his writing, it is only for him to see which words he knows and which need more study. We pulled out a tray of rice for tracing today; as I expected, it was a hit. Then the imagination took over, the boys wanted to add water to it and mold it. That was out of my comfort zone. 5 yo also wanted to trace words in it.

Then the boys did math. 7 yo worked on feet and yards. I was glad that we had a yardstick, because even though he told me that there are three feet in a yard, he could not figure out how many yards are in 4 feet. 5 yo worked more on 2nd grade math. I find it amusing. I get the point of not wasting time on trying to teach kids concepts which are way above their heads. I get the point of waiting and teaching later, but going through the material quicker rather than stretching it out. I get the idea of challenging and prodding out of comfort zone. But the idea of a reluctant child doing math two levels above with ease and WANTING to do it... either this is his strong area and he does not feel that he's being challenged, or I am missing the forces at play. To please mommy? To prove me wrong?

Then there was chumash. I asked 7 yo whether he wanted to start with it. He declined. When we finally got there, 2 yo woke up screaming. She only wanted to pee downstairs. I did not want to take her there. She was screaming, I was impatient, 5 yo was running around. And I was trying to get 7 yo to read Vaeyra. Now it all sounds ridiculous. 7 yo finally broke the impasse by taking her to the downstairs bathroom. We did two more pesukim. In the pshat, it should be Lot talking to the malachim, but it says "vayomer", "and he said". I was waiting for him to ask the obvious, "who is he?" but he did not. I bit my tongue. Maybe it's time for another review sheet of mi amar al mi to refocus. I am realizing that even at our leisurely pace of two pesukim a day, we will be doing 12-14 pesukim a week.

5 yo read a new section from Lama.

Then we headed out to redeem Ace Hardware groupon by buying a new alarm clock for the boys. The old one got destroyed during the sleepover and not knowing what time to wake up is a major concern for the 7 yo. Before we got to the store, the boys asked if they can get some tchochke toys and I said: we'll see. When we got to the alarm clocks, 7 yo quickly calculated that if we buy a cheaper one, the chances for him to get a toy are higher. Then the boys went to check out the bargain section while I loaded on some potting soil. Our total came up exactly to groupon. The boys got LED flashlight rings. As we got to the car, 7 yo discovered that his does not work. I gave him the receipt and told to ask for a replacement. He marched in and very politely did just that. Till now, he usually claimed to be too shy in such situations.

Then we walked to Office Depot to laminate some Purim stuff. 7 yo was surprised that we walked there and did  not drive. The boys hung out nicely, exploring nooks and crannies of the shelves while the clerk was fighting the laminating machine which kept sucking in empty plastic sleeves.

We had milchig tacos for dinner. 7 yo first retold the story of an emperor without clothes.Then he made up a lengthy story about how the cheetah got its speed, Kipling style. He mixed in the African legend of tear marks on cheetah's eyes, but the rest was quite original. After dinner,7 yo sulked a bit since he wanted Bruster's for dessert and kind of mentioned it in the car this morning. I used my standard "we'll see" and 5 yo piped in from Winnie the Pooh: you always see, but nothing comes out of it. I guess that's true. "We'll see" buys me time and allows to explore how I feel on the issue. Sometimes the answer is "yes", I just did not consider it. And even if the answer is "no", it is gentler after I put some thought into it instead of knee-jerk response. At the end, the boys got Ben and Jerry's Phish Food, with whipped cream, syrup and sprinkles.

Then it was haircut time. The boys needed it. I usually cut their hair at home, but every once in a while, I will take them to get professionally straightened out. This was at home job. They knew that we will be getting pizza tomorrow for Rosh Chodesh, and I explained before that every time they get a barber haircut, that's one less pizza to eat out. While monetarily this is worth it, effort-wise it is a bit crazy, since I have to keep three kids  out of a pile of hair and stick them straight into shower... but for me, that is one less dinner to cook, serve and clean up after!

piano practice

This morning started with a dental cleaning for mommy. My husband was supposed to be home with the kids... well, there was a cord prolapse, emergency CS, so I was stuck bringing all three of them to the office. I was concerned. I put 2 yo in the stroller, grabbed some books for the boys and headed out. In the waiting room, 7 yo mercifully picked up some ATV racing magazine and not Sports Illustrated. I started reading One Fish, Two Fish and both the younger ones listened in. I got taken for X-rays before my husband came to pick up the kids, so I brought toddler with me and hoped that boys would behave in the not-child-friendly waiting room.

After all that was done, we headed out to Interactive Kids Neighborhood. This place is an hour away, so we packed lunch. This was our first time, so I was not sure what to expect. It was cute, set up as a neighborhood, with a post office, grocery store, vet, hospital, cafe, police car, fire truck, etc. They had a designated toddler room and place to eat lunches in the back. The kids had a blast.

I felt a tinge of sadness. Instead of experiencing life in a real neighborhood, now we have to build a make-believe one and then let kids play there. I let my kids play in whichever area they chose. At the same time, I observed a school group. They were led by a teacher, followed her in pairs. They marched to a plane, gawking, but still lined up. Then the teacher spoke for a bit. Then they lined up and marched off, kids wistfully looking at all the things they did not get to play with. I'm sure it will go home in a newsletter: we had a field trip. They kids learned a lot...

There was a music room with a piano. 5 yo came and banged on the keys for a bit. I told him the only song I know how to play is Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. Later, 7 yo came.He wanted me to teach him. I showed it slowly, he practiced. I showed it again. By then, 2 yo ran to another room, so I left. I heard him practicing on his own. Then he called me to demonstrate. 

As a kid, I took piano for 3 years.Those were tear-soaked years, when I memorized where my fingers are supposed to go, but could not hear the mistakes I was making. All I have to show for them is that Twinkle, Twinkle. And here is my son, in a moment of high motivation, picking it right up. Then he practiced it on a xylophone. 

Overall, they had great time and want to go back there again.

Formally, we did chumash when we came back, after dinner. 7 yo told me he wants to do it first thing every day, more to get it done with. I will see how that will work. He was able to translate most of the new pesukim. He does not like reviewing the pesukim from the previous day, and he wanted to translate them right away. I asked him to first read the whole pasuk in Hebrew and then go back to translate. 

Monday, February 20, 2012

President's Day

I got a rare break: all three kids slept over at my amazing mother-in-law's house last night! This was the first time for 2 yo, but she did well, we just had to transport all her blankies and "friends". I know a lot of people out there are into attachment parenting and probably cannot imagine doing this. Well, I'm sorry to say but life interferes sometimes, so it's better if they can separate without trauma.

When my father had his liver transplant, I flew to visit him by myself. My boys were almost 2 and 4 and I had to leave them with a patchwork of friends. When my father passed away, I had to leave them again. My last baby was lucky that no family emergencies caused separations. Either way, I am happy that she can sleep over at grandma's without being tethered to mommy.

This gave me a bit of a breather here. My husband was also on call, so I came back to an empty house. I got a chance to clean up and organize and plan a bit ahead. So today, by the time we started school, I felt refreshed and ready to go.

We started with bird count, which went a bit better today. Then boys did Rosetta Stone. I turned off voice recognition and writing for 5 yo, and he is much more cooperative about doing it now. I read to him and he read to me. He chose to read captions from one of the dinosaur books and another picture book. I read about human body. We also did handwriting and ketiva. We were doing lamed, which is the last letter that he did not know how to write in his name. He kept insisting that I am not showing it correctly and he has his own way, but his lameds were illegible. So it became "write a letter, whine, write another letter, whine some more". We finished with Yesh Lanu Lama.

For President's Day, I assigned the oldest to write a short report about George Washington. We have DK biography which he previously read. He took it quite seriously and wrote two full pages. I taught a bit about paraphrasing and summarizing. He wanted to write about the wars. Apparently, we did not do this long enough, as he wants to go back.

Then we did Chumash. He seemed more disengaged today, but did remember a bunch of words from before. He decided to illustrate each new pasuk that we do. He likes drawing diagrams and hopefully this will let him remember content better. He rolled his eyes a bit. I do wonder whether he can finally express his resistance instead of pretending to love every minute of it.

The kids helped me load up recycling into the car. I dropped off boys in gymnastics and proceeded to farmer's market where I drop off recycling and pick up fruits and veggies. 2 yo loves looking at live fish, lobsters and crabs they have there. During the summer I brought the boys and they got a kick out of walking around multiple fish tables, say which ones are kosher.

Then it was time to pick up boys and head home for dinner (french toast). During the ride back, 7 yo asked how the water stays in the oceans and does not splash out. I asked him whether he had a hunch. He said: gravity? I confirmed and described what water looks like in space, which led to a discussion of space food.

After dinner and bathing, 7 yo poured his sister's goodnight milk since I was busy with 5 yo. Chessed does start at home. You can learn middos at school all you want, but unless you are put into the situations when you have to use them, it's just a bunch of words. Then he tackled 550 piece puzzle which has been sitting around for a while. 2 yo asked to help him. I got her 24 piece. 5 yo was helping both of them and feeling needed.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Gotta be flexible

By now, some of you are thinking that either homeschooling is all peachy or I am not being honest. Well, Friday was hard. It could have been a bad day. I felt tired and short-tempered. I had a lot of shabbos cooking left to do. My cleaning lady quit, but she only let me know this week, after not coming in last week either. My husband cleaned up the bathrooms on Thursday night, but the rest of the house still needed to be cleaned.

Nobody wanted to help me put the ingredients into the bread machine for challah, but 7 yo and 2 yo wanted to shape theirs. 7 yo asked me to teach him how to make 3-braid. The toddler just mushed hers around. 5 yo messed with his zhu zhu pets.

We went downstairs to do Rosetta Stone. The boys wanted to do it one at a time. I got myself into organizing board games, they do get put away, but the pieces are in whichever box is handy at the time. I told 7 yo that if he organizes Monopoly, I will play it with him on Shabbos (I hate Monopoly). He got ziploc bags for every money value and did sort it out.

By then it was 11am, and we still had a bunch of schoolwork to do. We did parsha; 5 yo wandered around the room. When it was just him, he usually sat next to me. I wonder whether he misses sitting on my lap or chair when it was one-on-one, without his brotehr stealing the spotlight. When I asked him to pay attention, he said that he was listening, which I believe to be true. 7 yo participated. When I read the pasuk about not cooking a kid in its mother's milk, I asked him what idea does it remind him of. He said, the story of Chana and her sons. I was stumped, I was aiming for kashrut-related answer. He explained about not killing a child in front of its mother. Touche!

Then I got them parsha sheets, while making lunch and trying to cook. The boys were not so into them and I kept on pushing. Now, in hindsight, I should have stopped. There is no narrative, so it is much harder to put pictures in order.

The boys wanted to do Great Backyard Bird Count, but I wanted to get other things out of the way first. They went along, but they were definitely sabotaging me. When we finally got outside, there were few birds to be seen. I also got worried about identifying them. We did see some robins, a cardinal, thrashers and sparrows. I suggested that having bird feeder might attract some birds. The boys wanted one, immediately. I told them that we might go and get birdseed after 2 yo woke up from her nap. They would have to make their own bird feeder. We entered data online and saw the tally for the rest of the state, which was quite neat.

By now it was close to 4. I still had to bathe 3 kids, put up cholent, sweep and mop living and dining room and clean the kitchen. By now you know that when I say those rooms needed to be cleaned, they objectively needed it. I was rushing. I spilled a bucket in the living room and had even more mess to clean up. The boys showered and were running around screaming. The toddler kept trying to climb into the tub. See, I am human, I have bad days too.

I was annoyed because I wanted to get 7 yo to do some Hebrew reading' whether from Vayeira or from the parsha and it did not happen. I also told him that we will make rock candy and he can have some every time we learn Torah, but it didn't happen either. His brother remembered about it on Shabbos, when it was too late.

At least we made up for yesterday today. 7 yo asked me to teach him more parsha on the way to shul. Later, he asked which state is the poorest. Then he wanted to know why. Then he wanted to know how to change that. Around shalishudes time, he remembered about Monopoly. We all played, with 5 yo being on my husband's team. I got 7 yo to do some math for banking. 5 yo was reading chance and community chest cards and counting up the dots on the dice. They boys taught me a faster way to play with the speed die and I found that I do not mind Monopoly as much as I remembered. In fact, it was fun!

Being flexible is the only way to be.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

rainy indoor day


  •  For geography, we discussed where we live, starting with street and ending with universe. I stressed proper capitalization for 7 yo, he stuck in western hemisphere and multiverse. Then I asked him to write a sentence, including all of the above. With 5 yo, I just went over written words. Then I printed out maps, to demonstrate how these levels are related. 5 yo settled for circling the correct area. 7 yo colored in each location, with coloring in surrounding locations in another color.
  • For math, 5 yo continued in his brother's text book. More breaking up tens into ones. 7 yo did some measurements.
  • Next was Chumash and Yesh Lanu Lama. 5 yo did his work independently! I wrote a bunch of " mi amar el mi" and "al mi neemar" for 7 yo and he got most of them right, open Chumash. We reviewed pesukim from yesterday and did two more. He hemmed and hawed, but did go through them. I think his hesitation is because now he can express his fear of unknown ( new words that he has to read, translation). Once I asked him if he was nervous, he admitted so, and then went on. He asked an excellent question: how could Lot go out and talk to his sons-in-law, if people of S'dom were right outside the door? Then we listened to this aliyah at abaalkoreh.com, the  kids sat in front of the computer like listening to iTunes. He is the musical one, loves to sing, let him pick up trop and get preview of next pesukim.
  • For reading, 7 yo read about explorers ( ongoing topic), 5 read Big Dog, Little Dog. During reading, he didn't get is why the dogs were not comfortable in their beds. I thought it was obvious, but I bit my tongue. I had to show him first page again and asked him to compare dogs. He noticed different sweaters. He noticed that one had eyes open and the other one, closed. After all this, he noticed that one is big and one is small. Then we went back to the story. I asked him to compare the rooms. He noticed that one had a nightstand. I asked him why the other one didn't. Only then he realized that the beds were wrong sizes. This kids really perceives world in his own way.
  • 7 yo asked for Spelling Power, so we did it. I decided to start with Level D ( 4th grade). I introduced the program, explaining that we will only study the words he does not know and only the words that will come up in his writing. I also explained that the rule for the group will be stated first, instead of his guessing what the words have in common. So far, so good.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

letting them be

Give kids space, and they will achieve beyond what you expect.

On Friday we were finally getting attic squirrels evicted. 7 yo watched for a while and then said that since we're taking away their home, he will make them one. He took a cereal box, lined it with grass, stuck pine cones inside and perched it in a pine tree, since squirrels supposedly like pine sap. Afterwards, he got an idea to make our entire house into wildlife rescue center. He took some paper and drew up plans. Our living room was to be a rain forest. My bedroom--tundra. The basement was turning into wetlands. Then he told me he will need misters for rain forest. He got his animal book and sorted which animals could live in which habitat, all the while making lists. All of this took couple of hours. I wanted to do parsha, but his heart obviously was involved in something else. ( we did do parsha and he read and copied short version of 10 commandments too).

Today, my 5 yo got two sheets of stickers. As we are driving, he was demonstrating how he can convert them into different mathematical notations: cross them over for +, take one away for -, hold them parallel for =, turn cross on its side for multiplication, then hold them at one end for "greater than" and reverse for "less than". I would never be able to get him to write all of those down for no reason.

I think I am warming up more and more to unschooling...

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Feb. 14th

Today started with gym time for me. (Yesterday my husband was delivering all night, so I did not want to stick him with early risers in the morning). Tonight he's on call, so it's mommy all the way.

When I got back, I asked kids to get dressed and got them bagels for breakfast. They asked for Yaalili, I call this kids' coffee, natural high, whatever lifts their moods and sets a good tone for the day. Then we were collecting: stinkbug and pictures of black widow for nature center exchange; books to read in chiropractor's office; free coupons for Krispy Kreme... 7 yo decided that he wants to bring a daffodil to trade in.

The boys davened in the car ( not my top choice, but we had to be semi-punctual here) and then chilled out listening to Alice. Usually, when we get to the office, they have all this bouncy energy, just as I'm flat on my back. This time we brought books. 7 yo read Greek myths from What Your Second Grader Needs to Know. 5 yo read Frog and Toad. 2 yo snacked on Cheerios. The chiropractor was also giving out dumdums for Valentine's day, so I told kids they can have one at the end if they behaved. Between bribery and things to do, this was a subdued visit.

Then we stopped for our donuts and headed to Nature Exchange. The kids can bring in natural objects and trade them in for points, which can be redeemed for other nature objects. 5 yo redeemed his for a fox skull, to join the dog skull previously traded by his brother. 7 yo traded for amethyst. I was hoping to hike the grounds, but it rained the night before, drizzled in the morning and one of the trails was closed. The boys voted against the hike. We read some science books there, 2 yo colored a snowman. I bet she had no idea what that was.

Then we got home around 1. We did formal schoolwork from 1 to 3:40, with a break for lunch.
5 yo enjoys the idea that he can do problems from 2nd grade's math book, so far it's place value. All of his work went smoothly today, including Rosetta Stone and Yesh Lanu Lama workbook.

I started Spelling Power with 7yo, trying to place him accurately. Between two diagnostic tests, he spells at 5th grade level. I'm debating whether I should even be doing a formal spelling program with him or just let him be, till 5th grade, and then retest.

I also got Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind, which he repeatedly complained were too easy. Today we did subject and predicate. 5 yo joined in too, only for him I was writing sentences, while 7 yo was writing his own.

I started on Chumash. After talking it over with a few people, I realized that I need to define my goals for Chumash. I would like him to break words into shorashim, prefixes and suffixes, infer meaning from shorashim, pause at logical breaks and make sure that there is comprehension. In addition, I would need to review pasukim from the previous day. He was very nervous today, as we were not writing down exact translation of every word and, therefore, there was nothing to memorize. He pulled sulkiness and crankiness on me, too. However, I was pleasantly surprised that he remembered the gist of pesukim from yesterday and was able to translate them smoothly, with just occasional checking of shorashim. We did two more pesukim today and, at some point, he looked eager to do more. He was able to translate even the new ones. We acted out Lot being pressed against the door, pulled in by melachim and the people groping around blindly. He also noticed "from young to old". Overall, it was quite pleasant.

Monday, February 13, 2012


We're still ironing kinks out in davening.

 Now, we had it set as a routine since boys were quite little that you daven every day. They used to say Mode Ani, Torah Tzivah lanu Moshe and Shema, followed by ABCs and Alef Bais. We got them Artscrol children's siddurim. Eventually, things were added. Now 5 yo says Ma Tovu, Asher Yatzar, E-lokai Neshama, and all birchot ha Torah. We tried Ashrei, second paragraph of Shema, Aleinu, birchot ha Shahar, Adon Olam and Yigdal, but he always seems to fall back on core davening.

In shabbos groups, the boys daven whatever the group leader is saying.

Personally, having come to tefila in my teens, I took a long time getting to the "mechanical" level most people were on. Which was a good thing, since I cared and took time about whatever I was saying. So I like the idea of not pushing more and more davening on kids, but letting them take on more responsibilities as they desire. If you can't picture that, think back to the story of a boy saying Alef Bais with kavana.

The few things that 5 yo says, he understands and wants to say. 7 yo keeps alternating between showing off the davening that he knows to falling back to five tefilot that he actually WANTS to say. 7 yo was saying more and more in school, with the result of caring less and less about what he was saying.

I used to insist on sitting nicely for davening, open sidurim in laps, saying every word, thinking that you are talking to Hashem. Now I let them march/dance around, preferably with siddurim. I do a silly line before Shema : close you eyes and think about (pizza, walking on the ceiling, zoo). They yell back: no, we think about  Hashem, who is one and only G-d, and we love him very much. I believe that at least sets kavana for Shema.

As with potty training: some kids get is earlier, some later but no one gets married in diapers; so with davening: by bar mitzvas, they will get it.

A sign that it's working is that 2 yo insists on davening too. She gets a sidur and does say Mode Ani, Raishit Chochma, Torah and SHema.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

It's not easy being green

Today we somehow just could not get started. Toddler woke up early, husband took her down to the basement for an hour. I got out of bed as 7 yo was coming out. I went to put up challah, he sat with me at the kitchen table. Tu BShevat cards were laying there, so he asked for a round of Go Fish. Free review and reinforcement. He lost, but did not lose it.

5 yo came out late, 7 yo finished his breakfast, but would not get dressed, and boys were hard to round up. Eventually we davened. 7 yo sneaked downstairs to do Rosetta Stone. I adjusted the program for him, so he is not doing every single activity. 5 yo acquiesced to doing it with speech recognition turned off. I went around the house picking up random items and placing them in semi-appropriate spots.

By 10, the schedule was finally written down. I wrote parallel activities and boys took turns picking. 7 yo picked Lashon Hatorah first. I discovered that he has been taking words apart: first writing down just the translation of prefixes; then, just the suffixes and then filling in the nouns. I asked him orally some words, so that he had to put the whole translation together. Even though he can chant prefix/suffix song from school and identify them correctly in the workbook, when later on today we worked on the text of Asher Yatzar, with line-by-line translation, he missed some prefixes. I'm worried that he does his work mechanically and will not be able to apply it to chumash. ( I have not been doing Chumash at all this week).

Then we finished off science experiments. I cut through celery to show that it got stained inside (xylem) and explained that it was like straws for the plant to drink water from the soil. The kids asked to eat colored celery afterwards. Then we did an experiment with reflected/absorbed light. WE got to go to the dark basement with flashlight and 5 yo remarked that this is the best experiment ever. We also discussed how we see colors.

Then we did reading. I gave 7 yo the literature section in "What Your 2nd Grader Needs to Know". Then, during lunch, he asked about which fairy tale is the most common one. He also deduced that they all have morals. He liked the Chinese fairy tale about a boy with the magic paintbrush who could paint things that came to life. I drew a parallel to Harold and the Purple Crayon. I also said that in different parts of the world, people tell similar tales, but the characters might change. He continued with different versions of The Tortoise and the Hare. I would count this as excellent lit discussion, no need for forced comprehension questions. I also got him to copy a sentence and identify common and proper nouns. He wrote from memory, with a lot of misspellings and incorrect words. I asked him to proof-read it word by word, but he still missed some. Meanwhile I did handwriting with 5 yo. Seeing his brother copy, he also agreed to copy a sentence. This one I wrote for him, in all caps. ( We are still working on forming lower case letters).

After lunch, the kids played in the yard for a bit. Then I got 2 yo napping ( thank you, Hashem), and the boys did math. 7 yo flew through it. I showed to 5 yo > and < signs. He excitedly announced to his brother: I'm learning symbols! He got them and successfully compared numbers up to 100.

For final activity, 7 yo read and translated Asher Yatzar line by line while his brother had one of Of Yesh Lanu Lama. This is where he had a meltdown. There were 12 lines, to fill in the blanks, with two word choices on the side. I told him to do top 6 and then he would tell me answers for the bottom ones and I would write them in. He knows about half Hebrew letters in script, so this is an opportunity to practice them. He totally buckled, melted down, threw a tantrum, claimed that I'm hurting his feelings, that his stomach hurts...  I told him to lay down on the couch till his stomach feels better, By this point, his brother finished and asked if he can go downstairs to play computer games. This worsened 5 yo's fit. After an hour, somehow, we agreed that first I'll write the bottom ones as per his dictation. By now, he could not remember simple words... I felt locked into a losing battle. Once this was done, I had to go to the grocery store, but he wanted to watch just a little Dinosaur Train.

I have not been out of the house and I do not like when I do not get out. So we walked to Kosher Market around the corner. The boys brought their wallets in hope of stopping by Tuesday Morning to get toys. (They know to use their allowance money for things like that). The oldest was also requesting Starbucks hot cocoa, which I vetoed, being too close to the evening. They each picked out a toy: a transformer for 5 yo and a spy kit for 7 yo, paid one at a time. When we were walking out, 5 yo thanked me for letting him buy a toy. After we bought groceries and kids got free lollies, he thanked me again. One of the beauties of the intense kid is that gratitude and love is also over the top.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

book vs. experiential knowledge

Today is Tu B Shevat. We spent the morning with homeschooling co-op. The boys are in yoga together and are happy. I teach a toddler class, so I get exhausted by the end.

When we got home and had lunch, my 2 yo mercifully took a nap. I taught boys shivat minim and we played "go fish" with cards from chinuch.org. (I don't know how people functioned before this website). We played one round in English and one in Hebrew. They went along, and, at least the older one, can name them now. Then we read a bit about each of the minim. I was hoping to get more formal schoolwork done, but tired mommy + antsy boys did not result in a good combination. 7 yo did some Rosetta Stone while I took a phone call.

Then we checked on the science experiments we set up yesterday. I used Janice Van Cleaver's book about plants. We soaked pinto beans to slip off seed coats and look inside; to see how water volume changes with soaking; and put some leaves in colored water to see water movement. I felt the experiments were very basic and not very exciting. I liked following the book, since I could reinforce reading directions and gathering materials before starting out to do something.

What happened today took me back to my middle school teaching days in Houston. First week I was teaching life science, I discovered that 7th graders have NEVER germinated beans. Consequently, they had no idea what would happen. They could not tell me how plants grow, which part emerges first, what conditions are necessary. I took a detour and hung ziploc bags with germinating seeds to show these kids what it's like. I remember thinking how deprived they were.

Today reminded me that there is nothing like a first-hand experience. Before we checked on our experiments, 7 yo volunteered hypotheses (thank you, Dinosaur Train) about what we'll see. He told me that soaked beans will multiply in a cup: we put in 10 yesterday and today there will be more. He also told me that the water level will rise. For the last experiment, he predicted that color will move through the leaf. He was shocked that there was same amount of beans as we put in and that water was absorbed. At that point, 5 yo went into detailed comparison of dry vs. soaked beans. We took off seed coats which 7 yo surmised were for protection and looked at plant embryos. I showed them radicle and immature leaves. When I asked why the leaves were white, 7 yo told me they did not have chlorophyll and could not do photosynthesis. I explained that's the reason why baby plants need cotyledons. Overall, they dug through a large amount of seeds, slipping off coats and splitting them.

My oldest is very book-smart. What I did not realize was lacking was experiential knowledge. I will have to amp up those opportunities for him. As Ms. Frizzle says: "Get dirty! Make mistakes!"

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

on clean homes

Living room tonight.
 I have been asked about how I go about keeping my house clean with three kids underfoot. The basic answer is that I do not sweat it. And I have someone coming to clean the house once a week, something that developed in the past couple months. But I do have a few general principles that I try to stick to:
  • It's either my standards or my sanity. I choose my sanity.
  • Others will clean up. It will not be done to my specifications, but I can either try to do it all and grumble about it, or let them pitch in and thank them for the results.
  • A few books or toys on the floor never killed anyone. In fact, it encourages someone to read or to play. My kids are very good at entertaining themselves. They are so good at it, that I feel like I am interrupting to do schoolwork. I believe that has to do with having lots of materials accessible. 
  • Everything does get put away for Shabbos. Not after every playtime. Not at the end of the day. At the end of the week. And then we get special Shabbos mess.
  • I like to rotate toys. I also lock up legos and K'NEX if they are not cleaned up. Having those underfoot ( in the basement) is often a direct assault on my sanity.
  • I do not believe in buying every single new toy/game/craze that is out there. This encourages kids to find new uses for old toys (and cuts on clutter). My boys wanted marble run. They used train tracks, balls from magnetic rods and large wooden boards to make their own. 
Other view of the living room. We have a problem: whenever we go to the library, the books do not fit on the bookshelf any more.
Kitchen. Boys unloaded dishes and left them on the counter since the cabinets are too high ( for now). 

Sunroom/computer room. We use easel for Parsha and as a blackboard. 

Sunroom. The bouncy ball and the rocker are for my 5 yo to get wiggles out. He can bounce/rock and read at the same time. He also listens better that way. Both are allowed all over upstairs except for the kitchen.
Also, I am alone most of the day (and night) as my husband is often on call. I have to prioritize, and having a showroom-worthy house is just not on the list. The kids are fed, the conversations are mostly pleasant, the books are read. The floors can get picked up some other time.

Look at your house. Are you the master of your home or the slave of someone else's expectations?

Monday, February 6, 2012

So many ways to count

Today we went to Spivey Hall for their Young Audience concerts. This one had to do with counting and was a bit too young for 7yo, but he enjoyed it all the same. The performer, Mr Greg, really got his audience going, even 2 yo was dancing, stomping and trying to count her fingers. Additionally, we got to see organ in the hall and swans and geese in nearby lakes.

During the drive to and fro we listened to Alice in Wonderland. I find that books on tape work very well for us. Whenever I start a long book at home, we usually get through first couple chapters and then some other book comes along. In the car, the CD is always right at the spot where we left off, and the kids enjoy listening to the same story multiple times. I get these books on tape from the library and 6 week span gives us plenty of use.

Once we got home, it was lunchtime. 7 yo did Rosetta Stone while I was making lunch. He thinks he's pulling a fast one on me, getting a lot of sanctioned computer use. I'm just letting him go at it.

After lunch, I got complaints that the schedule is still not written up. I fixed that and for now told boys to take turns picking which activity we'll do next. I am still figuring out what exactly 7 yo knows and how much should I encourage him or let him be. He finds his math quite easy, I asked him to get started on one page and then he came back, with 4 more pages filled in. His brother was still not done with his, so he asked to have a timed addition/subtraction page printed out. ( They did those at school). Why not?

Total sitting down school time for today: 2.5 hours, with breaks.

Right now they're taking turns using Mavis Beacon. Then it's off to gymnastics and library.

I love NOT having to do carpool!

Homeschooling Conference

Reposting from one of frum homeschooling groups:

We have opened registration for the Fourth Torah Home Education Conference!

You will spend the day learning from veteran home educators, meeting other Jews interested in living a family-based learning lifestyle, 
and be able to peruse and purchase homeschooling materials from local and national educational vendors.

We are proud to bring you:
  • Evelyn Krieger, the author of the popular new novel, One is Not a Lonely Number, and veteran homeschooling mother.

  • Mrs Deborah Beck talking about Integrating Kodesh and Chol: Secular Subjects and Torah - Two Sides of the Same Coin.

  • Mrs. Robin Alberg presenting Remaining Focused In an Age of Digital Distractions. 

  • Mrs. Susan Lapin teaching us the idea of VeShinantam Levanecha: Defining Torah Home Education.

  • A Veteran Homeschoolers Panel: Addressing Key Questions Including "How Can I Teach What I Never Learned?"

  • Mr Max Masinter leading a group discussion on Whether the Homeschooling Community Should Promote Homeschooling as a Lifestyle Choice to Address Communal Issues. 

  • and several speakers/topics TBA.

Shabbos hospitality is available with the possibility of a melava d'malka afterwards. 

The conference will be Sunday May 6, 2012 at the Park Heights JCC in Baltimore, MD. Registration will begin at 8:15am and the conference will begin at 9 am. 

To find out more and register for the conference, please visithttp://torahhomeedu cation.eventbee. com

We look forward to meeting you at the conference!

I would love to go, but they are still working out childcare. Pretty ironic, considering this is for a group of people who definitely have kids an home. Everywhere I go, I bring my kids as a necessity. I would enjoy and get more out from this sans kids, but, frankly, where am I going to put them?

Also, now that the word got out more that we re homeschooling, I am finding out locally that there are a whole lot of frum people doing the same. Maybe with one kid. Maybe for half a day. For their own reasons. If only we could all unite and exchange information, then there would be less "sticking out like a sore thumb" syndrome.

Sunday, February 5, 2012


Yesterday, 7 yo asked me if we have Sunday school. I looked confused. He explained that he's worried that we'll have school on Sundays. I said that we do what we usually do on Sundays, and I will not write down a list of things to do, but if he feels like doing any work, he can do it.

Today, they all got up and started off with origami. They self-taught it and by now are pretty good following directions from a book. Then there was dishwasher unloading and breakfast. I outsourced dishwasher to the kids for the past year, they take turns doing top and bottom since neither likes to do silverware. (I don't like unloading dishwasher either).

The oldest davened only two things and then asked if he can do Rosetta Stone. I said yes and he plugged at it for a while. He said it's very easy and he wants to catch up to his brother. Well, his brother has been doing it for the past half year, so I do not think he will be catching up any time soon, but I like the motivation.

Right after lunch, 7 yo was invited for a playdate at a friend's house, with a promise of bowling. He jumped at the opportunity. 5 yo felt betrayed. He demanded to be taken bowling, tomorrow, by himself. The best that I could offer was a visit to farmer's market, which I had to do anyway. On the way over, we stopped at Starbucks and I got him hot chocolate. That made him feel better. He asked to buy sugar cane juice, to taste. He also helped with the rest of shopping and then we dropped off recycling. Last year,  we went there every week and he helped me sort recycling and drop off each group into the right container. This year I was doing recycling/farmer's marker by myself with 2y while the boys were at gymnastics. I specifically wanted to go before Tu BiShevat, to pick up cool fruit.

When we got back, 5 yo played badminton with daddy on the front lawn. Usually my husband is not home on Sundays, so that was a special treat. 5 yo got much better at it. He asked for that sugar cane juice and then announced with shock that there is pulp in it. We filtered some out and he drank a bit. What will I do with a quart of sugar cane juice? Boil it down to make sugar!

Finally, 7 yo was dropped off. When he was dropped off, his brother goes: " I missed you! You know how I felt? Like you were in school!"

Friday, February 3, 2012


I took a Sudafed last night before bed and, unfortunately, started today at 2am. That affected the quality of the whole day.

Lessons learned:

  • parsha with two kids takes twice as long
  • if you do not spell out the names of everyone in the parsha, you will get questions about how B'nei Yisroel fought with mal'ach, he's invisible
  • trying to do both kids to do work at the same time will require some tweaking. Unless it's an experiment or art project, on those they will work cooperatively
the boys spent the morning getting under each other's skin, and I did not have a lot of patience, due to severe lack of sleep

  • 7 yo has hard time with any mistakes. I knew that about 5 yo, but now I see that he has it too.
  • 5 yo is not doing so well in his brother's shadow
Lots of things to think over Shabbos.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Day 2

Today was different.

The kids again got up early, 7 yo snuggled on the couch for a bit. That has not been happening on school days, there was so much rush to get dressed and have breakfast and grab lunchbox and put shoes on and get out the door and... This is also not my snuggly kid. I know those snuggles will end soon. I just like it when he's the one who starts snuggling.

All the snuggling, naturally, lead him to think that maybe TODAY would be a good day for Krispy Kreme. I agreed to take them, but asked them to get dressed first, unload the dishwasher, and to daven. Getting dressed was accomplished quickly, but davening was a whole different story. 5 yo threw a fit that he did not get right siddur. 7 yo's siddur was left at school, so he was using children's siddur we have at home. We have two of those and boys have been using them for years. A long time ago, 7 yo marked one as his and the other one as his brother's, but then 5 yo didn't like the marking, so we since have taped up that page. While the oldest was in school, 5 yo didn't care which siddur he got to daven from, but today he insisted that he needs the other one. When I suggested asking his brother about a trade, he just slid on the floor, kicking and screaming that he will never, ever trade. ( Not true, those trades do happen). Then he refused to daven, marched to his room, slamming doors. I seized the rare opportunity of my husband being home, and took just 7 yo and toddler to Krispy Kreme. 5 yo was not happy. We did bring donuts back, so everyone got to have some. 5 yo refused to daven in my absence, so he davened with me when I got back.

What we did schoolwise today:

  • 5 yo did Handwriting Without Tears, Ktav beKalut, a page from hebrew workbook ( he wrote half adn I wrote half), telling time to quarter hour on the analog clock. I read him MathStart: Three-dimentional shapes ( his pick), he read one easy reader.

  • 7 yo did writing, reading, Lashon HaTorah, Chumash and math. For math, he announced around the time I was davening with 5 yo that he'll just do math now, before I even wrote down plan for the day. He did three-digit subtraction and declared it to be super easy. Later, when he saw his brother read clocks, he asked for that too. He could read clock in 5 min increments, but he did not know terms "quarter to", "quarter past", so we worked on that. For writing, he wrote down the names of all countries in East Asia. He read a book about different occupations. Lashon Hatorah was also "easy-peasy", he stopped at two pages. For Chumash, I had a dilemma. He rebbe unkindly dropped us off in Vayeira, perek 19, pasuk 5. Look it up, you'll see what I'm talking about.

(I do not like my kid thinking that Anshei S'dom were just planning to shake melachim's hands, to get to know then better...I'm not sure if I should just skip into the next perek.)

Anyway, he read two pesukim. I asked him to write down unfamiliar words, then tease out shoresh. I told him the translation and he wrote those down. Then we put the pasuk together with translation. In school they were either memorizing pesukim with trop ( and he had memorized wrong pronunciation a few times), or breaking pasuk into parts and memorizing a hebrew chunk with english translation. He seemed to be tuning out understadning, because the pressure seems to be on finishing two parshiyot a year. So now he knows Lech Lecha by heart, but probably could not translate half of the words from it

I would like any suggestions on how to improve Torah learning.

Back to our day: after all this, they boys had a snack and then we tried out for homeschooling swimming team and failed miserably. I was orignally told that we should just show up, their level is fine and the coaches will work with them. Once we got to the pool, the boys got into water and could not swim the length of the pool, that was that. In the car, on the way back, 7 yo said gloomily that now he cannot reach his personal goal of becoming a good swimmer. I did not know that was his personal goal. I wonder which other personal goals were unattainable before.

Now the toddler is napping and the boys are enjoying glorious sunny warm day in our wild backyard. Later on, we'll pick up two friends and make pizza for dinner. The oldest always asks to help me make pizza, but he usually had to do homework instead and I was in a crunch to get dinner on the table before the other ones ate the kitchen.

What do I like most about these two days? Feeling at peace. Not having to report to others. Making our own schedule. Working out our own rhythms.

First day of home

Many of you have been waiting for this post. Some were expecting to hear that it surpassed my wildest expectations and resulted in accomplishing more than they would do in school. ( Ironically, there is no school today; parent-teacher conferences). Others were waiting to hear that this was pretty bad and I don't know what I was thinking, being home with (gasp) three kids and trying to teach them something.

The truth is, it was neither. Over the years, I learned not to let my expectations get ahead of me, so I was planning to play it by ear and this is how it went:

I got up to exercise at 6 am, at which point 2yo heard me and got up too. Before I got out the door, 7yo was up, excitedly asking to go to Krispy Kreme. He has this fixation that if he doesn't have to be in school, we should not waste a perfectly good opportunity to get heavenly donuts. I was sorry to disappoint him, but he took it in stride. By the time I got back from working out, the boys were sitting on the floor in their pajamas, reading books. 5 yo greeted me by announcing that he wants to be a robotic artist when he grows up and there is only one more dodo left in the world.

Everyone got dressed and had breakfast. 7 yo happily put on a stripey shirt, something that he couldn't previously do because of uniform. I also discovered that he doesn't have yoga-worthy pants. Then I had breakfast while they played. We davened, one at a time. Then we went to our homeschooling coop classes.

I got my 7 yo into classes mid-term, so we just took whatever was open. He went right in and 5 yo excitedly showed him around. He did art experimentation, yoga and board game club. I used to do yoga, so he was excited to try that out, but I think the board game class really got him in. He was taught to play backgammon. We have lots of games at home, but between sore losers, lost pieces and toddler interrupting, he has not been very interested to play at home. Except for chess. With daddy. Those Russian genes run deep.

Then they got home, everyone had lunch, toddler didn't nap. I tried Rosetta Stone Hebrew for the oldest, but this is when our computer went on strike. It kept not responding, so we quit. The oldest wrote a story, did some Hebrew reading. The 5 yo did handwriting in English and Hebrew.

The boys had a birthday party that afternoon, another homeschooled friend. They were quite excited to go, especially since they got to dress up in their coveted Purim costumes a whole month before Purim.

Afterwards, after dinner, 7 yo announced that he's going to learn Torah. He went to the shelf, got Artscroll Tanach and read some Melachim. For me, that was the proudest moment of the day. I believe in prepared environment and prepared minds, and when those are combined, real learning happens.

We read good-night stories. Two of those had to do with trees, that's my loose unit for Tu B'Shevat. One was a story of a tree and the other one discussed photosynthesis.

An ordinary day, and may there be more like it.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

If you let them be...


First day of homeschooling

7yo: OK, Mom, I'll be on the couch, learning some Torah.

He took an Artscroll Tanach and went for it.

Homeschooling mission accomplished!