Wednesday, May 23, 2012

change is hard

I am rounding up our academic year here, and this is a reflection of my current being.

I want to be a better parent, a better mother, a better role model. I have an idea of where I would like myself to be, which personality traits to shine and which to control. I know I need to yell less. I need to stress less. I need to plan less and go with the flow. I need to relax more and stop pressuring myself and the kids. I need to let go of my anal nature and embrace laid-back sides of me.

I know all of this, but change is hard.

Before I expect my kids to change their behaviors, and there are plenty of those, I need to remember how hard it is for me to change.

I need a game plan for myself.

I tell kids not to yell, but I slip into yelling. In order for my yelling to be effective, it needs to be used sparingly, only for emergencies and truly dire situations.

I know that one of my kids is very good at mirroring and magnifying emotions around him. I need to provide positive emotions to mirror.

I know unschooling works, yet, at the back of my mind, there is a nagging thought: what if they will never master this or that? What if they are behind? What if they will grow up lazy and stupid and you will only have yourself to blame? So I plan and spring my plans on them. They recoil and resist, I get wound up, and at the end, everyone loses.

The more I look around, the more I see that what is considered "education" is just a facade. Real learning happens all the time, only it is not easily classifiable. Real learning happens when you do not want it to happen, like when you lose it, and you are too tired to do whatever it is the kids asked you to do, or you minimize their request because, it is not important. Not important to whom? It might mean the world to them.

I clearly remember the day I learned the word "egotist". My father was supposed to take me to work with him, but, for whichever reason, it did not happen. I was quite upset, because it was important for me to go with him. My mother tried reasoning and explaining that I am behaving egotistically, thinking only about myself. Well, I was! Now, in addition to being upset, I was also behaving badly.

People do swearing jars. I think I need a whole collection: yelling jar, OCD jar, pressuring jar...

As for kids: we have been doing a bit of schoolwork here and there, but all real learning has been through unschooling. Like my 2 year old learning the letters off my T-shirts and then calling them out in books, or counting the eggs while baking muffins, in English and in Hebrew.Or 6 yo asking who is Elvis, and when I explain, exclaiming that Elvisosaurus is that dinosaur with a crest and 8 yo reminding me of Hound dog on my iPod. Or 8 yo talking about terrible clef and quark cheese being made up of quarks, of course. Or 8 year old asking me what's 12 times 4, because he wants to know how many more weeks till his birthday, and then figuring out that it's the same as 6 times 8, only he does not know that one, either, so then he added up two twelves, and then added the sum. Or 8 yo asking to do Rashis, because he's excited about them. We were ion the middle of Hagar and Ishmael story. I asked him what he thought about Hagar leaving Ishmael under a bush so she does not see him die. I asked if he would do the same, he said, yes. Then I gave him the following scenario: he breaks an arm and cries and I do not come over because I do not want to see his pain. His lip quivered and he said he does not want to talk about this any more. In fact, the next day he refused to answer anything about that pasuk, too painful. I keep forgetting how sensitive he is under all that tough big boy facade.

I need to pull back and cut my ambitions.

Change is hard.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

whose kids are these, anyway?

There has been a lot of discussion about this article:

Now, imagine, that all your kids will be home with you, all the way till they turn 18. No preschool, no day school, no yeshiva, no high school. For the argument's sake, let's assume that you are unschooling them, to the degree that you do not have to formally teach them anything. Your only job is to feed them, clothe them and keep them healthy, and let them tag along in daily doings of the household.

Does this plan send shivers down your spine? 

Is it because you do not know what to do with all of them?

Is it because you cannot spend so much time with your family?

Is it because you kids will fight the whole time?

Is it because you cannot imagine running an errand with all of them hanging around?

You probably had too many kids.

Before you pelt me, hear me out. Somewhere out there, there is a limit on how much you can handle. But that limit should not be yeshiva tuition. That limit should not be set by your friend, who had her fifth, while you only had your third.

That limit should be set by the fact that these are your children. It is your job to teach them manners and middos. It is your job to tuck them in at night and slay their monsters. It is your job to cheer at their successes and hurt with their failures. It is your job to look at them as little humans, and not projectors of your aspirations. It is your job to help them map out their goals and then reach them.

Tracy Hogg of the Baby Whisperer talks about "accidental parenting". She refers to patterns that parents accidentally fall into and then unwittingly reinforce till they have a problem. She is talking about babies: not napping, nursing round the clock ( ok, now attachment parenting enthusiasts can stone me too), waking up at night. She says that you have to be your baby's expert. Why do we assume that by the time kids start school, that expertise miraculously switches from parents to teachers? Why are we in such a rush to transfer the authority?

There is a famous Bar Mitzvah blessing that a father says: now I am free from the punishment that is due to this boy. Now, that my child is 13, he is responsible for his actions. But till that point (and in our infatuation with prolonged childhood, I think that age is 18-21) the parent it responsible. Not the day school, not the principal, not the rebbe, not the friends. The parent is.

The original schools were set up for orphans. Everyone else was taught by their parents. Somehow, all the great rabbis of Mishna, Gemara, all the commentators were taught at home and. somehow, managed to become great Torah scholars. I am assuming that most of them did not have parents who were Torah scholars, but the attitude must have come from within the household.

I think we are approaching the tuition crisis from the wrong end. I think that if home education would be a viable competition to dayschool, the dayschools would be compelled to provide what they were supposed to provide in the first place: education for those who cannot get it any other way. For this to happen, parents would have to approach parenting as a full-time job, as a career, as an avocation.

So before we complain about tuition crisis, I would like to hear complaints about those over-the-limit children, the ones that parents keep producing for the community to parent.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

typical unschooling day

Thank you, Shoshana, for sharing this:

I am very impressed and inspired.  It is also good that the mom sounds like me: very interested in letting go, and very aware how hard it is for her to let go. I especially appreciate the piece at the end which allows one to see HOW letting go happens.

On this note, today we are unschooling. I had a miserable day yesterday, lots of yelling and screaming, both by me and by the kids. I have been thinking about calling the school year over for 6 yo.

Today went much better. First of all, my husband was home the whole day, so that made a huge difference. ( Last night he came home at 2 am, which did not add anything positive to my frazzled state). I went to work out,  came home to kids playing, 2 yo wearing pajamas with rain boots. I asked boys to get dressed, eat breakfast and daven. I told 8 yo that I would like to do chumash before his friends come in the afternoon and offered to do it right away. He wanted to do it after they come. I said, it will be dinnertime. We agreed on doing it while 2 yo napped, and, sure enough, when she went down, he sat with me. We tackled second Rashi (he did one yesterday, his choice). Today, he picked the one on "listen to her (Sarah's) voice". Boy, was he in for surprise! He did not expect to hear that Sarah had higher level nevuah than Avraham. And he remembered the Rashi from yesterday. He also wanted to do Siftei Chachamim--I was not ready for that. All in all, three pesukim today, one Rashi and he pulled out a few shorashim and answered questions.

Over the course of the day:

  • I was informed that boys killed a snake, figured out how to squeeze its mouth open, buried it in the backyard to decompose, so they would have a complete skeleton
  • 6 yo asked about 400 mile scale on a place-mat and 8 yo used that scale to calculate that there are 1650 miles vertically across US
  • our old atlas was compared to even older Mir I Chelovek to a newer map
  • the boys made underwater gardens in see-through containers
  • 6 yo asked why we recycle and we discussed how reusing is recycling too
  • the boys counted how many pits were in each watermelon slice
  • I showed 8 yo Rashi on Gemara and how Mishna is inside Gemara
  • 8 yo made cardboard boats
  • the boys made a marble run, first out of K'NEX, then out of wooden blocks and train tracks. My husband told 8 yo about two angles which are formed by an inclined plane
  • the boys got to operate Keurig machine in the bank ( we had some business there, so I bribed them with apple cider for sitting patiently). They noticed where the empty containers got dumped
  • the boys noticed a blue bunting on our front lawn
  • the stripes on the back of the chipmunk were counted
  • the boys watched a Nova documentary on animals and excitedly told me how cuttlefish changes colors

I am probably forgetting something...

Over the course of the past day, I learned Rashi's biography. I found it funny that the most complete and least mystical one was on Wikipedia. 8 yo asked me why did Rashi use a special script, so I looked that up, too. I looked up shemitta and yovel, especially how to count. To see how not intuitive this is, click here. I also liked how today's Rashi tied into p'shat. I have learned that little bit about Sarah's insight so many times, but having to explain it forced me to get a new level of clarity.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Thank you, G-d

Thank you, G-d, for my old house--I have a roof above my head
Thank you, G-d, for my messy living room--I have kids who live here
Thank you, G-d, for interrupting phone calls--I have friends who call me
Thank you, G-d, for kids who want ketchup and shaker cheese and tomato sauce and mozzarella on their noodles--I have all of these in my pantry
Thank you, G-d, for muddy towels and bathing suits--my kids had great time playing outside
Thank you, G-d, for toys strewn all over--I have hands to pick them up
Thank you, G-d, for the cleaning lady who quit--we saved up to go to Israel
Thank you, G-d, for my van--I can give rides
Thank you, G-d, for giving me energy--I can take on a lot and get a lot done
Thank you, G-d, for maintaining my health--I have a new lease on life
Thank you, G-d, for my Ikea lifestyle-- I can focus on people and not on objects
Thank you, G-d, for the internet--I can communicate with others
Thank you, G-d, for my car trips--I can see so much of the world
Thank you, G-d, for homeschooling--I can see how my kids are learning and growing
Thank you, G-d, for my hard-working husband--I have a husband; he is employed and we have more than we need
Thank you, G-d, for giving me an opportunity to see how many things I should be thankful for!

Monday, May 14, 2012

today was better

I am typing this right now as a breather, between homeschooling, cooking and gymnastics.

Today was better. I planned out the day the night before, wrote it out and browsed through the next perek. I printed out a hundreds chart for 8 yo to skip-count by 6s, 7s, 8s and 9s, and made a comparison chart for ancient Greeks and Romans.

First of all, I got out early to exercise. Last week, I went once during the day and noticed how much more energetic I am when I am not half-asleep. But I do not have a lot of choice WHEN I can go, so I am grateful that I can go at all and that I can afford to work out in a gym.

I got home, everyone was still asleep. I caught up on e-mail, as the kids came out. They boys marched straight downstairs to play some kind of army game. They found toy soldiers from a few years back and spent yesterday's rainy afternoon staging battles. Eventually, everyone got dressed, had breakfast and bentched. I davened with 6 yo, who is now fluent in birchot hashachar, as long as he can do a handstand on the couch while screaming out each bracha. 8 yo hit upon the idea of drumming while davening ( pardon the pun), and went downstairs to do so. He came up, glowing, and informed me that he also said Ashrei.

While he was drumming, 6 yo picked history. We started a chapter on ancient China, and I asked him to bring a map to show him how China ended up being the Far East. We also found India, Mesopotamia ad Egypt that we previously read about. He enthusiastically informed me that Indians could trade with Egyptians, since they can sail to each other. He also traced how far Israel is from where we live, and told me to watch the ocean for dolphins. I said that you cannot see dolphins from the plane, only clouds. Then we read about China and silkworms. When I started reading,  he told me to ask him questions at the end about what he read. Ok, no problem, I can check off reading comprehension for the day. Then we read about pictographs. I asked him to "write" me a message in pictographs. It did not go so smoothly, but eventually, we came up with a message and a representation for it. I pushed towards the idea that pictures can be ambiguous, unless you know exactly what each symbol stands for.

Then he did Lashon Hatorah, he added another prefix, but he seems to know them well and still colors in the lines. He finished the morning with handwriting. He is almost done with HWT, but he avoids writing in English. It does not come out smoothly, and he still hesitates on letter formation. I do not want to push through the summer with work, but I am worried that a lot of handwriting did not register so well.

As of last week, I was ready to declare summer vacation, but today showed me that there is still steam left. 8 yo did Rosetta Stone, Greek and Roman comparison chart ( not so eagerly) and then I gave him the hundreds chart. I told him just to do skip count by 6's, then 7s, then 8s and then 9s, hoping that some will assimilate and help with multiplication. He used a different color for each number and noticed that they overlapped on some.  He also noticed patterns, for predicting where the next multiple will come up. He decided to add 5s. He found that tow number had three different colors on them. I told him that meant they were multiples of all those numbers. I told him he can get one of them (72) by multiplying two of the three of its multiples (6, 8, 9). He figured out which ones and wanted to try it for the other one (90) using its multiples (5, 6, 9). He was perplexed that it did not work, so I introduced him to prime numbers. I broke down 6 and 9, and then showed how 90 is produced from primes. For his next step, he decided to skip count by 4s, 3s and 2s, which wonderfully left u s with a board full of unshaded prime numbers. He kept muttering, how much fun this is. Every time he would end on an unshaded square, he "discovered" it. He enjoyed it, and I enjoyed watching him. I also brought his attention to the fact that the higher you go, the more scarce the prime numbers become. Ah, the freedom of doing anything you want with any given material and just watching where it takes you.

After lunch, the boys were getting restless. I told them they can finish very quickly and have time to play. 8yo tried doing Lashon haTorah quickly, got half of it wrong and then lashed out how he doesn't even want to learn Hebrew. I asked him to fix it. He said that he'll just tell me the answers. I asked him to write them down. He said that he's squeeze them in. I asked to erase and fix the wrong ones. He stormed off, but did it. On the second try, he got them all right.

6 yo did Rosetta Stone and math. He wants me to sit with him. I know he can do it alone. He gets distracted a lot. I wish he would just focus on the task at hand. He manipulated Base Ten Blocks and got all the answers, but he kept writing in wrong numbers, erasing, and then writing in the same wrong number. Then he picked two "hot" problems from the bottom of the page. I said, fine. I started Chumash with 8 yo. He came in, telling me that he needs help. I said, I cannot help right now, do your best. He sulked. He said they are trying to trick him. I suggested he use base ten blocks again. He immediately saw the answer, he had to go into the next hundred.  I just so wish he would at least try instead of giving up on the spot.

In Chmuash, we started the next perek. I asked 8 yo to read the first 4 pesukim and tell me what he thinks they are about. He read them fluently and said they are about the birth of Yitzhak. He also decided to write down every single word he does not know, so I was happy to see such diligence. It will come in handy for review. I thought he would ask lots of questions, but he did not. I asked him which moed is the Torah talking about. Eventually, he figured out that it has to do with 3 guests and that prophesy. He did not remember Vatahar, so I looked back to the daughters of Lot. He remembered from there, but still chose to write it down. I also thought he would ask about repetitive language of this son being born to Avraham from Sarah, but he did not. He also did not know what Vaimol was, so I showed him at the end of Lech Lecha. Then he asked how to spell "circumcised" and I told him, explaining what the root was.

Then 6yo did Lama with drama. 8 yo did spelling and got all the words right. 6 yo wanted to go outside to play. 8 yo wanted to draw dinosaurs ( thanks, Shaina Silverman, it's that birthday book coming in handy). 2 yo wanted to be held. I wanted a few minutes of quiet.

My quiet will come when all the kids are in bed.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Parshat Emor

Today worked out well.

8 yo slept in because he was up at night with a stomachache. There was a homeschool day at the botanical garden, 9-12, so I told boys that if they want to go, we have to leave by 9:20, or we will not got at all. They started pretty slowly, but did breakfast, got dressed and davened. 6 yo bentched first two paragraphs by himself.I bentched  everything with 8 yo.

We got to the gardens by 9:40. They had a small schedule, with garden tours, a class on amphibians, story time and scavenger hunt. Both boys picked up scavenger hunt pages, with 8 yo picking up the one geared towards 3rd-5th graders. I opted for story time assuming that 2 yo will at least have one activity for herself. The story time was disappointing: there was an older man reading from stage in a flat voice, while holding the book so it faced him. Flashing a picture every once in a while did not cut it. One of the books was Where the Wild Things Are. Now we will be going through long commemoration of Maurice Sendak, who passed away this week. 6 yo read the title from his seat and whispered to me that he's scared. 8 yo reassured him by saying that he read that book before and it is not scary, it's funny. 6 yo said that he might look away, but what can he do about listening to it? I offered for him to sit next to me, which he accepted. He did listen to it and was OK at the end.

It's funny, I always thought that he's the one most likely to relate well to Max, the king of the wild things, and would appreciate the ability to tame his emotions which get him in trouble all the time. But now I worry whether for him, those emotional monsters are much too real. To us, we are in control, we tame them by looking them square in the eye and we choose when we leave to go home. For him, all these boundaries and controls might be fuzzy.

This also brings me to finishing Vayeira with 8 yo. The last perek is Akiedat Yitzhak, the binding of Yitzhak. When I teach parsha, I skip that part. I am not so sure where 8 yo's sensitivities lay in that area. He know the jist of the story, I wonder whether doing it in depth might be a bit too traumatic. On the other hand, I do not want to skip or to hold him back from finishing the parsha. I still have a bit of time to figure out what to do, but I would take suggestions from those parents who taught it or opted to skip it.

Then we did a homeschooling garden tour. The group was us and a bunch of black muslim kids. It was civil. They boys followed the guide while I chased 2 yo. I learned that there are bullfrogs in all the ponds, which just got there by themselves. I also learned that the poison frogs hopping from leaf to leaf in the conservatory are not poisonous, since they are not fed poisonous insects. And that Venus flytrap should not be triggered for no reason, as it wastes too much of plant's energy to open up again. The boys oohed over all insects stuck in pitcher plants. All the while, they filled out their scavenger hunts without any input from me. 6 yo informed me that he will draw requisite plant and animal on the back in his language ( translation: a doodle).

We got home by 1, I put up gefilte fish and chicken and sat down to the only formal activity of today: parsha. We started discussing in the car who are the relatives for whose sake a cohen can become impure. The boys came up with 6 mentioned in the Torah. At home, they added the wife. I asked 8 yo to read the first few pesukim and 6 yo to draw this cohen's family. 8 yo obliged, 6 yo ran away tantruming. 8 yo completed the picture of Cohen family, with Mr, Mrs, Grandma and Grandpa Cohen, brother and sister and baby boy and baby girl Cohen. 8 yo asked why the mother is mentioned before the father, but he worded it that men are more important than women. I cringed, but I had to look it up quickly. One of the commentators said that it's a new thing here, since she is not necessarily a daughter of a Kohen, so it is stressed that even for her sake, he can become impure. I gave myself a mental pat on the back for being able to read a meforash on the spot. This homeschooling thing is really sharpening my skills! I explained about met mitzvah and about Cohen Gadol.
Then I quickly went over how both kohanim and korbanot had to be complete and of perfect appearance, so that their defects would not take away from the message of the avodah.
Next, I printed out a Jewish calendar and I told 8 yo that we will put in all the holidays that are in the Torah. He got a  kick that the first mikreh kodesh is Shabbos. Pesach went well, I read the pesukim and he translated as much as he could, with me supplying the words he did not know. Then we got to maharat hashabat. He asked, which shabbat? He assumed it is one after Pesach, so he counted and overshot Shavuot. He guessed that it must be Shavuot, but reading about the waving of Omer somehow threw him off. Now, I have not been counting the Omer with the kids. I wait for my husband to count the omer with the bracha, and that happens after their bedtime. I got a sinking feeling that here we are, reading about 7 weeks, counting 50 days, and he has no idea what this is.I gave him a clue that the holiday at the end is something we still do. Somehow, he got it that Shavuot means weeks, so he counted backward from Shavuot. It slowly dawned on him that maharat hashabat might mean a day after the holiday.
I did the rest of the perek kind of quickly, he got the chagim in. I explained why some people choose to keep only Yom Kippur. I also read the pasuk about four species. By this point, he was done.
As a bonus activity, I asked him to count up all the mikr'ei kodesh. He got 7 days. I reminded him about shabbos. All in all, it took us over an hour.

I find it interesting that each one is a separate paragraph, with Hashem  addressing Moshe anew. I have a feeling that all chagim were not given at the same time, but each was told over individually.

All of this time, 6 yo hung out in another room. I will find out on Shabbos whetheer he was listening or not.

Now the kids are watching a movie about roller coasters.

Shabbat Shalom!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

tomorrow will be better

Yesterday, due to exhaustion, laundry backlog and unpacking, I unschooled. 6 yo davened eagerly so he could go out and vacuum the car with Daddy. I turned 8 yo's lack of desire to daven into a meaningful examination of Shema which involved two siddurim and open Chumash. We went to the library, where everyone stocked up on books. The boys typed thank you cards to our Baltimore hosts. They invented quesadillas. We assembled drums.

Today was horrible. The coop in the morning was fine, but i hassled boys into davening  before, which didn't work. 6 yo broke down and did not daven and then he broke down about not davening. This was the last day of the coop. I fallaciously assumed that we'll do judaics in the afternoon. I hissed at them during lunch which was late and they kept asking for more and more food that I was not ready to serve. I wrote down three judaic things each. 6 yo picked Lashon Hatorah and again thanked me for it. 8 yo did Rosetta Stone, but now he's getting to the part where he's not getting all the answers on the first try, so he's getting discouraged. Then he came up to do Lashon HaTorah, but instead of juts doing it, he kept making up weird games by adding up some numbers. I was snapping at him. I should have recognized boredom and disinterest. I sent 6 yo to do Lama, he did quite a bit, but I wanted him to do it faster. Then we did some Rosetta Stone, but he was too embarrassed to show me the spot where he ended. Then I butted heads with 8 yo over chumash. Since we finished perek, I wanted to do review sheets. He did not want to read pesukim or to seek out missing words. He cried. I assigned more. Somehow, that motivated him to do it, but he was not happy.

All in all, this took 2 hours. I knew it could have taken much less, so I was annoyed.

Now that it's quiet, and all kids are in bed, I am thinking about what I have done. I haven't done much good today. I have been damaging the relationships that took a long time to build. I have not accomplished much. I do not feel satisfied. I have failed, both as a parent and as educational facilitator.

All that I can hope is that tomorrow will be better. I wil try to be calmer. I will try to be more in tune with what kids want instead of pushing my agenda. I will give everyone breathing space.

Tomorrow will be better.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

MD trip part 1

We drove out on Thursday. About an hour into our drive, I realized that I forgot 2 yo's blankets and stuffed animals at home. I had a sinking feeling, which made me consider for minute turning the car around to get them. Then I decided that I will stop at some Walmart and pick up something cuddly for her. They boys asked for Maccabeats, two times in a row.Eventually we stopped for lunch. This was the first time I was using new car fridge, so it was a treat to have refrigerated cream cheese, cheddar and watermelon. The kids ran around the rest area.

When we got back in the car, I turned on "The Cool Zone" by Judy Blume. It is a story told from 1st and 3rd grader perspective. The kids listened quietly and then asked for it again. There is a piece about bully, that part they asked me to skip on the second listening.

At some point, 6 yo went on a little rant about davening. I explained that davening has three parts: praise, requests and thanks. I asked the kids to think about the parts of davening that they know and tell me which tefila reflects which part.

Eventually, we got to Richmond. As we were driving towards downtown, 2 yo exclaimed: "We're in Virginia!" Note to my friends who are considering car DVD players: your kids will miss all the opportunities to look around and remember landmarks. When 2 yo plays with a steering wheel at the park and I ask her, where is she driving, she says, New York. She obviously remembers our trip from 5 weeks ago, and seeing the same road and the same landmarks reinforces those memories.

The boys rolled into the house and went straight for the playroom, where they pulled out Mousetrap, marble run and Risk. After dinner, there was a chance to feed the bunny some treats, which meant opening the cage and sticking the hands in with little offerings. To my surprise, 2 yo went for it. Then, when the bunny was brought out of the cage, the kids lined up on the couch to hold the bunny. 8 yo went first, but the bunny did not last long in his lap before hopping away. Next was 6 yo, who snuggled with the bunny. There, the bunny stayed a bit longer. 2 yo happily patted it.

Next morning, we drove out for DC. I was planning on showing the boys one Smithsonian. We got there quickly. I chose to park in the garage, since I figured that all day's activities are free. First we walked to the Museum of Natural History. My bag was poked and prodded with a rod and we went in through metal detectors. Of course, we started with dinosaurs. I told boys that they have to hold hands, and they complied. 2 yo kept bouncing in and out of the stroller. There is a fossil lab, where one can see paleontologists examining fossils. The microscope is hooked up to a monitor, so whatever the scientist sees, you see. There was also a discovery room, which was very kid-friendly. They boys looked under a microscope, checked out x-rays, looked at collections of eggs and beetles and toys from around the word, touched a skeleton, read some books, played with puppets. 2 yo chose one box and slowly examined every piece in it. I got her a large shell and we listened to the sea.
I was ready to leave the museum, but there was a thunderstorm going on, so we just sat on the floor with the school groups and ate lunch. Before you picture an idyll of some kind, it was far from it. I was tense. 2 yo needed a nap. 6 yo needed to run and touch and press. There was too much spilled yogurt, not enough napkins and not a garbage can in sight. Besides, with all the people coming and going, I was worried that we will get stepped on.

Finally, lunch was over, but the rain wasn't, so we headed to another floor. This one contained meteorites, minerals, jewels, diamonds. I was not paying so much attention there until we came to Chile mine exhibit. There, the story of the trapped miners played out with full force. I put a lot of emphasis on how amazing it was that all came out alive.

The rain had stopped and we walked out to the sculpture garden. In the middle of it there was a fountain with a duck ramp. 6 yo REALLY wanted to go up the duck ramp. hey also found two ducks swimming in the fountain.

Next I took kids to the center of the mall. There was some construction going on, but I showed how you look to the left and see Capitol and to the right is the Washington Monument. The boys wanted to get closer to the monument, so we walked there. They ran every grassy block, while I paced myself. I also told them how in high school I went all the way to the top, but it cannot be done now. At some point, 2 yo dozed off in the stroller. The boys got up close to Washington Monument, as close as you can get, which is a row of flags. 8 yo told me it's the tallest obelisk in the world. I was thinking how Egyptian obelisks lasted for thousands of years, and our national symbol might crumble after a bit over a century. While we were next to the monument, I made the boys look for the other landmark--the White House. 6 yo spotted it first. We walked half a block closer. At this point, 6 yo sat down on the ground and declared himself to be too sleepy to walk. I gave everyone water and we proceeded to the garage. 8 yo remarked how everything is so close together. I was wondering about concrete planters running around the perimeter of a lot of buildings. They were smack in the middle of sidewalks. I was thinking how we have a culture of fear now.

Once we loaded into the car, we proceeded to Baltimore. It was supposed to take one hour; it took two. The traffic was atrocious. I was studying really run-down neighborhoods within a few miles of the Capitol. 8 yo asked why licence plates say taxation without representation. I explained about the District of Columbia and how it is not a state, so people do not have a voice in where their taxes should go. Inwardly, I was thinking about how many millions those planters cost. How much does it cost to maintain them? How much for all extra security? Howe much for free museums? And why can't some of the money trickle out to the rest of the city?
We stayed with a Chabad couple for Shabbos. That was a learning experience, too. How many of you would just go to another city to be put up with random people? They turned out to be very nice and put with with my kids who were crawling out of their skin after those two hours in traffic.

At some point during Shabbos, after nice shabbos groups, playing on a tire swing, and enjoying a generous kiddush, 8 yo remarked that he would like to live in Baltimore. 6 yo got hold of Follow Your Nose, a book about Donald Duck and his nephews. It is about them going camping, getting lost and using their senses to get out. First time I read it to him, that's the message I got. On the third reading, on Shabbos evening, he decided to make it into a logical game of figuring out by textual clues who is Dewey, Huey and Loiue. Moreover, he continued with this on every page.

One more thing: on the drive back we started listening to Tiger, Tiger. It is about two tiger cubs captured in the jungle and brought to Rome, one to fight gladiators and another to become Caesar's daughter's pet. If I knew what was this book about, I probably would not have picked it. It was bloody and gory, it did not mince words and was on a pretty high level. The boys sat there, spellbound,as the guts of gladiators glistened on hot Roman sand. 

I will never understand why bullies are scary, but gore is not.

Also, whenever someone from the back seat would yell, hey look at this! I would say that I cannot look, but they need to describe it to me.

MD trip part 2: the conference

The conference was on Sunday, so we spent Shabbos in Baltimore. There was oneg on Friday night for adults. By the time I got there, I was so tired, that, I think, I did not make the most of it. I met a few other parents, heard some stories and got the feeling that there are a whole lot of homeschoolers in Baltimore. For some reason, I thought there wouldn't be. I assumed that it was too frum, that there are so many school choices, that people are very stuck on doing a mainstream thing. It was a pleasant surprise to discover otherwise.

Then, on Shabbos, there was get-together for adults and kids at the park. As we were walking there, 8 yo asked if all the people there will be Jewish. I said, they will all be Jewish and frum. Then I realized that he had no idea what a convention was. I explained. He said, oh yeah, my teacher once went to a convention, they taught her that it is easier to use smartboard with knuckles than with fingers.

When we got there, there was quite a crowd. I met with a few people from Friday night. The boys first kept to themselves, but then they joined in the global tag game and seemed very happy. The 2 yo made an instant friend.

The following morning was the conference. 8 yo seemed embarrassed to go to babysitting. I reframed it as childcare. By the end of the day, the boys did not want to leave. They ran in the gym, made pottery, played table games and ran on the stage. I saw them waving to some other kids in the hallway as we were departing.

As for me, I was a bit nervous. I was worried that it might have been a whole crazy trip for nothing. But I was mistaken. First of all, just sitting in an auditorium with over a hundred frum homeschoolers was amazing. As I looked around the room, I saw tichels, hats, sheitels, snoods, hair tucked in, hair hanging out, hats on top of the sheitel. I saw people from all over. I saw young mothers, just starting to homeschool their oldest. I saw older people, with their grown-up homeschooled children, who are now homeschooling the next generation. I saw husbands, wives and couples. In short, the overall picture is that all segments and groups of Jewish people are homeschooling, not just a few weirdos who did not fit in.

The other vibe that I got, is that it is good to be swimming against the current. As one of the first presenters said, we are being shut into progressively smaller boxes, until the size is 2 inches by 2 inches and there is no leeway. This conference showed the bigger picture.

A few highlights:
  • When you embark on something new, there are three reactions: ignoring, ridiculing and fearing. Based on the Yated Neeman's article, frum homeschooling is feared and being lashed out against. I am hoping for eventual acceptance.
  • To teach kids one needs to have an end goal in mind. Is the goal to produce kids who think that Judaism is something that we do because everyone does it, or independent thinkers who "work" for it?
  • A parent is not an instructor, but an educational facilitator. Not a slave driver. The children will study what interests them and parent will provide resources necessary to support those interests. The environment needs to be set up appropriately, the atmosphere has to conducive to learning, but the drive to learn will come from the child. 
  • Children carefully observe their role models, primarily their parents. There could not be any hypocrisy, as it will be immediately picked up.
  • A strong relationship between a parent and a child is desired and encouraged. Before you say, duh, think: when the child is in school the whole day, the allegiance is to the pack. When the child is home, the allegiance is to the family. Besides, I have met plenty of people who cannot wait to ship off their 2 and 3 year olds to someone's care because they cannot tolerate their own kids.
  • Limudei kodesh and chol can and should be seamlessly integrated. One needs a deep understanding of the sciences in order to understand Torah, but one also needs to a close relationship to Hashem in order to appreciate the marvelous world around us.
  • Your relationship to finances will impact your child's relationship to money. Should we define ourselves by how we make a living? Are you fiscally responsible? A child should be taught basic skills, such as making a budget, balancing a checkbook, giving tzedakah, paying bills, conducting cost-benefit analysis, allowance management, etc.
I also got to meet a few of my fellow bloggers and posters. But the most interesting part was meeting people who are not homeschooling yet, but came because they are interested.

There is a problem with our educational system, both public and private. There are courageous people who will find a way to educate their child, even if it's not mainstream, even if everyone frowns on it, even if the outcome is not guaranteed. In short, there multitudes of people who take veshinantam levanecha seriously.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

toying with unschooling

Two pearls from 6 yo:

  • I know how we got out of Egypt, but how did we get there?
  • Why are there mitzvos and aveiros?

Each one of these led to long discussions. Each one of these shows that the wheels are turning, information is churning, questions are forming. I think about how learning is supposed to be a dialogue between a student and a teacher and how the questions should percolate through student's brain, not be force-fed, and then answered by the teacher and the student is left none the wiser.

Then there was discussion about life insurance with 8 yo. We drove by State Farm and he said: "It reads, car, fire, life. Why?" I explained car and fire. Life is really death insurance. I explained that, and how your premiums depend on your state of health. I gave him some numbers off the top of my head. He said that everyone should get life insurance when they are young and healthy and he will get it as soon as he can. If education is about making right choices in life, we're on our way.

I finished "Stop Stealing Dreams" and started Unschooling Rules. I am wondering more and more about unschooling. I think that my drive to get 8 yo out of the classroom was motivated by him missing out on the real world. I always took my kids to museums, zoos, parks. I was bugged when I did not have time or the ability to take them places. One of the largest benefits of being at home with all three kids is being able to make my own schedule. Ok, I am still stuck to toddler's nap, but I will be the first one to load everyone in the car and let her nap on the go, if there is a good opportunity. I know that soon enough, that nap will disappear, and I will miss it dearly...

Back to unschooling. My kids are very good with English resources lying around. If it's a book, they will browse it. If it's a map, they will study it. This morning, while opening Daisy sour cream, I was informed that the foil insert had Grand Canyon on it. If it's there, they will integrate it. However, I am not so sure how this could work with Judaics. We are living a frum life, so obviously the observance is there to be seen and copied and questioned. But, (and this is a big but), there are skills. Even Unschooling Rules presupposes reading, writing and arithmetic as basic skills. How does one get kryiah skills? Mishnayot? Gemara?

I am intrigued by Artscroll Talmud app. I think if they had one on Tanach, I would get it in a heartbeat and then just let 8 yo loose with it. He told me the other day that his favorite story is Eliyahu on Har Karmel, and that he read by himself from Jewish Children's Bible. He reads everything and anything. He finished another perek in Vayeira. He wants me to check out Rashi on different pesukim; I cannot pull that off without prep. He asks lots of questions--I do not always have answers. Worse, I cannot always look up answers.

6 yo finished K'tav BeKalut, and I pulled out Lashon HaTorah for him. He thanked me a few times for it. He is coloring in the lines. He is cutting. He is pasting. He is doing all these things that I wondered whether he can or cannot do, because when I ask him to do them, I am met with resistance. He is doing them because he wants to do them.

For now.

In short, I fret, and I wonder. I will see how summer goes. But if my boys will be looking for daily schedule, I will keep on writing it, even in the summer. Hey, that's what child-led learning looks like.