Sunday, June 17, 2012

on simple pleasures

We are done with school, in case anyone is still wondering. 6 yo still didn't finish Lama, and 8 yo still didn't finish Vayeira, but for now, I am letting it be.

Today was the day of simple things which brought a lot of enjoyment. It started with 8 yo rallying for Krispy Kreme. I agreed, on the condition that everyone showers first and he davens. He complied. I don't know what it is about that place that is so motivational-- the sugar for breakfast? the hats? watching the doughnuts being made? --but whatever it is, it surely ranks high on the kids' list of pleasant things to do.

Around noon, we went to the nature center. Our membership expires soon, but I am planning on continuing. 6 yo decided that for his Nature Exchange item, a potter's wasp nest, he will write a report. Granted, his report was one sentence, but it is hard for me to get him to write that one sentence otherwise. He also has to present his items for trade, so he is forced to talk about them, and not just retreat into "I don't know" shell. As soon as the trade was complete, we went outside. We saw some birds of prey and then 6 yo asked to go to the dock. Over there, the boys sat by the water, watching sea weed, tiny fish and turtles. The boys floated magnolia leaves. They used sticks to measure how deep the pond is. They stayed perfectly quiet so the turtles would come closer. 8 yo spotted larger fish on the bottom. I asked whether they are ready to move on, but they were perfectly happy just laying on that dock, staring in the water and talking quietly.

We hiked a trail, climbed over a fallen tree, spotted lots of mushrooms, saw a water snake in another pond. The boys made walking sticks and 2 yo copied. They tested out every rotten log to see whether it will fall apart when struck.

After that, we went over to my in-laws. 6 yo immediately bonded with the cat. (He has something about connecting with animals that my other kids do not. He is not afraid, but he also knows just how to pat them right.) Then they went upstairs to play. 8 yo set up his idea of Risk. Eventually both boys asked for Tom and Jerry. They saw that cartoon a million times by now, but, for some reason, they still laugh every single time.

All the activities were free today, except for the doughnuts. None of these things were particularly educational or extravagant, but each of them was enjoyable on a simple level. I find myself sometimes chasing that "experience of a lifetime" when life simply presents these delightful opportunities.

Another simple pleasure: running with balloons trailing behind.

2 yo is mastering walking on the curb.
While the accomplishment is not great, the satisfaction is high.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

on being vs. doing

I never understood this type of statement: my four year old goes to ballet twice a week and the other two days she takes violin. On Sundays, she plays soccer, and in the summer it is karate camp. She loves all of them!

Who loves all of them: the child? Or do you love being the parent of such a child? Or does it sound good on her kindergarten resume?

My kids never expressed interest in any of those extracurricular activities. (With the exception of drums by 8 yo). Maybe they would mention once how they would like to play this or do that, but it never came to begging to sign them up for anything. The gymnastics that the boys were doing came as a result of me deciding that it would be a good physical outlet for my middle child instead of him scaling walls. 8 yo joined him this past year because it looked cool, but there were plenty of days when neither one of them seemed eager to go. At the end of the year, both boys told me they do not want to continue, so we stopped. So far, they have not asked for anything else.

I have been waiting for them to find that one thing that they would REALLY want to do, and for the pestering that comes with it. The kind when kids get puppy fever and promise and swear to take care of it and walk it and brush it and love it and clean up its messes, just, mommy, PLEEEASE?! Honestly, there has not been any activity that they begged for like that.

Drumming is an exception. 8 yo asked about it for many months, not in a pestering sort of way, but in a consistent manner. I had not considered it while he was in school, as there simply was not any time to drive to a lesson and then practice at home. Now that he had been home, we were able to pull it off, but, mildly speaking, he had cooled off to it. I have a feeling that in his head he was supposed to turn into a rock star the second he put his hands on the drum sticks and the reality of hard practice stinks. I am not sure what to be doing with this. I want to encourage him to persevere, but, at the same time, considering my personal traumatic piano practice, when he says "enough", I might need to stop.

I have been wondering what's behind this lack of requests for other activities. Maybe my kids are very good at just being. They come up with games and activities by themselves all the time. I do not always know what they are playing, but they are constantly playing and I am constantly interrupting this play to do something: eat, sleep, do school work, go to the store... When they are playing, they are not doing anything that is considered admirable in the adult world. Worse, they are not doing anything that parents can brag about to one another. Who wants to hear about my son, the expert couch-cushion-house builder?

I know that my kids have their passions, but they are not neatly translatable into acceptable categories. I know that as they get older, they will be able to latch onto a passion and pursue it. In the meanwhile, I will sit back and enjoy saving thousands of dollars by letting my kids be.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

on limiting electronic media

I do not have any brilliant insights, but I think, the less, the better. I am not against internet, I am not against Facebook and I am not against TV. I am for moderation for all, kids and adults. 

I am also for asking: what is the kid missing out on by being plugged into a particular device?

I have been told numerous times to get a DVD player for all our car trips. Or that people do not know how I can drive without a DVD player. Well, let's think about this for a minute. Twenty years ago, there were not portable DVD players. So, somehow, kids and adults survived long car rides. What would my kids miss out on by being plugged in? Crossing state lines. Learning to read by decoding traffic signs. Deer on the side of the road. Rainbows: I am usually not focusing on those while driving. Making up their own game of car vs. trucks and counting how many trucks we passed. Counting miles to our exit. Limos.

the boys are taking apart the piano 
This morning the boys were all revved up about library reading program. Actually, I think they were revved up by all the new books, and that they could document their reading. I had to pull them away for breakfast and davening, after which they proceeded to read some more. There were pre-reading days, when after davening they asked to watch TV. Today 8 yo opened a crafts book book and decided to make a fan out of magnolia leaves. While outside, he watered the plants. Then he found an old electric piano that got left out in the rain and was not working. So he asked for a screwdriver and started taking it apart. 6 yo joined him. As they opened it up, 6 yo excitedly started tracing all the wires. He found the chip that controlled everything. A few minutes later, some friends came over to play. Then four boys spent two hours taking apart that piano and building ninja fighting ground out of its pieces.

these ripe tomatoes were spotted by  8 yo on one of his outdoor strolls
Would I want my kids to miss on this because they were too busy playing computer games? Part of the reason my kids do not get bored has to do with the fact that they come up with their own entertainment instead of passively absorbing whatever is being shown to them.  

We do not have TV, but a set with VCR. They kids are allowed to watch tapes and DVDs, but once the show is over, it's over. The kids also watch certain things on Netflix, mostly nature documentaries. They saw just about all Nigel Marven series and a ton of shows about dinosaurs. Yes, they also watched all of Dinosaur Train. Lately they watched a bunch of Nova documentaries. The last Netflix movie was World's Funniest Animals. A lot of shows get nixed (by them) because they are too scary, and I do not encourage kids to watch anything that is outside their comfort zone. They boys also occasionally take out a DVD from the library, right now we have a Smithsonian video on food, human accomplishments and wacky race cars. 
As one can see, my kids get their share of electronic entertainment, but I do set limits on what is watched and for how long. We used to battle about watching TV/playing games, but I find it not to be an issue any more. I find that they do not ask as much, and I do not rely on plugging  them in regularly, so they satisfy their watching (and passive absorbing ) need and then they are ready to face the world.

Except for Rosetta Stone, we do not use computer for educational games. They do use Word occasionally to make cards. I got Mavis Beacon for typing but I found that they were not motivated to learn the actual typing, so I cannot recommend that. I am sure that our relationship with computer will change as the boys will be getting older and more and more of their needs will require computer access. As of right now, the outdoors and the books have more lure, and I am quite content with that.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

feeling lazy

Too tired for a long post, so here is my lazy version of today:

  • davened
  • 8 yo happily bangs on the drums and unhappily practices what his teacher assigned
  • Pike's nursery to get cages for drooping tomato plants
  • boys buy a plant each (with their own money)
  • 8 yo buys guaranteed to sprout cactus seeds. Mom is skeptical.
  • caged the tomatoes
  • boys made a terrarium with their plotted plants
  • 2 yo refused to nap
  • when reminded to feed the fish, 8 yo said I should be doing it for a change. That did not go over well.
  • in a fit of anger, I cleared off boys' desk and put everything in a garbage bag. They still didn't notice.
  • drove to Starlab in a local library ( free!)
  • signed up for library's summer reading program
  • 6 yo proved that he reads fluently
  • corralled napless 2 yo while boys were watching stars
  • Costco with 3 kids, one of which didn't nap. Let your imagination run wild on that one! 
  • 2 yo falls asleep on the drive home
  • boys help me unload the car and then sit down to read library books
  • I make dinner
  • baths/showers
  • 6 yo watches a library video about car racing while 8 yo works on end of the perek project. This was my will, not his. I got annoyed with lack of responsibility, and I think finishing chumash dangling from yesterday should be done before TV watching
  • for good-night story, 6 yo wants to do shared reading, like we did in the library

OK, put like this, it does sound like a packed day. I am still waiting to see what a lazy summer day will look like.

Monday, June 11, 2012


Yesterday, we took kids bowling, It was a rainy day, my husband thought he could squeeze it in between procedures, we have Kids Bowl Free, and we have not gone in a long time. The kids were all excited. It served as a good motivator to daven and get dressed quickly. The davening took a bit longer than expected, but the new siddur was the name of the game.

When we got to the alley, we saw that a few other people had the same idea. We ended up bowling all on the same lane. Of course, the question was: bumpers or no bumpers? We chose to got with bumpers and a bowling contraption for the 2 yo. Pretty amazingly, she got a strike on her first push! The boys did not too shabby themselves. By the end of the game, I tied with 8 yo and three of us broke a hundred. Since we had a second game free, and everyone felt quite good about themselves, we decided to try bowling without bumpers. After first gutter balls, the boys lost all confidence. It did not help that my husband had to leave in the middle of the second game. By the end, 6 yo was bowling with a contraption, and 8 yo was in tears that 2 yo had a higher score than he did. I wanted to say that it's not about score, it's about practice, but then stopped. Why did we make such a big deal about all the strikes and spares on the first round if it's not about score? How often do we expect kids to be just as good at something as we are, without realizing that we had years and years of practice? And then we choose to measure the success by numbers.

It was not a peaceful car ride on the way back home, fueled by hunger. During lunch, when 8 yo calmed down a bit, all of a sudden he said: "My body is telling me it wants to learn some Torah." I wanted to know what kind of learning his body was in the mood for. He  said, his arms say, Shmuel Aleph and his legs, Shmuel Beit and his head is not sure. I wondered if any of his body wants to continue Vaeiyra. He said, yes. I asked him whether he remembered what was the last thing we learned ( over two weeks ago). He remembered about Avimelech taking Sorah. I told him that I got a new chumash for him in Israel, with Rashi with nekudot. He got excited about it, I showed it to him and we started. We did three pesukim, he needed to be reminded what is "be'er". We finished on the place being called Be'er Sheva and I said that we traveled very close to it. I pulled out a map of Israel and then he found Be'er Sheva on it. He hypothesised that sheva were four slaves of Avimelech, and then Avraham, Avimelech and Pichol.

Overall, I was quite encouraged that he asked to learn. Maybe I can let go on the Judaics and they will happen with desire.

I have been reflecting on my davening a bit  lately. I have been saying it for years by now, starting at 13. I remember feeling envious of others who said it so quickly and ( supposedly) knew all the words they were saying. It took me a long time and I knew every 5th word. It did not help that I was taught some davening just by repetition after a teacher. It did not help that my first siddur was all in Hebrew and I did not have anyone telling me which page had what on it. But somehow, over the years, I got to the point where I know what most of the words are. No worksheets, no intense study, no fill-in-the-blanks, no tests. No crazy motivation either, just a desire to say things fast enough to keep with the tzibbur. (After praying at the Kotel without the tzibbur I wonder whether the reason for lack of concentration has to do with keeping up with others. In yoga, you are told to do what is comfortable for you, and not to look at others. Why should our tefillah be exactly in lockstep with others?) So, if I got to my level of understanding just through years of slow-and-steady, why do I want my kid to get it all "now"? Why don't I give him a siddur with English translation, so he can look up meaning as he chooses? Why not leave the books on tefilla  around instead of constantly telling him to sit down and focus and pay attention and not mumble?

As a broader question: how much of a certain state of mind can be taught and how much of it has to desired from within? How much space should I be leaving for my kids to develop their relationship to Judaism? How much learning do I need to facilitate and how much will happen despite of me? I know that I cannot control my son's desire to learn. I can only make sure that I do not get in the way.

And today, I got in the way of that learning. In the morning , we went to a Children's Museum. He had one0time passes that we won in a raffle, and today was raining again. It was a bit too young for the boys, but they stopped by the ball station. There, all different machines pick up balls and make them go on belts, up in the air, from station to station. They stayed there for hours. 2 yo checked out everything else: the underground, the painting, the store, the house, and delivery truck, the kids' show.

As we were driving back, the boys asked to watch Pokemon. I used to say no, but yesterday I said that I will think about it. SO I said that they can watch after we finish the perek. That was a bad idea: 8 yo was obviously trying to finish ASAP, and was not interested in getting in the intricacies of the perek. I got his attention a bit with discussion of what is Eshel, but overall, he was not here, but in Pokemon. The funny part was, once I found the movie and the kids sat down to watch, 6 yo ran out five minutes into it, screaming that it's too scary. He was not able to finish it. Somehow, Mommy still knows best.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

are we done for the year?

It's a funny question...

We bought a whole bunch of books in Israel. As soon as boys laid their eyes on them, they started reading. Friday, all three kids took turns davening with the singing siddur. 8 yo wanted to use it, too, so we compromised: he used it for the tefilot that were in it, and supplemented the rest from his usual siddur. 6 yo had fun looking which tefila goes with which button. He also noticed that the order is different. 8 yo noticed that some words are different. After the boys were done, 2 yo took it to her room and sang with it for 45 minutes. Later, during the day, I caught her singing some davening softly to herself. Now my kids will daven with sefardic pronunciation.

Yesterday, I also read parsha from Parsha of the Week for Children. It was lighter on midrash than a whole lot of books we saw and focused more on the content. 6 yo remembered about quail from last year. He also reminded of quail he saw at the Botanical Gardens, so he knew exactly what the Jews got. He remembered about Miriam getting tzaraas, but he kept calling her Sarah.

8 yo have been reading these parsha books non-stop. I got everything except Shemot. He also read first two books on Nach. I just knew it: I can get these books, leave them accessible, and he will swallow them up. I also got Pesach Hagaddah: Elishama and Ephraim Leave Mitzraim and The Children of Shushan Fight Haman. They are set up as comic books, very colorful, with small reading bubbles, but they have a list of sources in the back for each illustration. Back in the fall, when 8 yo was in school, there was also a Bikkurim one, and I was quite impressed by how much care was taken to illustrate the halachot of bikkurim. These books are a hit with 6 yo, as he can read them. Stealthily, to himself, of course, so that there would be no pressure to prove anything. This Shabbos afternoon, after lunch, the boys sat in the playroom reading the books. I sort of had to pull them away to go play that their friends' house.

That's the funny thing with homeschooling; learning never ends, it might morph, it might look more or less like traditional school, but it is always going on.