Thursday, September 27, 2012

Yom Kippur

Another year found yet another frazzled me. My husband got home too close to comfort (but, hey, at least he was able to leave his Blackberry at home!), the kids did not do their pre-yom tov jobs, I wanted to finish Yonah, they did not, I was worrying about my cold and fasting, and whether there is enough food, and whether I will make it to shul.

Next thing I knew, the final meal was served, it was after candlelighting, I realized that I did not set the timer in the living room properly, and I forgot to light a yortzait candle for my father. I crawled into bed, tired.

The next morning, we all walked to shul together for 8:30 minyan. I thought it was brilliant, they have babysitting, I will catch shacharit before Yizkor and then head home with the kids. As soon as I was done with the silent amidah, I got light-headed. I ended up sitting for most of chazzan's repetition, focusing on not passing out and lasting till Yizkor. After Yizkor, I went to gather the kids. The boys did not join the youth groups for davening (this is not our regular shul), and they could not locate the library books that they brought to read. 2 yo wanted to stay, the boys wanted to go. 8 yo nixed his lunch since his sister took his lunch bag and he was not about to eat lunch out of a princessy bag (the contents was exactly the same). On the way home, I got an earful about how he wanted to go to our regular shul's groups since he gets Pokemon cards there and now he missed on a batch. I did not handle that one well.

When we got home, I collapsed, to be woken up with requests for lunch. I told them which shelf in the fridge contained food. Afterwards I was told that they had peanut butter with corn chips and sliced cucumbers. Then the boys entertained themselves for a nice long while. Not all of their entertainment was quiet, though. My husband came home with a sleeping 2 yo later. She did not nap for long, and woke up really cranky. 6 yo tried cheering her up, bu that produced even more noise.

Just around the corner was dinnertime. Apparently, cold noodles were not too appealing, but they worked in a punch, I even got the kids to clean up the whole table and put everything in the fridge. Then there was more running and more fighting and more screaming. Through all of this time, I was trying to read "One Special Prayer" about the service in the Beit Hamikdash on Yom Kippur. Even though the book is billed for young adults, I found it very fascinating and informative. At some point, after I sent everyone to get pjs on, 8 yo came over and asked me to read the next chapter out loud. It happened to be about the goats and the lottery. Now, to backtrack, I tried to engage the boys in some learning earlier in the day. I offered to finish Yonah and was rejected. I asked whether they knew about the "two mehhhs" meaning the two goats. That led to a few guesses, and then a complaint from an 8 yo about how we can be so cruel to animals. I probably did not offer the best answer to that one, lying on the couch in near-darkness (messed-up living room light). So when they climbed into my bed (next to a window with twightlight streaming in) and eagerly listened to the next chapter, containing quite technical descriptions and no pictures on the majority of pages, I was a bit surprised. I liked that one of the kids in the book also asked about why the poor goat has to be thrown off the cliff. 6 yo made a joke about "ish iti" ( a person who accompanied the goat). We learned that he was offered food along the path to the desert. I did not know this at all. 6 yo said, that's why he was called "ish eat-i"!

They asked for the next chapter, after which they willingly allowed me to tuck them in. Goodwill prevailed again.

Although I wish I squeezed even more meaning from the Yom Kippur, I think that ending it on a high note with the kids was meaningful in its own way. They will learn what they want to learn and when they want to learn it. I feel that this lesson is being taught to me again and again.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The presence of kids in shul

From 613 Torah Ave, Vayeilech:
A boy breaks a jar of marmalade. Strangers make nasty remarks:
-Small children do not belong in stores!

-Excuse me, sir, I do not mean to show disrespect,
But tell me, how do you expect,
A child to learn to get on along,
If are you always keeping them at home?

-Yes, you must take him out each day
And show him what's the proper way
He may, indeed, make some mistakes,
And you will pay for the mess he makes
But in raising a child, that's what it takes.

-We learn this lesson, without fail,
From the special mitzvah of Hakhel

(A quick background: the mitzvah of Hakhel involved gathering up the entire nation once every seven years for the king to read parts of the Torah. The explicitly mentioned parties are men, women, small children and converts.)

The song can be found here.

I did not grow up with 613 Torah Ave tapes, so we are discovering them together. Not every single piece is meaningful or well-thought-out, but this particular part resonates strongly with me. It is hard to grocery shop with kids. It is hard taking them all to the post office, or the cleaner's or any other store. The errand is not efficient, and things are bound to get ruined. You are bound to get some dirty looks and remarks. But that's what it takes. Rashi comments that the reason the small children were brought to Hakhel was to give reward to their parents. So, it was not for them to learn Torah, or to listen to it, but for their parents to show that Torah is so precious to them, that they will drop everything, inconvenience themselves, and bring their kids. Something tells me that national gathering was not quiet and produced quite a few gray hairs in parents.

What if the Torah placed decorum over the importance of the learning experience?

I am well into Shmuel I in my Nach Yomi. In the first perek, it talks about how Elkanah would go up to Shiloh once a year and bring his family with him. Abarbanel comments that he brought "even his young children in order to inculcate them with the pure fear of G-d that would come from the atmosphere and service at the holy place, and so that the presence of the entire family would increase the joy of the festival observances". Unless children were different in those days, I strongly doubt that it was an easy undertaking. After all, Elkanah was a wealthy individual, couldn't he leave the children with the nannies at home? Couldn't he leave the wives at home, as well? Women do not have an obligation to pray, and he was the one bringing korbanot on their behalf. However, apparently there was a learning experience there not to be missed. Maybe when Chana saw what Penina's children were gaining from exposure to the Mishkan, she got an additional motivation to pray for a child. After all, the essence of our prayer is based on Chana's prayer, the prayer of one who had no obligation to pray.

Where am I going with all this?

I believe the above sources corroborate two points:
1. Children belong in shul and are expected to become the members of the community from an early age.
2. The prayer of women should be encouraged.

These two points are closely related to one another, especially in the modern setting of a shul. If women (of any age) are encouraged to come to shul to daven, they will be bringing children to shul. If the shul provides an atmosphere which encourages women to bring their children to shul, the children get to learn by observing and participating in davening, and the mothers can get a chance to daven. If the children feel valued as members of a congregation, performing such functions as holding doors, opening and closing the aron, changing page numbers, setting up and cleaning up kiddush, let alone singing Adon Olam, they are more likely to look forward to growing up and joining the congregation in prayer.

Too often, a shul places decorum over the needs of its congregation. A place full of decorum most likely has fidgety adults as well, same fidgety adults who hush the mothers who dare bring their kids in. The mothers do not feel welcome, and so they leave. The kids are discouraged from being inside: after all, how long can a child sit still in a place where he has no function? He has two paths: either learn the grown-up language and outperform them (for example, by extending Amens longer than anyone else), or drop out. Then we have a crisis of kids leaving the fold. And how many Chanahs never get a chance at a heart-felt prayer?

I will finish with three anecdotes, all showing how decorum has nothing to do with kavanah.

I attended a bar-mitzvah in Richmond, VA, right before Rosh HaShana. The shul there does not have a ton of kids, but a boy went up on Friday night to sing Yigdal. He marched up, was draped in a tallis and then belted out... Adon Olam! There was a pause, he was corrected, caught his place, and then continued, with the congregation joining in. He made a mistake, but he learned a most valuable lesson: his service is valued, and when he stumbles, there is a community which will correct him and set him on his way.

What if the boy was booed instead, or not allowed to say Yigdal at all?

During Shabbos day, right as bar-mitzcah speeches were starting, Mr. Griff, the gabbai, motioned that he has something to add. Now Mr. Griff is old-school, he is all for proper decorum. He is imposing, and he looks just, as his name sounds: someone who very clearly indicates what flies in his shul and what doesn't. I do not know how many rabbis he saw come and go, but he runs the place. What Mr. Griff had to say was surprising to me: he spoke how the bar-mitzvah boy, while being a wee one, would go up with his father to open the aron, holding on tightly to his father's hand. Then, when he got older, and realized that Mr. Griff will not eat him, he would wait for his cue, and go up on his own. And look at him now, reading his parsha!

What if Mr. Griff did not tolerate little boys on the dais, never welcoming them up?

The most personally inspiring davening of recent memory happened on our trip to Israel. On Shabbos morning, we were brought to a fairly standard Israeli shul. I had to rummage for nusach Ashekanz siddur, the mechiza was a white curtain, and the davening was moving at a brisk pace. But there was an incredible kavanah (intent) in the room. When the congregation recited the prayer for the Israeli soldiers, they inserted the names of the kids from that shul who are serving. When they mentioned Tzion and Yerushalayim, it was not an abstraction standing in the way of kiddush, but a real place, so close to their hearts. When the baal koreh read from the Torah with a kid draped over his shoulder, nobody flinched. Nobody flinched, either, when he took that kid to the restroom, and another person took his place for one aliyah. There were some women in shul, and some kids. There was no pomposity, just an earnest expression of a congregation.

Isn't that what tefila is supposed to be about? 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

No yelling today

This morning, I checked the weather and it was cloudy and cool, without any chance of rain. I decided to take kids to the zoo: because they have not been there in a long time, because they kept asking me when are we going to go and because I yell less when we are out. Maybe it's being in public. Maybe I feel better when they are doing their own learning and exploring and I can hang back. Maybe because I like trips.

Also, at breakfast table, I announced to the boys that I will try to yell less. I kind of asked them to help me out, both by listening and by reminding me not to yell. 8 yo did remind me once. I thought I was still keeping my cool, but I guess he sensed the elevation in tone before I did, so I stopped. The kid who was being "addressed" stopped, too.

So we did go to the zoo. 6 yo checked sheep for cud chewing and split hooves, good thing they complied. 2 yo requested zebras, which turned out to to be giraffes. Her mistake is partially explainable, since both animals are kept in the same enclosure. 6 yo tried catching a parakeet. 8 yo blew all of his allowance money on a projector and toy snakes. We ate lunch next to a large group of adults in wheelchairs. I learned that 8 yo has sensitivity not to point and talk loudly about them. 6 yo still is working on this.

After the zoo, we drove straight to my chiropractor. By the time we got home, it was after 4. That's when I started thinking about shabbos, and the grocery run that did not happen. That's when 8 yo dropped on the floor, whining about getting leftovers for dinner. That's when I eyed the laundry, still piled in the laundry room. That's when I realized that I forgot to do my Nach Yomi from yesterday (I have been on top of it, for the most part). That's when my husband texted me that he is doing a c-section in about half an hour, which meant that he won't be home for dinner, or to tuck the kids in.

That's when I started having second thoughts about spending the day at the zoo.

Now the kids are in bed, some sort of shabbos is being cooked, challah is rising, and my husband is grocery shopping on his way home.

At least I did not spend the day yelling. But was all this worth it?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

I do not like this one so well, all he does is yell, yell, yell

Why am I always yelling?

I am yelling all the time. I am on edge. It starts out like this: I ask one of the kids to do something. I get back a creative response. I reword my request. I get back another creative response. I yell back: just do it! Now! As my 2 yo adds, I told you forty times! As soon as she says those words, mirroring my response, I am filled with shame. I resolve not to say that again.

Then, we are back in the same situation, I ask, get ignored, ask again, get brushed aside, and the yelling cycle continues.

I am always jolted when I hear someone else yell at their kids, especially when the yelling is utterly disproportionate to the "crime" committed. I find myself defending the kids when my husband yells at them. I reason, since we are the primary role models of behavior, the longer we keep yelling to get things accomplished, the higher are the chances that kids will communicate to each other through yelling.

Yes, I have read " How to Talk so Kids Will Listen". I need "How to Talk to Future Lawyers".

And I am repeating a pattern from my childhood. Our house officially was the house where we don't yell. Except when we do. When we are tired, or angry, or had a bad day, or are trying to get a point across. The difficulty of growing up when the policy disagrees with reality grated harshly on me. At least I am not pretending that I do not yell.

Either way, this yelling is ugly. Do I demand too much? Do I demand immediate obedience instead of giving them time and space to carry out my request? Do I regiment too much, which requires constant guidance and compliance?

In the summer, when we had no official school, there was much less yelling. So higher expectations definitely come to play.

Tonight, after we got through our day, and 2 yo finally went down, 8yo asked to stay up. He said that he would do any chore with me, to stay up. I thought about getting to their closet, finding out what fits and what doesn't. Then I decided that we won't do that. Instead, the boys turned on Yanni and did some dancing in the kitchen while I cleaned up and made soup. They were happy. They were breaking some unspoken bedtime rule, and I was not yelling. When I finally tucked them in, a whopping half an hour after their bedtime, they went willingly. There was goodwill in the air. It was relaxed. It was sweet. And there was no yelling, no fighting, no anger.

I cannot routinely allow them to break the rules, and I cannot allow them to ignore me for the sake of peace and quiet, but I need to find more ways to be flexible enough that this peace can come back more often and stay.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

why there are no Rabbi Akivas nowadays

The story of Rabbi Akiva is the classical story: a poor unlearned shepherd has a moment of inspiration at the age of 40 and decides to go back to school, with small kids and all. He spends years and years immersed in learning (24 in total), amasses huge amounts of students, contributes significantly to Torah thought, is known for his optimistic and positive approach and dies a martyr. His story is often used as an example that it is never too late to start learning. Kids sing songs about him.

The question is: why is there no Rabbi Akiva nowadays?

I think it has to do with our approach to life and, more specifically, to education.

today's sunrise
What would it take to produce a Rabbi Akiva? I will start out before he gains all his knowledge. You have a grown-up who is involved in a reflective trade: he spends a lot of time with his sheep, but that time is not involved in crafting something, conversing or writing down deep thoughts. His time is spent observing the flock and the nature, contemplating. This morning I woke up, and, for about 20 minutes, noticed how sunrise colored the clouds pink. Then the sun rose, the colors dissipated, kids needed to be fed, e-mails answered. I wonder, how many people who were awake at that time, saw the same sky that I saw? I wonder how many more sunrises I missed by being too focused on what I was doing already? I wonder whether the same sunrise would have been more inspiring if I took extra five minutes to stand outside and watch it? We, as adults, are always taught that time is money. Wasting time hurts productivity. Doing the task in the fastest way possible is efficient. Reinventing the wheel is silly. We pass on those attitudes to our kids in everything: get dressed quickly, eat quickly, don't dawdle, don't daydream. ( I am guilty of all these and more).

Nobody wold be encouraged to be shepherd nowadays, it is just not efficient. Sheep should be locked and watched, and you have some kind of more important job to do. If you are a shepherd, the only reason could be your total mental inferiority, in short, you are not good for anything reasonable and productive.

Rabbi Akiva;s insight comes from his observation of droplets of water hitting a rock and slowly eroding it. he realizes that even though he is 40, Torah, like water, can enter his brain and change it. In short, he realizes that he has the capacity to learn. Most grown-ups today will not have an opportunity to make such a discovery. Did you not listen to the lecture on erosion in 6th grade? Why are you staring at a silly rock, who has time for this? In fact, when was the last time you went anywhere near a rock with a water source? And when was the last time your brain produced a new pattern of thought?

Next step: the commitment. You have to go all the way to the beginning. You have to admit that you are not going to be expert. Heck, you will not even be the smartest student in the class. Kids much younger than you will be able to do more. Maybe you will catch up. Maybe you won't. Maybe you will surpass them. But you have to humbly open your mind.

Besides, what would happen today? First of all, there would be a suspicion of pedophilia: why else would a grown-up want to learn with the kids? Then the person would be told to take some placement tests, see where he is, see what he can diagnosed with, see if there is a learning disability to hinder progress. Then he would be told that there are remedial classes available. Then he would be told how much he can realistically expect when starting out at that point in life. He might also be asked repeatedly as to why he decided to change his life's path.

Then there are many years of intense study. The world today does not encourage that kind of study. Sure, there are yeshivas/seminaries, but you are supposed to learn there for a year or two, not more, and even then, it is often an excuse to escape parental control rather than be involved in serious learning. There are adult baalei teshuva programs, but you have to drop everything in order to participate. We simply cannot put life on hold for 24 years. Well, we can't even put our Blackberries down for 5 minutes... Before someone brings up kollel: I doubt that Rabbi Akiva spent those 24 years busily spawning offspring for his wife to take care of on her own.

And afterward? Who would follow a teacher without proper letters of endorsement? There would be talk behind the back: did you know that he was a simpleton till the age of 40? Who knows what horrible influences he had in his life in those years?

In short, while we bemoan the absence of people of Rabbi Akiva's caliber, we do not encourage one to pursue a path which would lead to a development of Rabbi Akiva.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

mommy's learning

When will I learn:

  • that looking at other people's crafty blogs and awesome foods less than a week before Rosh haShana will not inspire me, but bring me down?
  • that yelling at kids to stop yelling is.. well, stupid
  • that being stressed results in stressed kids
  • that to be in a different place this year requires actually moving somewhere and doing something
  • that changing relationship patterns takes two people
  • that I feel guilty about downtime, so I overschedule and then nobody is breathing
  • that being different will put me (us, my family) in the spotlight, whether I desire it or not
  • that in a leadership vacuum someone has to step up
  • that doing the same thing and expecting a different result is insane
  • that our life set up is not like anyone else's set up, so their solutions might not be solving anything for us

Take a minute, write down a list of all the things that are bugging you. Just acknowledge them, do not solve anything yet. Fold it up, put it in your machzor in some random spot ( or in some meaningful reading that you are hoping to get to soon). See how you feel about these things when you stumble upon them during Yom Tov.

Give it a couple days, then pull out the list, and see what can be done about it. Some items are actionable, others require reflection, and others just require a voice.

I am taking a deep breath now.


Sunday, September 9, 2012

squirrel rescue

Today was busy. I sent my husband to Costco with all three kids while I had a meeting in shul. Then we had lunch, made another shopping list, hit Walmart, did not find the items we were looking for, bought groceries, took 2 yo to two bathrooms which she nixed... the usual Sunday errand stuff. And I set up e-mail account for 8 yo. He was asking, I said that I will only allow it if I know his password and can check it periodically. He worked on sending out e-mails informing all that he has his own e-mail.

After all the shopping, I came home and collapsed. My husband was weeding outside, 2 yo was sleeping in the car, and I sent the boys out to water the tomatoes. Just as I was starting to doze, 8 yo came in to tell me about a baby squirrel they found outside, lying on the crack of the sidewalk. My first thought: "Dead?", but it was alive, but not well. The boys came in and out, informing me play-by-play how it would not run away from them, how my husband moved it to the backyard into crape myrtle, how it could not hold on to the tree, how it was sick and dying. 8 yo came back in with tears in his eyes. "We need to take it to the vet!" Well, we have no vet-worthy pets. It is Sunday afternoon. I dragged myself to the computer and started googling what one does with a sick squirrel in his backyard.

I found one website with a few numbers, called a few, got a few voicemails and disconnected numbers. Finally I reached a lady who told me that she does not rescue squirrels any more, but she told me that if it allowed itself to be carried, it is probably quite young. She also directed me to a website where one can find animal rescuers by state and county. I found a few more numbers and kept on calling. Finally, I reached an animal hospital that was open and would take in a squirrel as long as we brought it in before 7. By now, it was 5. We found a large suitable box, the squirrel was coaxed inside, the box was closed, and off we were, driving to a neighboring city to drop it off.  The glow on boys' faces was incredible. I was just hoping that we will deliver an alive squirrel. 8 yo asked me to turn off music, so that the squirrel does not get extra stress.

Finally, we got there. There was one form to fill out, and I asked to be notified of the squirrel's future. They said that it is young and it probably did fall out of a tree. In the car on the way back, the squirrel was the topic of the conversation: whether it will need surgery, is it going to be OK, can we bring it home if it's better. then 8 y asked me why did Hashem punish the squirrel. I said that Hashem probably did not punish that squirrel, but that there are laws of nature which cause some animals to be OK and some to get sick. I also said that the squirrel was probably more of a test for us. The boys reconstructed all the decision points in the chain of events: whether to go out to water the plants, whether to pay any attention to a squirrel, whether to notice its strange behavior, whether to pester adults enough to move it to a different spot, whether to pester mommy enough to call animal rescue, whether to give up after the first few unsuccessful phone calls, whether to drive for an hour to drop it off. I told them that I think we did the right thing at the end.

The squirrel story ends here, but, as we were turning off the highway, I saw a homeless guy collecting. I do not like to give money, but I try to give out food: granola bars, water bottles, bagels, whatever we happened to have on hand, wrapped and non-perishable. I never had anyone refuse food. I also figured that you have to stoop quite low to be collecting like this, so it is not my job to figure out why are you collecting, it is my job to make your collecting a bit easier. What I observed this time was that after I reached out with food, two more cars rolled down their windows, honked, and gave him something.

Sometimes a leader is needed. Somebody has to be the first one, and then people will respond. While I hope that we won't have to rescue any more sick animals, I know that my kids will not pass one by. And I hope that they will not pass a homeless person by without reaching out in some way.

Friday, September 7, 2012

If a place can make you cry

This morning I finally got around to reading Jewish Action, rather browse through it. I was browsing during breakfast, quite lightly, and then I opened to this page.
I did not even look at the article, but I immediately recognized this place as the synagogue in Katzrin, Israel. It is located in Golan Heights.

This summer, I visited Israel for the first time. My husband and I had a short trip, only 6 days. We rented a car and drove everywhere. I have a friend living in the Golan, and she recommended for us to visit a talmudic village in Katzrin, as we were making our trek toward Karmiel, where my grandmother used to live and is buried. Here is our image of the same shul, taken from the outside.

I saw the image in the article, and tears sprung from my eyes. I am an emotional person, but I usually do not experience nostalgia for a place which I only visited once, where nobody I know lives. But this is different...

When I left Kishinev, I managed to leave in a manner different from most other immigrants: I got to go back. I left for highschool, but my parents stayed behind, so three times, over the course of the next 6 years, I went back to visit. Those visits fully cured any nostalgia I might have had. It is very trendy among Russians ( Russian Jews?) to pine to go back, walk down the same street, see the school they attended, places they visited. Some do manage to go back, while for many others it remains this kind of a dream, best fulfilled by eating salted herring, drinking compote, and teaching your kids to speak Russian. Now, having gone back myself, I saw quite different images: here is a place where I had to make a sharp turn not to bump into a drunk with his pants down, here is where my classmates rubbed my face with snow, here is a neighbor hoisting her son onto me to "remember our youth", here is a pile of cr*p in the corner because there are no public bathrooms, here is a bureaucrat eager to paw my back to "straighten my posture because a girl should be slender, like a birch", and I cannot say much because he is supposed to give us some vital piece of paper... Ok, it was not all bad, but you get to see the place as it is, not as you remember it through hazy fog of longing.

Here, in Katzrin, the Jews left a village and a synagogue. They are both dated to 4-7th CE. We can go back and visit those remains and say, this used to be ours, and now it is ours again. What did Jews live in Kishinev? If I am lucky, there is a plaque hanging somewhere commemorating the pogrom of 1905. I do not feel that is something I want to go back to. 

A few days ago, my husband and I watched an aliyah video made by a family moving to Israel. It is honest, emotional, painful at times. What really got me are the people greeting the plane. The signs, the hugs, the friends who traveled from all over to meet new arrivals. I looked at my husband and said: Which other country will greet new immigrants like that? Where else do they roll out the red carpet? Oh, I know, this is just the first day, and then there are years of learning the language, the ropes, finding your place, heartaches, regrets. But what is different about moving to Israel is that "coming home" feeling.

On our very brief trip, we were asked repeatedly when are we moving to Israel. The American response is: none of your business! But that is not true: it is your business. Same way as you would want to know whether a close relative is moving in nearby, so do all these nosy Israelis want to know: when are you coming?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

motivational shofar

Last night, uncharacteristically, I decided to plan for today. Actually, I planned a zoo outing for today, but they were promising thunderstorms, so I had to come up with an alternative. I decided to focus on Rosh HaShana. The plan was to finish writing Shana Tova cards, listen to the sounds of shofar, review some halachot, and then take a trip to a local Judaica store to buy a shofar for boys to practice. I found myself digging deeply through Whenever I find myself doing that, it's some insecurity talking. Maybe those kids in school are learning something that we're missing. Maybe I myself still do not have a good grasp on what I am about to teach. Either way, usually I peruse and download, only to use one or two activities. This time I found a real jem: Rosh HaShana math. I thought this would be perfect for 8 yo: review the halachot while doing math. For 6 yo I found this song. I out down math, as usual, for both boys, spelling and chumash for the older and Lama for the younger. Now I was all set.

My plan worked: getting a shofar at the end of the day was great motivation. 8 yo jumped at his RH math, skipped a few, needed help with some, and completed some with a flourish. In the process, he learned about adding and subtracting minutes to measure elapsed time, halachik measurements and that his kiddush cup is not big enough, decimals, reason for the sheehiyanu on the new fruit, and that Chanukah is waaay after all the chagim. 6 yo looked over the song by himself, but he was intimidated by all the Hebrew, so we sang it together. I explained the first 8 halachot.

Lama went smoothly, and so did Roman numerals. Then came chumash, last subject of the day, again. 8 yo expressed that he feels behind. I think he was talking to his former classmates and found out that they are midway through Chayei Sarah, while we are just getting started. I asked him, who does more work with the pesukim, they or him? He agreed that he does more work, while they just repeat translations. I said that since he is putting in more effort, he is learning them better. He expressed a thought that they sill remember everything they learned in the beginning of Lech Lecha. I told him to ask them.

What I think he is missing is that they just memorize, while he is gaining skills. He can look back in Lech Lecha at the parts he does not remember and figure them out, while they might be stuck if their memory fails them.

He cheered up a bit when we did a bit with ger-toshav (sojourner-resident) of Avraham. I told him honestly that this perek sounds boring and not "juicy", but there is a lot of important information going on in here. He asked me, how could Avraham be both? I directed him straight to Rashi. He was able to translate the first part, and I had to translated Medrash Agada. And I gave him a jelly bean for asking a question. As my friend would say, let the Torah be sweet...

Finally, we got the store. The shofars were a whole lot more expensive than I expected. I told boys that they can get one real one (on the cheaper end). 8 yo chose his and grabbed on for his dear life. 6 yo seesawed between wanting to share and wanting his own. 2 yo picked out a plastic pink one. 8 yo settled on a black one. 8 yo spotted a wooden puzzle of the Beis Hamikdash and asked me to get it. I asked him, whether he would like it for him Yom Tov present, and he said yes, he would like to build a Beis HaMikdash for Rosh HaShana. The saleslady had a ball. The boys also asked to buy Yeshiva Boys' Choir CD. They have watched a few youtube videos and are fans now.

So there we were, leaving the store, three shofars in tow. In car, we popped in the CD and the boys rocked to Amen. I was thinking, how frum we all look here, but also how naturally we ended up at this point.

When we got home, 8 yo tried blowing his shofar and could not get it. I found a few youtube tutorials, so he is working on it. His goal  is to able to blow for the minyan by the time he is bar mitzvah. Ok, this one is a realistic one. 2 came crying to me that her shofar broke. A piece of plastic was missing on the mouth piece. I asked her, what happened? She said, I eat it. Not much we could do here. I gave her a hug and, so far, she is sharing with 6 yo.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Talented and gifted

Something really funny came in the mail today (ok, yesterday). It was a letter from 8yo's former school informing us that  based on his IOWAs and other standardized tests he qualifies to participate in their enrichment program. The participants meet twice a week for forty minutes. This is the program's mission:
  • develop advanced research skills
  • develop critical thinking and logical problem-solving skills
  • develop advanced communication skills
  • develop creative thinking and creative problem-solving skills
This program costs extra 500$, and the reason we are getting this letter is because he took those tests last year. They obviously did not communicate internally that he is no longer attending the school. Getting this letter provided a chuckle, but it also got me thinking.

So, there is a subset of kids that tests well. Based on these standardized tests, these kids are presumed to be so smart, that they can miss class twice a week and still catch up. During the whole year, nothing so important will take place during those biweekly 40 minutes that would prevent these kids from attending enrichment. Or, does this say that they could probably miss ANY 40 minutes of ANY day, and still carry on? Or maybe, they do not need to attend their class at all? 

On a different slant, this letter clearly indicates that in regular classroom, kids do not develop advanced research skills, critical thinking, communication skills and creative problem solving. In short, if your child did not qualify for the enrichment, he is just going to develop very basic set of skills. Apparently, he has no need for logical problem solving or creative thinking. He just needs to follow what the teacher says and do exactly that. Now, I wonder, how many kids by the end of 5th grade would magically qualify for this program, if, for the past six years, they were always just taught to do exactly as told?

This program is literally taking kids out of the box of the classroom and allowing them to think outside the box. The rest? Oh well, I am sure there is a warm bench for you somewhere...

Again, all of this is hinging on a bunch of standardized tests. What if someone does not test well? What is some kid got bored during the test and wrote gibberish? That was a creative solution to a very annoying problem of sitting still and filling in the bubbles... of course, he will get penalized for it, by spending even more years learning how to fill in even more bubbles. That will knock any desire to write gibberish right out, along with creativity, spontaneity and desire to learn.

On the other hand, we are already running our own enrichment program here. 
  • Advanced research skills: my son picks his own books in the library on the subjects that interest him, talks to librarians about the books he cannot find, looks up words, watches videos, makes lists, draws pictures, asks questions.
  • Critical thinking: he manages his own allowance and his time, spends a fair amount of time in discussions of cause and effect, connects different events. He asks a lot of questions and comes back till the answer is to his satisfaction.
  • Communication skills: he talks to his siblings and parents about pleasant and unpleasant things, to grown-ups at the places we go to: the park, the library, the grocery store, shul.
  • Creative thinking and problem solving: he spends quite of bit his time figuring out how to make things easier for himself. Today's creative solution: make a rambunctious game out of dreaded laundry folding and putting away including singing, dragging of baskets, marching and teams.

Our program is free. The opportunity to participate is priceless.