Thursday, November 29, 2012

too much Pokemon

My kids got into Pokemon this summer. Really got into it: the cards, the lingo, the games, the stats, the videos. I assumed it is a fad and will pass. But this fad has been fed by 8 yo getting Pokemon cards as a reward for good davening in his groups on Shabbos. I also got the wind that the other boys are not so into Pokemon, so has quite a good time picking.

I have been waiting for this to go away. I gave it months and months. I let them play some games and watch some videos. I let them keep their cards and washed quite a few of them in their pockets. But the love of Pokemon is not diminishing. Moreover, it is all they talk about and play. At least it seems like that. It is consuming a large amount of their time and energy.

I have two choices. The first is to ban Pokemon outright. I tried it the first time around, about 3 years ago. I said that no Pokemon talk will take place at the table and they can talk Pokemon with their friends and not with me. It worked, but the primary reason was that 8 yo was not a fluent reader, and 6 yo could not read at all, so there was no feeding into it. They also did not have stacks and stacks of cards. This time around it will not work.

The second choice is that of quail (slav). When the Jewish people wandered in the dessert, they had mann: a perfect food. But all the wanted was quail, the real meat. The lesson of the quail was that it covered the ground one day, and there were giant heaps of it. It was more that anyone could eat, or wanted to eat. It was coming out of their noses. Afterwards, the people did not ask for quail again.

So I am thinking: oversaturation. I will get some library Pokemon books, I will make them spend a whole day doing just Pokemon games and Pokemon movies. I know that they will reach a point where nobody will want to deal with those Pokemons. My limit setting has been backfiring, so no limit might be just the cure for this malaise.

I am planning this Pokemon marathon for one day next week. Stay tuned...

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

learning from others: Mayim Bialik

First of all, I have to give credit to my friends: I only found out about her divorce because someone was defending co-sleeping. Nobody spent the whole day obsessing over this. But I would like to put in my two cents.

I have not watched "Blossom". I have seen 1-2 episodes of "Big Bang Theory". I don't do baby slings, co-sleeping, elimination communication, anti-vax. I do homeschool and I do believe that natural childbirth is a better way. However, when Mayim Bialik came to our community about a year ago, I heard some gushing which could not be easily ignored. Then she came in to a fundraiser for underprivileged moms. It was her and Ina May, and I really wanted to hear Ina May, so her speech was a cherry on top. I did not agree with most of the things she said.

What I heard about Mayim was that she works and how she does this very hands-on parenting. Being a stay-at-home mom, I know what it's like having kids around all the time. I also know that someone has to pick up all the boogers while one of the parents is out, so I assumed that she had a fleet of nannies carrying out all those intense, hands-on things. I was reassured that they do not use babysitters, which means that it is just them, two parents, doing all the dirty jobs. Except that one of these parents happens to have a very high-profile job, with long hours, routine time out of the house, interviews, book promotions. That means that her husband has been doing all the scut-work.

Attachment parenting is not to blame, but it is hard to do attachment parenting if the parent who preaches it the loudest happens to be the one who has the least time devoted to it. It reminds me of this woman who was a spokeswoman for housewives. She extolled the virtues of staying at home, and having no career and taking care of your family as your primary fulfillment. Well, she made herself a nice career traveling all over the country, speaking at conferences, while someone else took care of her house. It is ironic to be telling others what to do when you stop practicing what you preach.

What am I taking away from all of this?

My blog has been primarily chronicling our homeschooling days. As such, it defines me as a homeschooler. With that definition come certain expectations, both external and internal. Some expect my kids to be getting better education than what is available through school. Some expect me to be more in tune to my kids. Some expect me to be a sage teacher, aware of every nuance of child development and coming up with perfect programs to tap into the kids' strengths. Overall, there is an assumption that we have it all figured out. Then I dispense advice like some guru, and it all goes to my head...

But the reality changes all the time. What was good last month might not work any more. What was an advantage might end up being a throwback. The homeschooling philosophy as we practice it now is what works right now, but it might not be what will work down the road.

For those who asked me how long we are planning on homeschooling, I honestly answered: we are doing it this year, and we will decide about the next year when the time comes. This is my public declaration of ability to back-pedal, so to speak, and be able to choose what's best for my family instead of being stuck defined as a homeschooler. If the circumstances change, and my kids would be better in school, I will send them to school. Possible scenarios: job changes, health issues, extreme unhappiness.

I sort of hope that if Mayim had not written a book and locked herself as an attachment parenting advocate, she could have alleviated some of the burden of keeping up the image that her husband was feeling. It is hard to break the mold when you are defined so rigidly. And no level of attachment parenting can remove the trauma of divorce.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

getting away

Clouldland Canyon
We took a mini-vacation for Thanksgiving. Oh, what the heck, this is the only family vacation we got, and we will not be getting another one any time soon, so I can call it a full-fledged vacation.

I found a state park not far from Chattanooga and we rented a cabin there over the weekend. We got to the cabin Thursday afternoon (my husband was on call Wednesday night, so he did not get home till the morning). I was told that the cabin has two bedrooms, a kitchen and a living/dining room, but I was not expected to find out how nice and spacious it is. I looked at a full-sized kitchen, with a self-clean oven and microwave and large fridge and joked that our NY apartments were smaller than this. There was a screened porch with rocking chairs, a wood-burning fireplace, a fire ring and two grills outside. Moreover, there were woods everywhere. A perfect location to spend a couple of days.

Learning to strike a match

I kashered the oven (just self-cleaned it!) and we went on a hike. We descended into the canyon, saw two waterfalls, climbed a million stairs up and down. I was grateful that I did so many hikes with the boys; they knew all the rules: stop at the fork, make sure you can see or hear your parents, stay together, hug a tree if you are lost. 2 yo walked the whole way down, but was carried up by my husband. I cannot manage Ergo any more over my expanding belly. Then we got back, grilled some hot dogs and baked potatoes. The evening was topped off with roasting marshmallows in the fireplace. The boys were taught how to light matches: not a trivial task. When I was teaching middle school, I discovered that out of four boys, only one was comfortable lighting a match for an experiment. Perhaps our safety rules are trumping common sense.

long steps down into the canyon
catching drops
hot dogs


gathering wood for the end of Shabbos
 On Friday, after kids gathered enough firewood for post-Shabbos fire, we set out for Tennessee Aquarium. In our current city there is a large aquarium which somehow means that the local zoo has no water animals whatsoever: no fish, no sea lions, no alligators... Consequently, my daughter never experienced a touch tank, or saw fish up close. The boys dove right in with the sting rays and sturgeons, but she was cautions. She stuck her hands in the water, but seemed uncomfortable touching fish. She loved walking alongside a diving penguin. I have a soft spot for penguins, we even had them on out wedding invitations and benchers, so for me they are quite special. I also just read a National Geographic article about how they can release bubbles of air trapped in between their feathers to get a speed boost when jumping out of the water and it was incredible seeing them accelerate and whoosh out in a stream of bubbles.

Overall, it was a good outing. Afterwards I remarked to my husband how different it is now, going to a new place with two kids who can read all the signs on their own. I do not have to interest them, they look and read about whichever animal they choose. I could unschool like that!

Add caption

We had lunch outside and then headed back to the cabin to get ready for Shabbos. I brought hot water urn and blech with us. For dinner we had Chinese take-out, with leftover hot dogs and roasted veggies. We played a few games of Connect Four, dominoes and Rummikub. One of the kids accidentally turned the light on in the bedroom, but they still managed to fall asleep and stay asleep.

On Shabbos morning everyone davened, then we had our first meal (brunch) and headed out for a walk. There was no eruv, and no city, so we had a limitation of not being able to carry anything with us and not walking too far. Nevertheless, we blazed a trail to connect to a marked trail on the other edge of the canyon. It was early, it was cold and quiet. The views were breathtaking. We walked for about half a mile, which took us down into the canyon. 2 yo managed all of this on foot.

Then we got back. For seudat shlishit (at 2) we had cold cuts, potatoes, veggies and leftover Chinese. Then 8 yo and my husband played a long game of Monopoly. It lasted till the end of Shabbos. 8 yo won. I managed to finish two books: Packing for Mars and Baby Catcher. According to 8 yo, I was interrupting the Monopoly game to read interesting excerpts. 6 yo read some, played with 2 yo and played with his stuffed toys. We went over the parsha.

When Shabbos was over, another fire was started in the fireplace and the kids had a melave malka of hummus and salami sandwiches. The whole scene was so idyllic: everyone sitting around the fireplace, rocking and snacking. The feeling was so relaxing.
melave malka

Rock City
On Sunday we drove back to Chattanooga, this time to Rock City. The drive there is quite interesting; one minute you are in one state, the next you are in another. From the top of the mountain one can see seven states. However, since we went right after Thanksgiving, the "holiday cheer" was everywhere: in the music, in the decorations, in the lights. Also we did not find the whole attraction so attractive. There are rocks and paths and small caverns. There is a great view. Maybe it is because I like things more unadulterated, less commercialized. Maybe we have been on better hikes, in real caverns, and without everything having a little cheesy note attached to it. At the end of the attraction there are Fairyland Caverns, culminating in a room full of illustrated Mother Goose rhymes. The dolls looks scary, and the rhymes are, well, sadistic. 
one last fire

The best part of this whole vacation was its remoteness. We were on our own, being able to do our thing, not running on anyone's schedule, not being connected and tuned it to anyone. We were unplugged (except for a few pages my husband got. 8 yo remarked: "We only have one car, so daddy cannot go anywhere!'). There was a TV in the cabin and 8 yo asked to watch it, once. I demurred. The rest of the time we just, well, were. There was all this time: to sit around, to build a fire, to gaze into the fire, to read, to play, to think. There was no rushing.

warming up with hot chocolate
State parks are underrated, in my opinion.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Two days: a comparison

Yesterday was a marvelous day and today was a total disaster.

Let me start with yesterday. It was Sunday. My husband was not on call. He took 6 yo out to get him his special yellow belt gift, which was really a ruse for them to spend some time together. And yes, this guy got his yellow belt before his brother. I am strongly pro tae kwon do at this point for self-control.

We were planning to go to the Gem and Mineral Show. Both boys were up and dressed early. They ate breakfast quickly, unloaded the dishwasher and davened. 8 yo had his drum lesson and we got a good report from the teacher on his progress. Then, before we drove to the show, 8 yo folded and put away his laundry. The time was 10:15 am, and two chores were done!

My husband and 6 yo were planning to meet us at the show, so we drove there and wandered around a bit. 8 yo was very good about looking around and not touching without permission. He marveled at the fossils, recognized some minerals, watched the fluorescent rocks. He asked how a faceting machine works and got a personal demonstration. At another table, he was shown how grams are converted into carats and the price of a jewel is calculated. 2 yo had much harder time, first with not being able to see the high displays and then with not touching. I got both boys a mystery bag to add to their rock collection.

Then we all drove to the park where the kids played. 8 yo took turns giving and getting rides on a spin ride, 6 yo ran with some other boys pretending to be Spiderman with his new soaker glove and 2 yo found a girl to play with and to follow around. My husband pushed her on a swing for a bit. I got to sit back and relax. At some point, 8 yo walked over and told me about how he feels that the day is going just right and feels so perfect. That was encompassing my feeling in its entirety.

As we drove back, 8 yo was plotting on how to build his club house in the backyard. His plans included a shelf for games, a tent cover, bushes for infrastructure and for benches. He even asked me to turn the music off so that he could think. When we got home, he went right to it.

My husband got some sand and we filled up the punching bag base that I scored for free from boys' tae kwon do. Then it was dinnertime (falafel and ice cream), followed by showers and bed time. I was leaving to a fundraiser, so I just kissed boys on the way out the door and got a little speech from 6 yo about how kisses are good both for kids and grown-ups.

Today was miserable. We got up late, then we ended up rushing to go to a friend's house to play since there was supposed to be an art lesson for our 8 yer olds. We were rushing because I wanted to give them time to play before the class. The class was cancelled, but the kids did play. We got home around lunchtime. The boys went to the backyard while I was warming up lunch and writing the schedule. There was slow eating, resistance from 2 yo to taking a nap and then stalling before getting started on formal schoolwork. 6 yo wrote up Lashon HaTorah and then threw a major fit when I asked him to read what he wrote. Meanwhile 8 yo started on math, but he was working very slowly and sloppily, skipped some pages, got some problems wrong and did not memorize the table of threes like he was supposed to. Then 6 yo started on math and did that quickly. 8 yo moved on to spelling without bringing over any of the supplies or writing the date. 6 yo brought over Lama, decided that it was easy, but took forever to write his answers. 8 yo finally completed spelling, accused me of giving him the words that do not follow the rule and stomped and fumed. 6 yo moved on to his spelling where he got two of the review words wrong. I did not want to give him more words to study, so I told him just to study those two. Another major fit. 8 yo was ready for Lashon Hatorah, but the page was not to his liking. He expressed all his feelings about it. By now the time was 3:45 and I was done. 2 yo woke up from her nap, and I still had errands to run. I wrote up the chumash assignment for 8 yo, and told both boys that they will be completing their schoolwork later, on their own time.

8 yo told me later that he was all done, which elicited another fit from 6 yo who had literally two lines of work left. Turns out that 8 yo lied and did not do his work... and there was a water bottle spilled all over the car, and there was fighting over music or over silence, and over the granola bars and the car door was slammed without the light being turned off, and the wrappers were not in the garbage and it was all my fault!

By the time we got home, around 7 pm, I was tearing my hair out. I ordered everyone in pajamas and actually threatened not serving dinner. The boys did get pajamas on and sat on the couch, reading for a bit. I reheated the leftovers. After dinner, 8 yo lied, this time about brushing his teeth. Considering that we still have a dentist's bill from his previous three cavities, I do not find this to be a trivial matter. 6 yo decided that now is the time to go look for yet another stuffed animal to sleep with. Now I had three kids to tuck in by myself.

Did I mention that my husband is on call tonight?

So what went right yesterday and wrong today?

Now that I have cooled off myself and can think clearly, here are a few things:

  • two adults vs. one adult
  • split up kids, especially the temperamental 6 yo vs. having all three feed off each other's tantrums
  • clearly spelled-out expectations for the day vs. flying by the seat of our pants
  • more time to get things done vs. rushing to keep within certain time frames
  • no written-up schoolwork vs. a formal list of assignments
  • pleasant and expected activities (drumming, show, park) vs. drudgery (spelling, chumash, lashon hatorah)
  • low-pressure weekend vs. high-pressure weekday
  • day spent mostly outdoors vs. day spent mostly indoors
  • feeding off a positive feeling that the day is going well and will keep on getting better vs. a yucky feeling that the day is bad and cannot be spoiled any further with more horribleness
  • looking forward to a grown-up activity, alone vs. knowing that there is no end in sight (those leftovers are still waiting to be cleaned up...)

What can I take away from all of this, or, how can tomorrow be better?

For starters, tomorrow we do not have anything scheduled and I will keep it that way. Then, my husband should hopefully be home for dinner and bedtime, so I can try to see myself as being off-duty at that point. I can split the kids up between upstairs and downstairs. I will write up a clear list of schoolwork for the day, with pages and expectations. I will also promise park time in the afternoon if all the schoolwork is completed early. Finally, if the day is not going smoothly, and we are just butting heads, I will put myself in timeout, remember to breathe ( or have a drink), or call it quits rather than escalate the tension further. And I will try to get out of the house alone, even if it means sitting in Starbucks for 20 minutes because I cannot come up with any better plan.

We all have days like these...

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

this one is not a mentch

This past Shabbos, R. Chanoch Teller was a guest speaker in our shul. He gave a class about being a mentch (an admirable person). He started by saying how all parenting classes tell parents to love their children, but that a lot of them do not say that it is much easier to love your children if they are well-behaved and are mentches.

Overall, I agree. It is easier to love a child who is lovable. But what about your child who is not? What if your child is the one who is throwing a major tantrum? What if your child routinely bites/hits/hurts/screams at you and his siblings? What if your child makes you wonder where he came from, because he is not like you and like your other kids?

Before I go further, let me clarify that this is not a parenting issue, that your other kids are being brought up in the exact same way, in the exact same household, but their behavior is more reflective of your expectations, while this one child is off the wall. If all your children are off the wall, then you might need to reexamine your parenting.

You have that one child who is different. The one who melts down over the slightest things, the one who drives you nuts, the one for whom you wish there were parents to call and to complain to, except that you are the parent. What are you supposed to do?

All of a sudden, a chorus of blaming voices materializes. These voices usually find fault in the parent.

  • It's your genetics, you must have had undiagnosed (or diagnosed) ADD or some other disorder and now look what you transmitted.
  • It's your reluctance to medicate, there must be a nice pill which will magically turn your little monster into a human.
  • It's your eagerness to medicate, must be that one of those drugs is causing a side effect, and you are blindly shoving more medicine in.
  • If only you would cut out gluten/sugar/carbs/food coloring/dairy, you would see such a difference.
  • If you were only stricter and show who is the boss, the child would obey.
  • If you only hugged them and held them during tantrums, then they would feel comfortable and not have to express themselves this way.
  • If only you would have held off on those vaccines, your child could have been normal.

The list goes on...

I included the items from both sides of the aisle, since I find that both sides scream themselves hoarse over the choices they make or regret making. The overall sense of guilt and wrongdoing starts to envelop the parent, who is coming to grips that this child will not be a conventional child. The parents either are paralyzed by realization that this is not going away, or seek out every single cure in hope that one of them will do the trick.

What happened to embracing differences? What happened to realizing that not everyone is cut out to be mentch by temperament? What happened to accepting the child for who he is, warts and all?

King David
David HaMelech was a warrior by temperament. By plain p'shat, same temper which caused him to act fearlessly in battle led him to audaciously seize Batsheva and concoct a cover-up with Uriah. Despite all the whitewashing of the story, David's actions were not in accordance with Hashem's will; he clearly performed an evil deed, and confessed later that he sinned. The larger question is: why is this story recorded, especially since it has to come with so many explanations of how it is not as bad as it sounds? It must be that an important lesson is hidden in there: even a great personality is not always acting as a mentch.

Based on midrashim, David's own family did not think very highly of him. He was odd, he was weird, he was different, he did not seem suited for leadership, and he wrestled bears and lions with his bare hands. Does not sound like a nice yeshiva bochur. His parents probably stayed up at night, whispering and shaking heads, wondering what would become of him. But he was given an opportunity to be a shepherd, stay in the wilderness, play his harp, expend his energy, find what suits him.

Are we giving our difficult children the same opportunity? Are we depriving them of a chance to become the next great leader by constantly squeezing them into a box that is too small? Do all of them have to behave like a mentch all the time? Do we have to point out every time how they do not measure up?

I am guilty of this. I have a child who is not like either my husband or me. Today I wish there were some parents somewhere to call and to complain to about how his behavior is just plain wrong. But now, sitting down, I think how this child is most likely to behave like a mentch in the most unexpected situations: share something, help someone, make someone feel better, tune in to the feelings of others. As I enlarge the box, his finer qualities manage to squeeze in, too, and overshadow the inappropriate behaviors.

I need to find more opportunities for this child to shine.

Monday, November 12, 2012

November 12th

Hubby was on call last night, but he came home for breakfast for an hour. All three kids jumped him, literally. We are big on wrestling time with daddy, and 2 yo does not let him leave the house without kisses. I remember, when we just got married  walking by someone's house in Far Rockaway. The father was just walking up the driveway, and, in the window, there were two girls, jumping on the couch and cheering for daddy. I feel happy that this is the ritual my kids developed on their own. Some days, they will run out on the lawn to greet him.

After breakfast, it was time to change a tire on my van. I planned on walking the kids to nearby McDonald's with some schoolwork, and letting them climb on the play structure till it was time to pick up the car. In the ideal world, my husband would take the car and I could just stay home without hustling everyone out of the house early. In the ideal world, there would be a park nearby where the kids could play. In the ideal world, the local eatery would be kosher, or, at least, not so stereotypically treif. But this is the way the cookie crumbles, and I thought it gives kids a nice motivation to finish their work quickly so they could play. As we walk in and settle down at the table, I hear a voice behind me, saying: Shalom, chaverim! Boker tov! (Hello, friends! Good morning!) So much for coming in undetected... I got myself a coffee, so that we were not just using their facilities without them benefiting.  I also learned that they blast music, which made it hard for boys to concentrate. However, despite all that, they were able to do Lashon HaTorah. 8 yo worked on memorizing his multiplication. 6 yo filled out a page of Lama. Then everyone went outside to play.

The tire was done, and, as I am picking up my car, I bumped into a friend. She told me about story time at the library which was starting soon. When the boys were younger, we used to go all the time. We were also in different cities then. Here, I tried it a few times, but it never worked out well: either the librarian quit, or the new librarian kept mispronouncing words from the books she was reading, or it was a month off, or something else. Besides, it is hard to justify dragging all three kids to an activity which is only meant for one. However, I had some books to return, and I thought that the boys could sit and read in the kids' section while I held 2 yo on my lap. So off we went.

What I completely forgot about was that today was Veteran's Day, so the library was closed. We still got to slide all 40+ books down the book drop and the boys informed all other people in the vicinity that the library is closed.

When we got home, I wrote up the list of what was left to do. It included raking leaves and going to farmer's market, neither of which happened due to the rain and sleeping 2 yo. She took a long time settling in and then a long time waking up. Those naps do not last forever, but I am holding on to them, with both hands and all my sanity.

I have an interesting dichotomy within my boys: one could not give a hoot about neatness of his work, while the other is paralyzed by the thought of getting something wrong. I find that I sound like a cray person, telling one kid to fix this and show me better work, and encouraging the other to write down just about anything, and that it's good enough. I wonder whether it is part of "chanoch l'naar al pi darko", teaching each child according to his disposition. I also wonder whether it will make me crazy. I wonder whether I will have enough patience to be really doing it, and not just paying lip service to the idea.

2 yo has been climbing into 6 yo's bed when I tuck him in, but for the past week, it was bothering him. He pulled on his blanket, tried kicking her off and came up with all different strategies why she should not be in his bed. Depending o the night, I could go along with that, after all, it is his bed and he should be able to make rules about who is welcome there and when. Tonight it happened that I was tucking him in and nobody else was in the room. We said Shema and then he wanted to know where is his sister. I said that she is out, and he sounded that he was expecting her to be in his bed. I thought about how he really wants her there, but on his terms, and now that she was not present, he was missing her.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

in defense of unschooling

Part 1.

We got a book through PJ Library in the mail, addressed to 8 yo. It's called Jeremy's Dreidel and talks about a boy who makes a dreidel with braille letters on its sides so his blind father can play it with him. Simultaneously, the book introduces what it's like to be blind and to live with someone who is blind. It highlights how much blind people can do. 8 yo recommended that we read it out loud tonight. At the back, there are directions for making a few different kinds of dreidel, including the Braille one. I noted that Hebrew Shin is not like any letter of English braille. Next thing I know, we are googling Hebrew braille charts. And the next thing after that, I find an article on the development of Hebrew braille, attached here for those who are interested. Now 8 yo wants to read that article, but it is bedtime, so I am printing it out. Who knows what will happen tomorrow? Requests for more articles? Writing something in Hebrew Braille? And which category does this learning belong to? History? Language arts? Does it matter?

Part 2.

As I am tucking the boys in, 6 yo says:
-Please do not look under my bed, Mommy!
Now he really got my attention.
-Why? What do you have there?
-You will be mad, so please do not look.
-What is it?
8 yo peeks under:
-It's a book!
-Were you planning on reading in bed?
-Yes, because it is Torah! You never give us a chance to read, and it is Torah, so you have to let me read it!

It was his parsha book, the one he has been reading on Friday. Of course, he read plenty today. He read a chapter of Henry Huggins (good old Beverly Cleary!), he read Magic School Bus in the Time of Dinosaurs, but he felt that he needed to get even more reading time in, and of Torah, too.

This is a kid who did not know his letters early on, had no interest in reading (but loved being read to), and did not develop fluency till fairly recently. I am pretty sure he would not be willing to read out loud: I have to sneak it in by asking him to read the quotes in Magic School Bus. But here he is, sneaking in Torah reading, yet being too honest not to let me know that he's planning on sneaking. We compromised by me putting the book out in the living room, so he can read it first thing tomorrow morning.

Friday, November 9, 2012

awesome Friday

You know those days when you look back and say: this is so enjoyable and I am getting so much satisfaction? Well, today was one of those.
edible aquifer

It did not start exactly on the right foot: 2 yo and 8 yo were duking it out for my lap space on the couch and I do not enjoy mediating fights while it is still dark outside. 8 yo asked for pancakes for breakfast, and I asked him to set the table in return.

Everyone davened, and then I presented the schedule for the day. It was not met with great enthusiasm. 6 yo complained that I did not include Lama or any reading time. 8 yo complained that I did not include Rosetta Stone. I thought I am going easy on everyone since it is the first early Friday. However, 6 yo zoomed through his work and was done by 10 am. In that time he did math, handwriting, spelling and Lashon HaTorah. We still had parsha to do, so I told him to find a parsha reader and go read quietly in his room while 8 yo catches up. The older one was done by 11 am. He did review in math, script, spelling and Lashon HaTorah.

giddy up!
Then we moved on to parsha. Since 8 yo is learning Chayei Sorah in depth, I was quite familiar with the part that we covered so far: Eliezer meeting Rivkah. I was not sure what to do about the rest: cover it in depth? Skip it, so it is new and fresh? Cover it lightly? I decided to focus on a few highlights and keep the rest for more in-depth study. Then we acted out the story by the well. 8 yo wanted to be Eliezer. 6 yo wanted to be a camel, and so did 2 yo. I got to be Rivkah. The boys found saddles and harness for the camels, jewelry for Eliezer to give to Rivkah, a bucket for the well and a gallon jug. They asked me what a nose ring is, and I googled it to show them. We also discussed how much a camel can drink. They filled up the gallon jug with water and tried carrying it around on their shoulders, but nobody lasted too long. I am thankful for indoor plumbing, these kids would make lousy water carriers!

this camel is resting
WE acted out the story till they got to Betuel's house. The boys remarked on how much fun they had, and I made a mental note to do this more often.

Anachronistic prayer of Eliezer

Then we had lunch and for dessert, we made edible aquifers, to show how a well works. I got this idea from this blog. We talked a bit about wells before and we tried making one with clay/soil, sand and rocks, but I saw that the idea was not sticking. We used dyed seltzer for water, ice cubes for the aquifer, ice cream for impermeable layer and cookie crumbs for the soil. The straws were the wells. When 6 yo asked: so the well has to reach the aquifer to get water, I knew that he finally got the concept.

2 yo helped me make the lemon bars, there is chicken soup simmering on the stove, the kids are washed and we are set for Shabbos. I did most of my cooking yesterday, so not scrambling at the last minute adds to today's calmness.

Shabbat Shalom to all!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

what does your daughter do all day?

I have two school-age boys and a 2 yo girl. The question I get is, how do you keep 2 yo occupied while you are teaching the boys?

As you can surmise from my posts, I do not spend hours every day just sitting and breathing down the boys' backs as they cover subject by subject. I am present, and I might be more involved in some areas (chumash, kriyah) than in others. Most of the activities are hands-off for me, and I just check the final result, or tell where the corrections are necessary. That gives me more time to attend to 2 yo.

As far as her schedule goes, she gets quite a bit of freedom. She gets dressed when the boys get dressed, eats breakfast with the rest of us, davens after the boys and just hangs around, observing and joining in whatever we are doing. If the boys are sitting at the dining room table, writing, she will do one of her "projects". She knows where I keep the scrap paper, stickers and shapes for gluing. She gets glue and scissors, pencils, crayons, whatever strikes her, brings them over and starts working. Then she will tell me when she is done, and usually wants to display her creation. She is also pretty good about cleaning up after herself.

We had quite a few spills and messes. She cut up things while learning how to use scissors. She made large puddles of glue, but it is all washable. She spilled her shapes and we had to sing clean up song numerous times to get all the shapes back in the bucket. The tables get some of the mess, too, but it is all washable and wipeable. Besides, since I am usually more focused on the boys' work, I am not breathing down her back to be perfect, either.

Working alongside her brothers
Today she chose to do play-do while the boys worked in the morning. She got out the shapes and a small tub, set herself up in the kitchen and had fun time cutting and mushing. Then she put it away and joined the boys at the dining room table. She brought over a lacing kit. I was asked to untangle the strings and then she proceeded to lace a dog while the boys did Lashon HaTorah and math.

Later in the afternoon, she found a papier mache peach and wanted to paint it. Originally I thought it would make a great sukkah decoration, painted and covered in mod podge, but it never happened. Now she pulled out paint, a jar for water and a paint brush and worked on adding different colors to it. When she was all done, she wanted to thumb tack it to the board in the kitchen. I tried explaining how it would not work, but she wanted to display it. I suggested hanging it up in the dining room. She brought me a piece of string and we hung it from a curtain rod.

When she is not involved in these projects, she plays with her dolls, puts them to sleep, changes their diapers, makes strollers out of bins and spreads out blankets for picnics and boats and whichever way her imagination takes her. She got tall enough and strong enough to open the fridge doors, so she can help herself to the snacks I keep in the bottom drawer: squeezy yogurts and regular yogurt cups and string cheese. I leave the bowls of dry cereal on the table ( if someone didn't finish theirs during breakfast) and she would snack from them.

She comes to sit on my lap occasionally, and to cuddle up. But lately she has been valuing her freedom of roaming more than the comfort she gets.

Someone must be thinking, what about the academics? ( As if all this that she does could not qualify as a full day of schoolwork). Well, she likes when I read books to her. She knows the first two letters in her name and points out that combination whenever we encounter it. She learned the first letters in her brothers' names. I have a bag of magnetic letters which I got when the oldest was one and half. She likes to assemble them on the fridge.

She can count solidly to ten, and more shakily to twenty. She is learning her numbers from pressing them on the microwave pad to cook her morning oatmeal. When she is asked how old she is, she says that she is in "quarters", which means two and three quarters. She also knows that if you have one marshmallow and you need to end up with three ( like your brother), you need two more. And she know what two more looks like!

She knows what we do on Shabbat, and how we get ready for it. She knows that Hebrew books go the other way from the English ones. She has a few favorite Hebrew songs, and she sings them on her own: HaShafan Hakatan, Af Echad, Torah, Hashem is here.

She also still mercifully naps most days ( my boys gave up naps right after turning 2), so we all get a bit of downtime.

So, while I cannot tell you exactly what she does all day, I know that she keeps herself busy. Lately, 6 yo complained how she does not get to do any real schoolwork, and all my talk about how her playing is her schoolwork was not what he wanted to hear. He is not the only one. I just saw an article where a veteran homeschooler explained how all different activities can count as schoolwork. As far as I am concerned, she is doing quite well, whether formally, or informally. She is proof that unschooling works.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

constructive destruction

Yesterday I did not have any formal school planned: the kids were coming back from a sleepover at my in-laws, I had an ultrasound scheduled midday, and there was tae kwon do in the afternoon. I figured it is not worth fighting everyone to get those few pages of work filled up, but the kids had other plans. My mother-in-law sent over a few broken electronics, and they were eager to take them apart.

Here they are, sitting on the deck with three screwdrivers, undoing the screws. It is like advanced present unwrapping: you do not know what you are going to get. Yesterday they did not get too far, but it took them a good hour and lots of teamwork and taking turns to get the cover all the toy and to remove the batteries.

Today 6 yo was going to a Marine Mammal day camp for a few hours, run by a fellow homeschooler. This means a ten-year old girl, who is fundraising to go to a camp herself. 8 yo was sulking in the morning: he gets to pack his lunch, he gets to have fun, he gets to do cool things, while I am stuck here on a cold rainy horrible day and nothing good ever happens to me. This attitude gives me a bad rise ( until I pause and realize that there are plenty of times I feel like that too: oh, poor me, why me, why is this all happening to me?) Either way, I was not sure how much more of this moping I could take. Then I mentioned to my husband how today is trash pick up and could he put our old broken TV/VCR combo by the curb? And then I had an idea: I asked 8 yo if he would like to disassemble it instead. That turned everything around; the day went from horrible to great, there was eagerness to get work done, and he got to davening right away.

This is what 8 yo did today: finished Level 1 of Rosetta Stone, did a page of Lashon HaTorah, translated three pesukim in Chumash, learned letter "k" in script and did multiplication in math. Additionally, he drummed for half an hour, stood in line at the polls and helped me in the grocery store. 6 yo did these before his camp even started: a page of a new unit in Lashon HaTorah, HWT and math. All of this was done by 2:30, including lunch.

As soon as 8 was done, he went downstairs, lugged the TV by himself up the stairs, got the screwdrivers and went at it.

There were oohs and aahs when the cathode tube emerged. The boys fond the processor, the speaker and the induction coils in the motor. 8 yo disconnected the gears in the rewind/fast forward mechanism. I showed them the resistors and the capacitors. Everyone was busily occupied for nice long while. I just regretted that I do not know more about electronics to show them around.

Opening the cover
There is a large question on what motivates the kids: star charts, reward boxes, prizes, bribery. Most of these are materialistic rewards and are extrinsic. The parents and the teachers are reduced to the status of dog trainers: if you do this, you get that, and if you do not do this, you lose that. I see how it works, and I see that when you are at your wits' end, this gives you a way out. But can't we expect more from humans than we expect from dogs? Can't we find what makes humans tick, and feed into that?

freeing the cathode tube

playing with induction coils

Right now, taking things apart is that extrinsic motivator. There is a process of discovery, and channeling destruction, and surprise and applying what you know to a new situation. And my gut feeling is, this is what learning is truly supposed to be about. All those pages of work that were done in the morning, that are lying neatly in the boys' binders, they are nothing compared to what they took away from this old broken TV.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Mrs. Lot

I attended a homeschooling webinar this past week and one of the questions was about the science curriculum. Now, those still trigger a small wave of panic in the pit of my stomach: science curriculum? we do not have one! I am brimming with ideas: nature walks, nature journals, leaf categorization, phases of the moon, using light sources to show equinox and eclipses, plant life, the human body... The problem is, I think my kids would much rather read some of their science books, watch a documentary, dig in the dirt and take a picture of a woodpecker on our neighbor's house than do a formal study of anything. 
I attended a homeschooling webinar this past week and one of the questions was about the science curriculum. Now, those still trigger a small wave of panic in the pit of my stomach: science curriculum? we do not have one! I am brimming with ideas: nature walks, nature journals, leaf categorization, phases of the moon, using light sources to show equinox and eclipses, plant life, the human body... The problem is, I think my kids would much rather read some of their science books, watch a documentary, dig in the dirt and take a picture of a woodpecker on our neighbor's house than do a formal study of anything. 

In honor of this week's parsha, Vayeira, I decided to make Mrs. Lot.
Protocol? There was no protocol. Mrs. Lot turned into a pillar of salt, so we were supposed to get a pillar of salt, somehow. I started by filling a pot with a small amount of water. Then I asked boys to add some salt to it and to stir it up. I told them that salt is dissolving and soon we will not see it any more. I explained that salt is made out of sodium and chloride, holding hands, but when it hit s water, they let go and snuggle up with the water molecules instead. I also told them that we cannot add salt indefinitely, eventually, there will not be enough water for sodium and chloride to snuggle up to, so they will choose to hold hands and that will make the solution saturated. The boys took turns adding salt and mixing. I got them to taste it and they declared it to be positively salty. 

Then I asked them: how can we get the salt out? 8 yo said that we could vaporize all the water. I asked them to take a skewer, wrap a piece of yarn around it and tie it. Then I showed them some coarse and fine salt, next to each other. I asked them to compare ( and taste). I explained that coarse salt has larger crystals. I also said that I hope that by dipping the string into coarse salt, we will encourage the growth of larger crystals.

The start things along, I put the pot on the stove. Immediately, 6 yo asked how long it will take. I said, a few minutes till the water starts boiling. They stood there, watching it and counting the seconds. A watched pot does boil! Then we dipped in the string on the skewer. Two things happened: the crystals dissolved and the string started moving around in the boiling bubbles. At this point, it was getting close to Shabbos, and I was not going to let Mrs. Lot take over my stove, so the experiment got moved to the top of the dryer.
This is Mrs. Lot, gently evaporating on the stove
8 yo asked about the white dots on the side of the pot. I asked for his opinion and he correctly guessed that it is salt. I stressed that only water molecules can evaporate, so those are the droplets of salty water, where the water evaporated and the salt was left behind.

Mrs Lot is currently taking up residence on top of the dryer that is running a load of clothes. I am chuckling, remembering my grad school days. I specialized in X-ray crystallography, but, before one can shoot crystals, one has to grow them. Some liked to grow undisturbed, like rock candy, while some liked to be agitated. I hope that the gentle dryer vibrations are encouraging crystal growth.

We do not need science curriculum, not yet. I need to be able to catch my kids when they are interested in science and give them a certain amount of information, on their level, with a hands-on activity of some kind. Overall, the goal is to make science something accessible and enjoyable.