Sunday, June 30, 2013

run your family like a business?

Lots of hours nursing means lots of hours reading. I came across this article in Time: Executive Parenting. A similar article can be found here. I found it to be slightly ridiculous. In fact, I even read it out loud to my husband. His first reaction: if we run a family like a business, can we fire people for not performing? Well, of course not! Meanwhile, there is a desire for efficiency and blurring more lines between home and work. If your house is not a place to relax, then what is it? Another stressful environment to be managed?
Anyone who dealt with newborns for a long period of time knows the first rule of newborns: there is no predictability to their schedule, and. therefore, there is no predictability to your schedule. The baby got up, nursed and now he might:

  • fall back asleep for five minutes till you put him down
  • fall asleep for two hours
  • scream and scream
  • poop and want to nurse some more
  • chill out, look around, and be totally content

Which one will it be? Can you guess whether this is a good time for you to start on a major project, or will you be interrupted every five minutes trying to soothe a baby? No wonder so many parents are anxious: how come you are doing the same thing, but getting vastly different results? Moreover, if a baby cries, is he evaluating your performance and finding it lacking? Easier to hand the kid over to daycare, tell them to feed formula (in easily measurable amounts, but this is a topic for another post), and go on with your predictable workday.

Beyond newborn, how about relationship building? Is it really made out of the same blocks as a team at work? When I was in college, taking a Jewish Philosophy class on the Lonely Man of Faith, my teacher said: never marry a person because you will make a great team. You would be missing the point of connection due to existential loneliness. Or, in other words, no relationship will go far if it's just about efficiency. Dating takes time, and it is convoluted. Relationships bloom when there is time to connect casually and leisurely.
A lot of time is wasted on reading the same story over and over again. A lot of time is spent on taking children out to the park. A lot of time is spent cuddling the boo-boos and tucking kids into bed. But all these moments of a seeming waste of time are building up a relationship. Once the relationship is there, it will not seem odd that a 9 yo will sit everyone down and say that we need to have a family meeting to discuss everyone's grievances, and what's working and what's not. He did that, tonight, just as everyone was getting into pajamas. We did not come up with a mission statement and weekly goals, but everyone got the floor, starting with the baby (he seemed content with life), moving on to 3 yo (she was content playing with her necklace) and then to 7 yo. He brought up again how he wants to go and paint pottery just with me and the baby. 9 yo brought up bigger stuff: sleeping arrangements, dishwasher arguments, sibling arguments, money, going to Israel. I got the floor next. I brought up uneaten camp lunches, and the schedule for next year. Lastly, my husband brought up how he has so little time to spend with us, and to take care of the things he needs to do. We spoke about all these issues in an atmosphere of trust. Everyone had a turn, everyone chimed in with suggestions. Some things were brought up that we, as parents, were not aware of. We resolved quite a few of the issues.

The meeting was a success. What differentiated our meeting from the article was the bottom-up instead of top-down approach. If there is a need for a meeting, we will call a family meeting. If there isn't a need for one, we will not hold it just because it is scheduled in. Moreover, if we discover that a family meeting is not the best way for us to address what ails us, we will try something else. We will not sacrifice relationship building for the sake of efficiency.

Life is a meandering journey, not a sprint. We will get there, but we might as well have fun along the way.

Friday, June 28, 2013

E.T. phone home

Yesterday was a momentous occasion in our household: we pulled off a movie night! Our friends were making aliyah and gave us a whole bunch of video tapes, since we are probably the last people on Earth to have a functional VCR. One of them was E.T. 3 yo was mildly interested in watching it, and I was feeling under the weather, so this seemed like a perfect way to spend an evening. The boys wanted to watch Pokemon, and even started on it, but, due to some discoveries of broken objects by mommy, they were not allowed to finish. So I started the movie with 3 yo, and then 9 yo came to join us, around the time that Elliot discovers E.T. in the shed.

We did watch the whole movie. I was prepared for kids to be scared, and I was prepared for sadness. I have not watched this movie since the first year I came to the States, so my memory of the story line was fuzzy, and I was discovering it alongside my kids. I was prepared for tears, but I was not prepared for 9 yo asking me repeatedly whether E.T. will live. I was not prepared for the amount of times he asked me about what's going on, who is this, what are the doing, and why. I found myself saying: "Just watch" and "I don't know" probably a dozen times. After the movie was over, 9 yo asked why there isn't a narrator to tell you what's going on.

Right now my boys watch primarily Pokemon. I wrote previously about it, and how I dislike it. One commentator chided me for being too harsh on my kids and that this viewing is harmless. I beg to differ. The simplicity of Pokemon, the non-existence of plot, and the narrator constantly telling you what is going on primes their brains into such a passive state of watching, that they are not accustomed to think about what's on the screen, just sit back and enjoy the show. They expect happy endings; even badly defeated Pokemon will retreat and heal. Despite numerous destructions, Team Rocket is sparkling-new in each episode. Nobody gets hurt badly, and everything is predictable. In fact, it is so simple, that I am afraid they might not be able to handle a real movie plot. They are not ready to watch movie for cues and complexity.

I hope that there is also a matter of a developmental stage: now they like the world to be easily explainable, the good always trumping evil, and not too much pain and suffering along the way. I am hoping that with time they will mature enough to watch more complex plots, and read cues without everything being spelled out.

I also wondered whether our litigious society is contributing to the problem. We all laugh at pool signs which tell us that we can drown in a pool. Last week I went peach picking, and there was a sing warning me that it might be a life-threatening activity. Additionally, I had to sign a release, in case something happened to me while engaging in this agricultural activity. I can look at it, and call is ridiculous. Of course, it is possible to get hurt while peach picking. But what about our kids, who see these signs and think: oh, I did not know that I can die while doing this! Somebody else is telling me it is dangerous, therefore, it must be that I cannot draw this conclusion on my own and access the risks. Somebody always has to tell me what to do. If they are not telling me, I am lost.

Speaking of the risks, how many kids are allowed to come home one hour after sundown, as in E.T.? How many kids would be brave enough to investigate a noise in the shed? If E.T. was set in 2013, it might have been a different movie altogether.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013


We are unschooling, right? So why all of a sudden am I sitting at the computer on Amazon, looking up workbooks? Why does my cart have four of them in there? Moreover, why are two of them for my 7 yo, the kid, who time and again, let me know how much he despises workbooks?

A few times a year, I find myself on It is an excellent website, brimming with ideas and resources. Then I am frantically printing out pages for my kids. The next day, they warily see the pile, eye it, maybe browse it, and we start the fine sport of head-butting over it. Usually, I give it up within a short time, but sometimes it takes me days to get to that point. Sometimes, I file unused pages away, in hope of using them someday, when everyone is older and more mature. Now, my filing cabinet is like a bottomless drawer: no matter how many times I organize it, and see all these great ideas, somehow the time is not right, so they just sit and fester there, making me feel guilty for not doing all these creative and amazing things with my kids.

By now I know that whenever I am feverishly scrolling through, it is just my anxiety talking. I can scroll for a bit, and then step away. I can stay up all night ruminating. I do not need to print. Usually, within a few days, my kids will ask or tell me something demonstrating that somehow they already know the material without the worksheets. The anxiety releases, or switches over to something else. With kids, there are plenty of things to worry about.

But the worksheets utter their siren call. They are cute, and colorful, all the things that were missing in my textbooks as a child. They are bright and appealing. And they teach! I mean, I need to sit and show how they teach. I mean, I have to tell my kids to drop what they are doing so that the worksheets can be pounded into them. I mean, what is the point?


By now I feel confident that my 7 yo does not need phonics instruction, or a reading book. He reads plenty from the library, both fiction and non-fiction. He reads out loud. He tells me about the books he reads. He asks me to read to him. We definitely do not need workbooks for that.

9 yo does not need geography or history workbook. He might not cover grade-appropriate material, but he reads and discusses plenty. He draws connections, prints out maps, finds causes and effects of historical events.

I got Math Mammoth for 9 yo. All I need is some guide for what 7 yo is supposed to learn in math. So one workbook in math, just one. I would like to continue using Bring Beginnings and Lashon HaTorah for Chumash, so that's already three workbooks, and that is a lot for a workbook-averse kid.

Take a deep breath. Empty the Amazon cart. Save money. More importantly, save sanity, both mine and my child's. Teach each child according to his way.

Monday, June 24, 2013

unschooling Russian

Usually, the conversation goes something like this: you're Russian? Your husband is Russian? Do you speak Russian to your kids? HOW COME you do not speak Russian to your kids? All of this is followed by a long tirade about how good it is to know more than one language, and how the speaker wishes to speak another language or how their sister/cousin/neighbor talks to her kids only in Spanish/German/French.

I have a few responses: 9 yo unambiguously told me before he was 2 that he only wanted to know the names of objects in English. If my kids are to pick up another language, I much rather it be Hebrew. We are not going back to Russia, so that is not the language I want my kids to be fluent in. Both my husband and I think in English, and talk to each other in English, so switching over to Russian would be artifice. Finally, if my kids would want to learn it, I would teach them.

Yesterday, I got a firsthand glimpse of how it would work.

DO you know what this is?

It is a kids' atlas that I grew up with. It is also the atlas that my husband had as a boy. We have it lying around, together with a bunch of other books. Yesterday 9 yo pulled it out and looked at it. He has done it before, but never asked any questions about it. Yesterday, he sat down on the couch, next to my husband and opened up to a page with explorers. He asked the name of each man, and tried guessing from their routes who is who. Then he opened to a political map. He knows that the atlas is old, but he checked for how old by looking for Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. Mind you, the atlas is in Russian, and he does not know how to read Russian, but he knows what the borders of countries are supposed to look like. Then he opened up to each continent. The typical page has the countries labeled, with the flags on the side, and some select nationalities wearing traditional costumes. He went on to match the flags of the countries to the nationalities and the countries. That required reading the names. My husband was helping him with the letters. He had to sound out the word, look on the map for a country with a similar name, and then match it to an English translation that he knows. I do not think he would be interested in doing this were it not for geography. If he did not know his maps so well, this whole exercise would have been painful. However, they way he was doing it, it was more of a fun game.

He went continent by continent, all the way to Australia. He noted which nationalities were portrayed with daggers and swords, and which were shown almost naked. At the end of the day, he got a great lesson in reading Russian. (I got a lesson in how unabashedly biased the atlas is: there is one Korea, with capital in Pyongyang, and Arab territories, occupied by Israel are listed before Israel proper. Also, in North America, the only national costumes shown are those of Mexico, Eskimo (Canadian) and Cuba. Of course, if it's written down, it must be true...)

Is 9 yo going to be interested in continuing his Russian studies? Will he become a Russian speaker? Will he read fluently? Not likely, unless he continues to see a point in what he's doing.

Monday, June 17, 2013

fitting our life around camp

I know there are people out there pining to send their kids to camp. There are working parents, and just because school lets out for the summer, the work does not stop. There are family issues, kids need to be separated from each other, there are specialty camps where a skill can be honed, there are overnight camps where kids can experience a sense of adventure and independence which they cannot get at home. At home it is illegal to walk anywhere alone, lest a bogeyman will kidnap you...

When I signed my kids up for camp this year, I thought it was a great idea. They had one week of camp last year and loved it: they swam, played games, learned, did art projects. 7 yo repeatedly asked me (in October) whether I am sending him to camp this year. I knew that I will have a baby, and I thought that 4 weeks of camp will be nice, enough of a time to give me a break and enough of a time for kids to play. It was supposed to be time to recharge the batteries, reset our learning clocks and try our hand at different things. Besides, the kids have been begging for me to take them swimming and I am not adventurous enough to take all four of them by myself.

As the camp time drew nearer, I though more and more about how is it going to be. My friend asked me to go peach picking. I love the idea, but I cannot bring my kids along, since they are in camp, and in our neck of the woods, peach picking is off-limits on Sundays. Our homeschool coop is organizing a field trip, but we will pass since the kids are in camp. 7 yo asked for swimming lessons, but I will not look into it because there is no time to do it. 9 yo will not start on mishnayot till the camp lets out. The drumming lessons will not resume till we are done. What about our Chumash? When should I fit it in? In the morning before camp starts? After dinner? Let it slide for four weeks? We had such a good momentum going, and now it is suspended due to camp.

What about me? Now I have daily lunches to pack instead of opening a fridge and just getting whatever is there. Most people who say lunches are not a big deal are probably not the ones who are packing them (and getting half of the food back, in mushed condition). I have to wake up baby and fit him into carpool schedule. When I signed the kids up, both camps were supposed to be at the same place, with the same times. I thought, brilliant! Then, last week, they changed the location for boys' camp, but the carpool is still at the same time as girls' camp. I complained a bit on Facebook and found another parent with whom to trade off carpool. Today, I found out that the boys' camp is going to a baseball game tomorrow and they will be dismissed whenever they get back. The other kid in carpool is still getting dismissed at a regular time, so I have to pick him up, switch him with my daughter who is being picked up by another parent, and then call in to find out when the boys are getting in. This is not the headache that I signed up for.

Late last night, I got the first e-mail from the girls' camp. It cheerfully informed me that I should send in tomorrow a mat for rest. I am sure that people who send their kids to daycare have these mats, but we do not own one. When we are tired we do not rest on mats, but in beds. Besides, 3 yo gave up naps for the most part. If she is tired, she will go lay down and nap, but we do not have rest time. By the reactions from other parents I surmised that I should have taken this very seriously. I was given suggestions where to buy a mat, and how I can solve this issue with other objects. Apparently, I was violating some taboo by not taking this whole mat thing to heart. What, she will fail camp if she does not have a standard-issue mat? Moreover, I realized that I will be paying camp to try to nap a child who might not want to nap in the first place.

This is where it hit me: this fun summer camp is really an institution. I have become too used to doing my own thing, thinking non-traditionally, avoiding top-down approach. I am chafing at this structure imposed upon us. There is no spontaneity and a lot of playing by the rules. Moreover, the rules change, and I am stuck following them.

Months ago, I wrote how the way that I was homeschooling was unsustainable. It required too much from me, and was too rigid for the kids. Now, I think, we finally reached a level of sustainability. The house is almost eerily quiet, and I miss my kiddos. I do not need this long break from them.

There are plenty of things I can be doing with new-found free time: take walks, read, clean up, run errands, get some new clothes, have a coherent thought. But I think I am at the point where I can do all these things with them in the house, or that they are not so important that I need to send my kids out to get them done. To be fully honest, ask me when the four weeks are over and they are all home, but for now, I wish that sending them to camp was less of a headache-inducing activity.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

unschooling judaics

When I started unschooling, I was quite anxious about Judaics. This week my kids lovingly proved me wrong. 9 yo pulled out Selected for You: Stories from Nach and reread it. I breathed a sigh of relief. Then he opened up Tanach and reread the same parts of Yehoshua and Shoftim. Since the books were laying around, 7 yo picked them up and read them, too. Apparently they needed to be not pressured about Judaics to get their own taste for them. Most recently, 9 yo recited the genealogy out loud from Divrei HaYamim.

We finished the second perek of Breishit with 9 yo. His new tactic is not to ask questions, lest I spring another Rashi on him. Although he did ask exactly when Torah was written, as I think he is trying to reconcile creation with what he knows about evolution. When we were reading about the four rivers leaving Gan Eden, he mentioned that the description is so detailed that he could draw a map. I lit up and asked him whether he would like to draw it. He said, nah. I gotta curb my enthusiasm.

7 yo did the first three pesukim of Lech Lecha from Bright Beginnings. I told him that my goal is to finish the first perek by the end of summer, and I showed him in the book where that would land us. He seemed agreeable to it. My goal with his chumash is very different from that of 9 yo. I want him to get comfortable with reading Hebrew, looking at shorashim on the side and picking out the shorashim. I do not expect him to memorize neither Hebrew nor translation. I want him to see that Chumash is not scary and mysterious, but is something that he is capable of doing. He decided that he can do two pages each day, and I ask him to read each pasuk twice: once in the beginning and once at the end. So far, he has been doing his work eagerly, as I think he is finding it to be easier than expected. Oh, and he is working on his fine motor skills by coloring in the lines. For this kid, this is quite a new and exciting development.

In addition to these more traditional Judaics, we have more of spontaneous discussions. This morning, on the way to shul, 9 yo stopped. He pointed to a worm wiggling on the sidewalk and he wanted to know whether he can pick it up and move it to the grassy area before it dries up and dies. I said, no, it is muktze. This led to lively discussion on what if one brushes against a tree and a bug falls on you and now you are carrying it. Or if one picks up a worm and carries it around the whole Shabbos, without putting it down. While these are not great philosophical discourses, at least they are showing me that the kids are thinking in halachic framework.

During the third meal, I asked the boys about what punishment and what cure from the parsha sounded similar to each other in Hebrew. 9 yo threw out a guess or two, and then sat down with a Tanach. 7 yo threw a fit: it's too hard, he cannot do research, why don't I ask him things that he already knows, he has no brain, why am I giving out jelly beans (I did not promise anything!) Having set the bar at zero expectations and almost leading me to go get a nice strong drink, he opened up his parsha book and started reading, Interestingly, he found the answer before his brother. My husband helped him with the Hebrew translation.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


I want to be a polar bear momma. Polar bear females hibernate when they give birth, and then continue hibernating for next next 4-5 months. During that time they nurse their cubs, and emerge when it is spring, and the cubs are mature enough to follow their momma. Can you imagine not only giving birth in your sleep, but not losing any sleep with small babies?

Blame it on our large heads. Since human brains are so large, our babies are born "premature" compared to the rest of the mammals. This makes them helpless, and unable to meet their needs for food on their own. A tiny joey (baby kangaroo) is born the size of a bean, inches up to its mother's nipple, and stays latched on for months. A human baby can do only one thing: cry, and hope that someone will feed it.

Nursing a human baby is hard. Every time when I am pregnant, I feel that half of my brain cells disappear. They are probably too preoccupied with making sure I do not upchuck in a random place, or are processing new sensations: what is that funny twinge? Ooh, cannot bend like that anymore! But pregnancy brain has nothing on nursing brain. I estimate my brain power at 10%. I can envision the brain cells melting and turning into nutrients for the baby. Coherent thoughts morph into wispy clouds and fade. No wonder sleep deprivation is a method of torture.

I wish I was a polar bear, hibernating, and waking up to a toddling human being.

Oh, I can rattle off the advantages of breastfeeding with the best of them. I have nursed all my kids, and it is a great bonding experience and it is wonderful and natural and always available. But nursing is also hard work. I am always hungry and always searching for food. I am always tired. Each nursing session takes time. That oxytocin makes me sleepy. At some point, the baby decides to experiment with biting. Ahh, the blissful joys of nursing...

So while I am staunchly pro-nursing, I honestly admit that I do not enjoy every minute of it. Now, could it be that my kids feel the same way about their schoolwork? Could they enjoy some aspects of learning, but not be enjoying all the learning, all the time? Why would I expect them to be enthusiastic about davening when some days they might not feel that connection to Hashem? What about Chumash? Some days are full of insights, while others we just do it "to get it over with"?

So while the days of open-eyed wonder feel good (not to mention make great blog posts), the days of less enthusiasm are not a tragedy either. It is the long view that counts: do my kids have more positive learning experiences than negative ones? As long as the overall tally is on the plus side, I think we are OK. If it's not, then we can try something else.

Meanwhile I will continue with nursing. That heavy fur coat would be uncomfortable in this heat anyway.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

sugar and spice and everything nice...

This morning, as my daughter was getting dressed, she put on her "fairy princess ballerina" skirt. She twirled in it for a bit. I wanted to take a quiet morning walk by myself, but she insisted on joining me. I put her in the stroller. As we passed some cars, she pretended to shoot them, with magical sparkles.
3 yo is a tomboy, a younger sister of two older brothers. But 3 yo is also a girly-girl, walking up to other moms to show her nail polish, in pink, and explain that it's her favorite color. Does she do what society expects a girl to do, or does she defy expectations?

I worry about my boys quite a bit. Will they grow up to be decent human beings? Will they get along with others? Will they be able to sit down a learn whatever it is that they need to learn? Will they suppress their individuality just enough to hear other's point of view? I tend not to worry about these areas with my daughter. She makes friends every time we go to the park. She gets along well with everyone. She loves to listen and follow directions. She asks for projects. She wants to know those Hebrew words on the CDs and what they mean. She asks about letters and numbers.

But then, maybe, I should be worried. While the boys will naturally bristle at having to follow anyone, my girl might not speak up in order to fit in. I joke that she is a perfect example of how unschooling works, learning naturally and at her pace. But she is also a perfect example of why girls succeed in school: she will suppress her desires long enough to complete whatever everyone else is doing. And not having a strong internal voice is a recipe for disaster later, when adolescence kicks in. (I am reading Reviving Ophelia for the first time, so these thoughts are reaching the surface).

So who is she, this daughter of mine? A strong-willed girl, or a goody-two-shoes? Time will tell. All that I know is that she is the girl who catches isopods with her bare hands, names them, and finds them a happy home on the front lawn.

Monday, June 10, 2013

bees, creeks and chumash

Today we had a bee-keeping field trip with the homeschoolers. I wanted to take my kids to one for a long time, since Rosh HaShana, and when one turned up so close to home, I jumped on it. Serendipitously, 7 yo asked me to read Magic School Bus Visits the Hive just last week, so we brushed up on our bee facts. We also looked at some books about bees earlier in the year.

Today was raining on and off. Originally the trip was supposed to be for the boys, while 3 yo, baby and I would just hang out, but they seemed happy to let her participate, and I saw that she was following everyone nicely. The rainy weather called for more time indoors, but the kids did get to play some bee games outside and watch the actual hives and bees in action. However, what really held the kids attention was not the expected learning opportunity. There was a chicken outside the coop. 3 yo could not get enough of it. She patted it, she followed it, she ran away from it, she watched it. I think for her the trip was primarily about this free-ranging chicken.

The boys went exploring in the woods behind the garden after the workshop. They found a creek, and waded in it. I haven't seen it, but, judging by how thoroughly wet they were when they came back, it must have been a significantly tempting creek. After they emptied water from their rain boots and settled in the car, all they were talking about was the creek: the pipes they saw, how deep it was, how one boy rescued a football, whether animal life was spotted. For them, the slight danger of the deep creek was more impressive than any possible danger of bee interaction.

This afternoon, I started Chumash with 7 yo. Since 9 yo finished his Powerpoint on the first perek of B'reishit, it was time to discuss siyum ideas. He asked to go to Six Flags. I said that this will happen only if he finishes the whole parsha ( I am not holding my breath). He lit up. I said that he might get to go on his own, just with daddy. 7 yo wanted to go too. I said that if he learns a nice amount of Torah, we can have a siyum, too. He said that he just wants Powerpoint. 9 yo told him that you need to have info for it. 7 yo looked hesitant. I said that whenever he is ready, we can start on Chumash slowly, and I will help him. He was receptive. I pulled out Bright Beginnings workbook that I got at the conference. I summarized what happened till Lech Lecha. We did the first two pages. First he read the pasuk. I think he was greatly encouraged that the translation was right there. I pointed out that shorashim on the side. Then he colored in the matching shorashim on the opposite page. He hesitated when he saw that there were more choices on one side than the other, and even stopped. I told him that they are trying to trick him, and one will not have a match. Then he continued. I asked him to read the pasuk again, and he did. I high-fived him and congratulated on his first pasuk from the Torah.

He opened to the next page, and glanced at the next pasuk. I was not planning on pushing him further. I could not believe how easy it was. I think I expected him to be not ready, and not willing to try, but, for some reason, today he felt encouraged.

Of course, we will not rest on our laurels, and the goal is to do a bit of Chumash every day.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

lazy days of summer

Yesterday, after spending a whole lot of the morning hours watching Pokemon (and after chumash), 9 yo decided to run a lemonade stand. It sounded so predictable that I was getting teary-eyed: he's doing a stereotypical thing for the kids his age. He wants to make money. He's willing to build it. He will put in some effort, some creativity, experience some frustration and get rewarded for his hard work. Maybe we can tie in some money math. Ahh, the budding entrepreneur, my son...

This is how it actually went:

squeezing the lemons
He wanted to build it and told me that daddy showed him some wood in the garage. When we went to retrieve it, he saw a folding table and decided to use that instead. He needed 7 yo's help to haul it out and set it up by the curb. They dragged over two lawn chairs. I envisioned a huge handmade sign, but 9 yo got on Word and printed one out, with the price and clipart. 7 yo, 3 yo and her friend were in charge of making the lemonade. They got the lemons and juiced them, then I helped with the sugar and water. 7 yo added ice cubes. Meanwhile 9 yo forgot all about the lemonade and went to watch more Pokemon. 7 yo told him that he is ready. They borrowed a toy cash register from 3 yo, got some cups, and set themselves up. They offered me a free cup, for helping.

ready for business
They sat there, waiting for a customer to come. A few cars drove by, as heads expectantly turned and followed them. Nobody stopped. I took a picture and posted it on Facebook, hoping to drum up some business. The responses came from people too far away to buy. The girls left for the swings. More cars, but no stops. The boys poured each other a cup. 3 yo came to get her cash register back. I came out to buy two cups. They did not have enough to make change. 9 yo proposed "buy one, get one free" deal to entice the customers. I pointed out that he cut the price of profit in half.

Shortly, the kids started fighting. The stand was closed for the day. Everything was cleaned up. Pokemon commenced once more.

Afterwards, I spoke to 9 yo what he could have done differently to be more successful. He suggested selling on a busier street and producing more professional signs. We talked about advertising in advance, and putting up fliers throughout the neighborhood. He wanted to make it a fruit juice stand, with more variety, but I sensed that he was discouraged by this whole experience. Oh, how I wished he would have gotten at least one real customer!

Today we reviewed Chumash. 9 yo finished the first perek, and the kiddush part of the second one. He asked about Hashem finishing work on the seventh day, and I brought up Rashi, to which he shuddered and shook, but did it. He also asked me previously about why it is E-lokim and not Hashem, to which I brought another Rashi. I think it is great that he is asking the same p'shat questions that Rashi had, but he finds it annoying that I do not just tell him the answer.

Then we went to the aquarium. Today DeepSea Challenger was making a brief stop in front of the aquarium, so we checked it out first. Yesterday it rained and rained, so looking at a submarine made sense. Then we saw the exhibits. My husband came along and he was surprised by how crowded the aquarium was. I used to be wondering about all the people lolling around during work hours: we are homeschoolers, but don't you all guys have somewhere to be? Now it does not phase me, but he was surprised.

The aquarium is loud and flashy and big. I usually get overwhelmed just by entering it. My kids have their own experiences, touching stingrays and sharks, watching the dive show and the dolphin show, seeing the otters, dissecting a virtual frog. At least, they enjoy it.

As soon as we got home, 9 yo got onto again. I unplug the kids periodically, for chores. During these breaks they remember all of a sudden that they need to use a bathroom, or that they are hungry or thirsty. Then 9 yo drifts right back.

We shut off TV/computer at 7 pm. Then, after getting pajamas on, 9 yo pulls out a highschool world history textbook and reads it. I am not so sure whether it counteracts the mindlessness of the show. I am sticking to my guns till the end of the week, allowing for unlimited watching/game playing, and I am realizing two things:
   1. It is not as bad as I think.
   2. It is a huge time drain.
For the past three nights, just as I start tucking in the baby, 9 yo mentions how he didn't sped any time with him. I find it funny: they were both under the same roof the whole day, yet his attention was so absorbed by watching that he literally ignored another person. He also complained how I keep interrupting his night reading, because he is not getting in hours and hours of reading he is used to getting. And I wish he chose to watch something that causes neurons to fire, not utterly predictable Pokemon. Good guys are walking along.bad guys show up, good guys get beaten up, pull out a new trick, bad guys are pulverized, good guys seek new adventures. Maybe he likes the predictability of outcomes, while getting an adrenaline rush.

Monday, June 3, 2013

hectic day

Today was very hectic. My husband had a delivery to attend in the middle of the night, and the baby was up quite a bit. There was a laundry backlog, so in the morning one boy had no tzitzit. 9 yo asked to watch Pokemon for his davening treat which made sense at the time, since I wanted to make piles of laundry for the boys to fold and put away. What ended up happening was that I stopped them in the middle, and which 7 yo folded his laundry and taught his sister how to to fold shorts and pants, 9 yo sulked about chumash. He does not want to do it. There is more speeches about how its unfair that he is doing chmaush while his brother is doing laundry and then he will be stuck doing laundry while he will get to watch. I pointed out that he could be working on chumash instead of wasting time complaining about it, but he did not feel any better. He does not want to review. He does not want to do Rashi. He did not want to fold laundry either. I felt that I spent the whole morning coaxing him to do what he should be doing anyway.
spontaneous group davening
Then we drove out to a filed trip in Tellus museum. When I committed to it, I did not realize that it will involve an hour of driving. Thankfully, the baby slept the whole way. When we got there, my kids knew other homeschooled kids, so they hung out a bit watching a pendulum. There was a workshop on bubble-making for the boys. I let my daughter lead the way through the rest of the exhibits. One of the moms told me about a room where one can pan for gems, and about a dinosaur dig. I made sure that we attended those. 
experimenting with inclined planes
When I give a chance for my daughter to spend as long as she wants on the activities in the absence of boys, she picks a few things and does them for a long time instead of covering a lot of ground. She spent the bulk of the time panning and fossil digging. She got to keep all the gems and a shark tooth. Little did I know that 9 yo will covet those more than the bubble fluid they made in the workshop! He was upset that they did not get to pan. We had to rush out since we would not get back in time for taekwondo and the boys were supposed to get their fighting gear. 

On the way back we hit some traffic, so the boys were late. The baby woke up once we got off the highway, and nobody could reach his pacifier. I hate it when we are rushing. Once we got to taekwondo the boys still had to change into their uniforms, and I had to nurse a screaming baby. 3 yo fell asleep and woke up screaming that the baby is screaming and that is bothering her. Oy!

digging for fossils
On the way back I had to stop by the library to return a book and couple of DVDs. I dropped them off, only to come home and find a message that one of the cases was missing its DVD. Sure enough, it was still in my computer. 

We got home after 6, and I still had dinner to make and laundry to tackle. 9 yo kept asking which other chores he needs to do, as he wanted to watch TV before 7. At some point, I just had to tell him that it will not be happening and that led to more disappointment.

Finally everyone was fed, and changed into pajamas. I read to 3 yo, while the boys read on their own. Our library has a summer reading program, where for every 15 minutes of reading we are supposed to attach a sticker and then turn in a log for prizes. What it leads to are never-ending questions of "How long have I been reading?" Well, I did not see when you started, and I have no doubt that you read enough in a week to finish the log, but, for propriety's sake, you need to keep track of it. I just saw a statistic that kids need to read 4-5 books over the summer to keep up their reading level. I think they read that many in the course of the day. Even 3 yo is "trying" to read, i.e. memorize a book and recite it back.

Oh what a day! Somehow our unschooling is not producing as low-key experience as I would like it to be.

unschooling: the bottom line

The month came to an end and I feel a need to draw some conclusions from this experiment. Mostly, I need to decide whether to continue with unschooling for the upcoming year, or to bring in more structure.

3 yo has always been unschooled, in the sense that I never imposed any educational activity on her against her wishes. I always joked that she is a perfect example of how unschooling works; she is naturally curious, hangs around other interesting people ( us, her family!), makes friends on her own terms, and pursues whatever interests her. I have no peers to compare her to, but I am pretty sure that she is not behind. And how can one be behind when she's all of 3 years old? Doesn't she have the rest of her life to catch up?

7 yo went from tantruming all the time to basically enjoying his life. He still has to deal with limits and things not going his way, and he still has to confront quite a few things not to his liking, but the sadness and frustration are now on his terms. He has been reading a lot, playing wit his siblings, helping out in the house. Overall, he is much more likely to listen to me. He did some spontaneous art, worked on some projects which he abandoned a long time ago, got his next belt in taekwondo. On Friday night, he wanted to know his purpose in life. Today he asked whether instead of doing schoolwork we can buy outdoor equipment and spend some time with nature. I asked whether he wants to learn Torah, and he said, no, there is Hebrew which he does not understand. I asked whether I should teach him some Hebrew and he did not want it. Overall, I went from having lots of bad days with him and thinking about finding a diagnosis and looking into therapies and medication to viewing him as a normal boy.

9 yo had it the hardest. I did chumash with him, sometimes against his wishes. We finished Todlot, then he asked to do Kedoshim, then he discovered that the vocabulary is very different and I pressed with lots of Rashi. It is hard to skip good explanatory Rashi on a parsha chock-ful of mitzvot. He asked to go to Breishit, which he did in 1st grade in school. I told him that the only did 1st perek and the rest will be new, will he stick with it? He said, yes. So far we did the first 6 days of creation. I found the most interesting Rashis. Some days he is more willing to do them than others.

9 yo also asked to have unlimited TV, basically to watch Pokemon, as he is not interested in anything else. I agreed to do it for a week. We stipulated that he still has to get dressed, eat breakfast, daven and do chumash, and any outstanding chores before he can watch. Yesterday he watched a lot, today we ran around a lot, so he did not get to watch. I also said no TV after 7 pm, as that has been keeping kids up with bad thoughts, and all agreed.

Back to unschooling: the main issue I have is the issue of fairness. 9 yo needs some structure and direction, and I am planning on doing Chumash with him daily. He also asked to do Mishnayot, so we are working on getting him a tutor. 7 yo and 3 yo thrive on unschooling and doing their own thing. 9 yo thinks it's unfair that he has to do schoolwork while the others don't. I am not planning to pushing 7 yo to make 9 yo feel better.

One little dirty secret about homeschooling: when you have only one kid at home, there is nobody to compare to, so it is easier to do whatever works for that kid. When you have a few, and you are trying to balance out everyone's needs, someone is bound to be unhappy. The trick is not to make everyone unhappy.

So how will I manage the need for structure for 9 yo with the need of laid-back education for 7 yo and 3 yo? Stay tuned...