Thursday, August 29, 2013


I could have peeled those eight potatoes in five minutes. But 7 yo and 3 yo were in charge of getting me the potatoes, and then they wanted to make a train of the potatoes to wash, like a car wash, and then 7 yo wanted to peel them on his own. He did, and 3 yo peeled one, too. It took them half an hour, but their look of accomplishment was worth it.

I could have assigned all different activities to 9 yo to fill up the afternoon, but I didn't. Instead, he opened up a map, commandeered 7 yo bring up Monopoly money, and wrote up an elaborate chart for playing some sort of world property game. Moreover, he had to make up rules which would satisfy his brother, so that he would be inclined to play with him. They did some fine negotiating, figuring out what's fair, and what will work and keep everyone satisfied.

I could have pushed Rosh HaShana worksheets, but instead I downloaded a Rosh HaShana shiur and we listened to it in the car on the way to and from taekwondo. I did it for myself, but I saw that the boys were listening, too. We had a small discussion during it about the pesukim surrounding Hashem remembering Noach, and also about remembering manna in the desert.

My cleaning people are not coming in tomorrow, so I could spend the day scrubbing the house, or I can rope in the kids, and let them do an imperfect job. Even when it feels that there isn't a choice, and we are cornered in, there usually is an alternative solution. The trick is to trust yourself to let go of preconceived notion of how things are supposed to be.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

spontaneous learning

I was on an organizing kick, which led to a huge mess on the floor. I was pulling out all the books that the boys are not using from their cubbies. One of them was Yahadus textbook I got at the conference last year. It was browsed here and there, but it could be on a general reference shelf, not taking up space in a crowded cubby of 9 yo.

As I am trying to get to the computer tonight, I almost trip over 7 yo reading this Yahadus book. I am rubbing hands internally: see, I just need to leave it out, and they will come! Then he looks up and says, with those earnest eyes of his: "Mommy, tomorrow I want to learn about mitzvos. Can you teach me about mitzvos?" I say, sure, and sit down to write it down for tomorrow's to-do list, lest I forget. Then he asks me to read to him a story tale in Russian, and translate as I'm reading. Then 9 yo compares it to an English story tale that he knows.

Meanwhile, 7 yo asks if we can learn just one mitzvah tonight. I say, sure, and we sit down on the couch.(My husband is conveniently home, so he whisks away a fuzzy baby. 3 yo is doing her own thing, so 7 yo has my undivided attention). He read the first mitzvah. I got him to read some of the Hebrew. Then we discussed the difference between positive and negative commandments. There was a blurb on the side telling that some of 13 Principles of Rambam are based on these mitzvos. The whole book is following Mishna Torah format. I got excited and showed 7 yo in the siddur where the 13 Principles are found. I said that they start with Ani Maamin ( I believe). He started singing the one about Mashiach from 3 yo's singing siddur. I showed him where that principle fits, and read the first four. Then I flipped to Yigdal, and read the translations of the first four ideas there. I told he that by saying Yigdal, he is fulfilling these mitzvos. He said that he did not realize that. He actually felt good, since he had this idea of acting out (performing?) the mitzvos that we learn and I could tell that he was not sure how to perform knowing that there is a G-d.

I get asked all the time what curriculum I use for Judaics. When I leave things vague, or fumble for an answer, the assumption is that we have no idea what we are doing, since there is no script, and, consequently, my kids are lacking in knowledge. Yet how could I script a moment like this? How could I script the desire within 7 yo on this particular night to learn about mitzvos, and that it would carry over to the siddur and to imbue the familiar prayers with a new glow of meaning? As much time as I spend defending homeschooling, I spend even more time quaking in my boots and freaking out that my kids will not know some essential. All it takes is a pleasant interaction like this, the genuine quest for knowledge, and I am assured of the path that we find ourselves on.

pacifiers and nursing

This is for you, mommas, the ones who are agonizing over whether to give your screaming baby a paci, nurse yet again, or walk/rock/run out screaming.

I have fours kids. I have nursed all four. The three older ones all weaned on their own, at about a year. So the nursing went well. Out of four, three took pacifiers. I remember feeling guilty about giving it to my oldest, worrying about nipple confusion, decreasing milk supply, inability to self-soothe and baby's dependence on paci. At the end, between being sleep-deprived, having to go back to work for a month and having a baby who was clearly soothed by a paci, I settled on giving it to him for naps only. I took it away around 6 months, and he did not miss it. In fact, when he was around 9 months old and found one of his old pacifiers lying around, he played with it and then stuck it in his mouth the wrong way! He clearly had no recollection what this object was for.

7 yo did not take a paci, and not for the lack of trying on my part. He just yelled and yelled, and did not sleep. After trying three different kinds, we gave up. He was a quick nurser, too, so it's not like he preferred breast over paci, he was just no interested in the whole thing. Interestingly, he was the kid who took the longest to stop putting things in his mouth. He still will chew on random things occasionally, because he likes it.

3 yo got paci for naps, as her older brother did. With her, I was in no hurry to take it away, but around a year or so, when I was putting her for a nap, I decided to see what happens. I put her down, covered her with her blankie. She said: "Paci?" I said: "No paci" in a calm tone. She said: "OK" and settled down for a nap. I could not believe it! Wasn't she supposed to throw a fit or at least ask about it again? And that was the end of her paci use.

The baby is 6 months old, and is nursing exclusively, except for occasional food tastes that he grabs from me. He also takes paci just for sleeping. I tried Soothie brand with him, as that's what hospital provided, and I heard that other kids like those more, but, just as his siblings, he preferred Gerber's Nuk. I am in no rush to take his paci away, either.

I know that some moms like to give the baby their finger to suck on, and I would do that in an emergency, as in, when there is no paci in sight. However, the obvious problem is that your finger is attached to you, and cannot be placed in a crib or carseat with a baby. It also might not always be at its cleanest...

Go ahead, give that pacifier to your baby. And get some sleep

Thursday, August 22, 2013

pre-Rosh haShana party

lining the tins for the muffins
By the time I got up this morning, 9 yo greeted me being fully dressed, davened and breakfasted. He even served his sister breakfast. Moreover, he completed his math and script, and left them for me to check. This was all before 7 am, so I was barely keeping my eyes open. When a day starts like this, he is in a good mood, I am pleasantly surprised, and it will be good.

He very agreeably did chumash and even asked Rashi's question on how come the ark did not get stuck on the mountains if it was 30 amos high, and the waters were only 15 amos deep. I just like when he engages with the text like this, in a meaningful way. He was also all revved up ready for his mishna lesson, which went well.

The other kids were not too bad, either. 7 yo got his breakfast, davened and did HWT and math early in the morning. He has addition/subtraction review. For the first time, he looked at the page, saw an overwhelming problem, and listened to my suggestion to skip it and do easy ones first. When he came back to it, it was easy. Then he decided to check which problem had the largest number as its answer. I used to think these were distracting and pointless exercises, but now I know that's the way he relates to math. I read somewhere about other kids doing similar things: wondering why they are adding apples and bananas, asking where the people in the problem are walking, etc. For him, it is about searching some kind of info that is not obvious to me.

chopping walnuts
While 9 yo was doing mishna, we did chumash with 7 yo. He started on a new perek, which he declared to be easy. He loves memorizing the pesukim with trop, and he knows his translations. With him, it is about building confidence, so I am not looking for a lot of in-depth work, just desire to continue learning chumash and feeling that it is accessible to him, something that he is capable of doing.

For 3 yo, I sliced an apple horizontally across and she made apple stamps. We talked about an apple before I sliced it; I asked her what shape it is, which color, whether it is smooth or rough, hard or soft. I told her about the stem and how it grew from an apple tree. She stamped away for a bit.

Then it was 11:30 and we were finished with the planned part of the day (until taekwondo). The anxious side of me felt the need to assign something else, come up with a plan, DO SOMETHING. I suggested going out after lunch and was met with resistance.I wanted to get out of the house, walk outside, go to the park, the museum, somewhere. The kids (except for 3 yo) were not so keen on this. Finally it was after lunch, (which 9 yo skipped since he played computer games and repeatedly ignored calls for food), I said that if they do not want to do anything, I can go to IKEA. Next thing I knew, we were in the middle of planning a "dip your apple in the honey" party. It was to take place this afternoon, in an hour, and would I make some phone calls to invite some friends? The planner in me was blown to shambles. Of course, nobody will come, and who plans a party just like that? The homeschool parent wanted to see how far they will go with this. They came up with apple toss: throw an apple into a hole in the board, draw a picture, have a dipped apple slice. I suggested making a Shana Tova card, blowing a shofar and baking a honey cake. 9 yo added watching Rosh HaShana videos.

honey dipping

Nobody came, but the kids were adamant about the party being today. We made chocolate honey muffins. The boys pulled out the ingredients. 9 yo stirred chocolate and margarine while they melted. 7 yo cracked the eggs. Then we watched the videos: Fountainheads, Maccabeats and Aish's Anthem. Everyone had a go at the shofar. I found a new instructional video and 9 yo actually managed to blow! Last year, he could not do it, so he kept at it. 7 yo decided to make an apple out of Legos. Then everyone came to have apples with honey and muffins.

Then there was taekwondo. When I dropped the boys off, 3 yo said that we should go to the park to meet some friends. The funny part it, one of my homeschooling friends posted just this week how her son declared that they should go walking to make friends, and they did. I guess those homeschool kids know when they are ready to socialize.

All in all, I think how it is easy to measure learning just in terms of the academics we did this morning as opposed to the life skill learning the kids did this afternoon. How many people would plan and pull off a party just because they feel like it today?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

making a day great

Lately we've been having bad days. Not just a little blech, but, really bad. no good, rotten days. My husband had been on call, the baby insists on being held most of his waking time, the older kids have been cranky and I have been quite moody. Everything was setting me off, and there were many objective things, but I know that a lot of them were more trigger points.

Last night, as I was tucking in 9 yo, I whispered to him that tomorrow will be a great day. He looked at me, and did not believe me. He wanted to know what am I going to do to make it great. I said that I just know it will be great and we left it at that.

This morning, the baby woke up early, before 7. Nevertheless, by the time I brought him out, I saw that 9 yo was dressed and in the middle of davening. I made berry muffins for breakfast that he likes. While they were baking, he finished writing out the mishnayot summary that his mishna rebbi assigned. He did his script practice and math before the other kids even had breakfast. His math was confusing him a bit, but he stuck to it. Then we did chumash. He pleasantly reviewed the pesukim, and even asked me a question or two about the flood. We read new ones, and he did not throw his Rashi avoidance fit. All in all, he was done by 9 am.

In the next hour, he watched a bit of Pokemon and I got to go for a short walk (by myself!) When I got back, the baby was ready to nurse and 7 yo was ready to finish his first perek of Lech Lecha. He kept his word, and we have been doing a pasuk a day lately, with him reading and listening to baal koreh. He has quite a few of them memorized.

9 yo's  mishna rebbi came at 10:15 and they studied till 11. While they were learning, I did HWT with two younger ones. 3 yo is coloring in different shapes and 7 yo practiced copying rhyming words. Then he did his math, a page on even and odd numbers. By 11, he was long done with his work. 9 yo got a homework assignment to record himself reciting and translating mishnayot. He was also told that the next time they have a class, he will get the dimensions to build the smallest kosher succah.

I packed up lunch and told the kids we are heading out either to IKEA ( we lost three glasses a few weeks ago) or to aquarium. 7 yo decided this is ripe time to throw a fit about how he does not want to go to either place. I tried staying calm. I sent the other kids to the car. I tried talking to him about why he does not want to go. Finally, I said that I cannot leave him home alone and he has to come along. Sure enough, as soon as we started driving, eh calmed down and he had a good time there. I just felt getting drained.

At the aquarium, we saw the tropical fish first. Even the baby watched intently. He reminds me s much of his older brother, also very serious and studying things from a distance. I doubt he will be the kid rushing into things. Then we had lunch and I discovered that I left a bag of pretzels at home. 9 yo pointed out that the main is missing. Oh well...

Then we saw the ocean exhibit. They love the tunnel with the moving sidewalk and the fish swimming above. I love the room with a giant observation window. It is dark in there, and just so peaceful. The boys chatted with the docent about the whale sharks and groupers. WE found out that there are black tip sharks and black tip reef sharks, and that groupers stand still when they are waiting to be cleaned by wrasses. Those groupers parked themselves right by the window, so the boys joked that they should bring toothbrushes next time and help.

When we came out from the exhibit, we saw a sign-up table to test a new app for the aquarium. The reward was a behind the scenes peek at the ocean exhibit. I usually say "no" yo such things, but an inside peek was irresistible, so I signed up. It did not take long, and we got to go to the top of the giant tank and see the whale sharks from above. We actually saw the fins menacingly cutting through the water! Moreover, there was another opportunity for questions.

whale shark fin
We finished the aquarium trip with a visit to a cold water exhibit. 3 yo has a special affinity to anemones, and she just had to touch them. Meanwhile, the penguins have a special affinity for boys' kippas: they will follow them along the wall. 7 yo tormented one penguin by swinging his kippa in circles, and the bird craned its head to follow every movement. By the way, an older lady objected, and he stopped, so the village is alive and well.

tracing the ocean currents
driving penguins batty
I tried getting kids to write Shana Tova cards, but we hit a snag, nobody's heart was in it, so we will attempt again tomorrow. When it came time for dinner, they picked out sweet meatballs and gladly broke into stations to assemble them: 3 and 7 yos rolled them, while 9 yo stirred the sauce, the noddles and the string beans. Everyone was ravenous, and enjoyed dinner. To me, it was a relief, so often one kid starts complaining about food, and just get annoyed, that they will not contribute, yet criticize. We tried having a whole dinner conversation in Hebrew, we just break into it spontaneously sometimes. 7 yo used to freak out about it, but seemed better now. I think he was able to follow more. I did not know how to say "meatballs" or "string beans", and after a while, it was silly to keep saying it in English, so I called them "kadurim basar". 9 yo laughed. By the end of dinner, I pulled out dictionary, and, lo and behold, it IS kadurim basar (literal translation). Then the kids were asking for dessert, and I did not know how to say that, either. 7 yo thought for a second and asked for "hanegba" ( to the desert, the construct that he picked up from Lech Lecha). I thought it was pretty clever.

Overall, this was a good day, maybe not great, but it was nowhere near as bad as our days have been. Was it power of suggestion, or we were just due to have a good one, I do not know, but it feels nice to come out

and survey it and feel good about it.

Monday, August 19, 2013

apathetic village

It takes a village to raise a child.

In general, nobody can do it alone. One needs a support system of some kind, a network of grown-ups willing to look after the well-being of children for everyone's good. It helps when this network is of like-minded people. However, in everyday interactions, we are faced with all kinds of folks, and they might not share the same values, or have the same level of tolerance as we do. Our kids still need to behave in a way that is bearable.

Sometimes I wish that the village was not so laid-back, politically correct and hands-off. Sometimes I wish that when my kids are being too loud in a public place, somebody else would hush them. When they are in a restaurant and they are getting rowdy, let the server tell them that they cannot stay. When they are being rude to an adult, let the adult tell them as much. When they are turning in a half-baked work, let it be rejected instead of being greeted with "Good job!" They will not break from these experiences, but they will find out where the limit of the village is.

Nobody said that the village is kind. Generally, I would like to mind my own kids without others interfering. Yet I wonder, wouldn't being kicked out from a show for being too disruptive teach them more about being quiet than all the hushing I can do?

Oh, I would love to have those kids, the ones with napkins on their laps and indoor voices, always putting their best foot forward. Until I get them, I might need the village to be a bit more vigilant, for my sake.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

tzedakah and unschooling

while the boys were doing HWT and math,
3 yo made a "telescope"
Lots of learning took place today. We had a trip to a history museum with homeschooling friends, where there was a workshop geared towards 3 yo. The boys did HWT, math and Chumash (7 yo knew yesterday's pasuk cold, and confidently read today's pasuk, all in under ten minutes). We went to taekwondo. But the most amazing learning was done by kids' initiative.

coal-burning locomotive
Today was unseasonably cold and windy. When we got back from the trip, all the kids got plastic bags and string and made "kites": they tied the string to the handles and tried flying them on the front lawn. Then 9 yo got large garbage bags and tried making a hot air balloon. He quickly discovered that it won't fly. While I was doing Chumash with 7 yo, he cut up and taped the bags into a large covering for the climber in the backyard. This used up a whole roll of tape. By the time the final product made it outside, it warped into a tent to be hung on the outside of the trampoline. 

paper bag kites
Then, while I was doing chumash with 9 yo, 7 yo brought in four more bugs. I gave him 4 dimes and he sat down to figure out how much is 10 percent of that for tzedakah. He pulled out Base Ten cubes, counted out 40 and divided them into 10 piles. He noticed that some had 3 and some had 4, so he recounted the total twice till he found his mistake. I was busy trying to nurse the whole time, so I was not supervising at all, just getting the report. Then he got the idea to see how much money there was in tzedakah boxes. By that point, 9 yo joined him. They opened up the boxes, spilled out the bounty and spent some time deciding on a strategy how to count this all up. There were over a hundred pennies, so the amount of coins to manipulate was significant. 3 yo joined them, just pushing the coins around.

tallying up tzedakah
Finally, they were ready to exchange the lower value coins into dollar bills. I keep a large assortment of sorted change for allowance, so this exchange was easy to facilitate. The boys decided to split the tzedakah between two shuls. They divided the total. I got them two envelopes. Here comes the cool part: 9 yo decided to write a small note of appreciation to the man who runs his Shabbos group and include it in the envelope. 7 yo, meanwhile, decided to label the envelope. This child spontaneously decided to write! and did not freak out when he was not sure how to spell! and stuck with it without tears! I was trying very hard to contain my excitement.

We dropped off both envelopes on the way to taekwondo. 7 yo and 3 yo went with me to both shuls' offices. We spoke briefly about how it is important to carry through whatever you decided to do and that it is good that we did not wait till Monday to drop off the envelopes.

It is funny: I have not discussed Rosh HaShana with the kids. They knew that we are in Elul, I did mention that we increase in tzedakah, and I bet that if I would have proposed the idea of counting all this money (or writing), they would have balked. All that I provided was time to carry out this enormous count and support in exchanging the coins and delivering the envelopes.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

singing chumash

Today we hit a roadblock with 7 yo regarding chumash. We are at 16th pasuk, the one where Paro gives Avram gifts because of Sarai. I tried memorizing trop for it yesterday, but I found myself getting tripped up by the sheer bounty. I was holding the baby and standing up, so I could not look in the chumash as I was reciting it for 7 yo. After accidentally making mistakes twice, I realized that I can "make mistakes" on purpose and ask him to correct me. Yesterday it worked, but he did not want to read the pasuk the second time.

Today he did the matching shorashim to the words page, but absolutely refused to read the pasuk. He refused all of my offers of reading it together, just listening to me read it, just listening to baal koreh, etc. He was adamant that he is not reading this pasuk, it is too hard, the usual "I can't attitude" and sulking in his room. At some point I even asked him to go jump on the trampoline to calm down, but he would not do it. After some self-imposed time in his room, he came out and apologized to me for behaving like that, but he still was set on skipping this pasuk. He was still not ready to listen to any suggestions. I sort of said that I am not sure whether his behavior changed, and whether he is sorry for the way he is behaving.

Some more time passed. I saw him go outside as I was putting the baby for a nap. Then I was planning to talk to him, and see if there is any change. He was coming to me, carrying a cucumber-eating beetle in a ziploc. (I have a deal with the kids: I will pay them 10 cents for catching the bugs off our garden, as it is the only way to salvage any harvest at this point). It reminded me of a cat bringing a mouse offering to appease its master. I sat him down, one-on-one, bug in hand, in  a lawn chair outside and we talked a bit more. He was calm outside. He said that he FEELS he cannot do this pasuk properly and there is no use in trying. I said that he does not HAVE to say it properly, and we can just do the first part today. He reluctantly accepted it. I asked him to bring outside any chumash that he wanted and we'll work on it. He brought Bright Beginnings. I asked him about the first word "uleAvram"( and to Avram), he read it, then the next one "hetiv" ( he did good) and then I helped him with "baavurah" ( because of her). I was planning on stopping there, but he did the next two: "vaiehi lo" ( and he had) and then said that he does not know the rest. Now I know that tzon uvakar (sheep and cattle) come together, so I sang out "baa v moo" in trop and he laughed. I asked him whether he knew what is cattle and we talked about cows a bit. He repeated "baa v moo" in a sing-song trop after me, and then substituted with "tzon u vakar" The next word was "vechamorim"( male donkeys). He said it should be "hee-haw (pause) male". I sang just that in trop and then added baa v moo. He laughed again, and first said it all in animal sounds, and then in Hebrew.

We worked our way through the rest of the pasuk. For avadim (slaves), he let out a sigh, for shfahot (maidservants) he clasped his hands near his cheek. I made sure that he knew that the translation "maids" does not mean "maidens", but he stuck with a flirtatious pose. Atonot (female donkeys) were, naturally, "hee-haw ( pause) female" and g'malim (camels) required an arched back. He was able to read the entire pasuk in the end, with quite a bit of trop and with all the necessary sounds and motions. At the end, I bravely asked him to tell me in Hebrew the names of all different animals and he could do it!

Sometimes we need to use brute force. Sometimes we need to back off. And sometimes we need every trick in the bag to make learning happen. I had to make sure 7yo felt heard and expressed his fear about a hard pasuk. I had to wait for the fear to pass. I had to change venue and work outside. I had to employ trop and translation. I had to let him lead the way in silliness and feel that he "owned" his learning. I had to let go of my idea that reviewing a pasuk will take five minutes on a couch.

Monday, August 12, 2013

good day

How do I know that we're having a good day? When we come to the end of it, and all is well.

Yesterday we opened up Handwriting Without Tears. I ordered script for 9 yo ( he had hard time with capitals), print practice for 7 yo and preschool book for 3 yo ( so that she does not feel left out. 7 yo eagerly stated on his. He did three pages yesterday and three pages today, and this was his choice. I thought about doing just one and stopping, but he kept on going. 9 yo did his script yesterday, but did not touch it today. Moreover, after his handwriting, 7 yo sat on the floor and wrote "are" to show 3 yo. He was not sure how to spell it and he was not sure how to write "r", but he still wrote it. Little accomplishment like this feels big.

Then he did chumash. He did another pasuk, reviewed yesterday's pasuk and listened to baal koreh. He is basically memorizing it, and I see him moving his lips along with baal koreh. He said he likes trop, so I am thinking of teaching it to him.

9 yo did his math first, then his chumash with some prodding. When we got to atsei gopher, he made a joke about it being made out of gophers. I showed him Rashi: kach sh'mo ( so it is called) and he could not stop talking about gopher trees. I asked him to bring graph paper and we were writing down info on how to build an ark. After I wrote down the dimensions, I asked him to draw a scale model. Next thing I knew, he was making one! He added a little cabin on top, and I showed him where in Rashi there is a support for his idea. he was disturbed that the ark did not have a sharp protrusion in the front like a boat ( he used the technical word for it which I am not familiar with) and that there were no oars or rudder. I never thought about those things. It must have been very depressing for Noach to know that he has no control over where his vessel will take him.

When we were reviewing yesterday's pesukim, he asked about "all flesh" being corrupted. I pointed out Rashi which says that animals mated outside their species. he said, like mule and I remembered seeing a recent post about a zonkey ( a zebra/donkey hybrid). When we googled it, we found out that there is one on a nature reserve about an hour away from us. These guys are rare, so I sense a trip coming up!

7 yo did his math without any issues today, it was on ordinal numbers which he knew, and he did not mind writing as much.

In addition to all this schoolwork, we also went to Costco ( I found myself without shredded cheese and this is a crisis!) The kids were very helpful, getting items into the cart and unloading at the checkout. The boys ran asked about pneumatic tube system next to the cash registers. I explained it as well as I could.
through the store together and worked as a team to shove a large box of diapers under the cart. At the end, I treated everyone to frozen yogurt. While we were eating it, 7 yo

We also went to taekwondo. There 7 to collided with another kid before they even got started, got a bruise above his eye, and sat out during the class. He was disappointed not to start his training as a green belt.

Today did not feel so unschool-y, but it did not feel like school day either. 9 yo got a ton of time to read, go on Google maps and draw, 7 yo and 3 yo played most of the time. They converted Costco boxes into boats and had a picnic with stuffed animals in their room. Maybe this is a good balance of school-y and child-directed activities that everyone can feel good about.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

back to school?

Today we did so much, that it is possible to say we started the school year.

By the time I got up, 9 yo was dressed and davened. He took out recycling as an extra chore, for a fee. He is still getting the logistics of it, but I am glad that he is doing it. The rest of the kids had breakfast and got dressed. I did chumash with 9 yo first. We finished Breishit, and he was happy. He remembered Rashis from yesterday, but did not ask any questions on frankly bizarre pesukim at the very end of Breishit. He finished the family tree of Adam and asked, when are we going to Six Flags for a siyum? Hearing this, 7 yo got upset. I showed him that we were on 12th pasuk of Lech Lecha, and had to finish the perek at 20th. I asked him, how many more pesukim do we have? He used fingers and toes to figure out that it's 8. He is also getting the idea of gemmatria. Once he saw the amount, he wanted to do extra, so today we reviewed and did the last pasuk of the first aliyah. She asked about the word sheni written in his workbook, and I explained what that meant. I had to remind him about sh'va na and nach as he was reading.

9 yo started mishnayot this week with a local rabbi. They started on Succah, we'll see how it goes. We are aiming for three times a week for the next month. He is reading nicely, and tonight when I reviewed it with him, translating quite well, too. He explained a few things to me.

Yesterday we went to a sand workshop with homeschool co-op. There they asked everyone to make a name tag.  I called up the boys to make their own. 9 yo took care of it, while 7 yo hesitated in writing his own name. 3 yo looked up at me and said that she cannot write her name, and I assured her that I will write it for her. 7 yo could not complete the task until I wrote his name and he copied it with great frustration. I was panicking: the whole idea of unschooling is that when the need arises, the skill is taught, yet here was a clear need, but no desire to learn. Moreover, he definitely should be able to write his name! So while 9 yo was learning mishna, I called 7 yo over and said that I will teach him to write his name, for future use. He asked whether it will include last name (ours is long). I sad, yes. He promptly threw a fit, said he cannot do it, does not need it, I can't make him, etc. He left to his room. I was plenty busy with the other kids, especially since 3 yo wanted help with aleph-bet book and I was holding a fussy baby. Five minutes later he came to show more frustration. I was nervous about disturbing 9 yo and his rebbe. Finally, I told 7 yo that he can either write his name, or any word that he likes; I will write it for him to copy. He asked about when his Handwriting Without Tears will arrive (he asked for it the other week, only he was crying and called it Handwriting With Tears). He is convinced that it will fix all his troubles with writing. I sad that we can track the package after he writes something, since the book will not be teaching him how tow write his name. Then he said he wants to write something easy, like the word "easy". I jumped on it. He had such hard time forming letters even when the model was right above... I am not so sure whether unschooling writing will work for this kid. Handwriting With Minimal Tears is supposed to arrive tomorrow, we'll see how that goes.

A bit later I showed the boys the math texts I got for the upcoming year, so that they will be familiar with what we'll be using. I ordered Math Mammoth for 9 yo (per his request) and Spectrum Math for 7 yo. I asked 7 yo when we would like to get started on math and he said, tomorrow. A bit later I showed 9 yo all of his math and asked him the same question. He said, never. I said that it is not an appropriate response. He said, fine, I will do some pages today. I sort of sat next to him and sort of held 3 yo on my lap. He was slogging his way through division problems. They were not hard, but I wondered to myself why they would start the text with division as opposed to some review of last year's material, or place value, or some warm-ups. At some point he got frustrated, and his multiplication was shaky, especially of the higher numbers. I ended up writing in some answers for him, he solved the problems in his head. This was taking waaay longer than I anticipated. 3 yo was restless and 7 yo started his song  that nobody pays any attention to him or spends any time with him. I said, you could be doing math and getting attention, if you want. He said that he will open his book and see what's in there. Here is the cool part: he decided to do the first two pages! They were easy, and he did it boom, boom, boom, except when he was asked to spell out 13 and 8. He froze there, and no offers of writing them down and copying worked. Meanwhile, 9 yo finished his math. As we were closing his binder, I noticed that he was in the middle of a paper stack. Then it hit me: instead of doing the first lesson, he did the first lesson of the second workbook! No wonder it was hard, and did not feel like warm-up! The good news is, maybe we do not need to spend so much time on the first section. Math Mammoth is very thorough, which is another way to say "boring"...

In the middle of the day, the kids found pipe cleaners and Styrofoam balls and designed all sorts of things out of them. The balls were poked and produced quite a mess that required vacuuming. The boys fought over who will vacuum it up.

At taekwondo, both boys got their green belts. 9 yo got his gear yesterday, and today was a sparring day, so they got to suit up and fight. During the car ride back, they discussed who got kicked where and whom did they kick. I, personally, could do taekwondo without the sparring part, just the discipline and moves.

Before we left for taekwondo, I made flounder for dinner. When we got home, 9 yo raised a bit of a stink that it's not tilapia, so I put him in charge of making a vegetable to go with dinner. I had to nurse anyway. He chopped up a garden cucumber and then peeled a carrot into strips and mixed it all in a bowl with some Italian dressing. Voila! He felt quite accomplished. The flounder turned out to be a hit despite not being tilapia, not a piece remained.

I am still trying to figure out what makes the boys tick the way they do. When 9 yo was working on that hard math and was getting frustrated with writing stuff down, he told me that as long as he does not need to show any work, he can do anything, "even that thing that Einstein did". I said that in math you cannot just have theory, you need proofs. 9 yo has so much ga'ava ( pride, self-esteem) that he almost always needs to be slightly deflated to reality. 7 yo, on the other hand, has none of that. I need to reassure him that he can do it, he knows it, he is able. I wonder whether 7 yo gets along better with people because no ga'ava gets in the way.

Elul thoughts

We just started the month of Elul, a month of introspection and repentance before Rosh HaShana. Every year we have Elul. Every year the shofar calls us to de teshuva. Every year we enter Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur, trembling before the king of kings. And every year, after Yom Kippur, we enter Succot with the assumption that we have been forgiven. "If your sins were like scarlet, they became like white wool".

When 7 yo was three, he was in preschool while I was working. With his intense personality, one day I got a report from the teacher (a strict older lady) that he kicked her. I was mortified. I spoke to him and told him to apologize. When we met up with the teacher and my then 3 year old, said sorry, she retorted back: "Sorry is not good enough!" At that point I was exasperated: what am I supposed to teach my child about apology, if his apology is not enough?

Somehow Elul comes every year. Somehow we sin every year, and we have to ask G-d for forgiveness. Does he respond "sorry is not good enough"? Does he remind us of all the misdeeds that we've done in the previous years, asked for forgiveness and then continued doing? Do we get proverbial lightning bolts as we deserve? No, we assume that as long as our teshuva is sincere, and our vidui (confession) is sincere, that
G-d forgives our sins.

If Hashem has infinite patience with us, like a father with his sons, how much more so for us, parents, to have more patience and compassion with our children? It is so easy to mistrust them, and remind them of previous misdeeds. It is hard to forgive their wrongs. It is so much easier to lecture. It is so much harder to believe their repentance and resolutions to do better.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

running on empty

Somehow we all have to recharge (said a tired mommy who is typing this with one hand) pardon the punctuation, i'm trying to get a little guy to fall asleep with the other hand, and out of his room, because tonight he is keeping his older brother up


I have all these creeping ambitions. I want my kids to read chumash well. I want my kids to enjoy reading chumash. I want them to come up with insights and ask thoughtful questions. I want them to be deeply engaged with Torah and Judaism. I want them to be creative. I want them to listen.

I keep steering myself more towards correcting their behavior and middos, but I keep having academic-related freak-outs. In a way, we are all lolling around, waiting for the next big thing. There is a part of me yelling to declare summer to be over, and go back to a structured scheduled life. But another part of me laughs: whom am I kidding, I am in no position right now to enforce that sort of structure, and we will all end up even more unhappy as a result. Another part of me is calling to play total hooky from life, spend a day in pajamas, don't worry about anyone davening or doing chumash or eating sugar for breakfast or watching too much Pokemon. In the great scheme of things, one day like that will not harm anyone, but I do not think it will get us out of our current listlessness.

In the meanwhile, I try to keep on working on myself, hoping that the kids will pick something up from my example. I am taking a layning class for women, and we are almost done. Originally I signed up to take it because 9 yo expressed interest in learning trop, but I am thoroughly enjoying it now. Unexpectedly, 3 yo comes over when I practice, and wants to sing along. The way it is going, she will know to read trop before she learns the letters.

I am almost done with Yeshaya in Nach Yomi. I have not been doing it daily, but getting to it most of the time. Unlike Melachim, Yeshaya does not have a story line. Artscroll translation is quite an improvement over Judaica Press, but, in my current scatter-brained state, it has been hard to follow. I am still grappling with how it is nevua necessary for future generations, especially since so much of it had to do with Sancheriv and Bavel, and the rest is ambiguous whether it already came true or is yet to be fulfilled. I am considering myself surveying Nach for now, and I can always go back as need be, when I am more lucid.

I have also started playing around with watercolors. I am horrible at it. I also was confronted with my lack of sketching skills; it is something on my bucket list, and I joked that when the kids are older I will take art classes, but with youtube tutorials and books galore, why not now? So far, the amazing effect is that I started to perceive nature in a totally different way. With my biology training, every tree was a complex factory of photosynthesis and food storage. It was an amazing machine, performing synchronized functions. Any particular tree did not interest me, unless I could name which kind it was. Now, with the artsy perspective, I see trees as masses of light and shadow. I see atmospheric perspective effect on distant trees. I see leaves in clumps, reflecting light. I see the light bounce from the ground. I see endless variations in the bark. I see each tree as a fascinating object, waiting to be teased out and sketched.

Will I ever need to layn? Will I ever teach Yeshaya? Will I ever draw? I do not know, but, for now, the learning is enjoyable. I hope my kids will see this and be able to apply it to whatever they would want to explore.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

how we do chumash: details

This is how we are doing chumash now:

With 9 yo we are finishing up B'reishit. We have done previously Lech Lecha, Vaeira, Chaii Sarah and Toldot. We sit down on the couch with Chumash Menukad which has Rashi in Rashi's script but also all the nekudot. He chooses whether to review first or to do new pesukim. He reads a pasuk, pausing appropriately, and then translates it. If there are unknown words, I decide whether to tell him or to send him to the dictionary to look them up. If the word has a shoresh that I think he knows, I will help him tease it out. We have done 3 Lashon HaTorah books (we stopped in the middle of 4th last year), and he is quite good at using prefixes and suffixes appropriately. Once he got the translation, depending on the pasuk I might ask him to summarize it in his own words, or wait for him to ask a question on contents or prod him to some inconsistency. Often he asks Rashi's question on the p'shat, which beautifully lends itself to looking things up in Rashi. Lately, however, he has been dreading doing Rashis and complaining about them a lot, so sometimes I will tell him what Rashi says, sometimes I will point out where Rashi has the answer, sometimes I will push him just to read Rashi and translate it myself, and sometimes he has to do both reading and translating. Unfortunately, he has not been engaging with the text as meaningfully as I would like him to and as I know he could. I hope it is a stage and will pass. He does not complain about doing Chumash daily, so that's a big improvement even from a few weeks ago.

We do not write anything down, unless he shows interest. Right now we're doing genealogy, so he is making a family tree of Adam. He is also making a bar graph of how long every  person lived and at which age they had children.

With 7 yo we are doing Bright Beginnings. Every day we do two facing pages which works out to a new pasuk every other day. On the days when we do a new pasuk, he reads word by word the Hebrew side, then the English. I point out shorashim, and he often will tell me if it occurs more than once in a pasuk. Then he does the opposite page, matching shorashim to translations. Then I ask him the meaning of words from a pasuk, out of order, with open book. Then I read the pasuk to him a few times, first with word-for-word translation and then just in Hebrew. Finally, if he's ready, I will cover up the translation and he will read the pasuk in Hebrew and translate. After this, we go online and listen to a baal koreh read from beginning of Lech Lecha while he follows in the workbook, pasuk by pasuk. I manually pause after every pasuk, so he can turn the page and find the right spot.

If it is review day, I ask him to do the matching pages first, then I check them (they are probably too easy, since he's always getting everything right!) and then I ask him to look over the pasuk by himself. Depending on how long the pasuk is and how hard are the words, sometimes he can do it on his own, and sometimes he needs help.

Finally, after we did a chunk of pesukim, I opened up chumash that 9 yo uses and asked him to read from there. He was very nervous, but could do it.

I have different goals for the boys. With 9 yo it is to achieve mastery, with 7 yo it is to achieve confidence. 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

ish iti (somebody by your side)

If I was more together, this blog would have links.

A homeschooling friend of mine shared a list of things which are hard for homeschoolers, and one of them was lack of ability to run out and do something on your own, as the kids are ALWAYS there. She commented how it is not an issue for her, although one of her kids is older, so she feels like having a possibility to run out if need be actually reduces the need and makes her feel that she does not need it. Another homeschooling blogger wrote about her wonderful day of outings with kids, and how pleasant and adventurous it could be. What was missing from her blog was her own catchers on the sidelines, people who watched some of her kids at different points during the day so she only came out with a few at a time.

I do not have this ish iti--a person by my side. The idea comes from Yom Kippur, the person who accompanied a goat to Azazel had people set up booths with food, in case he became faint and had to eat to continue on his journey. I believe that according to Gemara he never broke his fast. However, it seems that rabbis were aware of the human psychology and knew that by giving him an opportunity to do so would allow him to continue in his mission, since the option was there.

I do not have ish iti. I cannot drop off a few uninterested kids if I have to run an errand. I do not have babysitters willing to come at a drop of a hat. I do not have any family members willing or able to take my kids even to the park, forget about a larger outing. Every single trip, every errand--it's me. Worse, since my husband is frequently on call or waiting for a delayed procedure, I cannot count on him being home by a certain hour to pick up slack. He could be home by dinner time. He could be home by bed time. He could be home to help with baths. He could get home and then be paged right back into the hospital. Or he could be coming home only the following night.

I am still trying to figure out what to do.

I know that a huge part of ish iti is psychological, but not having this kind of safety net is very hard.