Tuesday, December 30, 2014

winter break or unschooling?

This week I am not doing formal schoolwork with the kids. 10 yo is on break from mishna, our coop classes are not meeting, and there is no taekwondo. I am sort of calling it a winter break.

However, it is shaping up to be a funny break. 1 yo has been sick, so I have not been getting a whole lot of sleep. I also scrambled all my plans. I arranged this whole outing for today, rallied a whole bunch of people to join me, and then had to cancel and stay home. Now, being shut in with four kids for a whole day, and no set schedule does sound like a recipe for disaster. A smart mom would have a back-up plan, with lessons and TV and other planned activities. A wise mom will play it by ear.

At 7 am, I was greeted with a detailed castle building plan, drawn up by 10 yo. I had to squint to see it, and could not process it without coffee. He was excitedly telling me how he is going to build this castle in Minecraft.

My husband took 10 yo and 4 yo yo shul with him. 8 yo ended up sleeping in till 9 am, which is unusual, but he said that he was up during the night, twice. Maybe the baby kept him up, just like he did to us. Thankfully, since we were not rushing anywhere, it was not a big deal. All the kids had breakfast with daddy, while I got dressed.

Then my husband learned with both boys before work, one at a time. He reviewed Vayigash with 10 yo, and then did three new pesukim with 8 yo. I helped 4 yo with her puzzles, and read to 1 yo his books. His favorite nowadays is "What's in There? All About Before You Were Born" by Robie Harris. He calls it "In there". We took it out of the library, and I do like it, although we do not always get to read each page. 4 yo called he brother a scoundrel, at a very appropriate moment. I guess we do not have to worry about SAT vocabulary prep.

10 yo moved on to designing his castle on graph paper, with detailed designations of which type of Minecraft blocks to use. Then I sent all three older kids out of the house, to play in the back yard. They came in appropriately muddy, with 10 yo carrying his hammer. I was told that there is a whole tool chest back there, mostly made out of sticks and discarded wood.

For lunch, the kids requested frozen Costco blintzes. We ate the whole double package. During lunch, somehow, we ended up discussing parts of speech. 10 yo gave a verb to 8 yo and asked him to add different prefixes and suffixes to it ( no doubt influenced by Lashon HaTorah). Then we switched to taking how some words can function as more than one part of speech, depending on the context. Funny how these things come up.

After lunch, I got started on trying to make a no-sew quilt from fleece squares. Unfortunately, I did not follow the instructions exactly, and 10 yo kept mumbling how if I would only let him use that borrowed sewing machine, he could sew a sleeping bag. I put my foot down, and said that he can sew by hand; I cannot allow him to use that machine. He sulked and told me all sorts of discouraging things about this quilt, which was not exactly turning out. I cut the fringes too short, so I could not tie them together. Meanwhile, 1 yo woke up, so I left this sulking kid to tie up the rest of the test side. It did look horrible.

So I let him go on Minecraft for an hour, He was able to log into his homeschool class, which officially does not start for another week. Then he proceeded to build his castle. An hour later, 8 yo got on, got into his class, read the first week's assignment, and did the quiz. All of that took place without any input from me. And this is the kid who might not test well. I guess when the material is interesting, and he is highly motivated, he can do it. Oh, and it was up to him whether to take that quiz or not. Maybe he does not understand about the stakes of testing. I do not know, but I am finding this to be a very interesting experience.

4 yo took a long piece of fleece, tied it around herself, and made a "baby carrier". Then she tied it in a different fashion, and demonstrated how her doll can be carried while awake, and while asleep. All she asked me to do was to save this piece for her. Then, later, she casually wrapped it around her neck as a scarf.

By this point in the afternoon, I decided it might be ripe time to load everyone in the car and head for a drive. 1 yo was raring to go outside. He is a funny kid: he is not flat out sick, he is still running around, just leaving a trail of snot. His eyes are teary, and he is a bit more subdued and moody than usual, but he does not sit still. We headed to the Museum of Design where boys had a workshop on Sunday, to pick up their 3-D printed creations from Minecraft. On the way over, I found out that the kids thought I went to "some prenatal dancing party" on my day off. I laughed. Mom got her groove! Watch out for that belly! I did tell them what I did, which sounded a whole lot less mysterious.

When we got to the museum, we found out that only 10 yo's sculpture was printed, but not 8 yo's. We were told that it is unusual, as they do not e-mail for pick-up till everything is ready. But there were 3 3-D printers right there in the lobby, with samples of work being printed on them. The boys pulled up chairs and watched the printers for a bit. 4 yo took up a designer challenge: design a chair for an astronaut on board a spaceship out of pipe cleaners. It had to accommodate a bulky spacesuit and work in zero gravity. She sat there, twisting and building, for good 15 minutes, till I pulled her away.

After we came home and had dinner, 8 yo suddenly remembered that my husband assigned him homework: to review ten pesukim. This is the first time I heard of it, but he opened the chumash and did it on his own. 10 yo used scraps of fleece to make himself a slingshot. He used juggling balls, and kept working on his design.

My husband sat 4 yo down and did some parsha with her.

Looking at the whole day, it is hard for me to say that my kids did not put in required 4 1/2 hours of "educational activities" for it not to count as a school day. It certainly did not require planning from me.

So I am at a crossroads: do I embrace unschooling now (with limits on screen time, especially for 10 yo), or do I continue with more traditional subjects until close to baby's arrival? Letting go of control is both liberating and terrifying.

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