Thursday, February 25, 2016

actual homeschooling ( for real this time)

So what am I doing with those older boys?

I am calling it a taekwondo/chumash year. They are clearly progressing and achieving in taekwondo. They are earning their belts and stripes, getting stronger, lowering into splits, focusing and performing. As the year goes on, the progress is obvious. I also see that 9 yo grabs an opportunity when he sees one. He asked his teacher to check a certain sparring sequence. 9 yo got it wrong and was sent to practice. That did not deter him from asking to be checked at the next opportunity. He had to be checked three times before he got it right, and days passed in between. But he is focused on getting eligible to test for black belt, so he keeps on practicing.

With our crazy schedule, I make chumash a daily priority. We are in Ki Tisa with 11 yo, right at the golden calf right now. We do five pesukim a day, I ask both boys to prepare before they sit down with me: preread the pesukim and look up any words that they don't know in the dictionary. 11 yo got sneaky and looks up in Rashi instead. If Rashi doesn't comment, he fudges his way through, hoping that I am not paying attention. Meanwhile, I am prereading all the Rashis, just in case he asks a question and Rashi has an answer. This is doing wonders for my Chumash learning. In fact, I highly recommend for anyone who wants to master a particular area to try to teach it to their children: the preparation will force you to slow down and focus on depth. I am starting to appreciate Rashi much more.

11 yo's chumash skills are pretty good. He does moan and groan occasionally, but it is much less than it used to be. I know that he is on the cusp of mastery when we hit a Rashi on mysterious בגדי השרד. Since he didn't look the word up, I sent him to Rashi. I also asked him to pull out מקראות גדולות, to see if anyone else comments. Before I had a chance to sit down with him, he browsed through אבן עזרה and רמבן and told me that he likes אבן עזרה more. He did not even realize that he switched to a chumash without nekudot, and that he was able to do exactly what I was hoping to accomplish: independently look up מפרשים. Of course, this was one time, but it is a clear progression of daily skill acquisition.

9 yo is doing three pesukim a day. We review three previous peskim and then he prepares three new ones. He has hard time using the dictionary, as he keeps on forgetting the words that he already looked up multiple times. In addition. his ability to find shorashim is not so good, and he is afraid of looking up the wrong shoresh, or that a dictionary won't have it. Overall, however, he is at the point where he can scan the Hebrew, but recite the translation. Also, he gets plenty of pesukim that he can translate without having to look up any words. His Rashi skills are coming along. He worries about the length of Rashis, and he tries to memorize the meaning, just in case. I try to pick interesting short Rashis, but I especially make a big deal whenever he asks a question that Rashi asks and answers. For example, when we read about 11 children of Yaakov that crossed Yabbok, he asked me: Yaakov had 12 children, what happened to Dina? At that point, he did not mind reading the whole Rashi with the whole explanation. I keep hoping that slowly but surely his skills will improve and his confidence to "get it" will increase.

I spent a large chunk of the year fretting about boys not doing mishnayot. We never got a teacher for 11 yo, and the program that I tried ordering for the boys took forever to arrive only for me to realize that it is not usable without teacher materials, and teacher materials are costly and require preparation. So I did what I did best: fretted and fumed, worried and harassed 11 yo ( and my long-suffering husband) to do something! Finally, one Friday night, after refusing to go to shul, I said that 11 yo has to read something meaningful instead of another Percy Jackson-like fantasy. He opened Illustrated Mishna Shabbos, and read the whole thing! I am pretty sure that he did in a few days what usually takes months. No, he did not read it all in Hebrew. and he definitely would have gotten more out with a teacher, but, judging by his little quotes here and there, he read enough of what interested him.

Additionally, I went online looking for some sort of mishna yomi program, maybe something that would e-mail a daily mishna with some explanation. I stumbled across these mishnayot. The boys each picked an area and are reading and listening to two mishnayot a day. 11 yo picked Avodah Zarah, with a detour to Megillah in honor of Purim. 9 yo picked Sanhedrin, no doubt influenced by his brother. This is not what I had in mind, but I am learning to be flexible and accepting that children will pick what works for them.

9 yo is doing Lashon HaTorah, Workbook ד. He is having hard time with it, even though I see an improvement in his skills when it comes to chumash. 11 yo is doing Rosetta Stone, We had a glitch where our house computer died and he lost a lot of his progress. He is not in the rush to finish, but I see him trying to strike up conversations in Hebrew. Unfortunately, my Hebrew is not that good, and his siblings do not understand what he is saying, so it is not going anywhere. I am still waiting for those Israelis to enter our life and make my kids fluent...

I wanted to do Megillah Esther, but I don't think I have it in me this year. The boys read over the Youth Megillah and The Children of Shushan Fight Haman. Neither boy is enthusiastic about reading and translating. 11 yo halfheartedly suggested listening to baal koreh and following in English in Stone chumash. Megillah will have to wait another year.

What about halacha, minchagim, Jewish history? I definitely unschool those. I have Sand and Stars, and after a visit from another homeschool family, I pulled them out and 11 yo read them on his own. 9 yo might have glanced inside, or he might not have. The boys are welcome to attend shiurim in our shul, and they come and go as they please.I do not know how much they get out, but they will pipe up once in a while, so something somewhere is trickling in.

The secular subject update will have to happen at some later point.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

an update on actual homeschooling (sort of)

I have been meaning to write this update for over a month, but every night something or other comes up. Or nothing comes up: I'm just dead tired, spent, and in no shape to blog. So tonight I decided to push myself and write a long-overdue update.

This year 6 yo old (she turned six a month ago) and 2 yo went to preschool while the boys stayed home. Now, evaluating it, that was not such a good decision. I was hoping to buy more time to do schoolwork with older boys, a chance to set the schedule for the baby (who is almost 10 months), and letting 6 yo play with her peers and socialize. I was also hoping that 2 yo would color on some surfaces that are not my walls.

What I got was a very different scenario. The school is twenty minutes away without traffic. I spend an hour in the afternoon picking up the kids. I have to either wake the baby up and take her with me, or stall her nap and let her nap on the way there. Also, this afternoon carpool breaks up the day. I cannot plan any activities with the boys, or attend any events that would interfere with pick-up. Bye-bye, homeschool days at the History Center, or the zoo!

In the mornings we are doing taekwondo three days a week. I attend on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and the boys go an additional time on Mondays. Then, on Mondays. I pick them up and drop off 9 yo at his violin lesson. While he is there, I have exactly 30 minutes with 11 yo and the baby to run errands. I often pick up groceries in Kroger or Target, but I have to be super-focused. I cannot dawdle, I cannot look around, and the list has to be bare necessities. When the weather was warmer, or when the younger two had off from school, I took them to the park, but it took too long to unload and load. A few times I brought 11 yo yo Barnes and Noble. If 9 yo was not so committed to the violin, I would have ended this madness a long time ago.

After the violin lesson, we go home, have lunch, I feed the baby and, before I know it, it is time for the afternoon pick-up.

On the days that I do taekwondo, I nap the baby at 8:30 am. She gets up ridiculously early, so she is actually sleepy at that time. Then I try to get chumash done with at least one of the boys by 9:15, when I have to change, grab the baby, nurse her, and drive to the babysitter on the way to taekwondo. I am enjoying the classes and the workout. (I am actually testing for my next stripe tomorrow!) But I am not enjoying the hassle that it is all producing. Also, going twice a week is not enough of a workout, or reinforcement for me. This cobwebby brain needs many repetitions until the information sinks in. I really should be going another time, one night a week, but it is so hard to find a night that my husband is home and I am not dead tired.

On Wednesdays, we are taking classes with the same coop that we have been a part of for the past five years. That is my bright spot, and it is such a relief! The boys love their classes, and now we stay and hang out for park day immediately afterward. I used to rush kids home, with somebody always needing a nap, and hoping to squeeze in some schoolwork. This year, since the classes are over by 12:30, and I have to leave at 2pm, I might as well let my kids hang out while I get a chance to have a conversation with other moms.

This is the first year that I am starting to be concerned about boys' socialization, It is looking more like "kids locked in the dungeon not interacting" scenario. It is not on purpose, but we seem unable to squeeze in any activities into the schedule. I wish there would be afternoon play dates that my kids could spontaneously arrange and attend on their own, but there are no kids on our block. There are two houses for sale, though. I am fantasizing about a family with kids moving in. I do not care whether they are frum or not. I do not care whether they homeschool or not. I just need them to have kids who would want to interact with mine.

On the school end of things, it is not so peachy either. 2 yo seems to be fine while in school, listening, participating, being sweet. His teachers are gushing about him. But his nap got completely messed up and he went from napping for at least two hours to just one, and then being woken up for me to pick him up. He is often cranky and moody when I get him, and he does not feel better when we get home, Moreover, his whole personality changed: he used to be sunshiney and very secure, but now he's demanding and clingy. He wants me, he wants to sit on me, he wants my attention. He wants to make up for all those hours that we are apart. I see from the photos that his school supplies in abundance that he is comfortable in the classroom. Yet, he still wants mommy, and home. Looking back, now I can say that sending him to school so young was a mistake. Kids at this age need the security of their parents, of their family, more than any educational activity that they would get even in an excellent preschool. From another side, he does not get all that experiential learning that I did with the other older kids: the zoo, the library, the museums, the grocery store. He really just goes to school and then home. I am quite sad about this, and I am definitely planning on keeping him home next year.

As far as my daughter is concerned, I also see changes. She just turned six. And she is still not reading. Now, I am not worried about a  newly-minted six-year-old not reading, I am worried about this particular child not reading. As long-time readers of my blog might recall, this child knew her letters very early on, and was very motivated to learn and try things. She was on the cusp of reading a year ago. Now she will come home with all these worksheets that she did in school. but she does not want to go over them. She is supposedly finishing BOB books in school, but I see her make mistakes in any reading that I ask her to do. She also decided that she is bad at reading, and she does not want to do it. I do not see her persevere. Most days, she comes home and asks almost immediately for her computer time. I don't always give it to her right away, but often it is late in the afternoon. I am tired. I still have to make dinner. 2 yo wants my attention. 6 yo has not watched anything the whole day, so why not? Yet this is the girl who wanted to do projects all the time. What is happening to my child? Is she burning out at the ripe old age of 6?

I would love to bring her home next year, too. But I know what craziness it is to juggle all the naps and schedules, to deal with all the workload, and feed everyone. It can only happen if I get some sort of help...

I'll get to the boys' achievements next time, I guess.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Do you need help?

-Do you need help?
-C'mon, nobody does it alone. Why don't you loosen up, let others help you? All your problems stem from being stuck-up and independent. If you would only learn how to accept help from outside, life would be peachy.
-Do you need help?
-(Why doesn't she ask her family first? Can't they help her?)
-Do you need help?
-(Ugh, I was just asking to be polite. I really don't feel like helping. Can't she take a hint?)
-Do you need help?
-What can I do for you?
-(I don't know, look around, don't you see that I am drowning here! Take the kids for an outing, pick up those scattered toys, change the baby's diaper, read a book to them. But maybe she's asking to be polite. Don't ask for too much. Feel her out). Um, nothing. Let me think about it.
-Oh, let me know.
-Do you need any help?
-Yes, can you take the kids out for me?
-You are so hard to help. I was planning on offering this, but you want that. Don't you know how hard it is for me to do this? You cannot be so demanding. You have to be grateful that I am offering to help at all. If you would only accept the help that is being given, all your problems would melt away.
-Do you still need any help?
-Yes. No. Maybe. What can you do for me?
-You are not being specific enough. How am I supposed to know what it is that you need help with?
(She cannot possibly need help. She is all set, married to a doctor. She must be rolling in it. She must have a crew of cleaning ladies and babysitters at the snap of her fingers. I don't want to deal with her reality.)
-Do you need help?

Monday, February 8, 2016

Foreign matter

I'm making creamy zucchini soup.
The diced zucchinis, the onions, the rice
All go in the pot.
I add in two bay leaves.
They look foreign amongst the bright green zucchini chunks.
But after simmering for a while,
They all blend in.

Yet when the soup is cooked,
Before blending,
I seek those bay leaves out
And remove them from the pot.
Though as hard as they hide,
I find them, and discard.

So are baalei teshuva,
Melding in the same pot as FFBs,
Simmering in the same juices,
Lending their unique flavor,
Sought out,
By the shadchanim,
And removed from the pot,
Lest they contaminate
The final dish.