Friday, June 16, 2017

4am fractions

Kiisu (that's Chana's Japanese name, which we have taken to using) took the CAT test this week.  As per homeschool regulations, 7-12 graders in our state have to be tested every year.

In my facebook memories from 2011, there was a post about testing reminding me why I unschool.

This year we were armed with a 504 and extra time.  (I don't know how to make this happen in homeschool.  It is only because she needed it for her 2 classes in yeshiva that she got this accommodation, which gives her extra time for testing, and since last time she took the timed CAT test she was unable to complete it in the alloted time, I applied it).  So when she needed up to double the time for reading comprehension because her preferred method is to read something slowly four times, she had it.

The Math sections drove her nuts a little.  The math was all things she's done and forgotten long ago.  Long division.  Fractions and decimals.  I'm pretty sure she got the required 33rd percentile but she was frustrated to tears.

To "study," we had reviewed some basic fraction-decimal-percentage facts.  She quickly remembered most of how to work with fractions with the reminder.  Some things she remembered the mechanics, but didn't "get."  The next day, she asked her friend (who is a homeschool high school senior and also tutors her in ACT math every week), who explained it to her.  But then the next day on the next section, when she encountered some conversion problems, she again struggled.

Last night I was awake in the middle of the night and Kiisu and I ended up hanging out for a bunch of hours until the sun rose.  (Yay for random insomnia and nocturnal teens.)

We were talking about converting fractions into decimals and she was telling me how her friend told her to do it.  And she didn't remember learning it that way from me.

"Yeah, that's not how I do it," I said.  "I think my way is easier and makes more sense."  I explained how the fraction line means "to divide" (which she's heard me say a million times during algebra) and how you move the decimal place over.

"That's what I don't get," she said.

It was pitch dark, and we were just chatting desultorily about fractions to percents.  There was no purpose, no lesson, no point.  No pressure because we weren't trying to achieve anything.

"You know, maybe you never really wrapped your head around the whole fractions thing," I said.  "You didn't get it in 3rd or 4th grade and while eventually you did understand how to do it, I'm not sure you ever really spent a lot of time thinking about how it all worked conceptually."

But as I said that, I realized that she did understand fractions, pretty much.  "You know what might help you?" I said.  "Maybe you aren't really getting the relationship between fractions, decimals, and percents.  And I think it's because I left something out.  I never taught you this--and I think it will all make sense."

And I told her about something that I did in school in first grade when I was a kid.  And spent many hours on, in many of my elementary school years.  I had never taught it to her because it hadn't really come up.  (Not because I didn't have a cardboard hands-on flip number chart that taught it that she never wanted to play with and that I eventually konmaried, because I did.)  I taught her Place Value of numbers.  Hundreds, tens, and ones I barely had to teach her because they were so intuitive and it was clear exactly how that worked.  (See? We said to each other.  Kids spend hours doing that in school but when you are older it's quite simple and quick to grasp and makes perfect sense.)  Then I introduced her to tenths, hundredths, and thousandths.  And working with 50%, 0.5, and 1/2.  And tenths being actual 1/10ths.  And 0.25 being 25/100ths and also 1/4.  And 1 being a whole and 100%.

We were just playing around.  Talking about it because she was genuinely grappling with trying to understand conversions.

And when she understood it, it was so enjoyable for her.  She was absolutely delighted about how it all fit together and how it all made sense and how they were all talking about the same relationships.

I looked at the clock.  "It's 4:30am," I said.  "We've spent a half hour in the middle of the night learning math for fun."

Then she told me about how her friend was teaching her derivatives and how interesting it was.

Unschooling math looks really different than how I thought math would go.  It's a process of learning to trust and learning to let go.  I thought that since she loves math, she would learn geometry, learn trig.  Instead, she loves fiddling with math.  

I have so many things that I want to teach my children, that I want to share with them, that I want to give them.  But so often trying to do that causes friction, conflict, and stress.
And it's amazing what happens when you make space for what they want to learn and follow their lead.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

the day finally arrived

I was davening shemona esrei and Aharon was calling me and calling me, getting more and more urgent.  Eventually he came into the room and saw me.  He didn't scream.  He didn't yank on my clothes or try to pull me.  He realized I was davening and quietly said, "Aw," and walked away.

He'll be 6 in a few days.

He is finally mature enough not to interrupt my tefila.

He wanted help spelling the word "simulator."  He wasn't sure what came after s-i-m.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Plans vs Reality

Now that I'm unschooling, I don't really make educational plans.  But I do recall the first year that I was homeschooling two children simultaneously (1st and 6th grade, I think) and I actually made a weekly schedule, complete with blocks of times dedicated to different subjects.  I even had Mishna on the schedule, which I never quite ended up learning at all with my oldest daughter.  Not once.  Boy do I laugh when I think about my grand plans.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Hippocratic Oath for teaching Torah

This morning I read this:

Prof. Nechama Leibowitz z"l once asked a group of senior Jewish educators in her living room/ study space in her home (of course, in Hebrew!): "What is the goal of teaching Tanach?"
As she called on one principal/ head of Jewish studies after another, she rejected each of their proposals: 
"To learn the mitzvot," "LO!"  
"To learn Jewish history," "LO!" 
"To learn ethical behavior," "LO!"
"To learn about our forefathers," "LO!"

Exasperated, she finally said: "The goal of teaching Tanach is that the child will not hate the Tanach."
In other words, "First, do no harm!"

Friday, May 12, 2017

Scraps of thoughts

I've been grouchy.  The kind of grouchy where I get snappy when the boys jump on top of me, instead of being glad that they are seeking contact and interaction.  They've also been fighting a. lot.  I don't know if they are fighting because I'm grouchy or I'm grouchy because they're fighting.


Elazar has expressed a couple of times that he's concerned that he won't be able to read by his bar mitzva.  I'm actually not that concerned about that.  (Just a smidge, in basic paranoid anxiety-ridden unschooling, but not really.)  But the second time I told him it won't take him that long to learn to read.  And I told him that I'm sure when he wants to, he will be able to.  But I feel like he was dissatisfied and I'm not sure what he's telling me and what he is looking for.


Jack asked a couple of times to start learning Torah.  He wants a siyum so he can get a big present. (That's how the girls earned their phones and computers.)(Not unschooling!  Using incentives!  Small inner conflict about which way is ideal!)  I keep saying, Sure, let's do it.  But then we don't.


I'm thinking that decisions such as whether or not to unschool or to teach formally.  Or whether or not to incline towards permissiveness or strictness.  Or whether or not to do xyz approach or abc approach.  None of those actually matter.

Oh, sure, they may affect things like what inclinations the child has--scientific, musical etc.  Interests or philosophy or way of looking at the world.  But in terms of the essence, in terms of will the child be well-adjusted and emotionally stable--it's beginning to seem to me that there is a lot of wiggle room and particular decisions don't matter as much as we might think.


I had a whole methodology for teaching Chumash: start with speaking Hebrew.  Then, when they learn to read, do the R' Winder books for a few years.  Then, start Chumash when they have basic vocab and prefixes and suffixes.  That's what I used for the girls and it was great.  But it doesn't seem to be going that way with the boys.  I used three different methods for teaching them to read, so doesn't it make sense that they will learn Torah differently?  It's wrenching to be flexible.  I think, at heart, that I love structure.


You put your heart and soul into your kids and you care about how they turn out.  Then they become teenagers and it turns out that caring how they turn out is counterproductive and causes conflict.  Because they are individuals fighting to be their own people.  Especially not what their parents want them to be.  So you have to adjust to parenting and putting your heart and soul into it but not being invested in the outcome.  Like all of life, I suppose.  You do hishtadlus but the outcome is not in human control.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Figuring out summer plans

Chana's schedule was a bit much for her this year, and she's looking forward to a quieter summer.  We discussed whether or not she would want to spend some more time on her math (studying for ACTs), and if she would focus more on the Bio book that she enjoys but often isn't in the mood to do.

She said she'd really like to focus more heavily on Chemistry.  I came across this blog post and requested the All Lab, No Lecture book on Chemistry (perfect for a kinesthetic learner, I hope) and here is the kit that goes along with it, that I haven't purchased.  I also requested The Disappearing Spoon from the library.

We'll see if she ends up pursuing this.  If she reads the beginning of the lab book and wants the chemistry kit, we'll do that.

Friday, April 28, 2017

adjusting to the parental role in unschooling

As I was making myself cappuccino this morning,* I pondered the excellence of my education.  I was particularly thinking about how much halacha I learned in high school.  I'm on a halacha group, and very often I know the answers to questions because of the halacha I learned in high school.

I wondered if I am depriving my children of this education.  (I wonder this despite sending my oldest to a high school that was pretty similar to the one I went to, albeit not putting her in the honors Hebrew classes because I didn't want her under that stress and because in 8th grade she didn't have a love for learning that would carry her through hours upon hours of intensive skills work.  So this is not even specifically a homeschooling question, it turns out.)  I wonder if they are going to be "missing out" by not having the details of halacha tripping off their tongue.  I wonder this as my two youngest have a picnic with the neighbor children, which they set up and cleaned up themselves, and my oldest son gets sick of the computer after three hours and is trying to figure out the best way to get some fluff out of the spring of a broken hinge.  And I wonder this despite the fact that my son asked me this morning a theoretical question displaying an involvement in the sugya of "amira l'akum" that I don't see that often.

I chose to homeschool, I often joke with my daughter, because I am an "educational control freak."  I had fantasies of passing on the tremendous repositories of knowledge and information that I have to my eager children.

The reality is much different.  Yes, I am an educational control freak, but most of my education consists of "First, do no harm" (something I can barely manage) and of not teaching them.  Not teaching nonsense, not having them spend hours on "academic" activities when they can be playing or exploring or experimenting or following the whims of their curiosity.

One of the bigger adjustments I've had to make in homeschooling is part of the reason why I had a hard time getting rid of old books my children never read or materials they never play with or experiments they never want to do.  The idea that it is important to have space--to make space in our lives for them to fill with whatever--and that "whatever" will be wonderful and meaningful and expand their horizons and delight them.  This idea competes constantly with clutter from my youth or even the present that was so meaningful to me that I yearn to give them, to hand it over the precious gift it was to me--so that they can reap the benefits it gave to my life.

But they don't want it.  They don't want my gifts, my talents, my knowledge, my information.  They want to march their own way, explore their own environment, to discover their own magic.  They come to me with questions and I have a few precious seconds to give them dribbles and drabs of pieces of the giant gift I have for them: the sum total of my life experience that I want to wrap up with a ribbon and give to them, but which they only want a sprinkle of if it can be a bit useful in whatever they are working on.

I certainly shrugged off my fair share of my own mother's knowledge and experience (and, she will tell you, I continue to do so--the most recent example being that I still don't have my crockpot on a timer for Shabbos).

It's been and continues to be an adjustment that self-directed education means that the knowledge I have to impart is only the harmony to what they are learning, and only if they request it.  Maybe it's even the background music, giving richness and grandeur and depth and framework.  But the main music is what they make themselves.

*Yes, my youngest is 5, and I finally have time to spend the indulgent six minutes it takes to make myself coffee, and perhaps even the 15 minutes to drink it while hot.