Thursday, September 14, 2017

A small grief about unschooling

I was (and still am) a very serious student.  I am very focused and capable of spending hours in a row learning.  I remember a lot of my school education (despite having found it extremely stressful) and have often been glad that I know the things I was taught, both secular and Torah.

I was pretty excited at the thought of homeschooling, because I thought I would have the opportunity to learn with my children.  And in truth it is very exciting to be on hand for so many of their explorations and discoveries.  (Last week at the grocery store, they discovered a spider dangling from a web and spent a few minutes playing with it and seeing how touching the web affected the spider's movements--hands on bio and physics.)

But it has been a disappointing reality that none of my children have been that interested in studying in the "normal" academic way or the "normal" subjects.  Perhaps a large part of that is because we've had so many years of deschooling that our homeschool education looks completely different than "regular" school.  Another part of it might be that spending so much time sitting and so much time on frontal teaching/lecture and so much time studying things that the children find utterly boring is no longer part of our repertoire.  And taking the step into unschooling brought us even further.  In homeschooling, a big goal is to make learning pleasant.  But in unschooling, if the children don't want to learn it, they don't.  So while all battles about math and Chumash and history have ceased, that also means that my children aren't acquiring the usual skills and information.

I can talk myself down about that.  I know that what they are getting instead is

  • an extremely integrated sense of learning and life
  • a positive attitude towards learning and a long lasting curiosity 
  • the confidence that any time they want to learn anything in life, it's a good time to start learning it
  • the resourcefulness to look things up and ask for help in learning what they want or acquiring the skills and understanding they seek
  • a tendency towards creativity and joie de vivre
But a part of me mourns that they won't learn standard multiplication and division (unless they want to).  They won't read a good selection of the classics (though I always felt that high school was too young to understand a lot of them).  They won't have a sense of history (unless they study it).  They won't have an encyclopedic knowledge of halacha and Tanach.  Things that I consider "basic knowledge" they eschew and blithely tell me they can google.  They might end up with any of this.  But ultimately, a lot of their education is in their own hands and the particulars of what they pursue are not my decision.

I know that in removing the long and involved curriculum (that bores the bejeebers out of many students), we have made space for play, for joy, for contemplating, for deep thinking, for hands on learning, for emotional development, for pursuing interests, for delving into unusual topics, and for learning about the world in a deeply personal, enthusiastic, and individualistic way that naturally tailors itself to the student's needs and abilities.  

But sometimes I think about the "standard" curriculum: Tefila, bekius, Jewish history, a tremendous amount of time studying Chumash and Nach and Mishna and Gemara.  And history and Lit. and math and Science.  
And I wish I could teach my kids that, and feel a bit sad, and take some time to feel the ache before I move on.  

I have long felt that the only way to succeed in homeschooling without going crazy from overwhelmedness, anxiety, or guilt, is to get very clear about your priorities and your goals.  Then focus on those and let the rest go.  I've been practicing that for over a decade and a half.  And I will continue to practice.

Friday, September 8, 2017

unschooling tantrums

7:30am.  My shower is disrupted by my 6yo asking, with increasing agitation and finally a tantrum, for help spelling "piranha."

I've homeschooled "regular" and I've unschooled.  When I used to homeschool there were a lot of tantrums as I tried to get unwilling kids to do schoolwork.

Seems like this way, there are still tantrums.  But I prefer the tantrums to be because they are demanding help with their work, this second.  Rather than the other way around.

(He needed the word for  Also let it be stated that I'm not great at spelling without also seeing the word to see if it looks correct, and that from the shower I gave him the wrong spelling (pirhana instead of piranha--which I can immediately see as I type it, but couldn't tell in my head), but it was close enough for him to figure out what he needed.)

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Beginning of No School

Yesterday I finally filled out the paperwork for NYS and sent it in.  The 11th grade IHIP (individualized home instruction plan) was fairly simple--oddly, I find high school paperwork a lot easier than elementary school.  The boys all had previous year's paperwork that I could use except for 5th grade for Elazar.  I have done it 2x before with the girls, but apparently it was before things were in the cloud and so I had to make a new IHIP for him.  A tip that I use for Math and Language Arts is to google "5th grade curriculum" for the subject I want, and then copy the ones that are most likely to come up or that he already knows.
Excerpt from math:
- learn to choose, describe, and explain estimation strategies used to determine reasonableness of solutions to real-world problems.

- estimate quantities of objects to 1000 or more, justifying and explaining the reasoning for their estimates.

Examples from Language Arts:  
- Compare and contrast the varieties of English (e.g., dialects, registers) used in stories, dramas, or poems.
- Use context (e.g., cause/effect relationships and comparisons in text) as a clue to the meaning of a word or phrase.
- Use common, grade-appropriate Greek and Latin affixes and roots as clues to the meaning of a word (e.g., photograph, photosynthesis).
- Interpret figurative language, including similes and metaphors, in context.
- Recognize and explain the meaning of common idioms, adages, and proverbs.
- Use the relationship between particular words (e.g., synonyms, antonyms, homographs) to better understand each of the words.

Even though we unschool, Elazar is involved in these activities.  Mainly from youtube videos, which are pretty sophisticated and have introduced him to most of the above concepts.

Chana started college Russian.  Since she came home from Japan the day that class started and took a couple of days to recover, she only had about 3 days to do the first week's worth of work.  It was a bit overwhelming in addition to figuring out the online system but I think she got the hang of it.  She hasn't asked for any more help.  And yesterday she went to Gulliver's Gate Museum (#socialstudies) and there was Russian there and she was able to read it and look up some of it online.  So she's already happily using it.

I signed Jack up for engineering once a week and Jack and Aharon up for Science class once a week.  We also have parkour once a week.  Elazar adamantly refuses to go to science class (for the older grades there is more talking and sitting and less hands-on activity so I agree with him).  Chana started Gemara class 3x a week and has already asked me about Bahaaloscha and Dovid and Golyas in the last couple of days.  I also hope that she will continue her once a week math sessions with her friend.  The $200+ chemistry set that I bought at the beginning of the summer continues to be unopened.  I wonder if I should hire someone to do chemistry experiments once a month with her.  I'll ask her.

Aharon and I reviewed the aleph beis today and he only knows them in order.  When I pointed to them and asked him if he knew them, he doesn't know most of them.  He did not want to review nekudos and was not interested in learning more.  Aharon is somewhat unhappy socially.  This is not a new story and has been somewhat of an issue for years.  Because the boys are close in age, he doesn't have his "own" friends.  I would have sent him to preschool because of this except that he was a particularly aggressive toddler and I didn't want to send a biting and smacking preschooler to preschool.  Now that he has outgrown that, I did send him to camp this summer so that he could branch out on his own and make friends his own age.  But he wasn't happy in the second month.  And in fact, one of the boys in his bunk that he liked actually plays a lot with Elazar.  So I have to schedule separate playdates (because the boy only plays with Aharon if Elazar isn't there) and it often doesn't work out.  Elazar is extremely social and extremely proactive about making playdates.  So he often has already arranged a playdate before Aharon even thinks about playing.  So this is an ongoing issue that I am grappling with.  If I knew he would be happy, I would consider sending him to school.  But he was unhappy in camp.

I've been making some effort to daven out loud as many mornings as I can and sometimes I hear the boys humming the tunes.  

Overall, the boys are pretty proficient at English reading and doing basic math problems.  I want to learn with Elazar and start a daily seder with him but he is extremely uninclined.  As usual, I go back and forth between thinking I should just unschool and leave it all up to him.  And feeling concerned that I am not being mechanech him about how important Torah is by not doing it regularly when he is old enough.

Also, their playroom is utter chaos.  I think it's time to remove a lot of things that they aren't playing with anymore and revamp it.

That's my news.  Happy unschool!

Friday, August 11, 2017

unschooled kids don't learn what they don't want to learn

I got this great book out of the library.  Historical fiction, all three boys can read it, it explains about American History and the minutemen.  I had it in the house for weeks, all of them refused to read it and said it was boring.  I gave it to K, and she also declined.

I'm off to return it and I'm giving myself a little pep talk that when they are interested in the American Revolution, they'll learn about it.

A lot of made-to-be-educational materials don't go over that well here.  They are already out of duct tape and almost out of stuffing, though.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

starting the college options route

Since K has been reluctant to learn math in the "classic" way that math is taught, she's been learning once a week with her friend.  On the IHIP under Math I've been writing "Preparing for SAT/ACT."

I had assumed, if K wants to go to college, that she'll have either the SAT or ACT, and a certificate of completion from the NYC homeschooling office, and I would make a transcript and she would apply, possibly writing essays about alternative education theory.

My neighbor came in last night (I've often joked, when people ask about socialization, that if possible, you should recruit your neighbors to homeschool with you, so that the kids can run back and forth for playdates all day long) to tell me about all the research she did for her son (who is entering high school) to do online college at HVCC.  It's a community college and part of SUNY, and the credits are "real, live" college credits, i.e. they are transferable and 24 credits is high school equivalency.  Meaning after 24 credits, you can transfer to college.  No diploma, no SAT/ACT.  Just simple go to college.

So there is a rigamarole of forms that are pretty difficult to understand and get through. Ari and I hacked through some of them.  To get proof of residency involves traveling into Manhattan (#homeschooltrip!) to present ourselves etc etc.

After showing K the list of courses (and hoping for a science, or a math, or a history, or an English), she chose...Russian.  She would have chosen German if she could.  Or Japanese, obviously.  So this unschooler is currently spending a lot of time on Languages.  And more languages.  We'll see if we can get her registered in time to take the online course in the fall.  That will be getting her feet wet in college.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

the arts and crafts bin

Our giant A&C bin has been mostly emptied except for a bunch of cloth that someone donated to us.  I asked the boys to make a wish list:


scotch tape


staples and more staplers

light sensitive paper

giant paper


and then I finally decided to go for


and I threw in purple duct tape to hit free shipping

How 11th Grade Unschooler comes to learn Earth Science

It all started with the Office.  I looked for a clip of the scene but only found a picture:

Kiisu (going by her Japanese name these days because of her great love of Japan) was enjoying the scene but didn't understand the subtleties of this joke.  She decided she wanted to have a better grasp of clouds.  She then spent about half an hour researching clouds, how they are formed, what the different clouds mean and what conditions cause them.  She then discussed this with people online, telling them about what she learned and answering their questions, which led her to more research.

This is probably more efficient than classroom learning because it's very targeted and she will probably remember it better, since it emerged from her desire to know it.

She said to me, "I know you asked me to jot down when I do things like that, but it's pretty impossible because this happens all the time.  I don't even notice when I'm doing it."

That's because for unschoolers, learning and life are not two separate activities.  They don't try to avoid learning or have negative associations with learning because they generally don't learn what they don't want to.  The only reason I even became aware that Kiisu had studied some Earth Science topics is because we were walking on the beach and it started raining and she began pointing out all of the different types of clouds.