Sunday, November 19, 2017

Lazy Sundays and the Baby/Toddler Years

I once spoke about unschooling and said that our every day is like Sunday.  Meaning that relaxed day of the week where you wake up and have no responsibilities and obligations and can relax, take your time, and do whatever you want.

Today IS actually Sunday.  I woke up early and read in bed for an hour.  Aharon (6) is finally sleeping late.  He came in to say good morning and went downstairs, leaving me to lie in bed a little more.  I came downstairs and davened out loud so Aharon could hear me.  It's Rosh Chodesh, so every time I saying "beis Aharon" I paused and pointed to him and he filled in "Aharon" to give him a little thrill that davening has his name.  Just as I finished singing, Elazar came in from a sleepover.  He davened (Ari's been working on him reading the first line of birchas hatorah, baruch she'amar, ashrei, shema, and shemona esrei) and then had breakfast and went to another playdate.  During breakfast he asked me why he has a hard time realizing when he's hungry.

Jack found a k'nex set and is sitting with the neighbors doing it.  Aharon is watching.

I watched a chemistry video song parody and noted which parts K and I have learned together and which parts she doesn't know yet.  I sent it to her to enjoy.  We'll probably go on a long walk later.  Maybe we'll try to time it with sunset.  We finished Pride and Prejudice and watched the BBC miniseries, and we are planning to watch the movie, the 1940s movie, and PPZ (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which I hear is surprisingly decent).  We have to pick something new to read.  I have The Most Dangerous Game and Lord of the Flies.  I'm also thinking about Mila 18.  But it would be nice to find something funny.  She wants to reread The Importance of Being Earnest.  I already know that her personality is that she likes to go deeply into things rather than study many things. 

Then I looked up Wales because K and I were looking at the map yesterday and couldn't find where in England it was.

A homeschool friend of mine expressed this week that she is putting her preschooler into preschool and she feels like a failure.  Aside from the fact that I know homeschoolers who davka put their preschoolers in school so that they could teach the older kids.  And aside from the fact that there is nothing wrong with doing things for your sanity or for the benefit of the family as a whole.  And there is nothing wrong with having some kids in school and some kids homeschooled.  (Or putting your kids back in school, if that's what you decide for your family.)  I realized that I never really was in that situation.  I had very large spaces between my two older ones.  So I was usually only teaching one older child when there was a baby/toddler.  And the boys are kind of growing up close together so there are no babies/toddlers now.  I remember when homeschooling was a blur of trying to teach one older child while having a baby and two toddlers.  But one older child doesn't take that much time to teach.

Homeschooling with no babies and toddlers is a really different time of life.  I have a full night's sleep (except when my worry about my teenager gives me insomnia).  My house isn't as messy.  Things are more relaxed.  A friend of mine, a veteran homeschooler with six children, told me that every year a baby is born is a lost year homeschooling.  And I tried to remember that piece of wisdom as I lost years.  I lost months to nausea, months to tiredness, months to doctors and medical situations, and months to being not optimally functional.  And I worried, how will my children learn if I am always too busy or tired or overwhelmed to teach them?  It was a constant, in-the-background kind of worry for those years.  Unschooling did alleviate a lot of that for me because the focus is more about spending time and being mentally present with your children and less about "teaching" them.  I suppose eventually the kids grow up or you have enough older kids to form some sort of rotation of childcare while you teach.  Every family juggles it differently, but there is no question it is a juggle.

Have I mentioned that the kids are really enjoying the multiplication chart on the fridge?

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

On Agenda vs Agenda-less Strewing

One of the very nice things about unschooling is that I'm no longer trying to get anyone to learn anything.  Any parent, but perhaps especially a homeschooling parent, feels a constant underlying stress of being responsible for how their children "turn out." 

So a lot of interactions that could just be nice interactions where we enjoy each other's company end up being colored by a sense of "let me use this opportunity to teach xyz" or "to explain abc" and then there is an agenda. 

Schools and educational philosophies have agendas.  When I took an education course, it was full of educational goals and "the learner will..."  And knowing our goals gives us the most chance of achieving them.  I have advocated and still believe in taking a lot of time to think about what your goals are with regard to your children so that you can prioritize your time, energy, and educational efforts effectively. 

But I admit it is mentally exhausting to be agenda driven when interacting with my children, and ironically, it's usually the times when I have no goals at all other than being fully present and spending time with my child that things go best.  That is one of the points that unschooling makes (called "deschooling").  Quote: "Look directly at your child. Practice watching your child without expectations. Try to see what he is really doing, rather than seeing what he’s NOT doing. If you hold the template of “learning” up and squint through that, it will be harder for you to see clearly. Just look."

Strewing. When I first started unschooling, I read about this thing called "strewing" which means that you place educational objects around and the kids end up picking them up.  I thought this was brilliant, because the kids learn when they want to.  And strewing is a big part of unschooling. 
But.  It also can be agenda driven.  And if I'm trying to relax and see what my child is interested in and not be subtly trying to direct his energy into "productive" and "educational" places, then strewing has the potential to mess with that vibe.  So I did put up maps when they were requested and the Periodic Table when requested.  And I put up body systems because I love that stuff.  And the names of the Parshios.  And a Jewish History timeline that keeps falling down for some reason.

Recently I bought a multiplication chart poster
because I felt the boys were interested in multiplication and their brains were kind of yearning for it.  (Although I deeply, deeply believe in rote memorization of multiplication, it is not going along with unschooling and I think they are going to end up with their calculators.)  I do find the kids clustered around, studying it.  They call me over and ask me questions.  They notice patterns. 

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Sometimes it's nice to acquire more tools for the toolbox

So you think you settle on an approach, and then kids change, or what worked for one kid isn't working for the next, or you change, or you understanding things differently.

Lord knows I moan about being conflicted about unschooling vs teaching until even I am sick of hearing myself.

I want to talk about sibling rivalry for a bit.  When my kids were 5 or 6 years apart, there wasn't that much sibling rivalry.  When my kids were 2.5 yr and 17 months apart, sibling rivalry became part of my daily existence.  I've waxed eloquent about the bullies2buddies methods and how useful they are.  He gives actual scripts to use, which have been very helpful.  I've even written to him with questions and he has helpfully written back.  I stand by this method and I really love it.  I combine it with playful parenting, which means that I try to take aggression as a cue that they need active and playful wrestling/roughhouse type attention.

I have found this to be more robust and more fun and efficient than what I used to do in my twenties, which was to sit the kids down and have them make eye contact and share their feelings and take turns speaking and make sure they both have a chance to talk and feel they are being heard and brainstorm for solutions. (It even is exhausting to type that up.)

And then.  

I'm in a radical unschooling group.  You think I'm crazy? :-D I don't qualify as a radical unschooler.  These people are fully committed to unschooling not just academically, but as a way of interacting with their children in every way.  This affects bedtime, meals, discipline, and all sorts of areas.  Some of the underlying principles are abundant generosity and respecting your child as a human being.

So I'm reading with interest, and they start talking about sibling rivalry.  Here is a link (with further links on the bottom of that page).  What sparked my interest is how many of them expressed that leaving the kids to deal with things on their own was not something they would do.  A lot of unschooling (contrary to popular assumption) has pretty hands-on parental involvement, having the parent there coaching, helping, empathizing.

Since this is exactly not what bullies2buddies advocates, and since I am apparently exceedingly defensive and a glutton for punishment, I kept reading.

The truth is, even using bullies2buddies I do keep a fairly close eye (looking for these factors).  But I have heard many people speak about how they felt that they were brutalized by unequal sibling situations (my own sister included, with me being the manipulative and obnoxious older sister), so I wanted to see what advice there was.

What I got from it (though it generally astounds me how much I don't grasp in the first few readings of things) is, like the other radical unschooling principles, to approach their conflicts with a genuine desire to hear both children's needs and a strong desire to help them get their needs.

Obviously, in a sibling rivalry situation, two sets of needs are in conflict.

And I still use bullies2buddies in the sense that I don't go to them or stop them while they are fighting.  I'm usually sitting in the same room or close by, and they know they can come to me.  I still use a lot of the same scripts from bullies2buddies.

But now there is an added component.  I really try to understand what is deeply upsetting to each child (as opposed to in the past, where I was mainly focused on finding solutions.  Yes, I empathized, but I never get really worked up about lego like they do).  I hope this attempt to understand naturally gives them the sense that their needs are valued by the family.  I think it gives a different tone to the arguments.  There is a sense of "both of your emotional/practical needs are important.  What can we do?"

This played out a bit yesterday when (naturally, just about 10 minutes before I had to get ready to go to work), Jack came in screaming that he had a lego set that he couldn't build last year, but THIS year he can, but Elazar made a fidget spinner with an important piece.

Basic bullies2buddies script, I didn't get involved, I agreed with Jack that he has rights over that piece.  Jack left.

In comes Elazar, blazing in fury that Jack just took his fidget spinner and broke it.  No warning, no discussion, just grabbed and broke.
Well.  I agree with Elazar that this, too, is unfair and upsetting.

Looking at this in the framework of the radical unschooling, I perceived that both of them make perfect sense.  Both of them have claims.  Our goal is a peaceful, happy home for all members of the family.

Perhaps this is obvious.  It was not obvious to me.  It was not clear to me to view conflicts or sibling rivalry in the framework of a goal of having a peaceful, happy home for all members of the family.

As I said before, obviously not all members of the family can be peaceful and happy at all times.  By definition, if there is more than one person, then there will be conflicts.

But I don't know that it was ever so clear to me to enter conflicts with the idea that each person's peace and happiness is a priority to us.  So if there is a way to work it out and that increases your peace and happiness, that's what we are trying for.

When that is the goal, peace and happiness becomes an abundance mindset, not a scarcity mindset.  Everyone becomes more generous because there is a security that the family goal is as much peace and happiness for every individual as we can work out.

So Elazar agreed that Jack had the rights to take the piece back.  He objected to the manner in which it was done.  I asked Jack to look at Elazar and for Elazar to say how he feels while looking at Jack.  Because Jack knew that his claim of the piece was protected, he was able to look at Elazar and hear his pain and see the effect it had on Elazar that he took the piece so abruptly and without discussion.

Part of the abundance mentality is that Jack readily agreed to rebuild Elazar's fidget spinner.  And to even improve on it so that it worked.

A follow up blow-up occurred when Elazar was not satisfied with how Jack fixed it.  (I even overheard Elazar say to Jack, "Should we work this out later?" because they were in the middle of cleaning up the neighbor's playroom when this argument went on.)

Again, the goal of peace and happiness for everyone is such that Jack agreed to keep trying until he found something that satisfied Elazar.  But it was also agreed by everyone that the original piece--belonging to Jack--was not an option and if that was the only piece that would satisfy Elazar, Elazar would have to compromise.  Jack did try and Elazar did graciously accept a lesser vision of his fidget spinner (albeit one that functioned better).

Monday, September 25, 2017

Al Pi Darka

First a small update: Ari decided that he is going to focus on reading with the boys every day.  He's been reading a page in the Aleph Bina with them every day, and they've all been happily reading.  Elazar is still having trouble sitting for learning (even though he enjoys the Friday night Mishna very much), so Ari felt that getting him fluent in reading will be key to increased participation in brachos, tefila, etc.

Next up, Yom Kippur.  K was away for the three day yontif of Rosh Hashana, and on one of our beach walks leading up to the chag, we discussed themes of Rosh Hashana and how she was feeling about it.  It was uncanny how much she remembered from previous years.  All those years I fretted that I wasn't teaching her enough, and it turns out she has an incredible grasp of the basic and deeper ideas of the chag.

So I am trying to figure out how to make a meaningful Yom Kippur for her.  The boys are not really chinuch age for Yom Kippur just yet.  I can maybe go through some of the facts of the Yom Kippur avoda with them.  But for K, who strongly dislikes shul, we decided on one tefila.  She was indifferent as to whether it was mincha or Neila.  (I thought of Musaf, but it's very long, and as I discovered about Rosh Hashana, I don't have to push the themes so hard.)  So I will choose which tefila on the day, depending on everyone's mood and how the boys are doing.

She asked if it is allowed for her to socialize.  I said yes, but everyone will be in shul.  Although I appreciate the solemnity and awe of the day, my assessment is that taking that approach this year with this child would be counterproductive.  We will get books out of the library so that the boredom of the day will not be overly painful for her.  And she agreed to grant me one hour of learning.

I am thinking of learning the Rambam's Moreh Nevuchim with her On Evils (Friedlander pg 267) since that is something that has come up in conversation before and I hope she will find it interesting.  And if it works out, I'll turn next to Moreh Nevuchim about Iyov and his analysis of the book.  She has asked about that, too.

I'll let you know how it goes.  In my experience homeschooling, my plans and what ends up happening usually have very little in common.

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!