Sunday, April 15, 2018

Murphy's Law

Two days ago I finally got sick of looking at the Bio book on the shelf and put it upstairs in storage with the other textbooks.

Today Chen asked about chloroplasts and wants to know about photosynthesis.  So I went upstairs and dragged the textbook back down.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

seder 2018: When the seder isn't the ultimate chinuch experience

You may have noticed I was rather quiet about seder prep this year.  That's because for the last few years, we haven't made our own seder.  We've been with family friends. 

A tradeoff in going away for Pesach is that I am not in charge of the kitchen.  To be free from the servitude of an infinity of meal prep, serving, and cleaning is true cherus (freedom).  But that means we don't get to have an intimate seder that is built around our children's needs and specifically tailored to their emotional and educational situations. 

The last time we did our own seder (coincidentally, the first seder with our new son-in-law), was disastrous.  (Okay, I just read it and it doesn't seem to be as disastrous as I remember it.  I associate it with feelings of frustration and not being what I wanted.)  The boys were young and Chen was in the morose teen stage, and I felt the impossible desire to be able to learn in a relaxed and luxurious manner while I was responsible for small children.

This year it happened to be the perfect dream.  Every single one of the kids was eager and interested.  The boys are old enough, Chen is intellectually curious, Sarah loves to learn.  It would have been a great year.  (I admit that a part of me was glad that we didn't do our own seder and I didn't have to think deeply about and strategize about each child's needs and how to achieve that during the seder.) (Yes, that's basically a description of homeschooling but for every day, not just the seder.)  At the seder we were at, we were requested to be decorous and not have side conversations.  Ari did a great job of keeping the boys engaged and telling them the story.  But the girls were pretty frustrated.

One good thing is that the illustrated hagada that my friend suggested we get Chen last year did hold her attention this year.  And Sarah and my sister learned with me the next morning and we had some great conversations.

I think sometimes there is a lot of pressure to make the seder a successful evening.  It's a very special time of the year, and a big deal for the Jewish people.  But just like in homeschool sometimes we have to let go of expectations in order to make room for a genuine, loving, and more pleasant experience (which ultimately leads to better chinuch long term), it also works to apply that to the seder. 

The seder is, after all, a microcosm of chinuch: get the children to ask questions, excite their curiosity, do as much in question and answer format as possible, tell it dramatically (begin with degradation and end with praise), use props (pesach/matza/maror), the goal should be personal internalization (everyone should see themselves as if they left), and take into account the specific emotional and intellectual ability of the student.
And my personal homeschooling guidelines: Don't be afraid to drop all expectations if it's not working out and try again next year.  Above all, keep it pleasant and focus on the relationships.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Letting go of another small dream

Returning Mila 18.  Chen will not be reading about the Warsaw Ghetto now.  She's too busy with Psych.  She didn't like the first chapter.  Gotta let it go.  Back to the library.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Mishna During the Week

Chen is so depleted from reading her psychology textbook that she never wants to read Lord of the Flies.  Or do any other reading at all.

Elazar asked Ari to learn mishna with him more regularly instead of only on Friday nights.  Elazar has also been following through with that, asking many nights to learn a mishna.

I really was skeptical that the children would ask to learn if we unschooled them.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

A host of worries that ended up turning out ok. For now

I was looking for all the posts where I stressed out about Aharon's socialization.  I can't find them.  I guess I didn't write about them.  (Or my memory is bad and my search engine keywords inadequate.)

Sometimes I have a kid who I think would do okay in school, but I homeschool because it's our philosophy and lifestyle.  And sometimes I have kids for which I am grateful every day that we are homeschooling. 

At first I thought Aharon would be a good candidate for school.  He's bright, he has the capacity to sit, he likes people and is not shy.  Not that I was particularly looking to send him to school. 

It turns out that despite being an extremely amenable two-year-old, he had a turbulent years 3 and 4.  He tantrumed numerous times a day, frequently hitting, biting, kicking, pulling hair, etc.

I was greatly concerned that part of the problem was his home environment.  I was concerned that he didn't have a strong social group.  There were always a lot of kids around--but he was the youngest boy.  Always downtrodden, always left behind, never keeping up, never taken seriously.  His life was a series of frustrations.  No wonder he was a ball of anger.  I hesitated to send him to preschool (exorbitant price tag aside) because he was so physically aggressive and so quick to shriek in frustration.  I had trouble managing it; I imagined him being placed in timeout all day long or the teachers having a lot of trouble with him.

I tried looking for a playgroup.  He was so close in age to his brother (17mo apart) that there was just too much social overlap in the community.

So I sent him to camp.  Which he loved, and it seemed like the answer.  But then the second month of camp came, and he started getting stomachaches.  I spoke to the Rebbe and all he could say is that the amount of children tripled.  As it ended up, Aharon resisted going to camp so much that he didn't go the second month.

What is interesting is how Aharon's personality matured and how our neighbor kids' personalities shifted and matured.  The little girl that is a year younger than he is that he used to push (and therefore get kicked out of her house and come home crying) grew up and matured and became a good companion for him.  The little girl Jack's age became inclined to play with him more because he matured and could play older games.  The boy Elazar's age got a new baby and found that Aharon was the perfect, hardy age to wrestle with.  So for a few years I was so worried about his unhappiness, so worried that I was causing him misery by not sending him to school (except for the issues school would cause), so worried he would be angry and unhappy forever.  And he's pretty happy now socially.  If I could have told myself, "Don't worry, things shift, relationships shift, he'll be okay." 

I think anytime a child is in a phase, it's worrisome.   What if they don't outgrow this?  What if it gets worse?  What if it's just the beginning of a long downward spiral of unhappiness?  And having been through some of those, too, I can tell you that we drag ourselves through those times, too, as best as we can.  But it's useful to note that many times, what's happening IS a temporary phase and things do shift.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

testing accommodations for homeschooling

I never imagined homeschooling high school would be this way.  I thought it would be more hands-on and I'd be more involved.  I had no idea how learning would work, how so much time would be spent "cocooning" and being nocturnal, how things would seem to be moving in slow motion and then would suddenly start moving at warp speed, with astounding bursts of intellectual growth and emotional maturity.

Six months ago, Chen wasn't sure she even wanted to go to college or not.  I was trying to figure out how much time, money, and energy to devote to getting testing accommodations.

Chen has always had a "processing issue," meaning she reads things 4 times before she understands them.  I noticed when she first started reading that she would read, understand some of it, read it again, understand more, read it again, understand more, and read it again.  She liked and likes to read the same things over and over.  She also has always had some trouble with fine motor things like buttoning, zipping, spreading cream cheese, putting hair into a ponytail, etc.  None of these things were a major issue because in homeschool, we could take the time for her to do things at her pace.

When I asked her about college plans last year, thinking about the SAT/ACT, Chen didn't know what she wanted to do.  She wasn't enthused about classroom learning, had about a 15-20 minute attention span when we studied Bio, could hardly tolerate lectures.  She wasn't sure college was suited to her style of learning and I tended to agree with her.  She's always been a kinesthetic learner who likes to choose what to learn, which is why unschooling worked out so well for her.  As much as I think college is still the gold standard for getting a job (though not essential), it seemed like there was a good chance she'd be miserable and would not thrive.  I talked myself down, telling myself that my goal is for her to be emotionally capable of supporting herself.  And if her idea of supporting herself is living in a tiny apartment and making barely enough money so she can travel the world, well, that's a life and it's a rich one.

She has a 504 from taking a couple of classes in the school I work at, where they quickly realized she's unusually slow and gave her extra time to complete her tests.  I had her tested by the district, and here's the frustrating part about homeschool and special ed: since she was working on grade level, she didn't qualify for an IEP.  But.  Since she's homeschooled, I've been giving her the accommodations she needs in order to do grade level work!  So we don't have years of documentation that she needs extra time or other accommodations, like typing essays.

So we can do psychoeducational testing.  Six months ago, I didn't want to invest in that (it's very pricey) if she might take the SAT/ACT and she might want to go to college and it might or might not be worthwhile.  So we didn't.

Fast forward a few months later, and finished with one college course  (Russian) and halfway through another (Psych), and it's like she has a fire lit under her.  She spends time doing math problems every day.  She took out some ACT books from the library.  She feels sure she will do very well on the test--if she has the time to actually process the questions so she can understand them.   I'm not sure if she can get the extra time she needs for the ACTs.  They also have an option to spread the test out over more than one day, and since she does reach saturation with stimulation, that would help a lot, too. 

It turns out you can't have testing done less than 6 (4?) months before taking the test.  It's March now, and she registered to take it in June.  That means the June test won't take into account any recommendations.

So for now we try to see if the 504 is sufficient.  But I'm also trying to get her tested.  An official diagnosis would give her the accommodations she needs.  And if that's the case, then she probably won't take the ACT in June, but later.  And that might affect applying to colleges.  But in homeschooling we are nothing if not flexible.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

What would you have done differently?

I came across this post today.  Seasoned unschoolers were asked what they would have done differently. 

The whole thing is worth a read.

  • I would have responded more kindly and with less blame to my kids
  • tell myself to relax, that the influence that matters most in those early years is mine and Doug's generous and open support of Ethan's wonder at the world around him,
  • I'd tell myself to calm down and worry less, not pander to anyone else's ideals and I'd trust my kid a lot more.
  • I'd have worried less when the kids were younger (like 3-5) about "introducing" things like music or art or going to museums
  • relax and accept the moment more. I'd use my calm voice more, rather than my frustrated-and-fed-up voice, especially when *I* was the tensest one in the room
  • While I did let my son learn to read in his own time, I stressed for years about whether I was doing the right thing...So I'm glad I forged through, but the stress was a waste...
  • I wish I could have enjoyed the moment...I would have made my choices based on love not worry or guilt.