Monday, February 29, 2016

postscript to grouchy

Chana came to ask me to work with her while I was in the middle of putting Aharon to bed and was about to call my Aunt.  As much as I wanted to work with her, I put myself first and said I was talking to my aunt for half an hour.  I figured if she pursues me, then fine.  Otherwise I'm letting it go.  Self care first, since I'm grouchy.  Grouchy is usually a signal to me to let everything non-essential go and focus on myself a bit.  Chana came back after half an hour, but I was still on the phone.  And then that had run over into Jack's bedtime (and really, how was I going to fit working with Chana in between Aharon's bedtime and Jack's bedtime when there wasn't enough time to really do work with her in that time?).  So I told Chana to come back after Jack's bedtime.

Frankly, usually after bedtime I'm wrung out and done.

Well, she came.  And I had no expectations since I am tired.  And it was really very pleasant learning with her from 9:35-10:20.  We reviewed yesterday's Ramban, and studied Yaakov's tefila before meeting Eisav, and extracted principles of tefila.  We did a rashi or two.  It was nice.  And then we read some Freud.  We didn't do Bio but since I wasn't planning on it, I'm okay with that.

When I went to put Jack to bed, I mentioned to her that after 8pm when I'm starting with bedtime, I get busy, and then I really don't have the energy for working so late at night.  She seemed to understand and I'm wondering how it will go if I lay off for a few days and don't approach her to do work, and just let her be in charge of managing her work schedule and coming to me.

This is really continuing a theme that bothered me this morning when I was loading the dishwasher.  They'll all unload the dishwasher, but only when I tell them.  I tell Elazar, but he wants Chana to do her part first, and she's upstairs, and then I have to remember to tell her when she gets down, and then I forget, etc.  I feel like it doesn't happen unless I coordinate it.  Same with Chana's schoolwork.  I would like to figure out how to ease myself out of the equation and make things more independent.

She suggested double Bio for tomorrow and I told her the limitations of tomorrow's schedule.  I'm not going to bring it up to her or ask her to do work tomorrow, and either she'll come to me or she won't.  Ball is in her court.  (At least for tomorrow ;-)


I've been cranky for a couple of weeks.  Crankier than I've been for years.  Annoyed at my husband, feeling overwhelmed (even though, to my calculation, things are under control and actually way more manageable than in previous years).

It's 7pm and I'm kind of feeling like winding down for the night.  Usually I would ask Chana when she wants to do work.  I know she already did math (she says the new program is easy and boring; I hope it gets better; I'm feeling regret that maybe I should have plowed through geometry and gotten the program for Algebra II and trig; but I already bought it so she may as well do it until she tells me she wants to stop).  I don't feel like asking her when she wants to do work.  I don't feel like bringing it up with her.

I think that maybe I just won't ask.  I'll just let the days pass until she comes to me and asks me.  But then, really, how long will I hold out like that?  Will I truly just let it go?  Or will I lose patience and grow anxious and snap at her that we haven't done work in days(weeks)?

Or why does it have to be all or nothing?  Why don't I just let it go for today and see how I feel tomorrow?  I can evaluate each day.  But I just feel tired.  I feel like why do I go to her to ask her when she wants to do work.  Why don't I treat her like the boys.  Let her learn whatever she wants and she can come to me when she wants something.  Already today she asked me at least 3 grammar questions, a geography question, and a whole bunch of vocabulary questions.

Part of it is that I feel that if I don't push Judaic studies, she won't come and ask for them, and she is pretty willing to learn with me if I initiate.  But again, it doesn't seem like any great tragedy will happen if I let things slide for a few days.  Get my bearings, relax, hang out and just calm down and chill for a bit.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

on anxiety and worry

Last night was the first night in 3 days, since pulling Chana out of Chumash, that I didn't wake up in the early morning hours full of worry.

For three days after letting Chana stop Chumash, I worried if I had made the right decision.  Yes, Chana is happier and more relaxed.  But no matter what I learn at home with her, we are not spending an hour a day, 5 days a week, on Chumash.  I really liked what she was learning in that class.  She was experiencing group dynamics and group discussion.  She was socializing daily.  Will she be able to make friendships now that she's only there a couple of times a week?  Now that she's no longer eating lunch with the girls?

My worries are an amalgam of anxiety over skills, content, and socialization.  What if this was good?  What if, even though she was finding it stressful, she would have made some good friendships?  It takes her a while to warm up.  What if she doesn't make those friendships now?

What if she doesn't love Torah?  What if she doesn't want to partake of Jewish community and social life?  (I don't know if I've written about this yet, but at some point I would like to do a post or a series about introvert homeschoolers.  I often feel like I'm navigating very much in the dark about this issue, and guidance is contradictory.)

A wise friend of mine reminded me that getting attached to a specific class is really my anxiety of wanting to produce a certain product: a "good Jewish child" or, more accurately, a "good Jewish adult that was brought up 'right.'"  In reality, each human being has bechira and we cannot control the outcome.

Chana has definitely given me the information that she was deeply unhappy with the situation as it was, and she is definitely happier now.  She agreed to up her game in terms of learning limudei kodesh with me, and now the ball is in my court to find the time and energy in my busy schedule to learn with her.  We started learning Perek 11 in Yishaya yesterday (I thought that best exemplified the times of Moshiach portrayed in Nach) and I started feeling more relaxed about the content/skills part.

I'm not sure if Chana would have gotten close to any of the girls in high school.  I'm not sure if being there every day when she didn't have any days off would have made her less receptive, and maybe being there less will make her more receptive.  I really have no way to tell what might have been and time will tell what will be.  I have been davening a lot the last few days to help me cope with my worry and to remember that I do my best and make the best decisions I can, and that the outcome is not in human hands.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

high school chumash and other high school subjects

Chana has been expressing discontent with going to school for a while.  She doesn't like sitting in class for an hour, she finds a lot of it boring, she doesn't like the kids.

This is not exactly how I've been experiencing it.  The girls seem very nice and eager to be friendly to her.  When I've helped her study, I've been very happy with the material she has been learning.  She has spoken about topics that were discussed in class, and I love that she was thinking more deeply about those issues.  There were a lot of things that I don't think we would have done together if we were learning ourselves.  And of course there is no "class discussion" when it is just us.

However, she has been complaining about going in every day and saying that she doesn't want to go.  This has been a source of tension between us, and a source of great pain to her.  It was getting to the point where she was crying when I dropped her off nearly every day.

I was in a lot of conflict.  I am in a lot of conflict.  I still feel like she needs socialization (ha! The dreaded "s" word!  And I'm a homeschooler speaking such!) and that she needs more time to get used to the girls and to hopefully find someone she can become closer with.  On the other hand, it certainly occurs that people go through high school without making close friends or really feeling like they belong with those people.

I went to speak to the principal, and as she has been all along, she blew me away with her kindness and flexibility.  She offered that Chana can try other classes, can switch around classes, can try classes in other grades if we think that will work.

When I told Chana she can stop going, she was so grateful that she agreed to do all my favorite Rambans with me, since I can't rely on school any more for her skills work.  So I have to compile a list of those to go through.  I'm beginning to have that giddy feeling of so many possibilities (Abarbanel, Nechama Leibowitz), which I always feel when I embark on a new homeschool adventure.  This usually being way out of touch with reality.  I remember drawing up a whole schedule for the first year I was doing two grades, 6th and 1st, for Sarah and Chana.  Our schedule ended up being nothing like that.  I had to drop a lot of things that I wanted to do (most memorably Mishna) and really prioritize.

When I asked Chana if she could pick any class in high school, what would she want, she asked for a math class.  She has not been delighted with my math teaching.  (Nor was Sarah before her.)  Since I really want her to experience Judaic studies in high school, I decided to purchase Teaching Textbooks.  Chana originally said that we could finish up geometry and get it for Algebra II.  But I am struggling a bit with geometry and this is made for homeschoolers and is specifically designed to talk straight to the student and leave the mom out of it.  Sounds perfect (though I do love learning Math with her and sharing my joy in it, I am really not a clear teacher and she's suffering for it).  It was pricey at almost $200, but that is a lot cheaper than a tutor and I hope she likes it.  I was considering buying a version off ebay for $75, but I wasn't sure if it was the version that grades itself.  I consulted with Ari and he voted for the new version.
Chana will have to do it every day and be in charge of herself.  I assume if she likes it and it is interesting, she'll do it.

Up until now, Chana was point blank refusing to take any classes in the high school next year.  But now that she is dropping one class (she is continuing with Torah she'baal Peh), she is so much more relaxed and cheerful.  She will look at the schedule come June and choose a class to go to.

So I'm feeling pretty sad that she dropped Chumash and sorry that she won't be learning all the things she was learning that I thought was good for her.  I'm concerned that she won't have the opportunities to make friendships and relationships with the girls in her grade.

On the up side, Chana is hugely more relaxed and happy.

On another note, Chana and my study of Eisav has been going nicely.  I'm not doing heavy mefarshim and often we are left with more questions than answers and she doesn't like the answers I give to the questions we ask, but it's fun and that's what is important.

Why is Eisav called Edom just because he wanted red soup?
(We talked about how it showed a character trait to trade everything for soup and how he didn't even call it soup, but "that red stuff" but she wasn't convinced.)
What did he mean when he sold it because he is dying?
(We talked about that he took risks and figured he'd die before his father [unconvincing] or that he felt what is the point anyway, since he's dying.)
Why did Rivka's argument "the curse will be on me" if Yaakov got caught convince Yaakov?  Yaakov was still responsible because he agreed to it.  And if Yaakov gets fired from a job, his mom saying, "It was my idea" isn't going to convince the boss not to fire him.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

unschooling reading

So on January 4th or so, Aharon, age 4, asked me to teach him the sounds that the letters make.  I told him a few sounds until he had enough, and then we've been haphazardly talking to him about the sounds.  He spends a lot of time on Agario asking me how to spell things numerous times a day, and I hear other family members (Jack, in first grade, Chana in 9th grade) talking to him about sounds of letters.

By the end of January, we were reading Hop on Pop and I realized he probably either could read it or would want to be guided to read it.  Sure enough, he was making his way through the words and absolutely thrilled to blend three letter short vowel sound words.  First hurdle of reading, achievement unlocked.  Now I know he'll be able to teach himself reading or ask for help whenever he wants to up his reading game.

So in summary:

Child #1: homeschooled classically, I taught her the ABCs with flash cards and she learned to read with the Lippencott reader series.

Child #2: somehow learned the ABCs from TV or computer.  When I opened the reader, she asked me to never ever again use the reader.  She read from pausing the TV for Tom & Jerry and Wile E. Coyote, pokemon game on the DS, and cereal boxes for 3 years.  In 4th grade she received a book by Roald Dahl and she started reading it.

Child #3: Learned how to read mainly from minecraft.  He wanted to identify the words he was looking for the most, like "obsidian" and "redstone."  He began by learning the words he cared about the most, then slowly extrapolated.  He wanted lots of help writing words, and we helped him sound things out.  He was reading lots of large words but only began reading sentences when he wanted to learn coding, in 3rd grade.  He still doesn't like to read books, but he is functionally literate, being able to read signs etc.  He will probably learn to read instructions before he reads books, when he badly wants to do something and will need to read.  All of his reading is for the purpose of doing something that he wants to do.

Child #4: Asked to learn how to read at age 5.  Got to lesson #70 of Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Lessons.  When his reading level hit a point where it was functional for what he wanted to do (read information around him and write what he wants to write for games), he asked to stop doing the reader.  He reads constantly during the day.  Although he can read simple books, he doesn't like to.

Child #5: Asked at age 4 for me to teach him the sounds that the letters make, and spent his own time figuring out blending.  Can read basic words.

Although I don't sit any of them down for reading ever, they constantly bombard me.  Chana asks me what a word means probably 5 times a day, or about word usage, or grammar.  Jack (5) asks what more complicated words say.  Today he asked about the word "hour."  Elazar (8) probably asks the least amount of questions because he is currently capable of reading and writing everything he wants to read and write.  Occasionally he'll ask a question like confirming that "good" has two o's.  Aharon asks me what a word says or how to spell a word almost every few minutes it feels like.  Luckily, Elazar and Jack can help him out a lot.  The older boys also went through a very intensive time where they couldn't do anything on the computer and I had to help them write the same words over and over ("minecraft" and "candy crush") until they learned to recognize words and were able to remember how to write the words they wanted.

The fascinating thing about unschooling is that they work so hard at reading.  They spend hours on it.  They are very motivated.  And I answer all their questions and help them out.  But I never ask them.  They always come to me.

I'm only half joking when I say that unschooling is like the lazy parent's dream.  (Haha, as I write this I remembered to yell upstairs that I want Chana to pick a time to do work before it gets too late at night and my math brain shuts off.  The stuff Chana wants me to teach her every day is so complicated it makes me dizzy.)  The idea that I can just be there and be a resource and trust that my children love learning and love thinking and love finding things out and that in the course of pursuing their interests, whatever they may be, they will become literate?  It's a dream come true.

Homeschool Chumash: the High School chronicles

Now that Chana finished the Chamisha Chumshei Torah, I'm not sure what to do next.  It's funny how I so strongly wanted my children to read and translate all of the pshat of Chumash.  I didn't want them to skip around.  I didn't want them to miss any pesukim.  I wanted them to read it the whole way through.  I did that with both Sarah and Chana.

Now that the boys are completely unschooled, who knows what will be.  I still value the idea of going through pshat.  And I hope that when they are old enough to do Shnei Mikra they will actually go through the Parsha inside every week.  But I doubt that we will end up doing Chumash the way I did it with the girls.

But boys aside (I am not dividing boys and girls by philosophy; it just happens that the girls came first and then the boys), now Chana is ready to learn on the next level.

Her skills are medium good but not excellent.  Her rashi skills, in my opinion, are fairly poor but not abysmal.  She is taking Chumash class in the High School where I work.

The question is, do I go for the next level of skills (advanced translation and mefarshim) or do I go for a deeper analysis and understanding of the text?  If you've been reading, you've seen me vacillate back and forth over the question of whether my childrens' moaning about skills was something good and necessary, or if unschooling might have been a better choice.  Or if maybe I could have chosen a different way to teach that would have caused less angst.

But all those questions aside, I think that more skills is not my current priority.  I want Chana to feel the excitement of Torah.

It kind of feels like the Pesach Seder all over again--what topic can I choose in Torah that will excite Chana and show her how intriguing and full of wisdom it is?

Here are some of my thoughts:
Eikev, Perek 8.  Just because I love it.
The Ramban on Shiluach Hakan.  Has the advantage of hashkafa and skills.
But probably the best approach is to ask her which character in Torah is most intriguing to her and to read the pesukim more carefully and see what emerges.
Also, she asked to do more Dovid Hamelech.  So really I should do that, since that's what she asked for.  But I think she just wants me to continue telling it to her like a story.
(And I'm still working on the Moshiach sources.  I got through Yishaya but still have Yirmiyahu, Yechezkel, and Trei Assar.)

Another question I have is should I prepare in advance, like I would (and do) as a teacher?  Or should I sit down with her and relax and see what emerges?

Sunday, February 7, 2016


We kind of yutzed around the morning and then I had a bar mitzva and then it was the superbowl and then I put the boys to bed and then I realized that I had forgotten to do any schoolwork with Chana that day.  I was a bit annoyed and sent her an email saying we would have to do math and science tomorrow.  (We finished Devarim on Friday [chazak! chazak!] and I'm not fully prepared with all of the moshiach sources yet.)

It's 10:15pm and Chana just came in and told me someone online asked her for help with their homework and can I just review molar math with her so she can help this person.  You can imagine I can't really remember molar math all that well, I'm not sure how well I understood it in the first place and it slipped right out of my memory after I taught it to Chana.  But luckily I still have the page saved in my bookmarks and I googled how many grams are in a mole of water because I forgot how to figure that out and then we set up a proportion to answer the question.  So we got math and science.

Edit: I happened to be looking at the conversation and the person asked:

Q: Are you good at chemistry?
A: I'm homeschooled, so I cannot exactly say.  But I enjoy it.

Another edit: we spent another hour and 15 minutes helping this 10th grader with his chemistry homework.  Chana understands molar math a lot better now (and I do, too).  I never would have believed in a million years, if I hadn't seen it for myself, that unschooling would lead to doing 10th grade chemistry for fun for over an hour when she's in 9th grade.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

One of the things I really love about homeschool is that there is no especial rush to get something done.  That means that when we happen across a problem like this, we can chill out and spend over an hour fooling around with it, solving for every single angle in the diagram in terms of x, and then taking our time solving it, so that it's an exploration of the principals we've been learning.

And, as we were working on it, Chana asked if we can please revisit it in a few days to see if she can do it herself and more smoothly.

And I just have to say, yet again, how astonishing and wonderful it is that Chana enjoys playing around with math like this.  And how having the freedom to leave her alone when she was struggling with math for over three years and then pick it up when she wanted to has given her the delight of enjoying math and the confidence that she is mathematically inclined.

I think in school there is often a rush to get through the curriculum.  And it would probably be fun for students to do challenging problems "b'chevrusa," working it out together.  That's assuming that they aren't petrified and stressed by math.   There but for the grace of homeschooling go we.