education · family fun · Homeschool · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 216: Use Your Words

Remember how in school, when the teachers really needed a break, they’d show a movie that was loosely related to the curriculum? Yeah, I pulled that one this afternoon, sitting my kids down in front of Charlotte’s Web (the live-action one from 2006,) which happens to be the novel that R and N are using for their novel study. But that was after I had totally rocked this morning’s writing lesson, so it’s not like I was slacking off—unlike that high-school teacher who played us the entire soundtrack of the Who’s Tommy every class for a couple of weeks running (at least that gave me time to finish my other homework.)

I never thought I’d see the day when Cards Against Humanity would work as an elementary-school lesson plan… but here we are.

All of last week, the writing assignment was to hunt for words in all kinds of places, and write them all down in those neat little notebooks I got the kids. I encouraged them to find words on board games; N wandered around our library picking random words from the spines of books; I handed R an LLBean catalogue, a charity appeal newsletter, and a copy of Wood magazine; K chose words from the songs on her Spotify playlist. Each of us copied our own words onto tiny cards last Friday.

Today I called the kids together for writing, and asked them to bring their word cards to the table. What followed was forty-five minutes of hilarity.

“We’re going to play with words today,” I began, “and we’ll start with insults. Has anybody ever seen the Shakespearian Insult Generator?”

Blank stares and head shakes all around.

“Nevermind. We’re going to use our words to come up with funny insults that sound great but mean nothing. I’ll go first… that guy is such an Iffy Fruiterer.”

They got into the spirit right away. K offered Depleted cellphone charger, and R came up with a few good ones that I forgot to write down. N won, hands down, with Mangled marshmallow mess.

Then I broke out our copy of Cards Against Humanity: Family Edition. We all dug into our own word pools to fill in the blanks.

“Mom? You have to come pick me up! There’s_______________ at this party.” N read aloud. We each considered our cards and then laid out some possibilities:

Haligonian Aviator funk
Cozy pink shoes
Slimy zombie dogs

It was hilarious, made absolutely no sense, and got all the kids using words in new ways. Even better, they had fun, didn’t complain, and can’t wait for tomorrow’s writing lesson. The score today is Eema: one, “I hate writing!”: zero.

blogging · DIY · Homeschool · whine and cheese

Day 215: On top of homeschool but under the weather

My head hurts, and it’s hard to think of what to write when it feels like there’s a unicorn goring your head from the inside. Apologies in advance if this post isn’t up to snuff.

I’m all by my lonesome—the kids are at Mum and Dad’s house and Mr. December is visiting his parents—and I really should be planning for the coming school week. It’s not that there’s a ton of planning, either: I mostly have to read the curricula I’m using to make sure that I know what we’re doing and I have all the materials we’ll need. I guess I should probably arrange the kids’ magnetic schedule boards, too, if only to show that I’m on top of it all.

I need to use some jump rings to connect bead bars so that E can start doing the Montessori short bead chains this week. If I want her to do the serial addition with the golden beads, I’ve also got to make some thousands cubes out of cardboard. I also have to print out the Pirkei Avot copywork. But what I really need right now is sleep, I think. Please excuse me—I’ll try to write more tomorrow.

blogging · crafty · education · family fun · Homeschool · Jewy goodness · Just the two of us · Kids · Uncategorized

Day 214: Is there any problem bribery can’t solve?

Did you know that good intentions do not work like caffeine?

It’s true! I was full of good intentions yesterday, but that didn’t keep me alert and awake long enough to carry them out. In other words, I fell asleep last night right after dinner and completely missed posting day 213. I regret nothing except not writing my post earlier in the day.

We’ve now wrapped up our first week of homeschool. It’s always hard to measure learning—I can tell you what I presented to the kids, but can’t say for sure that they learned it—so I won’t. Instead, I’ll tell you what didn’t happen this week:

  • We didn’t start each morning raising our voices to get the kids out the door, racing the clock, or cursing the traffic.
  • I didn’t spend twenty minutes sitting on the Allen Expressway on the way home from dropping the kids off at school. In fact, I didn’t spend an entire hour of each day sitting in traffic.
  • Nobody had to clean out stinky lunch containers that had sat all week in somebody’s backpack.
  • I didn’t spend my evening fighting with the kids about homework.
  • I didn’t feel like all the time I spent with my kids was stressful or rushed.

For the sake of balance, here’s what did happen this week:

  • Some people woke up early. Some people slept in.
  • Mr. December and I made time to do a bit of stretching and go for a short walk every morning before homeschool started.
  • The kids took breaks when they needed to, usually outside, and worked until they were done.
  • All the assigned work got done.
  • K spent hours developing a new-to-her technique for jewellery making.
  • We had poetry night and movie night; it was no problem when they ran later than bedtime, because we don’t have to get up super-early anymore.
  • I spent yesterday afternoon in the park with R, drinking Starbucks drinks and talking about the weekly Torah portion (more on that in a minute.)
  • I connected with each child over their school work this week and used our relationship to help them get into subjects they otherwise disliked.

All in all, it was a very good week.

I was unsure of how I wanted to approach Torah study in our homeschool, but I knew that I would… somehow. As of last week I had decided to do a class on the weekly parsha, but then I had a better idea: every week, one child would learn the parsha with me and then tell everyone else about it over Shabbat dinner.

When I first announced it, this idea went over like a lead balloon.

I wasn’t willing to change the plan because of the kids’ objections—just think of the precedent it would set—but I’m not opposed to tweaking my ideas. I’m also not opposed to bribery, which I decided to apply in large amounts. I announced it on Thursday night at the dinner table:

“So here’s how parsha is going to work. One lucky kid is going to go somewhere with me for hot chocolate or some other special drink, and then we’ll sit down with our drinks and a treat and learn the parsha together. Then at Shabbat dinner, that kid will teach everyone else a bit of what we learned.”

The response was instant and overwhelming:

“I call being first!” “No, I call being first!” “Can I please be next?”

I had already assigned parsha to R for this week, so yesterday we walked to Starbucks, picked up our pre-ordered drinks (I do like that option,) and sat down in the park to discuss Torah.

Now, I don’t pretend to be a Torah scholar, but I did learn a lot of it in school, and I can read and understand Hebrew fluently. So R and I worked our way through creation, the Garden of Eden, and Cain and Abel. We touched on ideas of whether the stories in the Torah are true; where the text might be hinting at multiple gods; why God created plants and animals “of all kinds” but only a single human; and other ways the Cain and Abel narrative could have gone. She was excited to realize that she knew several verses by heart already, since we sing them every week as part of kiddush (the Shabbat blessing over the wine.) Far from the painful slog I had feared it would be, our discussion was animated and dominated by R’s questions and observations.

R didn’t display the same enthusiasm when it came to sharing her learning at the Shabbat table. I had to prompt her with questions and got relatively short answers in response. But her impression of doing parsha with me is a positive one. In the end, a love of engaging with our sacred texts is a goal that will lead the children to the more specific goals of knowing what the Torah says and what it means for us.

Next week it will be E’s turn to learn with me and present the parsha (which covers Noah and the flood and the tower of Babel) at dinner. I’m envisioning a demonstration with stuffed animals, but she might still surprise me. I’m just happy that she’s already excited about it.

blogging · crafty · DIY · education · Fibro Flares · Homeschool · Kids · love and marriage

Day 212: Never Eat Soggy Waffles

At 9:10 this morning I dumped an armful of supplies on our kitchen table: plastic cups, sharpies, scissors, straight pins, and magnets.

“I thought we were doing geography.” R said flatly.

“We are.” I confirmed. “Sit down.”

We began with the sort of thing you might expect—cardinal directions and map reading skills—and pored over a map of Canada to show the kids how the “far north” places we’ve driven to don’t even touch northern Ontario. This is a big country.

So what about the aforementioned supplies?

At the last minute, just before we started this morning, I remembered a book that explains the science of compasses and shows you how to make your own compass. I tore through the books and supplies, leaving some chaos in my wake, but emerging from the basement with my armful of stuff.

The kids were surprisingly into the DIY compass project. Even K took care to make the compass rose look cool (even though that part was completely optional.) We learned a bit about the earth’s magnetic field and why stroking the pin with a magnet renders the pin magnetic. As it turns out, we knocked geography and science off our list with this one activity.

I’m amazed that I’ve been able to write blog posts that stay on one topic, because the thoughts in my brain are all over the place, all of the time. This afternoon I was ordering groceries online… wondering whatever happened to one of the doctors we were supposed to follow up with… thinking about how soon I could set up my new printer… remembering that I had to work with K on her Bat Mitzvah stuff tonight… realizing that R was shirking her work and thinking about how best to enforce it… with my head still stuck on our writing exercise this morning… confirming the orthodontist appointment for next Thursday… arranging to return something we ordered that just didn’t fit… anxiously wondering when I last paid the VISA bill (easy to verify, but it flits into my mind nevertheless)… all in the same ten-minute period. It’s exhausting.

Speaking of exhausting, Mr. December has had an awful lot of evening meetings (to accommodate several different time zones) that have kept us up past my intended 9:30 bedtime. Tonight he yawned and admitted that he’s really very tired… right before going back into his office for the 8:15 meeting. Poor guy. And poor me. We usually try to go to bed at the same time so we have a few minutes together at the end of the day, but another couple of weeks of this will put me in fibro-flare territory. I’ll just have to go to bed all by my lonesome. If I do it now, I’m on track to get my ten hours of sleep.

education · family fun · Homeschool · Jewy goodness · Kids · waxing philosophical

Day 211: The only pickle I’ve ever liked.

Nothing goes together like poetry and peanut butter, right?

I wanted to make tea biscuits for last night’s Poetry Teatime, but we had no butter left. Instead, I ended up making super-easy three-ingredient peanut butter cookies and serving them with peanut butter chocolate ice cream. Everyone sat on the back porch couch under the infrared heater and snuggled under duvets. We read some Dennis Lee and some Mother Goose (some of my children are woefully deficient in nursery rhyme knowledge!) before I asked everyone to recite a poem they knew by heart. Mr. December recited The Raven, R managed a few verses of The Tyger before she hesitated and we all joined in to help her, and N recited a poem about how “Cats sleep anywhere.” It was a very relaxing end to the day—if you don’t count R yelling at N to share his blanket and N moving across the porch (and away from the heater) just so he wouldn’t have to share.

Today was a decent day, homeschool-wise. Everyone did their work, even K (but only after she yelled at me for a while about grammar and punctuation being stupid.) Two of my kids pointed out errors I had made in the Pirkei Avot copywork sheet, which made me want to sing, “My children have surpassed me!” (Here’s a link to the Talmudic story I’m referencing, for those who don’t know it.) I mean, really, I’m still way beyond them… but sometimes it just feels good to see what Mr. December calls “signs of life.”

The schedule boards all said “Movie Night” tonight. I turned to my Facebook friends for ideas and they came through for me. Out of a list of fifteen suggestions I picked An American Pickle. No spoilers. But if you can see it, do. The kids loved it almost as much as the grownups did.

Mr. December wasn’t planning on watching it, really. He had meetings tonight from 7–7:30 and then at 9; he told us to go ahead and he’d join when he could. “I don’t really like watching movies, anyway,” he reminded us, “so even if it’s something I wouldn’t mind seeing, I don’t mind missing it either.”

At 6:55 p.m. (45 minutes into the movie) Mr. December’s voice piped up, “Anybody want to take a short break for a bit? I kinda want to see the end of this.” I was going to give him my patented I told you so, except that I hadn’t told him so… so uncharacteristically for me, I kept my mouth firmly shut.

The kids gathered around the table with their bedtime snacks. “I don’t get it,” R reflected, “why was he so impressed that his great-grandson had 25 pairs of socks?” I explained that most people would only have had a couple of pairs of socks. This led to the story of my great-uncle who was punished by his father for ruining his shoe—it was his only pair of shoes and the family simply couldn’t afford to buy a new one.

“You guys,” I said, suddenly realizing the enormous can of worms I could open up, “The beginning of the movie? The shtetl, and the people dreaming of a life without Cossacks attacking them? That’s our history. Abba’s grandfather worked in a factory making buttonholes when he came to Canada. This whole thing is your story too!”

R’s eyes grew wide. “What about your grandparents?” she asked.

The story of my maternal grandparents isn’t the one you might expect: it’s different, more interesting, even a bit exotic. So I ran to the library to find Peddlers All, a book of memoirs of the Ashkenazi Jews of Barbados.

“There’s a chapter in here written by Aunty Leah, you know…” I said.

The kids perked up at a name they recognized. “Read it! Read it!” they demanded.

“Oh, and there’s a chapter that Savta [my mum] wrote.”

“Read Savta’s, then Aunty Leah’s.” R directed.

So I did. I stopped to explain, elaborate, and embellish. The children eagerly listened to every word.

Then Mr. December’s meeting ended, he joined us upstairs, and we finished the movie. I have never liked pickles, but An American Pickle was definitely the exception to that rule. It was possibly the funniest movie I’ve seen in years.

It was also an excellent opening to talk to the kids about Jewish history, Jewish identity, and how they are connected to this long, complex, vibrant story that is our people. I could have done months of Jewish history curriculum and not piqued their interest the way this movie did. I guess I’ll start curating a list of Jewish movies to watch… I wonder if Yentl has aged well?

bikes planes and automobiles · education · Homeschool · Independence · Jewy goodness · Keepin' it real · Kids

Day 210: So, How’d It Go?

Today was our first day of homeschool. After all the preparation I did, it felt very anticlimactic. N and R did their work pretty enthusiastically (although R was having trouble focusing), E did a very little bit, and K worked hard on her math but balked at the writing assignment.

“It’s easy!” I said for the millionth time. “You’re just hunting for words. Any words. Just find words in a bunch of different places and write them in the tiny notebook I gave you. Take words from this pile of catalogues. Borrow words from the spines of the books in our library. Snatch them from the lyrics of songs. I don’t care what the words are and I don’t care where you find them. Just do it.”

K went into anger mode: “It’s so pointless! Why are we even DOING this? It doesn’t make ANY SENSE!” And on she ranted. I walked away. I still don’t know whether she actually did the assignment or not.

My short Pirkei Avot lesson went pretty well, with a very animated discussion of what it means to “Make a fence around the Torah” and a demonstration of the unbroken chain of transmission of the Torah. The latter featured the six of us and a chocolate bar. It was my take on the Jewish custom of putting sweets in a child’s first school books so that they associate learning Torah with sweetness. Judging from my kids’ reactions, Pirkei Avot will be a popular lesson in future weeks as long as I always bring treats.

The copywork for it, though, was only done by R, and even then only partly. She insisted that she didn’t know how to write Hebrew letters; they “might have tried” to teach her at school but she never learned. I don’t see how that’s possible—I’ve seen her Hebrew homework over the years—although maybe she had a lot of help with her written work at school. However it happened, I’m a bit miffed. Six years in Hebrew Day Schools, the last three in a school with a “rigorous” Hebrew program, and my kid can’t write Hebrew in grade four? I want my tuition money back.

One of today’s highlights for me was biking with the kids to their dentist appointments. The fresh air and exercise in the middle of the day was good for all of us. When I went to retrieve N from his, E insisted on riding her bike alongside me. It’s only about a kilometre of mostly-flat road. Still, she biked hard and was exhausted at the end.

(Here I must interject to say how excited I am that at least two of my children can travel to and from their own dentist appointments independently. I accompanied them each one way because they wanted me to.)

All this is to say that really, today went about as well as I expected, if not as well as I’d hoped. It wasn’t a “normal” day for us, though, with dentist appointments (for two of the kids) in the morning and an optometrist appointment in the afternoon (speaking of which, N needs glasses.)

Tonight we’re having poetry teatime, for which E is going to help me make tea biscuits. And then I hope to go to bed nice and early so I can wake up tomorrow morning and do it again.

education · Homeschool · Jewy goodness · Kids

Day 209: As Ready as I’m Gonna Be

I’ve made some last-minute changes to my homeschool plans.

Yesterday I thought better of my idea of doing the same novel study with all three big kids. I asked K to choose a book from a more advanced list; instead, she looked at the most advanced list and said, “This one has all the good books that I want to read!” She had a point: the list included Life of Pi, Pride and Prejudice, Fahrenheit 451, Animal Farm, I am Malala, and The Lightning Thief. If there’s one thing I already know as a homeschooler, it’s that if the kid shows excitement and interest, go with that. So last night saw me downloading a Boomerang (the Brave Writer novel study unit, not the Australian weapon) for The Lightning Thief.

I won’t bore you with all the details, but I’ve tried tonight to get the materials ready to a point where the kids will be excited about getting started. I’ve bought them special mini-notebooks for our first writing project. These I paired with matching pens. The kids caught sight of them and were already eager to start writing in them. E illustrated the cover of hers. You can buy curriculum, but you can’t buy excitement like this… but you can buy cute new school supplies, and that’s almost the same thing.

I’m starting tomorrow off with some Hebrew and Judaic Studies: we’ll be learning Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) which is sort of a “greatest hits” of rabbinic Judaism. All the good quotes are from Pirkei Avot. We’ll discuss the first line, then I’m assigning it as copywork so they can practice their Hebrew writing and reading skills. I’ve got Hebrew notebooks (with the aleph-bet on the back in print and script, for those who aren’t sure) ready, the copywork lines are printed out (in both print and script, which was way harder than it should have been because Google Docs was inadequate), and I think that’s as ready as I’m going to get tonight.

I look forward to regaling you with stories of our first day of homeschool tomorrow. In the meantime, wish me luck.

Fibro Flares · Homeschool · Just the two of us

Day 208: Way Too Late

Ten hours.

That’s how much sleep I need each night to be at my best. I know some people who do very well on six hours; that’s the kind of sleep schedule that would have me fibro-flaring in under a week. Mr. December laughs that he doesn’t know how I can possibly sleep so much, and he and the kids have nicknamed me “The Sleep-apillar.” I don’t mind the teasing—I often sleep right through it—because they’re right: I sleep a lot when I have the chance.

One of the wonderful things about being at the cottage was the hours we kept. With no internet surfing (we could have, but agreed not to) and lighting so dim that we couldn’t really do much after dark anyhow, we went to bed between nine and nine-thirty almost every night. I woke up almost every day having had a solid ten hours of sleep. It was amazing.

Evenings are completely different now that we’re back at home. Our house is very well lit—Mr. December made sure of it—and most of the LED bulbs are what they call “daylight”, with a colour temperature of 5000K. It may be night, but with all the lights on in here my brain won’t believe it. We both have blue light filters and nighttime settings on our computers (which have helped us to feel tired at eleven instead of one) but the major problem is the sheer number of distractions available to us on the internet.

Whatever the reason, for the last week we’ve been going to bed way too late: around eleven or even midnight each night. And even though I’m definitely getting eight hours of sleep most nights, it’s not enough. I feel tired only because we’re too undisciplined to turn off the light and go to sleep earlier. I’m starting to feel the way I did before COVID turned our world upside down, and I promised myself I’d work hard not to feel that way again.

Once we start homeschooling, two days from today, I’ll have to wake up earlier than I have been. I’ll also have to be “on” more than I’m accustomed to. The only way this is going to work for me is if I get into the habit of going to sleep by 9:30; anything later is just too late. Maybe I should get the kids to tuck me in before they go to bed, or ask Mr. December to please get off his computer earlier and drag me upstairs. What definitely won’t work is just saying that I’m going to bed early from now on. Like the commercial says: if I could have done it alone, I would have done it already.

crafty · DIY · education · Homeschool · Just the two of us · whine and cheese

Day 208: Too Much Information?

Something’s wrong with this, but I can’t figure it out.

The magnetic notice boards I ordered from IKEA arrived today. We’d just finished going over the schedule and deciding how much time we needed every week for each subject, and I went downstairs to finish printing, laminating, and cutting the magnets.

I had the magnets all printed, laminated, cut, and ready to go; so when the magnetic notice boards I ordered from IKEA finally arrived this morning, I was eager to try them out. I used ⅛” wide masking tape to create the grid and filled in the times and days. Then Mr. December and I went to town with the magnets, slapping them down and rearranging them until we were satisfied with the result.

But the next time I looked at it, it suddenly seemed overwhelming and confusing to me. I’m not sure why. Is there just too much information in one place? Is it just that the asymmetry of the board is visually uncomfortable? Are the grid lines too thin, or too close together? I was suddenly a lot less sure of this system.

“Maybe this kind of board should just be for our own reference, and the kids should have a board that just shows the current day’s work?” I suggested to Mr. December. “If it’s overwhelming for me, how would it be for R — she’s only nine!”

I already knew what he would say, and he didn’t disappoint: “It’s already made. Let’s try it for a week or two and see how it goes.”

Here’s where my perfectionism and my “go big or go home” mentality work against me. I want to start the school year off with everything we need, including materials and supplies that look beautiful and are ready to use. From that perspective, I don’t really want to use a test version. I want to have something solid.

(If only the local school board had taken that approach to e-learning. I hear it was a total mess. If only there was some way to test an online platform before going live… and to test each student’s connection before the first class… if only they’d had, like, a whole summer to work on the launch of e-learning. Oh, well. I’m sure they did their best. Right?)

I’m too tired to figure this out tonight. Mr. December and I spent most of the day working out our plan. All we did was talk for six hours, but it was exhausting. I have way more empathy now for people who have to sit through endless meetings. I think I’ll go to bed soon, then wake up in the morning and attack it with fresh eyes. Either that or I could distract myself with a craft: I obviously need my magazine files to be covered in pretty fabric before school starts, right?

DIY · education · goodbye clutter! · Homeschool · Jewy goodness · Just the two of us · Keepin' it real · Kids · love and marriage

Day 207: It’s so quiet in here!

My parents and my in-laws joined us for Shabbat dinner in the sukkah tonight. A good time was had by all (BY ALL!), and then I pulled an Oprah.

“Thanks so much for coming. Tonight I’m sending you home with a special loot bag… everyone gets a kid! YOU get a kid! And YOU get a kid! And YOU get a kid!”

Yes, I farmed my kids out to their grandparents tonight. Mr. December and I are alone in the house, just the two of us.

“You two behave yourselves while you’re alone together in this house!” My mom joked as she buckled E into dad’s car.

“I’ll try,” I shot back jovially, “but I’m not sure I can resist a man who’s up to his ears in math curriculum.”

This is adulthood, isn’t it? There’s nobody here but me and my husband, and we’ve got big plans for the weekend, all of which involve homeschool planning. There’s a notable absence of romance in our itinerary. We’re going to be getting stuff done this weekend—and we’re happy about that. Welcome to middle age. Population: me and my Mr.

Speaking of getting things done, today I snatched my week from the jaws of procrastination. I made challah, printed and cut all the magnets for the kids’ schedule boards, ordered groceries online (they were delivered two hours later), and organized my command centre shelf that’s been a dumping ground for a long time now. Mr. December mentioned a few times this week that the mess was annoying and he couldn’t find anything.

“Wait a minute,” I said, “whose command centre is it?”

“Everyone’s.” He seemed sure of his answer, but I set him straight.

Anyhow, I’m wishing I had taken a “before” picture, but I didn’t even think of blogging about it until much later. The “after” is pretty cool, though. Check it out:

This is a fabulous example of why I don’t throw out leftovers from my projects. The pegboard is made up of two offcuts from when I organized my sewing space; it just so happened that they fit this cabinet perfectly. The various cups, hooks, and rods were leftovers and rejects from my pantry, but I never bothered returning them to IKEA. It’s so nice to be able to decide spontaneously to organize a space right now, and just go downstairs to get everything I need.

All in all, the project took an hour and a half, which included carefully going through all of the kids’ weekly charts for the last six months before unceremoniously dumping them in the recycling (who am I kidding? I’m never going to read those.) I found five pairs of scissors (big apologies to my kids, whom I accused of taking all the scissors and losing them), three calculators, and four boxes of staples in the clutter. I felt so productive.

I still haven’t called the window company about replacing the broken attic window, though. I guess I can’t do that until Tuesday (Monday is a holiday here, for those of you outside of Canada). In the meantime, I’m going to turn the lights down low, pour some Bailey’s into my vanilla tea, sit down next to Mr. December… and start working out our plans for the next three weeks.