education · Guest Posts · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · snarky · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 565: Homeschooling Backstory Part 2 (Guest Post)

Ed. note: He’s back! Did you know that Mr. December’s posts get higher stats than mine do? Anyhow, enjoy the next instalment in his gripping tale of woe bravery evidence-based research.

In my last installment I talked about our initial journey, and how we started to hit a wall with our kids. I had never taught before (well, I was a teaching assistant in university,) so there was a lot of making things up as we went. One idea was to set crushing expectations in order to catch up quickly and justify our life choices (and perhaps even our social status.) So no choices, but plenty of rewards and punishments. We figured that even if this failed, we could shift the blame to the children by talking about “grit” a lot (Read any Prof Duckworth paper on grit – do you see now how your failures are your own fault?) Maybe we could enroll them in a relaxation course so that they could internalize that high-stress schooling is a normal, acceptable occurrence. Anyways, rewards and punishments seemed awesome, and we used this to get past the initial objections from our kids. We had a few more problems though: 

  • No way to punish K: She didn’t like computer games, and didn’t need a lot from us. Rewards and punishments also don’t help when skills or structure are the issue (as opposed to motivation). Her stubbornness also meant without buy-in there would be no progress. Anyways, we quickly understood why her teachers made like Elsa and just Let It Go.
  •  N was a relentless optimizer: He loves computer games, so taking them away was an effective punishment. But he’d do the absolute minimum, juuuuust enough to meet the bar, with the minimum learning. He’d also ask questions like “okay, if I don’t do that, how much screen time do I lose?” so he could weight his options, and once you got past a threshold he would simply say “well, I don’t get screens today, so I won’t do any work either”. So despite his brilliance, progress was hella slow, and we knew extended conflict would grind down our relationship with him over time. 
  • R was mostly doing fine: She was a great writer but needed time to write stories not do worksheets. She was behind but compliant in math, but had a lot of trouble focusing. Rewards and punishments didn’t seem fitting here either.
  • E was only 5: We eventually enrolled her in part-time online school. We added in a bit of math, but mostly we figured, meh, she’s 5. 

In the last post, we had some early successes but now needed a new philosophy. Fortunately for me, I have a secret weapon against ignorance: extensive research. I have a high capacity for technical detail, so I got a dozen books on education & homeschooling, which I read cover to cover, as well as many research papers and a few education websites (my favourite was Alfie Kohn’s blog). 

You may not have the time or interest, so here is my summary of my learning: 

Public schools suck. Schools suck, including private schools, which suck in different ways. Your school sucks, and the way your children are taught sucks. Grades suck, competition sucks, and coercion sucks. The rewards you gave that you thought made you better than other parents also suck. If you teach at a school, maybe you don’t suck personally, but you probably do, and just listen to this teacher of the year talk about how he sucks too so don’t feel too bad. Even if your kids don’t suck when they enter school, they will by the time they leave, and if they don’t suck by some miracle they’ll be anxious and unhappy, go into the wrong fields to please you, burn out and then hate you later. 

To summarize the summary: Modern education systems will produce the suckiest bunch of sucks who ever sucked and your kids will be personally be the suckiest of the bunch of sucks who ever sucked. 

I don’t feel this way about the education system (they do a lot of things very right,) so I was surprised at how negative some sources were. Even worse, there was some publishing mishap where the chapters that deal with what to do differently were missing (it’s surprising how common this issue was.)

But whether you see it that way or not, this was a great result for me: I could not do worse. 

Since my older two kids were, in postmodernist educational parlance, “sucking big time,” I had the luxury of choosing my path. With an Alfie Kohn video playing dramatically in the background, I took that 50% math test and put it in the garbage. That was the last grade I ever gave. I’m not saying grades aren’t important – they are so, so important – and here is a chart highlighting the value they have by age range: 

Child’s AgeFucks You Should Give About Grades In Homeschool
11-140 + 0i
15-17e(3iπ/2)+ i
18Just make up a bunch of grades and submit them to universities – what are they going to do, call your principal? 

I did later understand better the power of review, which we do more of, and I still need to add in some testing for learning. 

I kept hoping someone would recommend bringing spanking back, but no one did. Very few modern experts even advocated for reward/punishment based systems: they talked about being “student centric”—as if our previous education attempts were just for our own benefit. 

Okay, all good. But what to do next? Stay tuned.

About the Guest Author: Mr. December is an engineer and homeschooling dad who also moonlights as a blogger sometimes. He likes data, writers who cite their sources, spreadsheets, and his kids. He also has great hair.

education · Guest Posts · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · Kids · Montessori · snarky · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 562: Once More with Rigor

Ed. note: This is a guest post by Mr. December.

(Homeschool Backstory Part 1)

Our kids’ school careers began at Montessori. Every day N and K would come home and tell us how much fun they had, puttering around the classroom doing random materials with their friends, with no homework whatsoever. It didn’t seem rigorous enough. They needed something more: evenings of tear-filled pointless homework where we’d eventually do most of it for them. High pressure testing to give the school bragging rights. Music pieces that they hated with lots of difficult notes. Remember: if they’re not resisting practice, it isn’t rigorous enough. You’ll need shorter lunchtime and recesses to make room for all the rigor of course. 

So we pulled our happy kids out of Montessori and put them into school #2, which was supposed to be more rigorous in both English and Hebrew curriculum. In terms of happiness it was perfect – both kids were miserable within weeks. But it wasn’t working academically. The math curriculum proceeded glacially, with one assignment asking the kids to write a story about 7×3 (true!). Most assignments were so abstract that I could not see what a right or wrong answer might look like (such as: “what are the physical and emotional state differences between two mountains?”), yet alone how I would do the work myself. In one math test, K got every number right and every spelling wrong – final grade: 50%. The best objection I could muster was to write “Grate Work” on her assignment when I signed the test. 

Maybe we needed to face the fact that whatever the hell this school was teaching, my kids weren’t good at it. When the school complained K was late 19.0 times, I saw my opening. After asking repeated questions about why a float instead of integer – is there a way to be late 0.5 of a time? – I wrote a (spoof) email asking if she was the most late in the school, saying we were looking to find things she was good at to encourage her. But alas, talking to other parents, 19.0 was nowhere close to the record – several overachievers were late every single day. K’s dream was to be late 0.5 of a time, but they wouldn’t tell us the secrets of how to do so. We tried everything – just a minute late, half a day late, late but didn’t get the slip, late and then forget something in the car to be even later, but nothing worked. 

The next year we switched the older two kids into a public gifted program (school #3), which was wonderful socially, but didn’t seem to help academically. 

So along came COVID, the kids were home, and suddenly we could see clearly what was going on. Nothing. Nothing was going on. Our kids were terrible at school and did not know their fundamentals in math or writing. Oops, my bad. 

Okay, so what to do – I figured the best thing was to back to rigor. Put the “fun” back in fundamentals. S said to forget public school – let’s try out homeschooling. Teach the basics, and once they learn their fundamentals, power them through the grades. And, perhaps surprisingly, it actually worked, in the short term – the math instruction and drills worked wonders, with the kids’ accuracy improving and their processing time cut in half. I was starting to think I could even work in a few humble brags. But then we hit the wall: they didn’t want to do two hours of Kumon every day plus the basics of writing. 

Okay, no problem, I thought, I’ll make my own rigorous work. Math was easy: Every last Kumon math problem done correctly, in order, for a certain amount of time each day. That seemed rigorous enough. 

Then I got stuck, as it turns out I didn’t know about anything except math. No matter, we created our four pillars of non-incompetence: 

  • Math: A goal of being two years ahead. I figured that lofty goal would satisfy most people and then they’d forget about it.
  • English: No idea, but that’s S’s problem
  • Science: I could not remember anything I did in elementary or middle-school science. Did we even do chemistry? Was it just a bunch of digging in dirt? Wait – thermocline – I remembered that word, for when water changes temperature depending on depth. But I think that was grade 9, so I figured I’d wait to teach them that gem. For now, we just joined HENSE*
  • Everything else not in the other three: This is S’s problem, so I left it to her, with the only condition that it be rigorous

Now that we had a model, I figured I’d start with a math test: what could be better for rigorous evaluation? That would show the parents we’re not total idiots. So I used a New Jersey grade 5 math test, and then my son got 50%. He rushed through, didn’t know some terms, and there was this one question I had no idea how to solve either (see below). 

What the &^$% does this diagram even mean? Who would do division this way? At least we know it isn’t to scale—that’s really helpful, thanks.

So what should I do now? Punish? Reward? Unschool? Back then I saw unschooling as the opposite of rigor: sprinkle (sorry, strew) some books around and they’ll be 18 and out of the house in no time! 

Stay tuned for the next installment of my journey.

Ed. note: Mr. December offered to change the last two words to “our journey”. I declined. The views expressed in this guest post are those of the writer, and do not necessarily represent the views of all of us here at SweetCrunchyJewy. -S

*HENSE: Home Educators with No Science Education

family fun · Guest Posts

Day 508: And now, this message from R.

First off, a very happy birthday to my mum, who has reached the age of x where x=(whatever age you think is old)-5.

I keep asking the kids to write guest posts for my blog; to date, not one of them has stepped forward. It’s not that I have nothing new to say—I’m full of interesting anecdotes and musings—but it would be nice to take some days off. I’m sure you’re nodding and agreeing that yes, I should take a break, but I won’t. I’ll drag myself to the keyboard and write something if it’s a daily habit, but if I start skipping days or promising that I’ll post once a week, it won’t happen.

Hey, wait! R said she’ll write tonight’s post. I leave you in her capable hands.

Image description: the back of a girl’s head, in front of a computer screen. For the record, that’s R a few minutes ago, typing her piece.

At 12:30 we (meaning Me, Eema, N, k, Sabba, and Savta) went to Sunset Grill to have brunch where we ate almost all the food that we ordered; after brunch N, Sabba, Savta, and I got into Sabba’s car and decided what to do next. N and I said we wanted to do mini golf, and at first that seemed to be what was going on; but… we ended up going to a really cool park. After a while of playing at the park we all went to Sabba and Savta’s house. When we got there it was already 2:35 or some time around then; we just hung around for the next couple of hours. Then around four Savta and I went to pick up her car from the repair shop; on the way back I insisted on getting some dounts. Specially for me I got a cinnamon bun. When E and Eema came up we hung out for a while then had dinner. Ema, E, and I went home; N decided to stay at Sabba and Savta’s. When we got home i put some fries up and K and Abba went to get jerk chicken (it’s just chicken with a spicy sauce called ‘jerk sauce’.) So for my second dinner I had jerk chicken and french fries. A while later me and Abba played some roblox.

See, this is the benefit of letting my kids read my posts over my shoulder as I type them: eventually one of them will offer to write something as a guest blogger. Thanks, R!

bikes planes and automobiles · blogging · family fun · Guest Posts · Kids

Day 416: A Review Of Mother’s Day (Guest Post)

Today R decided to write a guest blog post: a behind-the-scenes look at how my Mother’s Day treat got picked up. I did correct the name of the bakery and I did a bit of capitalization clean-up, but all the words (and most of the punctuation, including the semicolon) are R’s. Enjoy.

Yesterday at 8:25 Abba woke me up saying “Were going to pick up scones for mothers day.” We biked to Baker and Scone and stood in a line for what felt like forever. We were only really standing there for fifteen to twenty minutes before we realized we were in the wrong line; apparently, for pick up, you just walked up to the door and they’ll bring you your order. We were standing in the line to order from the store/restaurant. While a worker went to get our order E decided to get off her bike, and tripped over over what I think was the wooden porch and hit her head right over one of the ears (can’t remember if it was the right side or the left.) Once we got our order and made sure it was secured on Abba’s and K’s bikes we headed off. N and Abba went a bit ahead, so me and K stayed with E to make sure she was okay. When we were only a block away from the store I checked on E to make sure she was okay. E said she had a headache, so once we crossed the street and joined Abba and N on the other side E told Abba about her headache and Abba called Ema to pick E up. Despite there being room for one more bike and a person, Abba made me, K and N bike home. When we got home and washed our hands, I went to swing in the attic, only to be called down five minutes later to eat our scones. We had to do school on Sunday because it worked better with Abba’s schedule. Sunday was an all-math day. And I’m almost done grade five in math! Around three we got out of school and I got online with my friends.

There you have it. They all went out to pick up treats and then I got called to drive over and rescue one of them; so not only did I get scones and jam, I also got the gift of feeling needed. Not to mention, of course, the gift of not having to think of what to blog about for two days in a row. Now, that’s really something.

family fun · Guest Posts · Independence · Keepin' it real · Kids · parenting · water you paddling? · whine and cheese

Day 190: Guest post by K, commentary by me.

I did not want to do a lot of stuff today but my parents dragged us all out onto the water. I would have stayed home but I was promised brownies. I thought I was getting normal sized brownies, buuuut nnnoooooooo… of course they were one bite brownies. Yes, one bite. Not two. One. One normal bite is the size of those brownies but i only take tiny nibbles so i managed to get a lot of bites out of that brownie anyways…

The trip. the trip was meh. We started out by getting into canoes and kayaks. I did not want to go but my dad convinced me with brownies. I just wanted quiet but no. R just had to be in the canoe and kept talking the entire trip and my arms were hurting. When we got to the island we ended up running through pointy bushes.

Okay, I’m back now. K had to stop so she could go to bed.

Do you need closure on that anecdote? We had canoed (and kayaked) across the lake and tied up our watercraft at a bridge. We told the kids it was time to explore, and once again we hung back and allowed them to lead us. Mr. December and I disagreed about the implementation: I argued that we should be teaching them how to use a compass and a map, and what to do if they get lost, before turning them loose in the woods; he countered that he was trying to encourage them to be fearless and to relish the exploration. As usual, the disagreement wasn’t resolved. The kids eventually were able to lead us back to the boats.

It’s amazing, the amount of complaining coming out of that kid. Right now she’s going through a growth spurt or something, because she’s eating all. the. time. An hour after breakfast she warmed up a huge bowl of chicken soup for herself. She warmed it in a pot, which she then left on the stove (which she left on) while she went to eat it. Sated, she brought the bowl and spoon back to the kitchen and left them on the counter. Later on, N was cleaning up and accidentally knocked the bowl over. Soup and noodles spilled all over the counter and the floor, and then I noticed the pot with the burned bottom and a few sad carrots sitting in it.

Lest it sound like I’m digressing, I’ll finish the thought. The complaining is incredible because in reality, she does very little without being told, then nagged. And, like all of her siblings, she needs to be constantly redirected back to the task at hand. It’s exhausting. I’m almost ready to give up on chores and just do it myself, because it’s a heck of a lot less frustrating some days.

Someone with adult kids — please tell me it’s just the age and they’ll grow out of it. Please.

blogging · Guest Posts · Kids

Day 185: Guest Post by E!*

*This post was transcribed exactly as dictated to me by E.S

I’m starting writing a book. It’s about Chickaletta’s and Bubbles’ inventures! Chickaletta is a chicken stuffy and Bubbles is an elephant stuffy. I treat them like they’re real.

I used my Hannukah money from Aunty Leah and Uncle Benny to buy Bubbles. And I was reading, so I got a prize, and Eema got me Chickaletta at the farmer’s market for my prize.

I even drawed pictures of both of them. There are pictures together, and there’s pictures where I just tried drawing Bubbles. ‘Cause if you’re drawing Chickaletta, she’s easy to draw for me.

Now I’m gonna read you about my book so far:

“Chickaletta, do you know where we are?”


Bubbles said, “We’re going inside a portal!”

“Where are we now?” asked Chickaletta.

“We’re on top of the giant underbelly!”

“BRAAAAAWWWK!” said Buk-Buk.

I’ll tell you when my book’s done. But Eema has to tell you when I’m done in her blog post.

About our Guest Author:

E is five years old. She loves to snuggle, play with her Paw Patrol toys, and have stories read to her. She is currently working on her first book, The Adventures of Chickaletta and Bubbles. This is her first blog post.

blogging · education · Guest Posts · Keepin' it real · parenting · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 125: Guest Poster – Mr. December!

This is Mr. December – here to guest write a blog post on “deschooling”. I had not heard of deschooling — which is apparently a way to transition kids from a heavily-scheduled externally dictated learning style to a more self-motivated way of learning — until a few days ago, and it seems, at first glance, very different from my approach. However I now see a path to reconcile the two views. 

First, let me note my agreement that children are designed to be outside and playing. Traditional school with long periods of focused study are not easy for children, and it is not realistic to expect this. We need to focus on where they are as individuals as opposed to some pre-conceived notion of what ideal, obedient children are like. We need to accept our children for who they are, including what they can and cannot do — hence the need for daily stimulant medication that requires photo ID to pick up at the pharmacy (i.e. Ritalin.) 

My modest proposal for de-schooling:

8:30 a.m.
Encourage the children to wake up on their own, perhaps by gently splashing a cup of cold water on them if they feel that today they need more time.

9:15 a.m.
Encourage them to learn math for 2 hours, cheerleading them on with privileges when they do. This is fully self-directed – any way that they want to approach math is fine. Even de-schoolers recognize the need for some structure, therefore we have a very small number of straightforward guardrails: Must use the Kumon materials for their current ability level, and complete the arbitrarily assigned number of pages each day.

11:15 a.m.
“Strew” a math test in front of them, which is completely optional, just like the screen time they hope to have later. 

12:15 p.m.
Lunch. This too is self-directed; for our older child this means independently baking a huge mug brownie which she then consumes.

1:00 p.m.
Free time. They can play outside or engage in self-directed learning as they please. We do note, however, that if they don’t do their typing practice and “Winning With Writing” workbook they’ll have no privileges.

3:30 p.m.
Encourage them to practice piano or violin (they play different instruments), but underscore the choice and agency they have, which in some ways is similar to our agency as parents in deciding whether to serve dessert later that day.

5:30 p.m.
Cheerlead them through their chores – laundry, setting the table for dinner, cleaning up and so on.

8:30 p.m
Gently encourage them to go to bed or find the sleep cycle that works best for them.

9:00 p.m.
More gentle encouragement to go to sleep – each child knows their own body best, and we respect their choices and agency. 

9:30 p.m.
Continue to encourage bedtime, telling them that if they are not all lying in bed silently in the next 5 minutes, Mean Mommy will come out to yell at them and will take away all privileges for the next week, so help me God! 

10:00 p.m.
Set a good example by turning in early, reading only for a few minutes

10:15 p.m.
“R, please go back to your room and go to sleep. All of us need sleep.” 

10:20 p.m.
“N, stop reading – it is bedtime!”

10:21 p.m.
Is K talking on her phone to someone? Let’s turn this into a playful learning experience by hiding her phone somewhere in the house – hours of fun self-directed searching! 

10:45 p.m.
“Get the fork back into bed, all of you! We cannot help you sleep!”

11:30 p.m.
Read for just a few more minutes – we’re this close to the end of the chapter.

12:30 a.m.
Finally put down our phone or book and go to sleep.

About the guest author:

Mr. December is an engineer, published author (for real!), father, husband, part-time chicken, and all-around smartass. He rejects modern educational theory and has embraced the enduring methods of the past, when children’s self-esteem was derived from their ability to actually achieve something.

blogging · education · Guest Posts · Kids

Day 113: Another Guest Blogger!

Hello it’s N here! I’m bored so I’m writing today! I hate how we have to do work in the summer! And we have to do MORE WORK THAN WE USUALLY DO! I hate this homeschool curriculum! And if I didnt have to do all this work I would probably be spending alot of time with my family and friends. (And I would spend some of it on the computer (I’m 50% sure of all of that)). By the way, do any of you have/like the cat game? I do! (though I mostly spend all my time on it on the chat/club chat). I just purposely spell overything wrong on it and say gibberish. That’s how I got every one to send me to join their group!

Me again.

Okay, that was interesting. N complains about homeschool the least out of all four kids, so I was a bit surprised to read this. By the way, I edited it a bit because I can’t stand it when they don’t capitalize the word “I”, and run-on sentences make my head hurt, but none of the words were changed. I don’t understand one bit of how spelling things wrong in chat gets people to ask him to join their group — I think we need to have another serious conversation about internet safety and our rules (i.e. It’s ok to “friend” people you know in real life, but no strangers.)

A few weeks ago he told me about a movie he was making. Cynically, I assumed that the kids were hamming it up with someone’s phone recording a video of them. Today N finally dragged me over to the computer and showed me the screenplay he wrote for said movie. It was even formatted correctly for a script, with character names in all caps and stage directions in italics. The dialogue sounded natural and it had a plot.

“Where did you learn how to write a screenplay?” I asked.

“Oh,” he said breezily, “I just copied the format from that Harry Potter book that isn’t a real Harry Potter book.”

“You mean The Cursed Child?

“Yeah, that one. I did it the way that author did.”

At which point I turned to Mr. December and mouthed, “He wrote two pages of a screenplay. With plot! And correct formatting! And he figured it out himself from other books! This is unschooling!”

You see, that screenplay is the longest thing I’ve seen him write in… well, actually, ever. And it was good! He’s currently writing the sequel.

Does this mean that we can abandon our systematic workbook-based program? In a nutshell, no. But it is reassuring when the kids show us they’re capable of producing good work without nagging or prodding. And if The Sibling War and its sequel The Pizza War ever make it to the big screen, you can tell everyone that you’ve known about them since the beginning.

blogging · education · family fun · Guest Posts · Kids

Day 89: Guest post by K!

My stomach is bothering me and I don’t feel like writing, so I’m handing this over to a guest poster (K). Behold: the intersection of lazy parenting, child labour, and homeschool writing! Enjoy.

Today was a work day. My mom and dad had the dumb idea to take us on a “field trip” but it was just us driving 40 minutes away (which is like a bajillion hours kid time) just to walk in a circle for 4 kilometres and then another 40 minutes to go back home. And sure, there were trees and it was nice (aside from the swarm of mosquitos trying to eat me alive — I have a very bad reaction to mosquito bites), but unlike a school “field trip” (schools don’t know the difference between a “fun field trip” and pain,) you don’t get the rest of the day off; you still have to do the same amount of work. I had to do 3 sections of writing (that’s five double-sided pages per section) and 5 double sided pages of math. so we were a day behind. I ended up working all day today, and when I finally finished all the math (in the end I got to do just one double-sided page of math in exchange for writing a math contest. It still took all day,) we played a round of Betrayal Legacy (a board game) and then took a break and then played another round. So I had almost no free time today and now my entire weekend system is messed up. I hope we never have another “field trip” and have to do work after.

Today is also the last day before R and E come home from the candy shop (AKA the grandparents’ house) so tonight is the last night for me to finish all the kugel before they get here and eat it (quick math problem: I have one kugel and someone takes it by force. How many kugels do I have? Answer: one kugel and a dead body). lucky for me i was hungry when I woke up and managed to eat an entire thing of kugel (ow, my stomach. It was worth it). I also finished off most of the seaweed (from a giant box — I love seaweed), so that was fun. Now all I have to do is make sure the dolls are in position for my epic prank (Imma scare the pants off R); I still have to set it up though. Bbbuuuutttt… before i do that i plan to start watching The Good Place season 4, and that’s my plan for tonight (notice that my plan does not involve sleeping…)

K’s Note: mom edited everything so if it sounds like she wrote it thats because she kind of did (she edited it to her style)

My note: I edited for capitalization and punctuation, and took K’s footnotes and turned them into parentheses. only about five words were omitted. I think it’s still faithful to the original. Thanks K!

K’s note: no it’s not.

My note: GO TO BED!

K’s note: sleeping is not on tonights schedule also what happened to watching the good place?

Me: The heck it isn’t. What happened was a pretty funny blog post. Now GO TO BED!

K: no

Me: *SMH*

About the guest author:

K is a twelve-year-old firecracker of a kid. She likes swings, chocolate, and being crazy. Her arguing skills are legendary and most days she can be found arguing everything from alarm clocks to school work to bedtime. K lives in an awesome house with her two parents and three annoying siblings.