DIY · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · mental health

Day 493: On second thought…

Remember when I was all excited and said I was going to make up my own curriculum? This week I’m thinking that’s a bad idea.

As creative and awesome as I am (modest, too,) it would take a lot of work to put together a curriculum that I’d be satisfied with. I just don’t have that kind of time. I’d rather let someone else do the work and leave myself time and mental energy to actually be with the kids in mind as well as in body.

So I spent today looking at curricula again, and I think I’ve got it sorted out. I’m loving that All About Reading has a “try it for a year” policy where you can return the program (used, in any condition) if it doesn’t work for you.

I think this will be a year of learning things systematically—like writing. The whole “write what you know” and “write to express yourself” approach has not worked for N, whose motto is, “How short can I make this and still get my screen time?” I think he needs a structured approach that more closely resembles math. K would benefit from that too—a formula would help her get past writer’s block when she’s got a deadline.

We’ll still learn about Mesoamerica and South America, of course, but we’re not going to spend our entire 14-week term on it. I think a few well-placed documentaries and a couple of classes ought to do it for us. Beyond that, I want to be able to open up a book and teach what’s in it without having to prep too much. Such things definitely exist for English, Social Studies, Art, and Music; but when it comes to Jewish History it’s a lot harder to find. I might still have to design my own curriculum for that.

I suspect having open-and-go curricula for each subject will be a relief in January and February, when seasonal depression hits and I can’t put in an ounce of effort. And the rest of the time, I can take all the time I save on planning and do something fun for a change… like starting that quilt I owe N… or planning our travels.

Homeschool · Keepin' it real · parenting · Sartorial stuff

Day 490: Books! Pockets! Happiness!

There are a lot of jokes about how you can’t buy happiness, but you can buy a [insert item here] and that’s pretty much the same thing. If that’s true, I didn’t buy myself happiness this month, but I bought kind of the same thing, because I got two boxes of books, and dresses with pockets.

First, the dresses: I took this photo the day after my first dress was delivered to my front porch. It has two pockets that don’t bulge or show at all even when full, and nice wide straps to hide a bra if one wants to wear such a thing. It’s also constructed so well that bras are optional when wearing it. I picked a pink and purple batik fabric because the world needs more colour, doesn’t it?

The books are an assortment of reference books and children’s books that relate to my curriculum plans for this year. I bought them from an online discount book seller, so it was nowhere near as expensive as if I had ordered from Indigo or any other retailer. Getting these books for $5-$10 each gives me permission to buy extras, right?

Yesterday, after I examined the nicest book of the bunch, I essentially became my dad.

“E, come here. Isn’t this beautiful? It’s our new atlas!”

Yes, I got super excited about an atlas. The Times Concise Atlas of the World, to be exact. There are satellite images and maps of all kinds of things like tectonic plate borders. It’s so cool! And yet, E politely came over to the table when I called her, peered at a couple of pages, feigned a modicum of interest, and then… walked away.

I don’t know why she’s not more excited about seeing our world depicted in all these different ways; I do know, however, that I wouldn’t have been excited at her age. I have many memories of my dad urging me to appreciate what a beautiful dictionary/atlas/nature guide he was holding, and me thinking, “When can I go play?” Sorry, dad. I get it now. Maybe we can look at my new atlas together.

ADHD · Camping it up · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 487: He gets it from me.

Dear Eema,

Thanks for your letter. Please send me more letters.

Blah blah blah blah blabbity blah blah.

There. Now it’s long enough. I can go get tuck.

Love, N.

My response:

Dear N,

Thank you for the thoughtful letter you sent. I loved the story about how blah blah blah blabbity the blah in blah. You have such a way with words.

I can’t wait to see what you write next.

Love, Eema.

I think we can all agree that the kid is a creative genius, right?

I mean, first a giant “Hi!” and now the blah story. How can I possibly compete with that? (I welcome your suggestions.)

The girls have written similarly short letters. All they have to say is that camp is fine, and also can I please send:

  • More fidget toys
  • More Rainbow Loom
  • Candy
  • Candy
  • Their Ritalin
  • Candy
  • What about the Rainbow Loom?

As it so happens, I will be sending more fidget toys and Ritalin. I guess I can stuff some Rainbow Loom into the package as well.

There’s no need to wonder where N gets his sense of humour. I was reminded of that fact as I worked on our homeschool yearbook today. I needed something eye-catching and fun for the first page, and settled on “We heart BFHS because…”

I, in all my smartass glory, invented a few quotes to complete the sentence:

  • “I can go to class in my pyjamas. And there’s no homework.”
  • “I feel like they’ve known me all my life.”
  • “The teachers will do anything to help the students succeed.”
  • “I feel at home here.”
  • “I’ve learned more here than I did at any other school.”
  • “Because why not?” (N’s current favourite thing to say)

And then at the bottom, below a bunch of photos: “BFHS. Like one big, happy family.”

See? My kids come by their smartassery honestly. Actually, from both sides of the family. They never had a chance of escaping it.

DIY · education · family fun · Homeschool · Jewy goodness · The COVID files · Worldschooling

Day 484: Curriculum Decision

After lots of research into ready-made curricula, I’ve made my decision:

I’m going to create a curriculum myself.

It’s not that there aren’t lots of fabulous-looking curricula out there; there are, in as many different flavours as there are approaches to education. More, even.

But Mr. December and I have been working on our travel plans (for when we can realistically travel again,) and it looks like our most likely option would be Central and South America, since Costa Rica is open with no restrictions and Ecuador has no restrictions for those who are fully vaccinated (children too young to be vaccinated take on the status of their parents, so we’re good to go.) And as long as we’re there, might as well check out the Galapagos. You know, before climate change and tourism muck the whole thing up and there’s nothing to see.

With that decided, all of the homeschooling pieces have fallen into place. Of course we should learn about the geography and history of the places we’ll be travelling. Olmecs, Aztecs, Mayans, Incas. And then when we get to the Conquistadors and start talking about the monarchy that financed them, we’ll naturally be talking about the Spanish Inquisition (nobody expects it, but there it is) and the expulsion of the Jews from Spain. From there, we can talk about the Sephardi Jews: customs, music, food, and language (let’s learn some Ladino!)

I’ve gotten really into the planning; I have the mind map to prove it. I divided it into curriculum areas—Language, Food, Geography, History, Music, Art, Math and Science—and jotted down everything I could think of to learn about them. There’s even a separate section for the Galapagos, highlighted in blue.

I’ve compiled a long playlist of Crash Course History videos and the like to introduce various topics. Our public library gives us free access to Mango Languages, which we’ll use for learning Spanish and maybe Ladino (if they have it.)

So that’s it: I’m dumping the premade curricula and going with Mesoamerican and South American studies. This is going to be so much fun!

crafty · education · goodbye clutter! · Homeschool · Jewy goodness

Day 479: Shelving the Reshelving

I tried to reshelve the library books this afternoon. I really tried. It was okay at first: I took books off the floor and put them on the correct shelves. Then I ran out of space on the correct shelves and had to improvise temporary homes for them, cursing under my breath all the while. Finally, the floor was clear and I stepped back to examine my progress… and realized that there are an awful lot of shelves that contained a hodgepodge of books from all over the house. Damn. I thought I was done.

I shelved the project, if you’ll forgive the pun. It looks like I’m going to have to do a lot more rearranging than I thought, and I just couldn’t wrap my brain around it today. Instead, E and I went outside and painted some rocks.

There’s something very soothing about a nicely shaped rock; and for those of us so inclined, painting said rock is pretty soothing as well. It could be the smoothness of the craft paint, or the purity of the colours themselves, or the repetitive motion of stroking the brush against the stone. Whatever the reason, I find painting rocks to be a relaxing pastime. After almost an hour of painting, I was ready to get to work on report cards, which I’ve yet to finish.

I think I’ve chosen a curriculum for E for the coming year. The literature section focuses on fairy tales and folk tales, which I think could be a fascinating area of study for the older kids as well—PhD theses have been written on the topic, so surely there’s something of value to be learned there. Maybe I’ll have them research the historical roots of fairy tales, read the originals (Perrault, Grimm, Andersen,) and write about what they’ve learned.

I’m a bit stuck on how to teach Jewish History. Right now my only inclination is to not teach it the way I was taught (a combination of very dry textbooks and horrifyingly vivid Holocaust stories.) My kids don’t generally respond well to books designed for schools, what with the banal and “obvious” discussion questions, which means I’ll probably need to find original sources to read with them, which means… back to the library.

DIY · goodbye clutter! · Homeschool · Keepin' it real

Day 478: Found ’em!

Five months ago:

“Where are all our pencils! Didn’t we just buy a whole bunch?”

“Yes, we did. Four dozen. There is no way we’ve run through four dozen pencils since September.”

“Well, I can only find four. Better order some more.”

So I did.

Three months ago:

“Sara, we’re out of erasers.”

“Impossible! I bought three dozen at the beginning of the year. What are the kids doing, eating them?”

“I don’t know, but I can never find one. Can you please order more?”

Of course I could. So I did.

Four weeks ago:

“Eema! I can’t find any of my mechanical pencils! I had ten of them and I’m the only one who uses them! Where are they?”

“I’m willing to bet that if we cleaned up around here, we’d find all of them,” I said drily.

And I did—today.

After more hours of mind-numbing curriculum research I decided to give my brain a break and tackle something physical instead: our messy, disorganized supply drawers. I had them nicely organized at the beginning of the school year, with containers for pencils, pens, markers, erasers, and rulers; but of course it got messier as time went on. I decided a few weeks ago that we needed a better system, because things kept falling between the containers instead of into them, and then we’d have to take the containers out to retrieve what had fallen, which we never did.

The supply drawers occupy the spaces where our kitchen could have had corner cabinets, but I decided to install cabinets accessible from the living room instead. It was a genius decision that I’m happy with every time I go to use them. Because they’re from IKEA’s kitchen cabinet line, it’s easy to swap out the drawers and organizers for different ones any time I want.

On Thursday I ordered two shallow drawers to take the place of a single deep one, along with cutlery trays that fit exactly (with no gaps for stuff to fall into.) I also bought a couple of magazine racks to use in our paper drawer. Today I got it all assembled, installed, and arranged. I cleaned out the old drawer and reorganized the supplies.

Do you know what I found? Piles of pencils. I mean, easily six or seven dozen. There were so many pencils I couldn’t even fit them all in the pencil section of the tray. I also found several of K’s mechanical pencils that she couldn’t find. The dry-erase markers with erasers in their lids, of which we were missing fourteen? I found ten. I also found dozens of erasers. I discovered no fewer than five protractors, three compasses, and four rulers. My kids (and, let’s face it, my husband also) couldn’t find any of these things. How could they? The stuff was under all the empty containers in the drawer.

Sometimes happiness is a newly-organized drawer; today I have four. Sure, I can’t decide on a fabric for my window seat or a writing curriculum for my kids, but at least I can find the pencils… all six dozen of them. And now everyone else can, too.

Image description: Pictures of the interiors of four drawers. Two have divided trays full of school supplies sorted by type, one has several slanted paper trays, and one has a combination of paper trays and a divided container.

DIY · education · Homeschool · mental health

Day 476: Too Many Choices

I spent most of today reviewing some possible curricula for the coming school year. For months I’ve been making a list of curricula that sound good (based on online discussions between homeschooling parents,) and today I started to check them out. It’s a good thing that most of the publishing companies provide substantial “Try Before You Buy” samples to download and print; it’s so frustrating and disappointing when you see a really good sample, buy the whole curriculum, and realize that the sample was really not representative of the program as a whole.

In case you didn’t know, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of published homeschool curricula out there. Rigorous, relaxed, creative, technical… of course, my simplest criterion for whittling down the options is religion: if it mentions Jesus or has copywork of verses from Christian scriptures, it’s game over.

(An actual math problem I came across: Jesus had 12 disciples. One of them betrayed him. How many does he have left? What’s that you say? Eleven? WRONG. Zero. They all died two thousand years ago.)

As overwhelming as the options for E are, at least she’s starting in grade one, so she’s coming in basically at the ground level in every curriculum. For R, N, and K (grades five, six, and eight respectively,) it’s another story. I need to find something that’s accessible even if a student hasn’t done the previous levels in a series.

I’ve been tempted (as I often am) to forget about published curricula and just do my own thing. I certainly have the research skills and creative wherewithal to do it, but if I’ve learned anything from this past year, it’s that come January and February I need something I can open to the correct page and just follow instructions. Seasonal Affective Disorder hits me too hard for me to be able to direct my own program, even if it’s pre-planned. I really just need something to tell me what to do.

So I’m left trying to figure out, if I can’t find a complete program I like, what elements we really need and how much is too much. Greek and Latin roots are an absolute yes; there’s a series that introduces vocabulary as used by famous writers which looks awesome; there’s a great spelling program that explicitly teaches why English is spelled the way it is; and there’s a method of teaching writing that starts at the level of sentences, even with older students, and doesn’t move on to paragraphs or essays for quite some time. And I haven’t even started listing the possibilities for literature!

I started working on this at 9:00 this morning. By 2:00 p.m. my eyes were crossing and all the curricula were starting to look alike, so I had to stop. At least I’ve chosen biology for the big kids and history for everyone; next I have to figure out what the heck to do with the big kids for Language Arts.

Is it too late to switch to unschooling?

DIY · education · family fun · Homeschool

Day 463: Vinegar, yes. Mountain Dew, no.

Our homeschooling shelves have become a repository of science lab supplies: PH testing paper, bottles of powdered acids, magnifiers, magnets, prisms, and just about anything else we could find. We say it’s for the kids, for homeschooling, but sometimes it’s just for us grownups.

Our shower drain has been getting blocked increasingly often lately. I was inclined to blame Mr. December’s hair (it’s shoulder length now and he has way more hair than I do.) We used Drano and Liquid Plumr and I tried to pull out the hairs that were caught on the grate. But by the end of this morning’s shower, Mr. December was up to his ankles in water—and he was standing on wooden decking that’s already two inches above the floor.

We armed ourselves with all manner of tools, but it only took a minute or two to pry the drain grate up. Mr. December using my small wrecking bar to reach into the drain. After a few unproductive tries, he pulled up an enormous clog. I was right, there was hair; but there was something else too—could it be cement?

I pulled out a big chunk of the solid stuff and inspected it. I even took it to the kitchen table and looked at it through a magnifying glass.

“Hey, guys!” I called to the kids, “this is so cool! It looks like miniature coral!”

E came racing over. K sauntered over, took a look, and said, “It does look like coral. Huh.” The other two kids were uninterested.

Feeling pretty sure it was just calcium buildup from the hard water, I went and poured some vinegar down the drain to dissolve the crud we couldn’t reach.

“Does that actually work?” Mr. December wanted to know.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but in our house the usual answer to “does that work?” is, “go try it and find out.”

That’s how I ended up conducting an experiment all by my lonesome. I put chunks of the clog in glasses containing water, mountain dew, and white vinegar respectively. Then I tested the PH of each liquid and watched to see what happened.

I tried to involve the kids—I really did—but they weren’t interested. I continued anyway. For science, and to satisfy my own curiosity. I could claim that it was supposed to be educational for the kids, but now you all know the truth: absent the children, I was still gung-ho about the experiment.

And, for the record, yes, the vinegar worked. Also—I’d think twice before drinking Mountain Dew.

Image Description: Three drinking glasses filled a quarter way. The one on the left is clar, with a chunk of solids on the bottom; the one in the middle has smaller pieces of solid stuff strewn across the bottom and is mostly clear; the third is a bit cloudy and doesn’t have any visible solids on the bottom (but some are floating.) Each glass has a litmus test strip in front of it.

Day 458: Determined.

“I’m gonna finish this if it kills me,” I muttered through clenched teeth. “I still have five days.”

I’ve been reading Life of Pi with the kids as our final novel study this year. It’s wordy and dense in a wonderfully descriptive way, and the kids seem to like it (especially K)—but it still takes a long time to wade through.

“Do we have to finish it?” One kid asked.

And that’s when I muttered something about finishing it if it kills me. Because right now Pi is stuck on a raft that’s attached to a lifeboat, and his only companion is a fully grown male Bengal tiger. As the order box at Krusty Burger once squawked at Homer Simpson, “I need closure on that anecdote!”

This afternoon we had twenty-two minutes before N’s piano lesson; I ushered them all out to the back porch with freezies, and read to them without stopping. For twenty-two minutes. We covered ten pages.

That’s only… uh… a hundred and fifty more pages to read. Divide by ten, carry the one… we should be able to do it in another three hours. Huh. That’s not as bad as I thought it would be. Math to the rescue again!

I have plans to gameschool my way through a review of our social studies topics form this year: I bought a trivia game about Canada, but we’ve only done four provinces so far. I’ll be spending some time tomorrow sifting through the existing cards for questions my kids could have a shot at answering correctly. Then I’ll spend another few hours writing my own questions with material straight out of our books. We’ll probably have to play a few times before we cycle through all the questions, but hopefully this will keep them from just forgetting everything we’ve learned this year.

blogging · education · fame and shame · Homeschool · Jewy goodness · lists · waxing philosophical

Day 455: Not as bad as you think.

I hear a lot of bad things about social media—probably you do, too. And there are a lot of downsides: comparing your imperfect life to someone’s touched-up selfie, getting angry because “someone is wrong on the internet!”, seeing humanity turn ugly behind the anonymity the internet affords. There are definitely days when I think I’d be better off without Facebook.

Duty Calls
You can find an image description here.

On the other hand, Facebook has some very good points:

  1. It’s my proverbial front porch. I sit there in the evening and catch up with the people I know. I get to hear about all the mundane things, all the frustrations, all the celebrations—just like I would if we lived in a close-knit neighbourhood and sat on the front porch every evening, chatting with each other.
  2. It can be a great resource. Both Mr. December and I are members of a few homeschooling groups on Facebook. Through those groups we’ve discovered some of our favourite curricula and courses. We’ve also been able to get a sense of what homeschooling looks like for many different families. I’m also a member of a neighbourhood group, from which I learn about traffic issues, why our city councillor sucks, and who’s giving away free stuff.
  3. It reminds me about birthdays. If I wished you happy birthday this year (or any year, really,) you can thank Facebook for that. Every day it pops up and tells me whose birthday it is. It even lets me post a birthday message directly from the notification. I do realize that some people do this with their own calendar—digital or paper—but Facebook makes it so easy for me.
  4. Some people do use it for the betterment of us all.

Point number four is the one that gives me hope for our society. I’ve recently joined a group dedicated to being a space where people can ask good-faith questions about all kinds of social issues and receive honest, thoughtful answers rather than scorn and derision.

(If you don’t get why a question would be met with scorn or derision, think of someone asking about transgender issues and being labelled a TERF because of that honest question. It happens all the time, and it’s ugly.)

I have learned so much from this group. People have taken the time to post complex answers to questions about racism, gender issues, disabilities, etiquette… it’s an excellent read and very eye-opening, as the group members come from all over the world and from all walks of life. I’m enjoying it immensely. Even more incredible than what I’ve learned from that group is the simple fact that so many people want to ask questions, learn, and improve the way they relate to people who are unlike them.

I have similar feelings about the group where non-Jews can ask questions about Judaism and Jews answer them. I’m fascinated by the things non-Jewish people don’t know about us; from the big stuff, like the fact that we don’t revere Mary, mother of Jesus, to the minutiae of why inviting a Shabbat-observant friend to a wedding on Saturday is more complicated than just making sure they have accommodations within walking distance of the venue. I also enjoy being able to answer people’s questions and see their responses when they’ve read all of the answers.

People are learning, reaching out, connecting, and supporting each other in ways that would never have been possible without the internet (and social media in particular.) To me, that almost makes up for how social media also makes it easy for people to foment hatred, recruit people to radical organizations, and spread misinformation. Almost. Maybe if enough of us participate in groups like the ones I’ve been part of, education and enlightenment will replace the ignorance and hate.

I hope so.