Homeschool · Keepin' it real · Travelogue · Vietnam

Day 1087: Looks fine in the photos…

Well, I got my cookie in the end. Surprisingly, nobody asked why they didn’t get one; they just all asked for a taste, which was fine since after the first couple of mouthfuls I’d had enough. I actually preferred E’s chocolate chip pancakes.

We did some reasonable school work in the morning, including some writing practice. After lunch I announced a little field trip to the seamstress. We spent two hours designing and ordering clothes, including a pair of dress pants and a dress shirt for N, made of something soft and stretchy (which I hope means he’ll actually wear it.) I’ve also ordered a copy of my favourite cozy dress in a pretty colour.

Then I came home and crashed. I lay down to read for a bit—I think it was 4:00—and when I woke up it was dark outside and Mr. December and the kids were just getting out of the pool. I keep hoping the extra sleep will help my legs hurt less, but so far that hasn’t happened.

Shabbat dinner was chocolate-chip pancakes for some and pizza for others. I’ve given up on getting everyone to order from one place: the magic of Grab is that we can order from two or more restaurants at the same time, and it’s pretty cheap here. I have a feeling when we get to Japan we’ll suffer from major sticker shock—we’ll probably make rice in the rice cooker for every meal.

We have five full days left in Hoi An. We had to delay some of our tours because K and E were sick, so now I’m cramming them in wherever I can. Sunday afternoon we’re doing a sunset kayak tour; Monday we’re aiming for a tour of the Ancient City, followed by a lantern-making workshop. Sometime in the next few days I need to buy a suitcase.

Despite the fact that everyone here seems to be moody today (maybe I’m just projecting,) some of us managed to have a nice time together after dinner. N brought his roll-up keyboard up to the roof, E brought her flute, and I took out my guitar. We faked our way through Riptide and Sweet Caroline before things fell apart. Tonight the evening mostly feels like a fail, but in three years I’ll look at these photos and think, “Looks like such a nice evening.” I guess that’s the magic of photographic evidence.

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

Day 1078: DAD* joke ahead

*DAD is the airport code for Da Nang, Vietnam.

We have some decisions to make—and I don’t mean where to eat dinner, which is a daily debate in this house.

We’re scheduled to leave this house in Hoi An on March 18. Our next destination is Japan. There are no direct flights. Mr. December proposed that we fly to Hanoi (we’d have to fly through there anyway) and take a couple of days to explore the city before continuing on to Osaka.

“I don’t know,” I mused, “all that unpacking and packing sounds pretty Hanoi-ing.”


I’ll be here all week, folks.

I don’t know what the occasion was, but tonight a bouncy castle appeared in the parking lot next to the neighbourhood bakery. Mr. December and two of the kids discovered it when they went to buy bread and bubble tea. He texted me to bring the other two kids, so we biked over. There was Vietnamese children’s music blaring from a speaker, one big bouncy castle, and an assortment of small motorized ride-on toys (think Powerwheels.) The rest of the parking lot was empty, and there were a grand total of three families there. I still have no idea why it was there. That’s not a complaint—unexpected fun is always good for morale.

Update: K says it was in celebration of the opening night of the new bubble tea restaurant that they built in two days (they were still painting the steel this morning.) I’d have preferred free bubble tea over a bouncy castle, but nobody asked me.

We had a good school day today. E decided she wanted to do an Elephant project, so we started a few days ago with her listing everything she already knows and then what she still wants to learn. Then we put it all into a powerpoint slideshow, with a few forays into the internet to fill in some of the gaps as E became aware of them. She’s been excitedly practicing her presentation for anyone who will sit still to listen, and she’s getting pretty good at it. Maybe we should put it on YouTube so friends and family can enjoy?

In the meantime, R worked on a program called “Touch Type Read Spell” because although she types pretty well, it never hurts to practice—and her spelling is atrocious. The program has modules about different subjects, so there’s some content delivery as well as skills practice, and she likes it well enough to work at it for an hour, uninterrupted. I call that a win.

education · Homeschool · Kids · Montessori

Day 1077: Back to School?

We’ve been batting around the plan for months now: K wants to try going back to public school next year. She’ll be in Grade 10, and it’s probably wise for her to have a year to adjust before her grades start to matter for university—if she wants to give high school a try, this has to be the year.

Knowing how slowly our local school board moves, I put in her application as soon as registration opened—while we were in Thailand. The response was the standard form e-mail asking me to bring them the following original documents: proof of age, proof of citizenship, most recent report card, transcript, IEP, and two bills as proof of address.

White text on black background. It reads: Thank you for your application. In order to complete the process, I need to see the original copies of the following documents: [massively long list of documents] Please make an appointment with me to drop off the documents.

Aside from the fact that this procedure seems to stuck in the last century, it would be impossible for us to do until mid-April. I wrote back to that effect… no response. Finally I called the school and explained the situation. Taking our “extenuating circumstances” into account, the administrator told me I could just e-mail them PDF copies of everything. So… guess what I’ve been doing in the last 24 hours?

I tracked down a couple of utility bills (do you know how hard it is to access those when you’re in a foreign country? The websites wouldn’t let me in because of my location) and then turned my attention to the rest of the list. A transcript? IEP? Report card? Okay, then. I got to work, writing all three in a format that was concise and official-looking.

It took about four hours for me to write and format everything. If K ends up not going back to school in September after all, I’ll be miffed (but also possibly relieved? I’m not sure how I feel about a return to school yet.)

R and E both want to try school again, as long as said school is Montessori. That’s fine by me: Montessori really is the best fit I’ve found for our family, both practically and philosophically.

N prefers homeschooling for the academics; but if the other three are going back to school, so is N. We could send him to Montessori with R and E, or we could send him back to the Gifted program at public school—he doesn’t have a strong preference between the two. Neither do I—they both have their pluses and minuses.

So is this the end of the road for us as homeschoolers? Not necessarily. If school turns out to be a total dumpster fire for K, she’ll come back to homeschooling (after a suitable adjustment period in public school, of course.) If any of them want to return to homeschooling, they’re welcome to. I’m not ideological about this: I just want to do what works for our family… and next year, “what works” might be school.

bikes planes and automobiles · Homeschool · Kids · New Zealand · Travelogue · Worldschooling

Day 1035: Grandparents!

My parents arrived in Rotorua this morning. They planned their trip long before we planned ours, but it turned out that there was some overlap in our dates, so we arranged to spend a few days together.

The Rotorua airport is tiny. Remember the days when you could greet travellers right at the gate? In Rotorua you still can. The kids and I stood at the railing and watched for Mum and Dad. The excitement mounted (read: kids got bouncier) as we saw them step off the plane and walk along the tarmac. As you can see from the above pictures, exuberant hugging ensued.

They’re staying in the same complex as we are, so two kids have decamped to their house. To the delight of everyone below the age of 40, each of the kids now has their own room. I still have to share with Mr. December (as always. Good thing I like him.)

I eavesdropped on E’s conversation with my dad this afternoon. She was reading to him from Percy Jackson; that led to a wide-ranging discussion of Greek myths. E said something about somebody being called “Earth Shaker” (or something like that.) Dad asked her if she knew what actually causes earthquakes, and she looked at him and said, “You mean the tectonic plates?” She then used her hands to show him convergent, divergent, and transform movements.

Meanwhile, I was grinning my face off while I chopped vegetables (for stir fry. Again we had stir fry.) We just reviewed plate tectonics last week; I never get tired of hearing the kids recall and discuss something they learned with me. Homeschooling is still counter-cultural enough to make us parents second-guess how we educate our kids, but now and then we hear something like this and we know—just for a minute or two, before more doubts creep in—that it’s working.

family fun · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · Kids · New Zealand · Travelogue · Worldschooling

Day 1032: Unfair?

On our first homeschool day here in Rotorua (first one of the trip, actually,) I asked everyone to get their notebooks and start making checklists for the day. Everyone did, except for N.

“N,” Mr. December prodded him, “go get your notebook.”

“I can’t,” N said.

“Why not?”

“Because I didn’t pack one.”

“YOU DIDN’T PACK IT?” I burst out. “It was on your packing checklist! I put it directly into your hands! You TOLD me you packed it!”


He wrote that day’s work on pieces of scrap paper. Two nights ago I went to The Warehouse (a downscale version of Walmart, as far as I could tell) and bought him a notebook so he’d have no more excuses.

You all know I can’t resist a project, right? The notebook we bought had plain kraft-paper-wrapped covers; in less than two minutes, I decided that I’d decorate the cover for him in a way that left no doubt as to whose notebook it was.

I sketched it out lightly in pencil, got his approval, and set to work. I finished the cover today and I’m pleased with the result. But it rubs me the wrong way that he didn’t listen and wasn’t prepared, so he gets the coolest looking notebook. How is that fair?

Photo of a spiral bound notebook with N's name written in various different fonts and colours.

In other news, we went swimming in the lake today. It was divine—cool but not too cold, sandy bottom, nice gradual entry. R and Mr. December swam out a ways and found a few clam shells as well as one live clam—of course R brought the clam home to examine it “for science.”

You’ll excuse me now: R is waiting for me to finish this post so we can eat popcorn and watch something on TV. Remind me to tell you later how hilarious it is watching the Netflix generation deal with broadcast television, commercials and all.

Homeschool · Kids · New Zealand · Travelogue · Unschooling · Worldschooling

Day 1030: Necessity is the Mother of Learning.

Today was our second school day of the trip. The kids seem to have settled back into school activities with very little fuss. Even N, who normally needs to be poked and prodded to write more than the bare minimum, wrote a review with details and reasonably complex sentences—the first time, without being asked.

E is often highly resistant to written work, and we haven’t pushed it too hard yet. Most unschoolers will tell you that when the kid needs to write something, that’s when they’ll figure it out. E often asks me to scribe for her when journalling or writing stories; but today she spontaneously started writing and delivering little notes containing requests for chocolate, shnoogles (not a misspelling, it’s her word for snuggles,) and even an invitation to a royal meeting. She must have written at least ten notes; she definitely spent longer on her notes than she ever has on her writing workbook.

One might be tempted to praise her for writing so much, or encourage her by saying something about how she obviously likes writing, or something like that. I won’t be doing any of the above. Remember when I complained about parents praising their kids for eating snack, as if the snack itself isn’t motivation enough? Well, this is the same as far as I’m concerned. E wrote the notes because she wanted to communicate something. As a result of writing, she got responses (Mr. December attended the meeting, I gave her shnoogles and chocolate.) She doesn’t need praise for that; writing got results today, so she’ll keep on writing when the need arises. Looks like the unschoolers were right.

education · Homeschool · New Zealand · Travelogue · Worldschooling

Day 1029: Have a Heart

Something momentous happened last night:

I picked a restaurant where everybody ate and noone complained.

It might never happen again, but it did happen, and I wanted you to know it.

After dinner at the Turkish restaurant, we went to the New Zealand equivalent of No Frills (a discount supermarket) to stock up. K was looking for stir-fry beef and I was perusing the meat case when I noticed a package of Sheep Hearts. I don’t remember whose idea it was first, but we decided to buy it and dissect one as a homeschool biology lesson.

We started by just drawing the outside of the heart. We looked up some diagrams and labeled all the parts in our drawings.

Time to dissect. We lacked our fancy dissection kit (wouldn’t make it through airport security for our international flight,) but we didn’t let that stop us. Armed with a paring knife, a pointy-tipped veggie peeler, and tweezers from our first aid kit, we followed along with a dissection tutorial on YouTube. K was fascinated, E was bored, and R was nauseated. N didn’t even want to try, so I let him move on to his writing assignment: a review of one of the attractions we had seen so far (he only used half his posterior, if you know what I mean.)

two kids at the table, looking at the inside of a sheep heart.

K was fascinated; she continued to examine the heart long after the rest of us stopped for lunch. It was a little weird, eating lunch with a sheep’s heart on a plate in the middle of the table, but I was willing to endure it for the sake of my kid’s education. K spent at least another hour drawing the inside of the heart before she decided to wrap it up and put it back in the fridge for another day.

Who’d have thought that a trip to the supermarket would lead us into the valves and chambers of the ovine heart? Not I. It’s the magic of child-led education.

family fun · Holidays Jewish and holidays not. · Homeschool

Day 1008: Fourth Night

The fourth night of Hannukah is when we hit our stride. The kids are now pros at setting up the candles (melting the bottoms to stick them into the menorahs) and I’m a pro at frying sufganiyot. Oh man, those were some good donuts. Today’s dough was made by R, who also conquered her social anxiety to knock on the neighbour’s door and ask to borrow two eggs.

Tonight’s guest was my childhood bestie, the kids’ “Auntie S.” She saved our sufganiyot by bringing the seedless jam for the filling. We really don’t see her often enough—we’ll have to fix that once we’re back from our trip.

Because it’s Wednesday, we spent the afternoon at the homeschool meet-up in the park. It was sunny, but cold: zero degrees. My kids were running around with their jackets open, but I was nowhere near that warm, seeing how I was just sitting there. Inspiration struck this week, though, and I took a sleeping bag with me. I stepped in, zipped up, and sat down. I looked like a giant cocoon—not that I’m vain enough to let that stop me. I was warm and cozy for over an hour before I started to feel the chill.

Pic of me sitting in a folding camp chair, holding a travel mug in one arm, with my whole body encased in a sleeping bag.

As today was the winter solstice, it was nearly sunset when we left the park at 4:25. The days will only get longer and brighter from here, but I’m not willing to wait that long. Ten more days, and we’ll be on our way to summer in New Zealand.

Homeschool · Kids

Day 960: It’s Working

“Why do we have to use that book for Hebrew?” R whined today.

“Because I think it really helped N, and I hope it will do the same for you.” I said.

N looked up and said, “It’s not that book that improved my Hebrew, Eema. It’s the time we spent in Israel. And the fact that you speak Hebrew to us. The book isn’t that great.”

Well. I still think he’s wrong about the book, but it was very gratifying to hear that my efforts are paying off.

In other news, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome still sucks. We’re supposed to have amazing weather on Saturday, and you know I want to be out on the lake to enjoy it, but that will only happen if Mr. December agrees to go kayaking with me (and to do most of the work.) And now I’ll obey my physiotherapist and stop typing.

family fun · Homeschool

Day 959: For Science!

For physics, Mr. December is having the kids develop their own theory of gravity (instead of just learning the formulas or whatever.) This shouldn’t be a complete surprise, coming (as it does) from a man who wants the kids to be able to derive formulas from first principles rather than just memorizing them.

(Does anyone else feel the urge to make “don’t drink and derive” jokes every time they hear the word “derive”? No? Just me? Okay, then. I’ll see myself out.)

Anyhow, yesterday afternoon we trekked over to the school playground to use the “tall” climbing structure (quotation marks because it’s just under 7 metres tall, which is still 9 metres shorter than the tower in Jerusalem’s Sacher park) for the experiment. Using a surveying rod (purloined from my parents’ garage) for height measurements, the kids climbed up the structure and timed how long it took for an apple to drop to the ground. Then they did the same with dice made of tungsten and aluminum (same size, dramatically different weights.)

I was there as moral support, and because my music training made the the person best qualified to get people to do things in unison—in this case, dropping the object and starting the stopwatch. Seriously. It took the music major to point out that if everyone heard the same rhythm at the same time, they’d be able to synchronize dropping the apple and activating the stopwatch. (Apologies to all the families in the playground who had to hear me call out, “One and two and three and DROP!” for an hour.)

Three tweens and an adult conducting a science experiment using a playground structure, a surveyor's rod, and a Granny Smith apple.

R was mildly distressed because the apple chosen for the dubious honour of being dropped repeatedly from increasing heights was a Granny Smith apple, her favourite. “Why couldn’t you use one of the bruised Gala apples from the fridge?” she moaned.

“Sometimes,” I said with a completely straight face, “sacrifices have to be made for science.”

Pic of two tween girls 16 feet up in a climbing structure, about to drop a Granny Smith apple to the ground.