Darn Tootin' · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · Montessori · parenting · waxing philosophical

Day 657: Don’t Fight It

“The kids begged me for more algebra sheets.”

Eyebrows raised, I just looked at Mr. December.

“Sorry, honey. I know I said you could have the morning for your subjects after a quick math drill… but they begged me. Seriously.”

“Eema,” E said earnestly, “Can I forget about my other work and just finish my cursive writing book? There are only fourteen pages left and I think I can do it!”

Of course I said yes. Why wouldn’t I?

Remember when I bought some highly structured curricula and decided we’d follow those lesson plans? Well, we’ve ditched the older kids’ history curriculum and I’m picking and choosing from the biology curriculum. Most importantly, I’m not fighting about schoolwork. I have some firm boundaries—the subjects aren’t optional, but how and when we do them is open for negotiation.

Take E, for example. She worked intently on her cursive writing for two hours this morning. I could have told her “let’s stop here and do something else,” but why would I do that? When a child is motivated and focused, why on earth would I go and break that focus? To enforce some abstract ideal of “balanced” subjects? Or to assert my power by imposing the schedule that I gave them on Monday?

It’s definitely easy to be flexible when the child is eager to learn and work on an area that interests them; less so when the child doesn’t want to do any work at all. Yesterday N didn’t do his writing or his Hebrew, and today he was still reluctant to do the assignments I’d given him. We compromised: he wrote about a topic of his choice, in the structure of my choice. I’ve decided to go for quantity over quality with him, on the theory that he needs to be able to get his ideas down on paper quickly; editing can be done later and with the assistance of someone else.

I’m also trying to remember the purpose behind the assignments I give. The writing assignment I originally gave all three big kids was to take a picture from our trip and write about it. Part of my goal with that assignment was for them to recall things they saw and learned during our travels. I think with N that’s not so essential, not because he doesn’t need to remember what we learned, but because I’m certain he already does. The kid soaks in everything and makes connections to what he already knows. Why should I belabour the point?

R’s writing assignment evolved differently, too: she’s writing a fictional story based on a series of photos from our volcano hike. I agreed to this on two grounds—first, that she’s in Grade Five and maybe doesn’t need to spend quite so much time on essay-writing; and second, that she’s a strong writer who really wants to hone her craft. Why fight her natural inclination?

I feel validated by this week’s experience with K and viola practice. Since Monday, she has worked diligently every day to learn a new piece. She does scales and practices trouble spots ten times in a row, all without complaint—in fact, she was eager to do it. I tried forcing her to practice for years. Years. Is her diligent practice now a result of my dogged persistence? No. No way. She’s practicing because she wants to play viola better.

That’s why I’m not being especially forceful with E and her flute practice. I’m not letting her give up flute, but I’m also not insisting on serious practice right now. It’s not worth the fight; when she’s a bit more mature and wants to play better, we won’t have to fight about it anyway. Right now my goal is to keep her immersed in music, have instruments available to explore, and try to keep it light and enjoyable. If she’s naturally drawn to it (I personally think she is,) she’ll play music no matter what I do.

This all feels very Montessori. Long periods where the child can do work of their choice? Check. Having all the resources available, introducing the child to the work and then allowing them to do it in their own time? Check. Stepping back and watching the child’s innate drive to learn? Check.

A happier homeschool environment and a more relaxed mom? Check and check.

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

crafty · education · Homeschool · Kids · Montessori

Day 454: Teacher Gifts

There are plenty of things I don’t miss about sending the kids to school—the drop-offs and pickups, the one-size-fits-all rules, the homework—but the one that always manages to surprise me is teacher gifts. Yes, I know the school year is ending. Yes, I want to show my appreciation and yes, I—wait, it’s now? I need to do the teacher gifts today? AAAAA!

It happens every year.

I’ve done some creative things in the past: handmade cards; a summer-themed gift of sunscreen, sunglasses, a movie gift card, and some packets of Starbucks instant iced coffee mix all packaged in a reusable cup with a straw; a custom t-shirt for the teacher who had all four of my kids with zero breaks in between; and there was the year I just wrote them lovely thank-you cards and delivered them with a fresh homemade challah for each teacher.

Other years I went in together on the group gift being organized by other parents. But the best gift (I thought), the most inspired, were the Montessori bead bar earrings. I made them for every school staff member who had direct contact with my kids. Everyone loved them—but that was years ago, and only a few of those teachers remain (and they’re not E’s teachers), so I decided to reprise that idea for E’s online teachers from Montessori.

Last time I did all the work after my kids went to bed. This time, E had a hand in the whole thing: she strung the beads onto the eye pins, poked the earrings through the backing card, carefully threaded the necklace chain into the slots I’d made, and helped me cut and fold the gift boxes.

And now all that remains is to write the thank-you cards to the teachers, and of course to deliver them to school. And then I’m guaranteed at least one year without teacher gifts sneaking up on me, because all four kids are being fully homeschooled next year.

Wait, if I’m their teacher, shouldn’t the kids be giving me a gift at the end of the year? Good thing some of them read this blog—they’ll get the hint.

education · Kids · Montessori

Day 448: The Graduate

E had her “End of Casa Celebration” today. She’s finished a full cycle (and then some; she did four years) in the Montessori three-to-six-year-olds’ classroom (otherwise known as Casa) and is ready to move on.

This morning we joined her class on Zoom as the teachers spoke about (and to) each graduate. The grads were given flowers and a bouquet of cards with wishes from their classmates. E wasn’t there, since she’s an online-learning student, but we were able to pick up the flowers, the cards, and a box containing the Shabbat set E made as part of her graduation project.

A major part of the graduation project is the child’s timeline. E had to choose photographs (one from each year of her life) and write a short sentence about each picture. Then she had to mount the pictures and the captions on cardstock, punch holes, and bind it all together. The final result is neat to see, not least because of the very clear progression from messy writing in the first caption to much neater cursive in the last one; but the coolest part is seeing what pictures E deemed important to showcase: her first Purim, her at eighteen months watering the flowers with our yellow metal teapot, dressed as an elephant for Purim at age two, riding her balance bike, jumping on a trampoline with N, reading on the front porch with R, and using the glue gun to turn a yogurt cup into a unicorn cup.

Image descriptions, clockwise from left: E in her graduation outfit, sitting on the back porch couch; E looking over her shoulder at the camera with her class Zoom screen in the background; the last page of her timeline, with the caption “i was making mi frst unicorn cup” (sic); her timeline project—eight sheets of cardstock bound with yarn—spread out on our living room couch.

Tonight E had the honour, as the graduate, of leading us in the blessings over the candles, wine, and challah. She also got a special cupcake from Savta and Sabba, and got to use the coveted heart-shaped spoon for her dessert (seriously, the kids fight over the ‘heart spoon’.)

All day long I couldn’t—still can’t, really—believe that my baby, my youngest child, is headed into Grade One. This time last year she was learning to write numbers; now she’s multiplying them. She’s reading, her cursive writing is beautiful, and she’s a confident, articulate six-year-old, as sweet and cuddly as when she was a baby. I am so proud of her. And she’s proud of herself, just as she ought to be.

Homeschool · Kids · Montessori

Day 420: Essay Writing and Personality

Despite the difference in their ages, we’ve taken to teaching the three older kids all together. They still do skills-based work (math exercises and so on) at their respective levels, and our expectations differ from kid to kid when we give them all the same assignment, but by and large they’re learning the same stuff. As N says (about everything,) why not?

I’m using a grade 7 book for our writing class. In the past few weeks we’ve covered allusions, metaphors, thesis statements, and transitional sentences. This week I introduced them to their newest assignment: a comparative essay.

I’m a big believer in what Montessori called “isolation of difficulty”: each material or lesson is designed to teach one thing. That’s it. The Suzuki Method does this as well, at least in the beginning books: each song introduces only one new skill. Likewise, I’ve taken to thinking carefully about what specific thing I want the kids to learn so that I know what I should be nitpicking about and what should be deferred to another lesson.

For this essay, I wanted them to focus on the skill of putting together an essay; writing an introduction and conclusion and stringing the paragraphs together so that there’s a smooth transition from one to the next. If that was to be the challenge, content had to be super simple to write. I decided to have them write an essay about Animal Farm and its similarities to the Russian revolution.

(Before you ask, I’ll tell you that yes, they have learned about the Russian revolution. I’ll also remind you that the point of this assignment was not to have them generate content.)

In the spirit of not having them focus on research or content generation, I found and printed a comparison chart between Animal Farm‘s main characters and the historical figures of the Russian revolution. I gave each kid a copy and told them to use those notes to write an essay (we’ve already covered how to write compare/contrast paragraphs.)

Naturally, there was a problem (of course there was): Two of the three kids didn’t want to write about this topic.

R asked if she could write a comparison of something else. She then eloquently laid out to me all the ways in which Gravity Falls (an animated TV show) was just like Land of Stories (a popular kids’ book series.) At this point I threw up my hands and said, “Sure, fine. I was trying to make this assignment easier by giving you the content, but you go ahead and do your idea instead. It sounds way more interesting.”

K wasn’t keen on the assigned topic, either. “Does it even have to be a comparison? Can’t it just be an essay based on a story? And doesn’t a TV show count as a story?” (She might have a point there—Shakespeare is literature even though what he wrote was intended to be watched, not read.)

This is where knowing the real purpose of the assignment comes in very handy. I could have tried to force K to write about Animal Farm, or I could have required her to write a comparative essay; but neither the content of Animal Farm nor writing a comparison was the purpose of the assignment. The whole point of the essay was to write an essay with an introduction, a clear thesis statement, and good transitions between paragraphs. The content was really beside the point—so I let K pick her own topic. Problem solved.

N was the only one who chose to write the essay as assigned. He has a tendency to do only what’s required and not an iota more, in schoolwork as well as at home. In his calculating way, he determined that using the notes I’d given him would allow him to get the job done with a minimum of fuss.

All three kids have worked diligently on their essays this week, and they have until next Friday to finish them. I’m still floored by the lack of resistance from K, the-kid-who-swore-she-couldn’t-write. I’m still astonished at R’s clarity and descriptive word choices, although I should be used to her writing ability by now. And N’s philosophy makes me chuckle and then shake my head in chagrin as I remember that I, too, used to calculate the absolute minimum grade I’d need on the exam to pass the course. It’s obvious he’s Mr. December’s mini-me in so many ways, but if I stop to consider it, he’s pretty obviously mine too.

education · family fun · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · Kids · love and marriage · Montessori · snarky · The COVID files · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 309: Snapshot of a Homeschool Day

8:05 a.m. – I wake up. One of the nicest things about homeschooling is that we can finally get the sleep our bodies need.

8:30 a.m. – Freshly showered and dressed, I go downstairs to make oatmeal and coffee. The kids are already up and dressed, and are just waiting for breakfast.

9:15 a.m. – We had decided on a late start this morning; normally this would happen at 9:00. We all meet in the attic for our family exercise time: three sun salutations, six pushups, six squats, eight sit-ups. Every day we increase one exercise by one repetition.

9:30 a.m. – Mr. December works on physics with the three older kids while I do some Montessori lessons with E.

10:00 a.m. – K has a coaching session now, so I get her set up in the library. R and N start working on their Kumon at the dining room table. It quickly becomes apparent that they’re not focusing well, though, so N is banished to his room, where he has a usable (read: clean!) desk. I return to my work with E.

10:30 a.m. – R is still working on the same five Kumon problems. Each time she starts a new one, I hear “Eema, I need help!” My standard response: “I can’t right this second. Why don’t you read the question so you can tell me which part you need help with?” A few seconds pass and she replies, “Never mind.” Internally, I lecture: “Child, this is Kumon math. The questions are all the same problem with different numbers!”

11:40 a.m. – Everyone is finished their math except R. “We’re moving on now,” I tell them, but R kicks up a fuss and begins to cry. “If I don’t finish my math, I can’t have any screen time!” she wails. We all sit there and wait for her to finish one measly stinking question. It takes ten minutes.

12:00 p.m. – The kids are settled around the table, eating lunch. I’m reading to them from The Secret Garden, our literature study for the month. I’m switching back and forth between voices and accents: Yorkshire and something a bit more standard, young female, middle aged male, grizzled old gardener. The kids hang on every word. And since their mouths are full of lunch, they don’t interrupt me every few minutes.

1:00 p.m. – “I’m cold!” I announce, and head into the library to start a fire. The kids do their literature copywork on the floor in front of the hearth. Pretty soon I realize that some of them don’t understand margins and indentation very well. A lesson ensues.

1:30 p.m. – We settle down in front of the fire with our sketchbooks and calligraphy markers; each kid’s project to celebrate the end of our studying Pirkei Avot (for now–we obviously didn’t do the whole book) is an illuminated manuscript of the child’s favourite quotation from those we’ve studied. I’ve been learning Hebrew calligraphy on my own, so now I teach the kids how to form the letters with calligraphy markers. I’m shocked (but pleased) that N is working on it with such excitement and interest, given that he’s been resistant to any kind of Jewish learning lately. Here he is, sprawled across the floor, practicing the letters of his chosen quotation.

2:30 p.m. – I suggest to N that maybe it’s time to wrap up the calligraphy for the day; his sisters were done (for the day) long ago.

2:45 p.m. – The four kids and I are snuggled on the couch watching Canada: A People’s History. N loses the privilege of snuggling under my super-soft faux fur throw because he keeps trying to wipe his nose with it. Not with my blanket, buddy.

3:05 p.m. – R and N are begging to be done for the day. I remind R that she has some copywork to finish, and suggest to N that he practice his piano. They do as I say. I look out the window, alert for any signs of flying pigs. There are none. Will wonders never cease?

3:30 p.m. – I go to the post office to pick up a package that I’ve been told is waiting for me… but it isn’t. E and K came along for the ride, so I take the opportunity to get their passport photos taken. If I wait until the COVID lockdowns end, it’ll be us and every other person in the country trying to apply at the same time.

4:30 p.m. – I whipped up some pizza dough half an hour ago, and now each kid gets to make their own pizza. E makes breadsticks, R a pizza and breadsticks, N a standard plain pizza, and K makes a “pizza” with chocolate sauce, strawberries, and mangoes. “You said we could top it with whatever we want!” Note to self: be a bit more specific next time.

5:00 p.m. – Dinnertime. Mr. December and I eat leftover eggplant lasagna while the kids chow down on their pizzas. As soon as I’m done, they beg me to read them a story from Percy Jackson’s Greek Heroes. They munch and listen to the story of Psyche. They don’t even know they’re learning!

5:45 p.m. – We squeeze onto the couch to watch the second half of The Story of the Jews, chapter 2. I learned something: the hoods worn by the Ku Klux Klan were copied from Holy Week processions in Spain, which got the idea from the Spanish Inquisition. Seriously, these penitentes in Seville look like the black chess pieces to the KKK’s white. There have been weirder chess sets than that, I’m sure.

6:15 p.m. – Mr. December and I retreat to the library to chat in relative quiet. I end up playing guitar and singing, and later move to the piano to perform the first love song I ever wrote (to Mr. D., of course.) We also take some time to read all the little notes in our new suggestion/complaint box, but that’s a goldmine of material, so I’ll save it for another post.

7:15 p.m. – I realize the reason the kids are so quiet is that they’re watching Netflix on my phone.

7:40 p.m. – “If you don’t choose and eat a bedtime snack now, you won’t get one tonight.” I am so done with the 8:30 p.m. cry of “but I didn’t eat anything yet!” as if we don’t do this every evening.

8:00 p.m. – After she changes and brushes her teeth, E asks me to read to her from What is our Solar System? When I finish the chapter she begs for another. I guess her professed book-hatred has taken a backseat to curiosity.

8:30 p.m. – E is down for the night. Mr. December is reading to the three older kids—they’re at the end of On a Pale Horse and want just a bit more time, even though it’s now bedtime. I shrug and sit down to finish this post. If they’re not ready for bed in twenty minutes, I’ll be the one getting tucked in and demanding extra hugs.

DIY · education · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · Montessori · parenting

Day 281: Appy Days

I’m a firm believer in the Montessori method and its underlying philosophy. I vastly prefer my kids to do their learning with materials that they can pick up and manipulate, rather than on a tablet or computer. I really do believe that the motor planning, fine motor skills, and sensory feedback kids get from wooden tiles, or puzzles with pieces in the shapes of the continent, are important input. And yet…

I’ve been trying to engage E in learning to write her letters for months now. I had one success; then E went back to refusing to do anything resembling schoolwork. I have tried writing the letters in kinetic sand, shaping the letters with play dough, writing letters on the windows and mirrors for each other to find, having her trace in pencil the letters that I’ve written in highlighter. So far, nothing has been successful for more than a minute or two.

In a Montessori classroom E would have observed the writing lessons being presented to other children; she would be familiar with the materials and might eventually be curious about them. I don’t have a classroom of children around her age. Clearly, a lot of the motivating elements of Montessori are absent if you’re not in a Montessori classroom.

Meanwhile, R has asked me to find her a cursive writing workbook so she can learn it too. I started Googling, and very quickly came upon lists of cursive writing apps. A year ago I might have scoffed at the idea and extolled the benefits of learning to write with pencil and paper. Today I took a look at the app, made sure it was ad-free and had features I liked, and I hit “Buy.”

I got out our convertible tablet/laptop and told E that I got a new app just for her. That was enough to fuel her excitement. I then realized that the kids lost the stylus that came with the device (of course.) Not to be deterred, I made a DIY stylus out of a Q-tip, an empty pen barrel, and some tinfoil (and yes, it works!)

I introduced E to the app. She was instantly enchanted by the animation that follows each writing attempt. She worked diligently with the stylus and tablet for at least twenty minutes. She told me excitedly that it even lets her practice writing her numbers.

When I first imagined homeschooling E, I pictured peaceful mornings of working with the wooden movable alphabet and then writing the words down on paper. Having her work on a tablet for half the morning would have been on my list of things not to do. But in some ways homeschooling is just like every other aspect of parenting. You go in with ideals and principles, and after a few months or years you’ve accepted that you have to do whatever works, even if it doesn’t look the way you wanted it to.

education · family fun · Homeschool · Montessori

Day 260: It’s a December miracle!

We got through an entire school day with no whining and no resistance. How, you ask?

Enchantment. It’s not my concept—we read about it in The Brave Learner—but essentially the idea is to inject some combination of surprise, mystery, risk, or adventure into homeschooling. So today, instead of just insisting that the kids write their assignments, I had them attend a writers’ meeting, complete with steaming mugs of coffee hot chocolate, which seemed to me like a prerequisite for a table full of writers trying to meet a deadline.

Their writing assignment for the month is to create a magazine of sorts, a guide to local businesses to support during the pandemic. They each have to research and write blurbs about five local businesses, select images to go with the copy, and do the graphic design to create one publication.

At our meeting, the kids took turns reading us their draft blurbs and sharing suggestions or ideas for each other’s write-ups. I acted as secretary, taking notes on yellow post-its. By the end of the meeting each child had a plethora of sticky note suggestions attached to each blurb; they left the “writing room” and went back to the computers, where they wrote for another forty-five minutes straight.

I don’t know if it was the hot chocolate with marshmallows or the idea of a “writers’ meeting” that enchanted them, but the kids all participated in writing today. I haven’t looked at their updated work yet, but I’m hoping to see some good things there.

Tired of bribing the kids with sweets, I took a different approach with geography. We began our study of Nova Scotia with a review of landforms à la Montessori: everyone got a tray of kinetic sand and we each made our own example of each landform. In this picture, R and N are both making archipelagos (which weren’t in the curriculum, but are definitely my favourite landforms, just slightly ahead of isthmuses.) The kids kept creating more examples of landforms we’d already done just so they could extend their time playing with kinetic sand.

We moved on to science, which was linked to geography in that we learned about lighthouses, prisms and the Fresnel lens. We headed up to the attic to do an experiment: first with a flashlight and then with a candle, we measured how much farther away you could see the same diameter of light beam with a Fresnel lens than without.

Word to the wise: if you’re trying to show the impact of adding Fresnel lenses to lighthouses, definitely use a candle. Most flashlights already have a lens of some kind, so the effect is less pronounced.

We came back downstairs and the kids finished writing up the experiment in their science notebooks. With that, the school day was over (except for some sort of read-aloud that I’ll do with them this evening.) Miraculously, nobody cried, screamed, tantrumed, stormed off, ripped up work, threw binders, or even yelled at their siblings. It was oddly peaceful and cooperative.

So next time I complain about a homeschool day gone completely sideways, please remind me that days like this happen too.

crafty · education · family fun · Holidays Jewish and holidays not. · Homeschool · Jewy goodness · Montessori

Day 257: All Astonishment

I’ve changed my approach to scheduling our week: instead of doing a little bit of everything each day, I’m doing lessons in large blocks of time. Today’s major block was literature and language arts. Our start was delayed by Mr. December’s very drawn-out physics lesson (but really, how can I complain about that?) so we didn’t really get started until after lunch.

Instead of K going off on her own to do her work on a computer, I kept her in the living room with the rest of us and insisted that she handwrite her work today. She did a pretty good job, and I heard not a single complaint about people talking (one of her pet peeves, and often a precursor to a meltdown.) While R and N worked on their passage I invited E to fill in the blanks in the first sentence; after some mild resistance she checked the spelling on the page and then gave me the appropriate movable alphabet letters to add the missing words. In the end it looked like this:

The opening line of The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich.

We all reconvened to discuss the linguistic and literary element of the book’s introduction. The kids found the non-English words in the first paragraph and were highly amused to hear James D. Nicoll’s assertion that “English doesn’t borrow from other languages. English follows other languages down dark alleys, knocks them over and goes through their pockets for loose vocabulary.” They pulled out all the adjectives, and then had to brainstorm adjectives for each letter of the alphabet (I gave them “xenophobic” for X and they came up with the rest.)

Through all of this, E played with her Lego and listened with one ear; K alternately participated in N and R’s lesson and worked on her own literature passage. Nobody screamed. Everyone was fine. It was so refreshing.

After a short break, I brought out our Hannuka Chanukah חנוכה box and asked them to tell me what they know about the story of the holiday. K volunteered a fairly complete, if simplified, version. I asked them what they knew about what was happening in the world at the time: they responded with blank stares. So I read them a chapter about the historical context of Chanukah, pausing to reword or explain as needed. By the end they were, as Jane Austen might have said, all astonishment.

“How come they never taught us that stuff in school?” K demanded indignantly. “That’s way more interesting than the usual story!”

Wide eyed, R asked, “You mean there were Jews who wanted the Jewish laws abolished too? That’s crazy! I thought the Maccabees were only fighting the Syrian Greeks!”

N had many things to say on the subject, but (as so often happens) he rambled so much that I lost his point.

To end the lesson I asked the kids to help me put Chanuka on our history timeline. E decorated it with a shiny Menorah sticker and I wrote the caption—although I probably should have had the kids do it. Sometimes I get a bit too excited about this stuff and just do it myself.

After that the kids ransacked the Hannukah box for decorations and went to put up all the window clings they could find. Of course, there are never enough decorations, so we wound up in the Makery creating more. I put on our favourite album of Chanuka music and everyone did their own thing. I made a dreidel garland, K and N made window clings out of hot glue, and R folded teeny-tiny origami dreidels. E worked in mixed media and finished this sign:

That was the end of our school day, although I did read them another chapter and a half of The Birchbark House for literature. I went back to the Makery after dinner and started painting my drawing from last week’s art class (I’ll show you when it’s done.)

It was a good day, a full day, and a lot of learning happened. I’m really looking forward to tomorrow, when I’ll introduce them to this month’s writing project and teach them about Michelangelo before we attempt to paint on plaster.

crafty · DIY · education · Homeschool · Independence · Montessori · parenting

Day 244: Obvious

Even experienced parents sometimes forget the basics.

Last Thursday I had a meeting with E’s Montessori teachers. “It’s really hard to get her to do anything,” I griped. “I find myself threatening loss of screen time, but I know that’s not the Montessori approach.”

The teacher nodded sagely and suggested a visual schedule so that E could choose the order of activities and keep track of them herself. You know, kind of like the magnet boards I made the other kids.

You might have heard me slap my head and groan. Of course. This is, like, parenting 101. How did I forget?

So this morning I made her some schedule cards based on the assignments her teachers suggested for the week. I don’t have an extra magnet board, so I put elastics through a hole in the top of each card and wrapped them, luggage-tag-style, around the bannister railing on the main floor.

Did it work?

Sort of. She did the first three things eagerly enough, even snack prep. I found that amazing, given that she’s always been able to make her own snack, but almost never did it before the schedule board told her to. It’s almost like magic!

She very happily brushed glue along the lines of cursive letters and then sprinkled them with sand, making her own sandpaper letters. She dove into the stencilling work I’d prepared for her, holding her pencil and the stencil carefully. And she made her own strawberries and toast with cream cheese for snack, all by herself.

To think, she could have been doing far more these past five weeks if only I’d remembered the power of this kind of list. D’oh. At least I finally got my act together.