Day 564: Accidental Unschooling

K: Hey Abba, we just learned that worms poop when stressed!

Mr. December: Don’t we all…

We were in the middle of a biology lab, preparing onions to examine under the microscope, when K—who was using our dissection kit to prep the onion—said, “I’m bored. I really wanna go dig up some worms and then dissect them.”

Since we were missing a key component for our lab (blue stain so we could see the nuclei of the cells) I told her to go ahead. All three girls ran to get rubber gloves, tweezers, and a container for the worms; then they went outside and started digging.

That’s how today, instead of asking for school to be over, or complaining of boredom, K spent an hour and a half learning about earthworm anatomy and dissection. She went online and found a tutorial video and then worked to refine her technique. She kept going long past our stated end time for school (4 p.m.) and didn’t stop until she felt done.

I think this is what homeschoolers refer to as “unschooling”: the child shows an interest in something, so the adult provides time, materials, and resources, and supports further learning. Our kids weren’t doing anything like this when we first started homeschooling, and we openly laughed at the idea that they would ever become self-directed learners, but here we are.

Watching K take ownership over her learning totally gave me the worm fuzzies.

Image description. K is seated at a table, using tweezers on an earthworm that is pinned to a styrofoam tray.


Day 543: Mr. December’s Rebuttal

Hi Everyone, Mr. December here.

I would like to respond to the recent blog post #notallbedtimes.

First, I’d like to offer a fact check of one of the accusations leveled against me:

  • While a cow is a barnyard animal, an octopus is not.1

Now, in my defense:

Despite what you may have heard, our current bedtime routine is supported by robust empirical data, which I submit to you—the readers—for peer review: https://www.surveymonkey.com/results/SM-YNVN53DY9/

This recent survey of four representative children revealed:

  • 100% want longer bedtimes, not shorter, as implied by the author
  • 100% want not less, but more shenanigans
  • 100% reported that being rowdy at bedtime had no impact on their sleep. 
  • 75% rate bedtimes as “lots of fun”, with 25% having “sufficient” fun. None noted a fun deficit. Comments afterwards by multiple survey participants noted that more fun is required.
  • Barnyard animal preferences were mixed, ranging from no barnyard animals, to more than three.

In conclusion, the evidence suggests moving in the opposite direction: longer bedtimes with at least one additional shenanigan. 

In life, each person must play their role. Sara is Juliette to my Romeo; Bonnie to my Clyde; Stick-in-the-mud to my let’s-have-fun; the bad cop to my good cop. 

So tonight, while I engage in bedtime shenanigans, she says she’ll be finding some extra sheets and blankets and putting them on the couch for some reason.

Image description: Bar graphs of the results of Mr. December’s bedtime survey, which can be found at surveymonkey.com/results/SM-YNVN53DY9/(opens in a new tab)

Jewy goodness · Keepin' it real · mental health · Uncategorized · waxing philosophical · whine and cheese

Day 427: Fear

I broke my own rule, and now I’m sorry.

Scrolling through my Facebook feed, I noticed a post about Israel, by one of my FB friends. He said something about how nice it is to see the Jewish community starting to come around to the pro-Palestinian movement. A lot of other things were said, too, to which I responded with a few pointed questions about why the rest of the world is not engaged in this level of protest or demonization with regards to, say, China’s treatment of the Uyghurs, or the Syrian civil war. Could it be because Israel is the Jewish state? Could Antisemitism be a factor? I don’t even remember what was said in response; I do remember that one person’s comment ended with “shame on you!”

She also accused me of being too snarky and aggressive in my post. If I was Black and posting about racism, that would be called tone policing. If I was LGBTQ, I could say that any support for people whose goal is to kill all the Jews is a complete non-starter, because my right to exist is not up for discussion. If I was a university student I could claim that this kind of talk makes me feel ‘unsafe’, and I would receive emotional support for it. But I’m Jewish, which means that none of those things applies to me.

There is a degree of cultural and generational trauma for the Jewish community that often informs our view of the current (and ongoing) conflict. There is a lot of fear of what would happen if Israel backed off (because, you know, Hamas wants to drive us all into the sea.) The recent rise in Antisemitic attacks in North America doesn’t help. If the supporters of the Palestinians insist that their position has nothing to do with Antisemitism, how do they square that with the fact that Jews outside of Israel are being attacked because they are Jews? Is there an explanation that doesn’t point to Antisemitism? If there is, I’d desperately like to hear it and be able to believe it.

The whole situation in Israel/Palestine confuses and disturbs me. The situation of the Palestinian people, living under the thumb of a terrorist organization, is deeply saddening. And I hate that my Israeli cousins and friends have to wake their children in the middle of the night to run down to the bomb shelter. Beyond that, I’m hesitant to make any analysis, partly because I feel like I can never do the situation justice and partly because it won’t help anyway. There’s precious little, if anything, I can do to influence the situation.

I should probably just snooze posts from this friend and anyone else who posts things that upset me. It’s probably naïve of me to believe that if we can speak openly with each other, maybe we can find common ground and move closer to peace for everyone. But if I shut out the voices that make me uncomfortable, isn’t that also part of the problem? I don’t want to live in an echo chamber. I do, however, want to live without the anxiety that these encounters cause me. I want to live without fear. And right now, I don’t think I can.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All in all, it was a very good week.

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

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

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

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

The response was instant and overwhelming:

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

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

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

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

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


Day 90: Concussion redux

Today I was feeling fabulous. My head hadn’t hurt in at least a week, I had lots of energy, the weather was great. So when E asked me to go on the trampoline with her, I said yes.

Big mistake.

After three bounces, my head started to hurt. I climbed off the trampoline and went straight to bed, hoping I could sleep it off after a couple of hours.


It still hurts a bit (although it’s better now that I’ve taken an Advil) and I’m a bit dizzy. No long post from me tonight. I’m going to bed. See you all tomorrow.