Keepin' it real · Kids · snarky · well *I* think it's funny... · whine and cheese

Day 568: I didn’t even know their names.

I’m feeling pretty cruddy today. In classic mom style, though, I saw a need and filled it: the dishwasher needed to be run, so I started loading it up.

Then around the corner strolled Bob (okay, fine. I didn’t ask his name; I’m making it up.) Also Donna, Jameel, Mitzi, and Edna (again, not their real names.) All five of them, with their segmented bodies and six legs each, scattered across the countertop.

Ants.

“R and K!!! Get down here NOW!!!” I bellowed (as much as one can bellow while feeling ill.)

“What is it, Eema?”

“You two ate outside on the back porch. Fine. Then you left your dishes outside. So I called you to bring them in, which you did. Great. Know what else you brought in? ANTS! When you bring in dishes that were left outside, you have to rinse them immediately to make sure no insects have hitched a ride! Now they’re ALL OVER THE COUNTER! WHAT GIVES?”

By this point, Bob, Donna, Jameel, Mitzi, and Edna had been joined by at least a dozen other ants. I didn’t ask their names; it’s probably for the best, since I knew I was about to kill them. Down slammed the executioner’s dishcloth, and the ants were washed away in the sink.

“Sorry, Eema. I didn’t actually know that would happen,” said a child who will remain nameless (but not blameless.)

“Seriously? You didn’t know that if there was an ant inside the bowl when you brought it inside, it would crawl out of the bowl and into the kitchen when you failed to rinse it? Come on.” I huffed.

In a very small voice the child said, “Is there something I can do to help you now?”

An exasperated sigh from me, and then, “Just don’t do it again,” I grumbled as I turned back to the dishwasher. A lone ant marched along the cutlery tray, probably giving me the stink-eye; I popped in a detergent tab and closed the door.

So long, little ants. We hardly knew ye.

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

Day 565: Homeschooling Backstory Part 2 (Guest Post)

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Child’s AgeFucks You Should Give About Grades In Homeschool
4-80
9-100.0
11-140 + 0i
15-17e(3iπ/2)+ i
18Just make up a bunch of grades and submit them to universities – what are they going to do, call your principal? 

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

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

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


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

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

Day 562: Once More with Rigor

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

(Homeschool Backstory Part 1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned for the next installment of my journey.

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

*HENSE: Home Educators with No Science Education

Keepin' it real · Kids · lists · parenting · snarky · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 561: I wanted to say…

We were at the supermarket checkout packing up our groceries. I was showing the kids how to bag items so that nothing gets squashed (“Guys, if you stack all the plastic clamshells from largest to smallest, you have a stack that won’t fall over and nothing will open accidentally.”) Suddenly, I heard a man’s voice behind us:

“Hey, guys? Just remember that you’re not the only people in the world, okay? Other people need to check out, too.”

When none of us even acknowledged his statement, he upped the ante: “Yeah, and that was the NICE WAY TO SAY IT!!!”

Here are the things I didn’t say to him (in no particular order):

  • “WHAAAAA?!?”
  • “Neither are you.” (the only people in the world, that is)
  • “Oh! Your Majesty! I’m so sorry—I would never want to obstruct the royal procession! Please forgive your humble subjects!”
  • “(gasp!) You mean…” I’d look around furtively, then whisper, “there are others?
  • “Oh, go love yourself.” (à la Justin Bieber)
  • “I’m trying to teach my children to be patient, and you’re setting a really bad example right now.”
  • “There are other people in the world, but no other checkout lines you could have used? How peculiar.”
  • “OMG, you sound just like my grade ten math teacher! Yeah…he was a jerk too.”
  • “I just upped my meds, so up yours.”

And my personal favourite:

  • “Damn! You distracted me and I did this bag all wrong! Now I’ll have to unpack it and start all over again!”

What did I say instead? Nothing at all. I kept my cool, ignored him, and went on with my day.

crafty · Homeschool · Kids · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 531: Mapwork or Make-work?

K and N started their History work today. It consisted of some reading, a few summary sentences, some timeline additions, and mapwork. In case you’re unfamiliar with what “mapwork” entails, it involves a blank map and a list of things to label and/or colour in.

Upon reading the mapwork assignment, K was not impressed. She went on a long rant:

“This is such a stupid assignment! The map they want us to refer to doesn’t even show the exact same area! And how the heck am I supposed to know whether the fertile crescent is the area inside that line or outside it? And shading it would make the labels look stupid! And how am I supposed to know where anything is, anyway? Besides, it’s impossible to do it exactly correctly…”

Then, in true Giftie-with-ADHD fashion, K made her counter-proposal:

“Can’t I just get a giant piece of watercolour paper and make a world map from scratch? I’d make sure I had all the lines right and I could colour it nicely and label everything and it would be like a work of art! Can I do that instead of doing all these dumb map assignments that are pointless and confusing?”

You read that right: she objected to having to label five bodies of water and outlining one geographical area on a blank map—work that would take her about five minutes to do if she’d let herself—and instead wanted to spend weeks or even months working on a large-scale world map. She’d rather do more work as long as it’s self-directed and creative, if it means getting out of following instructions that she doesn’t care about.

N, on the other hand, did the very same mapwork assignment in about three minutes. It turned into seven minutes after I refused to accept messy, sub-par work and taught him how to use a ruler to help keep his labels neat and readable. I wonder… how many years of “Go back and do it properly this time” will it take for him to just do it well the first time?

Darn Tootin' · Homeschool · Resorting to Violins · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 530: First Day Back

We began our school day with a back-to-school assembly. Our principal, Mr. December, welcomed everyone back and gave a special welcome to E, who is beginning grade one and is now a full-time student at our homeschool. As part of the welcoming tradition, E had to run around the room getting high fives from everyone. It was adorable and she was so excited.

Of course, no assembly is complete without the school song. I wrote this one to the tune of Safety Dance by Men Without Hats.

We wear pants at our homeschool
we don’t show our bare behinds
but when we say “bare” our mascot gets scared so
we’ll just say “behinds”

We can learn what we want to
just as long as we’re wearing pants
because as you might know it’s our school motto:
Wearing pants leads to excellence.

Put on pants, put on pants
Everybody’s waiting for you
Put on pants, put on pants
It’s the smart thing to do.
Put on pants, put on pants
Even if they show off your shins
Put on pants, put on pants,
That’s how excellence begins!

Oh, we wear pants!
Excellence!
Oh, we wear pants!
Excellence!

I am proud to say, by the way, that 100% of our student body was wearing pants today, as were all staff.


I can’t speak for E, but I had a lot of fun in Grade One today. In only two hours we were able to cover science (criteria for life,) reading (phonics program and storytime,) handwriting, math, and Hebrew. Oh, and grammar. The only thing we didn’t do was flute, but I’m inclined to let that slide for today because she practices every day without being told.

In fact, we had a trial lesson with a flute teacher yesterday. E’s excitement is so endearing—she played a few songs for her teacher and tried everything the teacher showed her. Her lessons begin in earnest a week from Friday; in the meantime I’ve gotten her a subscription to Little Flute Magazine, which contains a recipe for flute-shaped cookies, some fun puzzles, and other flute-related content. Anything to keep up the excitement, right?

I haven’t had the same kind of luck finding a viola teacher for K. One teacher had no space in her schedule; the next only works out of her own studio and we’re committed to finding teachers who will come to us—or at least teach online—so that’s not going to work. I’ll keep looking, all the while hoping that K doesn’t lose the excitement for viola that she gained at camp.

Camping it up · DIY · family fun · Homeschool · Kids · water you paddling? · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 520: Another Quiet Week

Sometimes life gives us do-overs.

We dropped K, N, and R off at music camp today. Last time we did a camp drop-off, they jumped out of the car without looking back; today they actually took the time to say goodbye. I guess that’s progress.

It’s brutally hot and humid right now, so I decided that after we’d unloaded the kids at camp, Mr. December and I would take E to a beach on the way home. We ended up at something called “Whale Beach” in Orillia: a lovely little beach with a playground, splash pad, kayak rental, and snack bars.

The water was warm—almost too warm to be refreshing—and we dunked ourselves before inflating our kayaks and setting out for a paddle. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I need a better kayak. Last night we went to the beach downtown and I saw a folding kayak and another kayak that comes apart for ease of transport; time for me to do some more research, I think.

Where was I? Oh, yes.

With the three big kids gone this week, I’m hoping to get some serious work done. Everyone knows that a great way to ensure you’ll do things is to be accountable to others; so I’m telling you what all I plan to have done by this time next week.

  • Cut, paint, and install drawer fronts in library.
  • Finish shelving all library books.
  • Finalize which book sections we have and order labels for the shelves.
  • Firm up our travel plans; buy plane tickets and book accommodations.
  • Learn to use Homeschool Planet, an online planner that looks like it’ll make my life easier. Plug in all the curriculum information and figure out our schedule.
  • Prepare history binders for R and E.
  • Make time for myself every day: see some friends, paint some rocks, go kayaking, whatever.

Looks like a full week, doesn’t it? I think I can do it as long as the weather cools down. If it doesn’t, well… I’m no Wicked Witch of the West, but I’m mellltiiiiing…

Jewy goodness · Keepin' it real · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 511: Eshet Chayil

On Friday night, before the Shabbat meal begins, a husband and his children will traditionally sing a psalm about the qualities of an Eshet Chayil, a woman of valour.

It’s not something we do in our home, although we have done sometimes; still, it’s a lovely sentiment. Even millennia ago it was recognized that women do a heck of a lot of things for their families. But some of it didn’t ring true, and in a kiddush-wine-induced burst of creativity, I decided to make it a bit more applicable to my life. I hope you enjoy it as much as my kids did.


A woman of valour who can find? For her price is far above the combined salaries of academic advisor, party planner, therapist, tutor, chef, personal secretary, medic, and chauffeur.
The heart of her husband safely trusts in her, And he has no lack of back scratches.
She does him good and not evil all the days of her life, unless he’s acting like a complete jerk, in which case she might swipe his favourite bathrobe for a day or two.
She seeks Mod Podge and Sculpey, And works willingly with her hands.
She is like the merchant­ ships; She brings goods from afar, though she is trying to buy more local products.
She rises also while it is yet night, And goes about turning off all the lights and jiggling the handle on the toilet that runs.
She considers a field, and remembers that the kids need running shoes; With the fruit of her hands she plants a tomato plant—a little later than she should have, but that’s okay because climate change has extended the growing season.
She girds her loins with spandex, And makes strong her arms with push-ups and planks.
She perceives that her IKEA hack is good; Her lamp goes not out by night because she needs to know how the novel ends.
She lays her hands to the keyboard, And her hands hold the mouse.
She stretches out her hand to the poor; Yea, she leaves coins in her car for the desperate who walk around the neighbourhood at night trying car doors to see if they are unlocked.
She is not afraid of the snow for her household; For snow removal is now the children’s job.
She makes for herself quilts; Her clothing is adorned with pockets.
Her husband is known in the gaming world, When he sits among the Wizards of the Coast.
She makes toddler backpacks and sells them; And delivers a good talking-to when her children need it.
Honesty and kindness are her clothing; And she laughs at dad jokes.
She opens her mouth with wisdom; And “Stop licking your brother!” is on her tongue.
She looks well to the ways of her household, And eats not the bread—because that is the only thing her son will eat.
Her children rise up, and let her sleep in; Her husband also, and he makes her coffee:
’Many daughters have done valiantly, But you really knocked it out of the park with your challah this week.’
Grace is deceitful, and beauty is vain; But a woman that doesn’t buy into oppressive standards of beauty, she is to be happy.
Give her of the fruit of her hands; And let her children praise her when they themselves become parents.


A translation of the original text can be found here.

education · Homeschool · Kids · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 505: I <3 Back-to-School

I felt well enough today to be mostly up and about, with a break in the afternoon when Mr. December took all four kids out for a few hours. I still wasn’t equal to anything requiring original thought, but I figured it wouldn’t be too hard to print out all the new curriculum materials I just bought.

I’m still in love with our new (last year) printer; All I do is hit “print” and it does, double-sided, every time. It’s one of my “best purchase ever” items, alongside other workhorses like my bakfiets (cargo bike,) my power tools, and my giant Omnigrid rulers. You know, stuff that does what it’s supposed to do, reliably and without a fuss. And that, friends, is why my bakfiets is better than people.

But I digress.

The printer has been running pretty much nonstop since 3 p.m. So far I’ve printed and hole-punched History Odyssey for both K and N (one copy each,) History Quest for myself (I still need to make copies of the notebooking pages for R and E,) and Real Science Odyssey: Life for E.

I must admit, I’m getting pretty excited about school this year. Between my super-organized school supply drawers and now my beautifully printed curricula, I’m like that dad in the back-to-school commercial (“It’s the most wonderful time of the year…”). Except, of course, that I’m not celebrating getting the kids out of the house everyday, but learning amazing new things and using all these beautiful supplies. Back-to-school never gets old.

Unless, N pointed out, you’re not in homeschool, in which case back-to-school is a drag (for him.) He’s heard from outside sources that back-to-school also necessitates clothes shopping, which he hates. Good thing he’s not going to school. As our homeschool motto goes, “Excellence begins with wearing pants”… but really, any pants will do.