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

Day 868: Pole Dancing and Physics

I’ve been working on our homeschool yearbook—I want to finish it before we start a new year. We’ve been so many places and done so many things (and have way, way, waaaay too many pictures) that I had a hard time figuring out how to organize it. By location? By activity type? Some other theme?

You know what, I finally said to myself, it’s a school yearbook. Do it by academic subject.

It was a great idea, if I do say so myself, because it totally appeals to our sense of humour (Mr. December’s and mine.) Homeschoolers and worldschoolers are forever saying that their kids learn school subjects through daily life (“Baking is science! Comparing quantities of chips in two people’s bowls is math!”) —you get the idea, don’t you? By taking this attitude with our yearbook, we can include pictures of everything from pole dancing to petting an alpaca, and call it all school.

I did the physics page just now. It’s not finished, but I’m including the screenshot to give you the general idea:

A two-page spread in a photo book. Title is "Physics---the study of matter, energy, and the relationships between them." Photographs are of kids in hammocks, people ziplining, playing on a slide, leaning into the wind, pole dancing, etc.
Yes, pole dancing involves rotational inertia and angular velocity.
Homeschool · Keepin' it real · Kids · Worldschooling

Day 850: Here’s the Proof

I’ve been feeling kind of disappointed with our homeschooling this past year; even more so when I look at our last yearbook. Last year we did literature units, grammar, volunteer work, writing projects… and it seemed to me that this year we have very little to show for our school year.

But then I wrote the report cards, and now I feel far better.

Having to fill in comments about each subject area forced me to categorize everything the kids have done since January. All kinds of things floated back to me: history journals, cultural learning through travel, all the books the kids read of their own volition, discussions of comparative mythology, and an entire month of learning about Jewish history, culture, and religion. The incredible amount of nature and science learned in the desert, the museums we went to, the art they did for fun.

It’s amazing how simply writing it down makes you aware of things you’d forgotten, isn’t it?

What will our next school year bring? Yesterday I would have said a return to greater structure and more assignments from me; now I’m not so sure. It seems that the kids learned plenty without being forced—and I’ll bet they retained it, too.

Homeschool · Worldschooling

Day 845: Taking School on the Road

Today I spoke to a friend who had questions about traveling and homeschooling kids at the same time. Apparently I’ve got a wealth of knowledge now; she asked me if I’ve ever put this stuff on my blog, and it occurs to me that I haven’t put it all down in one place before. I’ll try to remedy that starting today, although it may take several posts before I’ve got it all down.

Her first question was, “What school supplies and books do you pack? How do you keep from packing too much?”

Here’s my basic list for school supplies:

Pic of my standing pencil case.
This is my pencil case, not the family one. Same case, different colour and contents.

We take a pencil case for everyone to share. We love ours because it stands up like a pencil cup when open and it’s easy to see everything at once. The pencil case contains:

  • 10 (or so) HB pencils
  • A few sketching pencils (2H, 2B, 4B)
  • a 6-inch ruler and a protractor
  • scissors
  • a couple of ballpoint pens
  • felt-tip pens/markers
  • pencil crayons (just the primary and secondary colours)
  • glue tape
  • a few erasers
  • a small pad of sticky notes and some sticky flags
  • a pencil sharpener

Each child has a clipboard: I’ve blogged about these before. What I put inside them is different now, though. To review: on the outside of each clipboard I’ve glued and laminated a piece of white paper, to create a whiteboard. Inside, I pack each child’s lined notebook and small sketchbook (more on those in a minute), a pencil or pen, and a dry-erase marker; I also include any workbook or worksheets we’re taking with us.

We only take printed books if they are a must-have and we can’t get them in e-format. Anything else we read is on our Kobos, either purchased online or (more often) borrowed from our public library using Overdrive (it’s integrated into the Kobo software.)

When we went to Costa Rica, K had just discovered an interest in dissection for biology. I put together a science kit for the kids by filling a zippered pencil case with:

  • a pocket microscope (ours has a fold-out slide holder)
  • glass slides and slide covers
  • pre-wrapped disposable scalpels
  • tweezers
  • a styrofoam tray
  • straight pins

They never used the kit, although I did; I dropped it from my packing list on later trips, taking only the pocket microscope (because you never know when you’ll want to examine something a little more closely.)

That’s really it for school supplies and stationery. It can be reasonably compact—although on our last trip (to Israel) we did end up taking a few more books that we really needed.

Travelogue · Worldschooling

Day 811: Catching Up…

I’m way behind here. I feel like if I don’t just list the stuff we’ve done since Tel Aviv, I’ll forget about it and fail to blog about it at all; so, ready or not, here comes a big bulleted list of stuff.

  • We had four hours after our return from Tel Aviv before Shabbat—enough time to receive our dinner order and discover that we were missing a whole liter of cholent. Wolt customer service was perfect—they contacted the restaurant (which was just closing) and had them send out the missing cholent. Crisis averted.
  • We spent most of Shabbat at the park, then spent a few hours resting before Shavuot began.
  • Our new friends in Jerusalem invited us to Shavuot dinner. We had a fabulous time—they were singing some of our favourite Sandra Boynton songs (from Philadelphia Chickens) in four-and five-part harmony.
  • Sunday: we spent some time learning Jewish history and the 39 melachot (types of labour) you’re not allowed to perform on Shabbat. Then we ate ice cream (because Shavuot is the ice cream and cheesecake holiday, of course.)
  • Monday: we met friends of ours who made aliyah from Toronto a number of years ago. Our teenage daughters really hit it off—K ended up going back to their house with them for the rest of the day.
  • Tuesday: homeschool day, followed by a picnic dinner in the park. Then we stayed and played past 10 p.m.
  • Wednesday: some homeschooling in the morning (more Jewish history and finished up the 39 melachot,) then an afternoon shopping with R and K. Had dinner at a sit-down restaurant for once, then went to the park and stayed until 10 p.m. E got stuck at the top of a parkour wall and another dad had to help us get her down.
  • Thursday (today): Mr. December and K went up to the Temple Mount (that’s a story he’ll have to tell you) while the other kids and I slept in. We all met at City of David, an archaeological site that is uncovering ancient Jerusalem. Tour included a hike through an aqueduct with knee-high water, but the kids chickened out of the water hike and we walked through regular tunnels instead. Brought them home and left to meet my friend from Haifa for a Segway tour; it was awesome fun, and now I want a Segway.

Tomorrow is a shopping and packing day, then Shabbat. We’re invited out for Shabbat lunch on Saturday. Then it’s a mad rush after Shabbat ends to get to the airport for our flight home (and possibly meet up with another cousin for an hour or two, depending on the timing.)

I’m not ready to go home yet. I’m going to miss it here.

family fun · Travelogue · Worldschooling

Day 808: After the Desert

The day after our trip to Mizpe Ramon was a normal homeschool day in the morning; In the afternoon we headed to the Bible Lands Museum to meet up with Nachliel (The Museum Guy) and his duckies again.

The kids were behaving like kids that day. The entrance to the exhibits featured a huge map of the Middle East with buttons you could push to light up the borders of each civilization. Guess what the kids were fighting over? If you guessed the buttons, you get partial credit: they were also arguing over the rubber duckies.

Nachliel was both patient and firm with the kids, and pretty soon he had them in front of a display about the first alphabets, where they had to figure out how to write their names in ancient Hebrew. I did mine too.

N and E were the most excited about this museum: E because of the Egyptian exhibit (she still loves Ancient Egypt,) and N because of the Ancient Greek and Roman stuff. Nachliel kept them all engaged with the duckies and some dad jokes that were so bad, they were good.

Thursday also happened to be the day of the Jerusalem Pride Parade. Mr. December took K and R, both of whom wanted to see it. Apparently security was tight and they needed wristbands to get in. No problem, though: three people were leaving the parade and passed their wristbands on to my husband and children. So much for security. The guards were busy harassing a young woman with her bicycle who lived within the parade boundaries, telling her she couldn’t get through for another three hours. In the end they relented, and allowed her to return home escorted by one of the soliders on duty.

Mr. December reports that it was the tamest pride parade he’s ever seen. In sharp contrast to Toronto Pride, which has often featured guys in leather, drag queens, and flamboyant floats, the Jerusalem Pride March involved a bunch of people… wait for it… marching… very slowly.

Despite the march’s short distance (1 kilometer) and slow pace, both R and K claimed exhaustion when they got home. I think that means we need to build their stamina. From now on, forced marching every day!


Note: yesterday I posted both days 806 and 807. If you didn’t get to read them both—one about learning in the desert, the other about returning our rental car—you should be able to find them by clicking on the big orange “Sweet & Crunchy” at the top of the page, then scrolling down til you see them. -S

family fun · Keepin' it real · Travelogue · Worldschooling

Day 806: Desert Classroom

Boaz picked us up on our last morning in Mitzpe Ramon for a Jeep tour of the machtesh.

He pulled over at a scenic lookout point—not to look out, mind you, but to use his windshield as a whiteboard while he explained the size and shape of the crater-that-isn’t-a-crater.

Then we descended, via the hairpin turns that didn’t seem so scary anymore. It was like every other drive we had taken in our own car along highway 40—until Boaz steered right off the road and into the desert. We bumped along for a couple of minutes until we reached a dry riverbed (it becomes a raging river when it rains) and parked right next to the cliffs.

Boaz dripped some water on a rock, and suddenly it was clay. He explained that this was one of the first cosmetics; R and K tried using it as blush. Meanwhile, E was painting her face (à la warpaint) and searching for small chunks of clay to take home with us.

Picking up a couple of rocks, Boaz showed us how easily one could make a very sharp cutting edge from flint. He went so far as to cut some of his hair, just to prove the point. I wondered how many such mini-haircuts he was concealing under his baseball cap. Mr. December sat down and starting knapping his own arrowhead.

We examined other features of the cliff walls: places where lava had spread laterally with no place to exit, and places where fissures in the rock had allowed it to escape, leaving a streak of black volcanic rock for posterity.

Boaz taught about plants: the one used as an aromatic oil (it smelled vaguely of honey and something else that reminded me of the beeswax candles they make in Safed,) the one that survives flash floods by embracing a large clump of earth with its roots, and the one that can be ground up and mixed with water to get a very sudsy hand soap. Naturally I’ve already forgotten their names. Not to worry: Mr. December wrote them down somewhere.

Mr. December and the four kids standing and sitting around a large flat rock with a map embedded in it. Our tour guide is pointing to something far away.

We drove upwards until we were at the top of a hill. We could see the entire machtesh from there; Boaz showed us all the landmarks on a map and then pointed them out from where we were standing.

Driving us up a steep hill, Boaz announced that we were now on the edge of the machtesh looking in. Mr. December asked if we could climb to the craggy peak not far above us; Boaz thought that was a fine idea. By this point, N was asleep in the car, so we opened all the windows and left him to his nap while we climbed up the rocks. E even found another peak whose side was dotted with caves; she scrambled up to the top cave and insisted that we take pictures of her hiding in it. This kid is an adventurer, I tell you.

There was so much information and experience packed into that morning, it seemed to me that we must have covered at least a year’s worth of geography and science curriculum. I also have to admit that I was pretty proud every time one of my kids showed off their knowledge (by listing which elements are magnetic, or launching into a detailed description of a Greek myth) to an astounded (and impressed) Boaz.

Travelogue · Worldschooling

Day 803: Aren’t vacations supposed to be restful?

“This is great,” Mr. December enthused last night. “I guess sometimes you need a vacation from your vacation.”

So true. Since leaving Jerusalem yesterday around noon (after two hours of malfunctions and delays at the car rental place) we have:

  • Taken a 2½ hour drive into the desert;
  • Sweet-talked our way into a closed alpaca farm where we fed, petted, and conversed with some very assertive alpacas;
  • Swum twice, for a total of four hours in the pool;
  • Spent two hours stargazing;
  • Successfully navigated some very tight hairpin turns, on a cliff, in the dark, twice;
  • Walked uphill to the visitors’ centre (and then along the rim of the crater) in 31-degree heat and direct sun.

Now I’m tired from all the doing stuff. I don’t need a vacation from this vacation. I need a nap.

Travelogue · well *I* think it's funny... · Worldschooling

Day 802: Deserters

We’ve deserted Jerusalem for the desert. Don’t worry—it’s only for a couple of days.

Driving down to Mitzpe Ramon was a pleasure. No traffic jams, great scenery, and some road signs we’d never seen before.

Picture taken from the passenger seat in the car. Background is desert. A triangular sign shows a silhouette of a camel. The text reads "Beware of Camels Near The Road" in Hebrew, Arabic, and English.
We saw this sign not once, not twice, but at least two dozen times.

I think the kids got sick of my raptures after the third, “Oh! Look at that! I love the desert!”

“It’s just more desert,” one of them said. “It all looks the same. It’s boring.” Then we crested the hill and I gasped again at the sheer beauty of the wilderness while the kids went back to their devices.

In a few minutes we’re going out to stargaze with an astronomer. It’s a new moon tonight and the sky was clear all day. We should have a spectacular view of the night sky.

Keepin' it real · Kids · Travelogue · Worldschooling

Day 795: In the Old City

The morning after is always hard.

Yesterday’s ramparts walk along the north side of the old city of Jerusalem was physically demanding; even after soaking in Epsom salts, most of us were exhausted and sore last night. It was only with a narrow margin (one vote) that we decided to go back to the old city.

(Lest you believe this was an instagram-worthy moment, I’ll assure you that we only left the house after 30 minutes of crying, some yelling, and more than a few sighs. That’s just how this family rolls.)

On the way to the train we bought croissants, challah buns, and a bunch of bananas for breakfast. The light rail train dropped us off by the Jaffa gate, and we immediately headed for the ramparts walk, south section.

Bad news: even though the rampart walk tickets are valid for two consecutive days, the tickets we bought yesterday were stamped with Saturday’s date. The ticket-taker didn’t want to let us in. After we argued for a while, he reluctantly punched our tickets and allowed us to pass, saying “It’s illegal, you know.” Thus admonished, we set out.

We took a break halfway along the wall to sit and sketch for a while. Here’s mine:

pencil sketch of a minaret, a church steeple, three flags (two Israeli, one unidentified) and various stone walls.

After we descended from the ramparts we wandered through the Jewish quarter for a while. Mr. December showed off his bargaining skills, bringing the (overinflated) price of a whole lot of stuff from 1050 shekels to five hundred. He didn’t even compromise. He said, “Five hundred.” and the guy looked at him and said, “Maybe 750?” and Mr. December said, “Five hundred.” It went back and forth like that until the guy decided he wanted the sale, and accepted five hundred shekels.

We saw a multimedia presentation about the Burnt House, a remnant of the destruction of the Second Temple (63 CE.) We ate lunch (I’ve been here for two weeks and that was my first falafel. Worth waiting for, by the way.) Then we walked back down to the Kotel and sat down to write notes. It took a bit of coaching for the kids to think of something not completely shallow (“please make Abba buy us candy,”) but in the end everyone had a note or two to put into the wall.

By then, it was time to go. Mr. December went off to a meeting he had with the International Free Loan people. The kids and I boarded the number 1 bus (super crowded and super slow—next time we walk back to the Jaffa gate and take the train) to go home. And once we got there, we all collapsed.

Stay tuned for tomorrow: a normal, possibly boring, school day at home, with a chance of a foray into the shuk.

Guest Posts · Travelogue · Worldschooling

Day 794: All Along the Watchtowers (Guest Post by Mr. December)

Sunday – Yom Rishon (The First Day) – is not a weekend in Israel. And when in Rome, get yelled at by the kids a lot. But eventually we did some math, watched Bill Gates shill for Apple Computers (in 1984), and Mark Rober pranking scammers in India. Then after an hour in the park, we were treated to more whining about going to the Kotel. R’s friend wanted her to put a note into the wall (as did our dentist) which really motivated her to go.

Finally, we managed to go the big event: The Kotel. Act I: Forgetting N’s kippa and going back to the house before realizing it was in the bag already. Act II: Forgetting sunscreen and going back to the house to get it. Act III: Actually getting on the train up to the Jaffa Gate. We bought our rampart tickets and decided to go clockwise on top of the old city wall, around the Christian quarter and the Muslim one. Plan was to circle back around to the Jewish quarter, but nope, didn’t do my research: the rampart walk ends suddenly on the far side of the city.

The old city is very safe, but nevertheless I took off my kippa and I noticed Sara was carefully speaking English. First we went east, to an entrance to the Temple Mount, but we weren’t allowed up (Muslims only) by a polite soldier in broken English, who was very pleased when we switched to Hebrew. “I’m not sure exactly where you should go, take care of yourselves” was the advice we got. But we knew where to go and took the long stroll west and then south through the Arab market.

Since R was having a hard time being in a strange place, I wasn’t allowed to shop or buy anything, so at least I saved a few hundred bucks. Sof-sof (finally) we arrived at the security gate for the Kotel. S and R took a rest on some nearby steps, and the rest of us went back into the Arab market and purchased some excellent food that was a bit cheaper than everywhere else. First the shopkeeper didn’t return my change, then returned 20 Shekels too little, but after some discussion we got it right. N loved his fresh orange juice: “Just like eating a fruit but I don’t have to do any work like peeling or chewing”.

Rested and fed, we changed into our Kotel clothes and entered the plaza. The Kotel is divided by sex, so I took N to the men’s part where we prayed and I laid Tefillin (particular Jewish prayer ritual that I rarely do). The girls went to their side, deposited their notes, and came back noticeably happier. Should we return tomorrow to see the other side of the walls (included in our first tickets)? Maybe go to the museums and explore the Jewish quarter? I’ve got a meeting at 1:30 in Talpiot (another neighbourhood of Jerusalem) to meet with the microfinance organization I volunteer with (Ogen), so we’ll have to get there bright and early. But this means no formal school, so at least the kids will be happy.