Friday, December 31, 2010

A nice poetry site

I just discovered this nice poetry site .   They also have a children's section.  Excellent for reading practice, copywork, memorization, elocution and other exciting language activities.  Enjoy!!!

Art projects and lessons

I love doing art projects and I love looking for new ideas for more crafty things to do. Just today as I was cleaning up and reorganizing the house a little,  I enjoyed the fact that there are so many former projects of various sorts decorating the house and really making it into a home that is unique to our family. But this past month we were just too busy with other things to really get anything major going.  So the other night, one of my sons, while complaining about something else just blurted out that he was upset that we "don't even do projects anymore".  It was sad but it was also kind of sweet.  It's nice to know that creative projects are such a part of their lives that when we don't do it, they feel like they are really missing something.  So this mommy better look through her blog's craft section and get some art activities going around here.  Meanwhile, here is a link for a site that has lots of great art projects and lessons for kids.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Defining success

Today was an interesting day.  The weather was beautifully overcast, contemplative if you will.  On the surface everything was pretty ordinary.  The kids played, we did some lessons, read books, discussed.  I cooked, I thought about our eating and cooking habits (hopefully another post right there).   I tried to tidy up.  I made sure the kids were dressed weather appropriately, we went out.  I practiced some new photographing ideas I read about yesterday.  I got some great shots.  I really would like to take better photos.  I thought about the blog.  I fed and changed and cuddled and read stories and answered questions.  Then came the meltdowns and bumps and tears and for today, a later bedtime.  It was a very full day but I haven't accomplished as much as I would have liked.  But was it a good day anyway?  How does one define success in a life of a family?  I once asked myself this question, what would I consider a successful day for me?   I think for me a successful day is when something was learned and something was taught and everything else was good enough.  So by this standard today was a success even if it left something to be desired.  I have to keep reminding myself that the journey itself, with all its' trials and tribulations, all its' small accomplishments and successes, is important.  It's the direction you are heading in that's significant a lot of the time.  So we have to learn to define success as more than just the end deal.   So here is a really sweet  poem by Mary Morrison that really expresses this point well.
Nobody Knows But Mother
How many buttons are missing today?
Nobody knows but Mother.
How many playthings are strewn in her way?
Nobody knows but Mother.
How many thimbles and spools has she missed?
How many burns on each fat little fist?
How many bumps to be cuddled and kissed?
Nobody knows but Mother.
How many hats has she hunted today?
Nobody knows but Mother.
Carelessly hiding themselves in the hay
Nobody knows but Mother.
How many handkerchiefs wilfully strayed?
How many ribbons for each little maid?
How for her care can a mother be paid?
Nobody knows but Mother.
How many muddy shoes all in a row?
Nobody knows but Mother.
How many stockings to darn, do you know?
Nobody knows but Mother.
How many little torn aprons to mend?
How many hours of toil must she spend?
What is the time when her day's work shall end?
Nobody knows but Mother.
>How many lunches for Tommy and Sam?
Nobody knows but Mother.
Cookies and apples and blackberry jam
Nobody knows but Mother.
Nourishing dainties for every "sweet tooth,'
Toddling Dottie or dignified Ruth-
How much love sweetens the labor, forsooth?
Nobody knows but Mother.
How many cares does a mother's heart know?
Nobody knows but Mother.
How many joys from her mother love flow?
Nobody knows but Mother.
How many prayers for each little white bed?
How many tears for her babes has she shed?
How many kisses for each curly head?
Nobody knows but Mother.
- Mary Morrison

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Some interesting language and education links

Here is a link to Joy Hakim's of the History of US fame blog with interesting reflections on teaching, history, classical story narrative approach and other observations.  I haven't looked at these books extensively recently because the last time I've seen one, my kids were too young for it, but it might be something worth looking into for twaddle-free history teaching.
Here is an interesting piece on Linguistic Development Through Poetry Memorization - Charlotte Mason fans as well as those of the Suzuki Talent Education method will be pleased.
Here is a unique language arts program which looks interesting in its' approach and you can take a look at some samples.  If you have a child who is into language, grammar and etymology, he might like this.  But alas, it's quite expensive so other cheaper avenues of acquiring the same skills can be pursued such as Charlotte Mason method or any other method emphasizing living books .
What unites these three links is the idea that language proficiency and sophistication is crucial to intellectual development and the stress on the fact that these truths were once assumed to be self-evident and were part of a standard education. Therefore, if we would like our children to be able to think and express themselves with the aforementioned proficiency and sophistication we would be wise to go back to the old and proven methods of instruction.

Monday, December 27, 2010

More old books for Jewish children and youth

I am always on a lookout for good reading material for the kids, especially of the Jewish kind and today I came home with a bag full of just such books.  Today, I borrowed some really great books from the local Jewish lending library.  Among them were a few old books (whenever I see old, I get excited) which were a compendium of a British Jewish Youth Journal  called Haderech from the 1970'sand 1980's from Keren HaTorah Publishing.  So far the stories that I read were fantastic in terms of content, language, originality, etc., the journals also include poetry, puzzles, quizzes, quotes, holiday related materials and such.   I also like the fact that the stories I've read so far were inspirational, positive and not scary.  The Best of Olameinu story collections were high quality in terms of writing and content but featured a dispraportionate number of Holocaust and other scary historical event stories which was just too much for my 8 year old who is very sensitive to such things.  So I am really looking forward to reading more of these anthologies, which to my great delight are available on Amazon.  These would make great resource for reading practice, copywork and possibly be an inspiration for writing more of this kind of stories  and maybe starting a magazine like that, even just as a project or a family newspaper or a youth group thing.  Another name that keeps on surfacing in the quality Jewish children's stories department is Gershon Kranzler. You get really excellent writing, but in some of the books the content is too scary for the young and the sensitive types so parents have to pick and choose.  Yet another quality publication from the past for teens and adults are the series of books from the 1940's and 1950's called the Jewish Pocket Books where you can get history, philosophy and other interesting things like that. Here is one.   As always, when you read these old books, you also get a feel for the historical context as an additional bonus.

The goings on

My editor has been complaining that things as of late have been sounding either too perfect or too morbid.  So in respect to his feelings, I'll try to stay away from the Arab-Israeli  conflict, or problems plaguing the Jewish community and reassure everyone, that indeed we are very far from perfect and there are plenty of hard and challenging moments mixed in with the happy and sanguine ones in this family's life and stick to education.  So now that I am done with the disclaimers, let me proceed with some of the goings on.  I've been doing a whole lot of reading and contemplating on the subject of the Charlotte Mason education and exactly what I like about it.  Being that I really like good books and beautiful illustrations and as the editor points out, am quite hung up on good middos and character, even before I've ever heard of Charlotte Mason and her ideas, we've been  using quite a few of them without even realizing it.  It also occurred to me, that picture study, with all its' pluses can be applied to any art or illustrations of quality and that children quite naturally narrate things read to them or whatever they happen think about.  So it makes me think, that what makes the great educators great, is their understanding of human nature, especially that of children and how they learn best . Hopefully, I'll write more bout all this soon.    But I digress, again.  I've also been rereading some of my education books for ideas and a book by Rabbi Emanuel Feldman called Biblical Questions, Spiritual Journeys, quite excellent.  I've perused quite a few book lists, always an exhilarating pastime for a book aficionado.  I've discovered that has a free Kindle for PC and some free Kindle e-books.  Otherwise, we've read lots of stories, did some math, enjoyed some science tricks and experiments, baked focaccia and breadsticks together, played outside and inside, colored, listened to classical music(which to my surprise they really enjoyed), looked at some art and made many messes.  The 4 year old is very interested in the Purim story so she likes looking at the illustrated Artscroll megilla and asking a million questions.  The baby is starting to roll over.  The three year old is being her exuberant self.  The seven year old is very into ball playing besides his normal pursuits.  The eight year old generally likes to keep abreast of all the current events but decided that things are just too scary (oops, danger zone) so he is planning on avoiding newspapers for a while and requested we keep temptation to a minimum by keeping them out of his reach.  We had lots of good conversations.  My husband is always talking about some historical or geographical or scientific something with them as things come up.  I am trying to make sure they progress in their reading fluency,  have good penmanship and learn some spelling and grammar.  So we do copywork, usually I make up some sentence relevant to their life.  And we read and read and read. So it's been a hodge-podge of this and that, I'd like to get back to making more projects, get them to read some poetry once in a while and in general be more organized.  But as long as the basics get done on all fronts,  I am pretty content. So on the agenda -more of the same, plus.   And this has been the latest edition of the local goings on.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The starlit night

Yesterday, we had a short blackout.  So we lit the candles and pretended we were living in the olden days. It was pitch black outside. We heard the neighbours calling to each other from their porches.  Then we went outside, just to see what was happening.  What was happening, was that the black velvety sky was studded with the brightest, most luminous, most sparkling stars I've ever seen in my life, probably hundreds of stars.  It was out of this world beautiful.  Sometimes, modernity does blind us to what is right there in front of our eyes. My oldest was still awake at the time and feeling nervous in the dark, kept following us around, so he too ended up on the porch.  Then, thankfully, the lights went back on inside and the ones in the skies faded once again into the background.  But I couldn't help thinking, that moments like this, especially from one's childhood, one remembers for the rest of one's life.   It also got me thinking, how this experience was very much reminiscent of the times we find ourselves in.  On one hand, it is dark out there, very dark, one could almost feel the storm brewing (hopefully it will pass).  But on the other hand, our lives are filled with starlight, all the more brilliant because of the darkness that envelopes us.  On one hand, one hears the drums of war beating, almost everyday, in one way or another.  On the other hand, each day brings untold gifts, love and insight, little reminders from Above, of Who is in charge and how things are trully in His hands alone.  He told our forefather, Avraham, that he was above those brilliant stars, beyond the dire predications, beyond the mundane world, that he had nothing to fear from the stars or those that followed their paths to divine the future.  The One who made the stars is not bound by them and neither are His people as long as they follow Him and the path He chose for them.   So I will treasure this memory  and hopefully, so will my son, of this special night and all it represents.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Some great poetry

Here is some great poetry and an example of how meaningful family history is from  Enjoy!!!

They stole our hearts

They stole our hearts.  First came the bouncy little boy who looked like his mother and was Mr. Intensity since babyhood.  He is a real people person (unlike his parents) and doesn't like to do anything alone, most of the time.   He required (and still does) an enormous amount of attention, but he was our first so we didn't know any different and so we gave (and still do) without reservations and watched him blossom into a well spoken and intelligent boy who loves to learn and sing and is naturally religious.  Then came his brother, a mere 15 months later ( as I said, numero uno really doesn't like to be alone).  He too stole our hearts, with his sweet nature and innate sensitivity, his depth and his love of beauty and nature.  He is a natural brother, a natural scientist, a natural..., he could be a poster boy for unschooling, very unlike his brother who loves and needs structure.  Along came their sister, a sweet dainty flower, a girl version of her father, with her sparkling eyes, ever present smile and energy, she brings sunshine wherever she goes.  She packs a lot of punch despite her petite appearance and gives the boys a run for their money with her feistiness (and bossiness?).  She was an honorary boy for a while, despite her obvious femininity, but then her sister came along so they could do girl things together.  She too stole our hearts with her cuddliness and boisterousness and her dramatic flair and a penchant for providing comic relief just when it's needed most.  Then came the newest little boy who stole all of our hearts, with his softness and innocence and delight.  When I was expecting our second, I wondered how I could possibly love another child,  I already loved this one so so much.  But with each one, the love just grew and expanded to include all of them.   Sure it's hard sometimes and it takes a lot of resources, emotional and otherwise.  But we like having them around and spending time with them. We like them as individuals.  It's been quite a journey so far, this parenting thing, and it keeps challenging us and making us grow as parents and as people.  Sometime the responsibility of it can be overwhelming.  After all, the world that we live in today is not the world we grew up in.  It's a new and often bumpy terrain.  It's an ever evolving obstacle course, trying to help them grow in their individual paths,  to protect them, to train them, to arm them against the assaults of today's times, to teach them how to face up to and overcome challenges that inevitably come everybody's way.   They stole our hearts, these kids, they really are G-d's greatest gifts to us.  So when the daily bumps come up and the going gets tough,  I remind myself of all the goodness and sweetness and growth they brought into our life and I am overcome with gratitude for this tremendous privilege of being a parent to these special human beings and try and treat them accordingly.

Beautifully written

When a person looks at a beautiful piece of art or hears a stirring piece of music or beholds a breathtaking view, it moves something inside and uplifts a person.  It also educates the person to appreciate beauty, craftsmanship and excellence and perhaps to aspire to it.  When one encounters a beautifully written work it does all of the above and more ( at least for people who appreciate this kind of thing and like language).  In the recent decades the field of the Jewish publishing has really grown and there is plenty of excellent content available but I just wanted to mention a few of my favorite authors who combine superb content with superb writing. When one reads something by these authors, one gets the double pleasure of combined exquisiteness of expression and the beauty of the content.  So in the fashion of Charlotte Mason education, by reading these books we don't only gain important things from the standpoint of Jewish learning but also develop the appreciation for good writing that could then be emulated  in our own.   So here not in any particular order are a few of my favorites.   This is just a sampling and the links are not all inclusive.  In general, one I figure out the technical side, I'd like to put together a few booklists for different subjects. So to be continued...
Rabbi Emanuel Feldman
Sarah Shapiro
Hanoch Teller
Meir Uri Gottesman

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Toys and science, what could be better?

Here is a link for a really interesting book from 1915 called Home-Made Toys for Girls and Boys : wooden and cardboard toys, mechanical and electrical toys. Besides being a piece of history, it's full of really great toy making ideas and from the looks of it, some can be quite useful in explaining some science topics such as pulleys, levers or how wind can be used to generate power for example. This one is for the handy, the semi-handy and the adventurous.    Enjoy!!!

No pushing!!!

The four year old has finally gotten the one to one correspondence in counting and now delights in her newly found counting ability.  This once again reminds me that some things just cannot be hurried.  They get it when they do, each one is on his/her own time schedule.  First, there was the one who took his time with all motor development but eventually he learned to sit and crawl and walk and even got some teeth into the bargain.  Then, there was the one who always liked to learn things on his own, still doesn't like anyone to interfere with his thought and learning processes but when he gets it, he usually gets it in a deep way.  The two of them learned their alef beis and their ABCs early on, but for years afterward they just didn't understand how the letters and sounds went together but then they got it, when they did.  They still need to work on fluency but they understand the mechanics of reading.  Then, one wouldn't as much as touch a pen or draw anything, he kept saying that mommy should do it, but eventually the time came and suddenly he could and today he can write beautifully.  There are many many such examples I see with my children from toilet training, to nursing issues, to weaning,  also with various skills acquisitions, each in his/her way - it took time and patience and perseverance.  So often I find myself getting carried away,  there are so many things I'd like to teach them,  to show them today, right now.  But sometimes, the time is not yet ripe, one just can't make some things happen no matter how hard one pushes.  So a parent has to continue providing a rich environment, encouraging,  patiently teaching the necessary skills but at the same time realize that things might take longer, sometimes a lot longer than anticipated, but hopefully it will come in the end.  One should set goals but they have to be realistic and allow for individual variances and the parent (and the child) needs to be flexible enough to change tactics if need be.  But on the day when he/she finally gets it, there is a wonderful feeling of having arrived on a whole new plateau of awareness and it is sweet indeed.  So say a prayer, do your part and don't hurry things that can't be hurried, they will come when the time is right.  Certainly, inspire and encourage but don't push.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Science happens

There has been a lot of science related stuff going on here lately.  I borrowed a science book recently.  It was a science book meant for younger kids called Mada or science, in hebrew.  It turned out to be a translation of a book called Why Why Why Do Magnets Push and Pull ,  I can't speak for the original but the version I read was very well done.  Simple text which still managed to pack a lot of information into small space, nice illustrations, nice selection of topics and most importantly conveys the point that one can find science all around us, on playgrounds, cityscapes, etc.  I think it's a nice book to use as a springboard for further discussions and  explorations.  The same day I also borrowed a few textbooks, just to check out scope.  One was an elementary textbook for nature study and the other an elementary text for human anatomy and physiology.  I was very favorably impressed with both.  It was the first time I've seen an Israeli frum textbook.  I really enjoyed looking through them.  I think they could be quite useful to use as spines for  science and I was really delighted to see a science text that includes related verses from Tanach, the local geography, flora and fauna, etc.  I think the Jewish community in the Diaspora would be well served if someone would translate something like this into English, maybe someone already did, I just don't know. 
I've been doing some science tricks (experiments really) for the kids and they've been enthralled and asked for repeat performances.  In the past this hasn't worked as well, but now it seems the time is right and everyone from young to old is very excited about it. I also think it creates very positive associations for the kids when they think about science and might be interested to explore further.  I just wanted to mention a few more resources that we've found useful in our scientific adventures. 
Back to Basics - even though this is not technically a science book, there are many many areas discussed in it that have to do with science - gardening, animal husbandry, dying, environmental considerations, building, engineering, etc. One of my kids loves to look at it and talk about different things inside. 
Different "how things work" books are obvious good choices for learning about science.  There are many great popular science books that would be great for older children and up.  Field guides to birds, plants, etc and other well illustrated reference books.
Let's Read and Find Out  series for children are very informative and well done, at least the few I've seen this far.
Real Science 4 Kids - we have only one of these so far, but my scientifically inclined son liked this and my scientifically inclined husband said it was sound and well done from the scientific point of view:)
The Animal Atlas -another family favorite, beautiful animal pictures with some additional info and geography, I might very well have to get another one of these, the old one is coming apart.
We also have enjoyed reading different children's books touching on various subjects relating to science indirectly and generally often discuss subjects of interest that have to do with science as they come up.   So far this indirect approach has worked for us but as kids get bigger we might move into more "official" science, time will tell.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Crafts: A decorated parasol

Here is a very creative idea requiring minimal equipment besides the parasol, I think a one color umbrella can be substituted nicely.  There are lots of other very creative projects on that site worth checking out.  And so my already long list of crafts that I'd like to make, grows longer and longer:)

Crafts: An ice lantern

Here is a link to a really beautiful craft which can be done even if there is nothing resembling winter outside.  I think the kids will enjoy this one!!!

Comments are now functional, sort of

After fighting this comment problem for quite some time, the comments now seem to work but ONLY if you click on the particular post you wish to comment upon, which will then lead you to a "leave a comment form", don't ask.  Apparently, there is no way one can directly contact Blogger for tech support.   So it looks like one has to become a whole lot more computer savvy to a)solve one's own problems or b)be able to understand and follow instructions of other computer savvy people who can solve one's problem:)  I hope to hear from you all, provided that form actually works and is not an optical illusion designed to appease irritated and exhausted bloggers after a certain large number of failed attempts to sove a technical problem on one's own.  If all else fails, you can always contact me the old-fashioned way and send me an email:)

So what DO they play with?

I've been meaning to clean out the toy drawers, AGAIN.  Every now and then, I sort through the mess and try to organize everything but most of the time it just ends up in a jumble soon enough anyway.  Once in a while, I hear one of the visiting children ask to see the toys and my mind just keeps coming up with a blank.  Where are their toys, what do they play with?   We have plenty of toys or pieces of toys but what do they actually play with on regular basis?  So after careful analysis, here is the synopsis.  They mostly play imagination games using costumes, dolls, books and various other household items as props.  There are some toys that see some use such as the wooden blocks and the kappola, the dollhouses, the box cars with the map of a town mat, the dolls strollers which sometimes double as wheelchairs and such, the balls, the tricycle, the jump rope often doubling as a leash, occasional stuffed animal and the rocking horse.  Sometimes they play with their toys in ways that were not intended by the manufacturer.  They love bubbles and play dough and other assorted arts and crafts supplies which they use frequently in many different ways.  Sometimes they like to tinker around and do things in the yard.  And they love books, each in his or her special way both the readers and the not-yet readers are major book lovers.  I never really thought about our relatively toyless existance but it makes me smile, I wouldn't want it any other way.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Value of Normalcy

I just heard another great shiur by Rabbi Yisroel Reisman and he made two great points that are relevant to Jewish life in general and to Jewish education in particular.  First, he was speaking about the importance of knowing Tna'ch (Torah, Nevi'im, Ksuvim) basics such is who, what, where and when.  He made a point that sometimes people make mistakes or come up with questions that could be easily resolved simply by looking at the plain meaning of the texts.  The second point that he made is that one should not overlook normalcy as a Torah value, obviously within the parameters of Halacha(Jewish Law). He said that we have to understand and explain to our children/students that it's normal for human beings to make mistakes and not always behave or think like angels.  That one should take Judaism and its' obligations seriously but not cross the boundary into pathological behavior which can manifest as OCD or depression.  I'd like to extend this into the realm of education.  Firstly, acquiring the basic knowledge of Tna'ch should be a required component of any Jewish curriculum as well as basic learning skills of reading, translating and being able to read the commentaries.  I believe that making it a priority throughout our children's elementary education and beyond will serve them well in life and in their studies.  As to the second point, we have to make a distinction between striving for perfection to the best of our abilities and perfectionism.   Additionally,  as I wrote a few posts ago, we need to let go of perfectionism in trying to educate our children as well and cut ourselves some slack, allow ourselves to make mistakes, learn from them and move on, for that too is part of education for life.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Reflections on Asara B'Teves

Here is a link  for a brief synopsis of what this fast is all about.  Even though there might be a temptation to brush this off as "just a minor fast day"and an erev shabbos to boot, that would be a loss of a precious opportunity.  These fast days are instituted so we can reflect, repent and get inspired.  Being that this one commemorates the siege of Jerusalem, the disunity of our nation and the destruction that followed there are certainly plenty of lessons that are very much applicable today.  Jerusalem is very much under seige these days, just read the news,  the forces of evil  very much desire to wrestle it away from us again, together with Judea and Samaria, but this time around we can change things, we can try to get past our differences and grievances and unite so we could look forward to a brighter future minus the destruction  and with rebuilding instead.  I just had one of those moments.  As I was typing in unite, untie got typed in instead.  If we don't unite it unties us from the Source of all good  and from our selves and from our land and from the future that should have been.  Let's not repeat history, let's make it instead.  So for those fasting, have an easy and meaningful one and do something nice for a fellow Jew. ( There is a history lesson right here and a lesson on how we should relate to our history as well. A geography lesson too come to think of it.)

Too much

We live in the times of great abundance of everything.  But specifically because of all of this abundance many people are in constant overload mode.  The great tragedy of today is totally forgotten tomorrow.   Things are constantly upgraded, so anything that was top of the line innovation today is old news tomorrow.  One can never fully enjoy anything because somewhere right beyond the horizon there is a better and more perfect something awaiting.  It's just like an ever expanding universe that just kept on going until Hashem (G-d) said dai - enough, stop here.  I think there is a message for all of us here, there comes a point where we have to stop and say it's enough. It's time to stop researching, looking for something better, it's time to work with what you have today, to appreciate the now, to act and make something beautiful right here and not always look to tomorrow.  One has to learn to take today and rejoice in it even though it is not yet perfect.  As long as one is moving in the right direction, there is often more than one path to get to one's goal.  So one's the direction is determined one can procede forwards with faith and not worry too much about the better options that might be available.  The important thing is to move forward.  I see it a lot with our educational adventures, the progress is never linear.  Today everyone was enthusiastic, yesterday they balked at doing everything, today they like the math and screamed about writing, tomorrow a science experiment or a historical event will capture their imagination.  But we are moving forward, sometimes ever so slowly.  We have to stop crippling ourselves by looking for greener pastures not realizing that we are already in a green pasture, that something wonderful is already happening today.  Sometimes less is more and sometimes we need to change tactics to adapt to new realities but we can't get stuck in inaction because we are overwhelmed  and inundated by overabundance.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Succos in December or the art of Jewish repurposing

One great thing about living in Israel, is that Chanukah is just Chanukah and is not overshadowed by the X-mas season and all its trappings.  But having visited many craft sites at this time of year, it's decorations, gift giving ideas and other holiday stuff all the time.  So it occurred to me that actually many of those ideas would work well as sukkah decorations, especially all those garlands, even though they were not intended as such.  Handmade food gift ideas would be lovely as mishlach monos.   Creative gift giving ideas are good for birthdays and such and a little behind the times but all the tips and tricks for Halloween costumes and make up could be useful when Purim rolls around as well.  So I think, I'll store all these inspirations for future reference.

Cleaning Day

Today was cleaning day.  I finally dug out from Chanukah and one child's sickness that lasted for over a week and a half.  So today the clutter got picked up, things got washed, organized and put away, some nice touches were added to make the general affect more pleasing for the whole family and we all enjoyed it until the next heroic effort.  The truth be told, over the years I came up with a few basic guidelines for myself to help me manage the cleaning without having it take over or away from my life. The main room has to be livable - clutter reasonably picked up from floor and surfaces, table cleared and floor swept.   So as long as these basics are maintained everyone could function pretty happily. If not, then things slowly begin to unravel and we have to get back to the minimum cleanliness/organization baseline.  I noticed ,however, that when things get too clean, I get frustrated when things get undone too quickly and when I get to major cleaning I usually can't get to anything else big that day.  So I've concluded that as long as we stay close to the cleanliness baseline and there is a certain amount of functionable clutter, which is inevitable, then all is well with the world and I can occupy myself with other more important things.  Unless things are in terrible disarray, if I have to choose between doing something with the kids or house maintenance, the kids win hands down.  So as much as I think that good habits have to be established and that kids need to learn some semblance of order and organization, I hope that the message I send to my children consistantly, is that their wellbeing and education is  far more important to me than a clean floor or the house that looks like a museum.  Yes, I love to have a neat house and it irks me when my prodigious efforts in that direction evaporate almost as soon as I'm done, perhaps some day things will be different, but for now happy clutter is my reality and I am indeed happy and blessed.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Blogger blues

I am having blogger blues, hence the new look.  Every time I try to fix something, something else ends up needing fixing.  So the older problem still persists and now I have  a new one to contend with.  But there are decidedly worse things in life than broken or uncooperative blog templates.  So gam zu l'tova, this too is for the best.  Onwards and forwards.

Beautiful Judaic Art

As part of art appreciation, I think it's important to include some beautiful Judaic art in many mediums that is available.  Especially for the artistically inclines it can be very inspirational to see how Judaism and art can find expression in a work of  great beauty and superb craftsmanship.  Here is one example  A long time ago I got a set of lovely postcards in the mail as a Rosh Hashana fundraiser from some school.  They were really beautiful but I  didn't know the name of the artist who painted them.  Years later, I came across a series of children's books by Michoel Muchnik, whose illustrations we really enjoyed.  I decided to look up the author and lo and behold it was the same artist whose work I admired so long ago.  But there more examples of art on Jewish themes - papercuttings, micrography, illuminated letters, calligraphy, jewelry and ritual objects made of silver and other metals.  One can even try out some of the above for an art project.  We have to make Judaism alive and beautiful to our children.   This is one way to enhance their love of G-d and His Torah and to maybe use their artistic talents as well.

A Montessori tidbit

Here is a link to a Montessori download from the Learning Ark - letter matching and tracing pdfs
Literacy Download

I was thinking that one could actually use the above to make tactile letters by tracing the letters with white glue or puffy paint.  I think I read this idea in a Dinah Zike book.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Winter's music

As I am writing this, the winds are howling outside.   The winter has finally come to Israel this year.  We have finally unearthed all our winter things from storage.  After all, only a couple of days ago one could barely believe it was December, as we were bombarded with  a heat wave after heat wave.  But now winter is here.  It's nice to be warm inside when the weather is stormy outside.  It always makes me think of cozy family times, bundled up children, rosy cheeks,  hot soup,snow and other such idyllic pictures.  Even though the reality is often not quite as idyllic as the aforesaid images, where chaos,sore throats and other culprits intrude upon my landscape, not to mention that snow is almost unheard of here.  Still, the little people draped over couches and stretched out on the floor or the play mat, looking at books, coloring, playing and talking make my heart sing with joy and provide all the necessary romance and nostalgia for the imaginary winter scenes to set my brain abuzz with plans for all sorts of activities and projects for the real winter to come.  In my head, I am writng curriculums,  setting educational goals, considering what winter peraphernalia is still missing,  deciding what will go on the next "educational purchases" list and trying to get all of us more organized so things flow more smoothly for the whole family.   All this, with the winter weather music playing in the background where the winters of my past and future meld into one wintery medley of happiness and anticipation.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

On public speaking

The other day, I was telling my husband, that I was considering writing a post on declamation and elocution.  "On what?" he said, clearly implying that this time I've gone too far. "You know", I said "on public speaking".  In fact, those two no longer recognized subjects, used to be a regular part of education, back way when.  They involved  reading or reciting certain famous or not so famous speeches or poems with dramatic expression and proper diction. I think rhetoric is still part of a Classical education.  But I was thinking, that all joking aside, public speaking ability is still very important.  The ability to organize one's thoughts and to communicate them clearly and eloquently is a very useful skill that could come in very handy in many different avenues of life.  Fortunately, Jewish communal living can be very conducive to acquiring this sometimes elusive skill.  In a home setting, there are opportunities even for young children, to recite things, to share a Torah thought at a Shabbos table, to make speeches in honor of something or someone, to teach in many different venues.  It is also somethings that could be modeled effectively by parents, relatives, rabbis, etc and that way the children could pick it up almost effortlessly.  It can go nicely together with memorization as well.  For older children and teens one can go more in depth on how to prepare a well crafted speech and what is involved.   It's worth the effort and they and possibly their children or students might thank you for it one day. 

Some final Chanukah thoughts

Yesterday was the last night of Chanukah here in Israel.  I love the eighth night the best.  It's the night when the whole menorah is finally lit and there is a certain feeling of a mission accomplished and the sight doesn't upset my sense of symmetry ( we all have our ideosyncracies).  I love watching the dancing flames, as I try to imprint the image on my mind to carry me into the rest of the year.    But as much as I love this eighth day of Chanukah, there is always a sense of loss that goes with it.  No more rushing about with lights to prepare, no more Chanukah al hanisim, no more hallel( special thanksgiving prayer) everyday.  I try to savor the last few times I get to say all these things; they become more meaningful somehow.  What now, how can I just go back to the regular old hallel-less existance?   But it occured to me that the answer lies in the Chanukah holiday itself.  As much as one might yearn for constant light of endless inspiration and spiritual ecstasy, the truth is that this description would fit the Next world better than this one.  In this world, sometimes we have to walk in the dark, make new oil, appreciate and celebrate victories that are incomplete and smaller than we would have wanted and kindle new lights when the old ones die out.  Here, we have to take things step by step, one light at a time until we reach the ultimate distanation and then we get to see everything lit up together all at once.  But we do get these moments to light up the path for us, to give us a glimpse of great and dazzling heights that are possible,  to show that all we have to do is to put in our best effort and sincerely light even one tiny light and then, with G-d's help, this one true spark of holiness will ignite greater and greater lights that will lead us to where we have to go.  So as I look at the oily menorahs and sooty oil cups and glass boxes, I'll continue to dream of the miracles and victories and all the hallels to come.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Educational Disappointments

It was just one of those days.  The four years old was lying moaning on the couch the whole day due to a lingering flu.  The almost three years old in quest for additional  attention and in need of companionship, due to her sister's invalid status,  was using every trick in her repertoire, and she is very creative and dramatic, to get the aforementioned attention.  The six month old chose that particular time to change his stripes, i.e. sleeping and behavioral patterns and was also demanding to be held constantly, refusing to go to sleep unless... insert a long list of immutable unlesses here.  The two older ones still had plenty of energy left over after getting the required things done and in general also wanted some exctitement, attention, etc.  The house was naturally a wreck under the circumstances.  Finally, we had a Chanukah activity planned for the evening, which everyone was looking forward to, even the infirm and the disenchanted.  Two frazzled parents at last managed to get the candles lit, find requisite number of  shoes, convince everyone to dress in weather appropriate gear, pack  the little ones in the stroller, argue persuasively about many contentious issues that came up with their equally frazzled, cranky and  moody offspring.  And so  we went on our planned outing.  It was a total disaster.  So the two exhausted, frazzled and dare we say, furious parents at last got their at this point even more cranky and moody and disappointed kids home and off to bed.  It was just one of those days.  I couldn't help feeling that the day and everyone's reactions to the events that transpired will not go down in history as one of my successes.  The older kids kept reiterating their disappointment with this and with that.  I kept thinking though that there is a lesson there somewhere in all of this mess, besides opting out of such activities when we are clearly not up to it.  And then it occurred to me that the disappointment itself is very educational.  It's built into the fabric of life, so there must be a reason.  Yes, things often don't  go smoothly but that forces us to think about things, to analyze, to be creative, to look for solutions.  Disappointment just happens to be good for us!!!  I guess the disastrous day wasn't so disastrous after all, in fact it was quite educational :)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Some thoughts on memorization

Today the eight year old was demonstrating how he knew by heart, both the al hanisim addition for chanukah and the special tefilas geshem , the prayer for rain,  by declaiming them loudly in a sing song voice much to the chagrin of his siblings.   But it got me thinking, because I've been contemplating how to integrate memorization a la Charlotte Mason into our learning for quite some time.  But,  I once again have discovered that while I was mulling all of this over, memorization has found its way into our learning by itself.  It seems that certain type of memorization occurs almost organically especially with the younger set.  Some things get memorized by repetition, such as prayers and certain Torah passages, as well as songs or favorite children's books.  Interestingly, as I was looking up memorization in Charlotte Mason type learning, I discovered that in that system, memorization was used for giving children food for thought rather than teaching facts.  So I was relieved to find out that we are already doing this kind of memorizing without any stress or pain involved.  So while I still hope to find suitable poetry and such that could in theory be memorized, and while we do work on memorizing various math facts, etc., I no longer feel like it's something that is missing in our studies.  In fact,  it's something that has already been included ,  I just didn't see it because I wasn't thinking about it in the right context.  It just shows again,  how perspective is very important.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The inside view

I like reading anything that has to do with education in any form.  There is certainly plenty written on the subject.  But one of the most meaningful ways to learn about education is by getting the inside view, either by seeing things through the educator's eyes or through the eyes of the educatees that experienced it first hand.  I have learned a lot from biographies of master educators and from their students' recollections of them but I always feel that I wish that there was more and in more detail.  For example, I wish I could get my hands on the notes and the curriculums of the original beis yaakov schools, if such things existed.  I wish there was access to this kind of things for Jewish educators.  The other day though I got my wish.  In a local book gemach,  a private lending library, I found a book called Jewish Religious Education by  Dr. Solomon Schonfeld of Shefford, Secondary Jewish Schools and Holocaust Rescue fame.  Now I love books and especially old books but sometimes you get something that just knocks your socks off, it's so amazing.  This book is just a gem. I am going to have a really hard time returning it when time comes.  I am in love:) It's a handbook for Jewish teachers and parents with actual curriculums both Jewish and secular designed for day schools to promote Jewish Religious education from elementary age to high school for Anglo Jewery.  This book was published in 1943 so obviously some things need to be updated but it gives a wonderful framework on how to teach things, it also has essays by Dr. Schonfeld which are of historical and educational significance.  It is just so special to be able to get into the mind and thought processes of an individual of such stature that it really gives one a whole new perspective on Jewish education.  One gets not only the mechanics and the methodology but one gets the soul that animates it.  I feel really blessed and inspired. 

Some new crafting links

Here are two new israeli crafting blogs I discovered recently and each one has really and I mean REALLY creative and  beautiful crafts to try.  Amazing how many supertalented people are out there!!!  Enjoy!!!

My new favorite song

Here is a really beautiful acapella rendition of Lecha Dodi, the song we welcome the Shabbos queen with.  Chillingly gorgeous and moving!!!

Oh Boy!!!

Some milestones that our children reach are quite obvious like all the babyhood firsts- the smile, the tooth, the first step.  But some are surprisingly subtle and just spring up and astonish you one fine day.   I just experienced one of those.  Suddenly I realized that my firstborn is taking his first tentative steps into adulthood even though he is only eight.  And it's not just that he is suddenly up to my shoulder but he is grown up on the inside as well.   Suddenly I find myself reading things to him from my adult books because he would appreciate it and he does.  I can talk to him about more adult topics and he understands.  He thanks me for doing things for him because he tells me he realizes I didn't have to do it for him, he gets me the extra large iced coffee because he thinks I deserve one,  he apologizes for not learning from his mistakes and assures me that seeing the consequences ( he has a hard time rolling that one off his tongue but he likes "complicated" words) next time he'll try to remember to do better.   Where did this little adult come from?  How amazing and utterly miraculous to see a  child morph from a fluffy baby to a shy toddler to an enterprising little boy to a young man!  Yep, we are almost at the threshold of manhood.  When did this happen?  There is still so much of a child in him but I am also seeing the beginning traces of the man he is slowly becoming right in front of me.  It is a really joyous and scary and humbling and grateful feeling, this blending together of yesterday, today and tomorrow.  At times like this I know with every fiber of my being  what a privilege it is to be a parent, to oversee this wondrous passage!!!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Fighting fire with fire

I sat down to write on Thursday night, but I just didn't have the heart with fires blazing in the North of Israel and such tragic loss of life and huge amount of damage to property and environment.   It is really heartwarming though how Jews really come together in times of crisis, the normal ideological divides disappear and we become one loving family.  Calls from concerned family and friends locally and abroad pour in, municipalities ask for volunteers to take evacuees in, offers of help, financial and otherwise abound.  It's a very nice feeling.   This time around the sweeping and speedy  assistance from other countries was also very nice to see.  We discussed many things with the kids, starting with fires and what the firefighters do to put out fires, geography - local and  that of the countries sending relief,  the idea how when the Jewish nation pulls together the divine blessing comes down, we talked about feeling and trying to relieve other people's pain, etc.  But in general it got me thinking about what lessons one can draw from this disaster besides the obvious ones.  First of all, there is the significance of Mt. Carmel itself, where Elijah the Prophet, exhorted the Jews of his time not to sit on the fence, but to follow through with their convictions - if you believe in G-d than follow Him and if it's Baal you want, then go that route.  In many ways Chanukah  many years later drove home that very same idea,  the Macabees  against great odds, risked life and limb to follow their convictions and fight for G-d in defiance of Hellenism and all it represented.  So to have a fire on Mt Carmel on Chanukah is a really forceful reminder of those two occasions in Jewish history.  Another thought I had is that fire is often used as metaphor for passion.  So perhaps as a merit to help us in the time of need we can fight fire with fire by trying to do the mitzvos with more zeal and passion, to be warmer to other people,  to douse the fires of anger and enmity, to try and bring more light into the world and make it a better, holier place.     What better time than Chanukah when we are busy with fire and lights anyway, to put that into practice.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

On light and inspiration

MySpace Graphics
Hanukkah Graphics & Hanukkah Pictures
Chanukah is my favorite holiday. I love the menorahs, the oil, the glass boxes to protect the lights from the wind.   I love watching the flickering flames light up the night.  It always makes me think of family and children and home. It makes me think of courage, courage to stand up to evil, courage to fight for what is right against all odds, courage to lead a holy, meaningful life, courage to march to a different drumbeat than the rest of the world.   It makes me think of history and love for G-d, His Torah and His land.  It makes me think of miracles of then and miracles of now.  It makes me think of brotherhood and unity.  It makes me think of  the Divine love that is there even in the darkest hour, like a little light warming one's heart.  I love being surrounded by lights wherever I go.  It reminds me that what we share is bigger and stronger than what divides us.  It's not the parties, the food or the presents that make it so beautiful.  It's the light - brilliant and eternal. Wishing everyone a happy Chanukah, full of light and inspiration!!!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A really full plate

There always seems to be a lot going on here even when there isn't anything going on. The baby is growing out of his bassinet and is beginning to turn over and is in general quite interactive to everyone's delight.  The almost 3 year old  can't stop pulling and rolling and cuddling up to him,  the four year old and the seven year old help take care of him by supplying a passifier, bringing a diaper, a friendly word and random kisses.  And the eight year old has endless conversations with him, where he supplies both sides of conversation, the baby's in baby speak.  Today I found him serenading the baby about the former's virtues to the tune of " I made a little dreidel", how about that for poetry and music ?  We've been busy with random chanukah crafts.  I made muffins with craisins that disappeared almost instantly.  I went and got some little presents for kids as a special chanukah treat.  I really don't want this to be about presents, so we keep it very simple - books, food treats, small presents like pens, keychains, little toys, little notebooks, stickers and such.  Everyone is very excitied about chanukah, I got individual menorahs for all the children old enough to appreciate it. I am  helping plan the food for the shul party.  The kids are still playing wedding, especially the girls, today they needed to put on pretend nail polish, so I filled an old vitamin bottle with water and gave out thin pain brushes and they happily put on their "nail polish", there were a few more wedding "emergencies" that had to be resolved.  I got a pileful of new books  to read from the local book g'mach, very exciting.  I've read lots of interesting educational stuff which I'll have to write about later.  I've thought of and forgotten various post ideas and then remembered them again to be written up some day when I'll have more time and be less susceptible to sleep deprivation induced amnesia.  We fit in some multiplication between doing other things, read stories, distributed and redistributed books, played, resolved conflicts, achieved some truces and made a valiant attempt to stay evenkeeled despite our at times chaotic and fast paced life.  My plate is certainly and wonderfully and overflowingly full right now, thank G-d.

More "by the way" science

As I wrote before, science turned out to be the most unschooled subject around here.  I guess there is science in the air , so they just get it by osmosis:)  The four year old is now into "what is it made out of, and where does it grow" stage.  She also generally asks a million questions a minute.  Today, when we were eating halva, she wanted to know how halva grows and what is it made of. So I told her it was made out of sesame seeds, very popular and widely used here in Israel as tehina or plain.  But then it occured to me that I really had no idea what a sesame plant looked like or how it grew.  So today I learned something new.  When a neighbour had some appendix trouble that led to some conversations about appendicitis, appendectomy and other exciting things connected to this mysterious part of the human anatomy.  Next, being that we are unfortunately in a midst of a terrible drought here, there was talk about water conservation and drought effects on agriculture and economy.  Generally speaking they happen to be  very environment conscious and are into recycling and such anyway.  As always just being outside here and observing the nature around us is an education in itself.  The kids also watched a tractor out in the fields, either plowing or planting, I am not sure, this week. So there was quite a lot of unplanned science going on.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Old schoolbooks

I like old books of all sorts. Lately, I've been looking at some old schoolbooks.  They can be very educational in many ways.  They give you an inkling of what education was like in the times past, what educational methods were employed, what material was covered and  how fast it was covered.  Some are available online at 19th century schoolbooks or at Google Books, those out of copyright in full.  So this is another great resource  to find interesting exercises and examples.  I have a few old math books from the 1800s, I use them with my kids for oral and written math exercises, word problems which I update for the modern times if necessary, etc.  I find that I like the way the books are organized, how the material follows a logical sequence from one topic to the next, how there is just enough practice to understand the material without feeling bogged down by needless drill,  the scope of the book is also very impressive for the age range it's intended for.  So I think old texts could really enhance one's education. One can argue whether or not the education was superior in the past but these texts could certainly be very useful in the present.  In addition,  I also discovered that old exams of various sorts are available online from different eras and countries of origin which could also contribute to one's education not for testing's sake but for discovering new learning directions and learning interesting things in various disciplines.  People generally gravitate to new things but there is plenty that could be learned from the past.  Just like something is not necessarily good just because it's new, something is not necessarily bad and outdated just becasue it's old.  I am an old-fashioned kind of person:)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Write from the heart

I listened to a lecture by Rabbi Reisman tonight.  Interestingly, it was about the importance of effective verbal and written communication as a Torah value.  He brought a number of examples from letters by great Rabbis of yesteryear writing about the importance of effective, clear and thought through communication.  He pointed out that while modern technology allows us to send more messages more quickly and is good for speedy communication of facts, it lacks emotion and relationship building and relationship enhancing qualities that letter writing of the past, now almost a forgotten art, used to convey.    I read an article recently about what's the minimum one should teach if one is limited in time or energy and the author recommended that at the minimum one should teach/read good quality literature because that will teach all the important communication skills, speech, vocabulary, grammar, good writing, and some math.  Her point was that usually these are the skills that are tested by standardized tests.  So teaching proper communication  both verbal and written is basic to any good education program.  So I would like to suggest that besides reading quality literature both Jewish and not Jewish,  one should also read many letter collections,  halachic responsa, polemics, primary historical documents, diaries, famous speeches, etc to the same end.  But even on a more personal level, read to your children the family letters and cards that you saved, write letters and notes to each other,  use good vocabulary in everyday speech,  help them write divrei Torah for a Shabbos table or a family gathering.  It's important to teach good writing and editing skills and  good public speaking skills because they contribute to development of good analytical skills.  One could actually see it today, that the disintegration of effective communication goes hand in hand with breakdown of analytical abilities. Needless to say  both those skills form the underlying foundations of all learning. Good communication doesn't have to be a lost art even in the age of texting.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Trying on for size

I was watching my children play and it got me thinking.  It's interesting how when children play they try on different personae. "I am a doctor" or "I am a Mommy" they announce sometimes to others and sometimes even to themselves.  They narrate as they play, now I am doing this or that, now I am going to...  It's remarkable that as they play and they identify with the role they are currently playing, there is an awareness that all those roles are roles they are not their core identity.  Maybe it's because they are still small and they haven't formed a concrete picture of who they are so they continue to try out different possibilities as they gleefully try on different identities for size.  Unfortunately some of that is lost as we grow up and start to identify more and more with a particular role.  Often people describe themselves by their profession," I am an artist, a baker, a teacher, a homemaker".  But all of these are what we do not what we are.  We are so much more really.  Human beings are born with certain notions that are preprogrammed into them and many of these if one is conscious of them can teach us a lot about who we really are and who we are meant to be.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A wedding in Jerusalem

We went to a wedding yesterday. It was beautiful, tasteful but not ostentatious.  It was lively, joyous and holy.  What a wonderful way to start a new life together.  I love weddings, the radiance, the purity, the unbridled exhuberance and joy.  But it is even more special to go to a wedding in Jerusalem for besides everything else, it's a fullfillment of the Biblical prophecy that again in the cities of Yehuda and the streets of Yerushalaim, the sounds of joy and happiness will be heard, the voice of the groom and the bride.  May we witness the fullfillment of this prophecy in most awesome and complete way possible.
As an aside, I had an idea, that the wedding theme could make a great unit study, when my kids recognized some of the classical pieces that they heard while the food was being served. So here are some ideas, I am sure you can think of more. You could learn about music, musical instruments, flowers, flower arranging, fabric, clothing design, photography, create monograms or illuminated letters for a project, or create a wedding keepsake for someone you know, make a mock wedding, take pictures, sing wedding songs, dance, for math you can figure out wedding expenses, budgets, count how many tables, chairs you'll need, how many guests will come, obviously you can learn about the significance of various wedding rituals and prayers, compare customs from different parts of the world, ashkenazi, sephardi,etc.  My kids had a wonderful time at the wedding,  I am sure they'll be playing wedding and discussing all the details for a long time.  Weddings like everything else turned out to be quite educational:)
Here is the song I was talking about above.

Monday, November 22, 2010

A foreign language thought

One of the things I really like about living in Israel is that there are Jews from all over the world here so that on any given day one can hear people speaking hebrew, english, french, spanish or russian. SO, it occured to me, that given this multilingual reality it opens up all kinds of possibilities for learning and practicing using foreign languages.  The obvious is of course to practice speaking with the native speakers but these days the books that are published by Jewish publishing houses such as Artscroll or Feldheim are also published in french, hebrew, spanish and russian, so there is something for all ages and it's Jewish too.  Same goes for and various online news sites like Arutz 7 and Jerusalem Post to name a few.  So this is good news for learning foreign languages, now all it takes is some discipline and perseverance.

Homeschooling philosophies and Jewish education

The Jewish attitude towards homeschooling philosophies can be summarized by a Talmudic statement of  "Chachma b'goim taamin, Torah b'goim al taamin", which  means that there is wisdom among the nations but there is no Torah.  Judaism is G-d centered i.e.only G-d is worthy of worship, and both nature and man, no matter how brilliant are both only His creations.  Torah is G-d's mind, His word to us.  So what this means for using homeschooling philosophies that are out there, is that Judaism views everything within the Torah framework, it takes what is consistent with our values and discards or replaces  the rest.  It doesn't cut G-d down to size and try to make things fit when they don't.  The world and all the wisdom out there is for us to learn from but it is not there to provide us with a direction in life, we already have that.  I read a lot of educational books, blogs, etc and sometimes one finds that people almost make a religion out of their homeschooling philosophies, sometimes it takes a form of nature worship and sometimes that of man/science/art worship.  Naturally both of these extremes are inconsistent with Judaism.  Having said that, there is plenty within the existing homeschooling philosophies that can be beneficial to Jewish homeschooling and  learning.  So I'd like to go through a few popular homeschooling philosophies one by one  and share my thoughts on how they could work within a Jewish context.
Classical Education - This approach works well for children that are very cerebral and academically inclined.  It is very much reading and writing based.  There is a lot of structure.  Learning is very much sequential.  In many ways the approach itself is very consistent with traditional Jewish learning, book based, things are taught in a certain sequence based on the developmental stage of the student,etc.  The content though has to acessed and adjusted.  However this approach won't work well for the student who has trouble with either reading or writing and who doesn't care for so much structure. 
Charlotte Mason - This approach is a sort of toned down Classical Education and is sometimes used in conjunction with the above.  Ms. Mason had lots of wonderful ideas on how to introduce and teach many subjects to children and get them to love learning.  I like the idea of using what she called Living books, books that make the subject come alive, instead of sanitized textbooks.  I like the idea of short lessons for young children, teaching appreciation of nature and beauty.  This approach, gentler and less rigorous than Classical Education can work very well in a Jewish setting.  Again the content has to be adjusted.
Unit Studies - This approach could go hand in hand with the above two. What it is, is basically thematic learning, where different subjects are taught organized about a certain theme .  The idea being that the more ways are used to introduce something, the more absorbed and understood the information will be by the student.  So for example if one is learning about the Jews, one can learn Jewish philosophy, the geography and history of Israel, Jewish history in the Diaspora, Jewish culture, art and music, cook Jewish foods, make Jewish crafts and fit math and science around the Jewish theme as well. This approach could obviously work well within a Jewish context.  If one was to use unit studies prepared by someone else then one should check content for suitability.
Thomas Jefferson Education - More classics and living books instead of dull textooks.  Mentoring and inspiration by personal example.  Somewhat structured based on developmental readiness of the student.  All of the above could work very well in a Jewish context with allowances for content adjustment.
Unschooling - Basically this is a child's  interest lead approach, with maximum freedom allowed for children to explore and learn things on their own.  The world as a classroom is its ideal with minimal interference from anyone.  While I am very much in favor of following the child's interests and natural talents and allowing the child to discover things in a pressure free environment, I do believe that children need limits to function optimally.  That sometimes we all have to do things that we might not love like paying taxes or cleaning up messes.  But this too is part of life. Also, children could use guidance and be encouraged by their parents to explore certain things or study certain subjects.  There is nothing wrong with that as long as it's not heavy handed and one is not trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.  So one has to use one's discretion not to go overboard in either extreme.  Unschooling could work quite well for some in a right kind of an environment.
Montessori - Great hands-on ways to teach many different skills and subjects to a young child.  I haven't delved too much into how it works beyond the elementary age. Prepared environment ensures learning can take place. Teacher/parent serves as facilitator. Room for child to explore and follow his interests within the framework.  All of the above could work in a Jewish context.  I would leave Maria Montessori's political and cultural views out, but that doesn't impact on the usability of the system in any way and one could always improvise one's own materials, as many do.
Waldorf Education - While the Waldorf ideology is not consistent with Judaism from what I've read, I haven't looked into it too deeply, there are aspects of Waldorf education that could be useful in a Jewish context. The ideas on how young children learn and creating a suitable environment, the idea that children need routine, introducing children to the rythmic nature of life, use of natural materials, crafting, etc.  all work fine without theWaldorfian ideology.  So for example when they talk about creating rituals and festivals, etc. there shouldn't be a problem because all these thing are already built in into traditional Jewish life with Shabbos and the Jewish festivals and various other rituals that Jews observe.  No need to reinvent the wheel here.  So minus the ideology and with adjustments for content, certain aspects of Waldorf education can be suitable.
I think this should cover most popular homeschooling ideologies. Parents have to chose what suits their individual child's needs and what would work with their particular family culture.  So keeping all of this in mind, there is no reason why these learning approaches should not be implemented in Jewish home learning.

Surgery in the living room

The kids are into medical games lately.  They play hospital, push each other  in strollers/wheelchairs, make crutches out of wood, sticks and tape and constantly put on casts on each other.  The other day I found the two and a half year old with red marker lines all over her stomach.  She informed me that her brother was giving her a surgery.  A whole lot of toilet paper has been sacrificed as bandages, all in the name of science I guess.  Then again, the aforementioned 2.5 year old and her 4 year old sister were spotted busily cutting white electrical tape and then proceeded to wrap it around their doll's heads and arms, more surgery and broken bones they say.  Masking tape followed the fate similar to that of the above toilet paper.  But besides being cute, interestingly they are all quite fascinated by anatomy and have been since they were little, we read books on the subject, discussed what circulation and other such terminology means, talked about nutrition, medicinal herbs, home remedies, etc.  Looks like we've got science going on here, just as I was about to write how I haven't been doing too much organized science with them pretty much ever and I should really remedy(pun intended) this situation somehow.  I forget sometimes that all children are naturally scientific in an organic sort of way. They like to play and tinker with things and discover for themselves how things work and fit together.  So at least at this stage of their development I don't really have to worry too much about organized science, Observing nature, baking, water play, gardening activities, bird, animal and sky watching and just living, supplies more than enough material to introduce children to most branches of science.

Crafty inspiration

Here are a few really great craft ideas I came across that could be done with, by kids or for kids.

Pancake Art  - I could already see it - pancake dreidels, menorahs, etc.  I've been inspired:)

Paper Dollhouses - another great idea from

Upcycled CD Rack turned into a Dollhouse - crative uses for something you might already have.

This should  keep us busy for a while:)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Israel on my mind

As I go through my day, taking care of this and that , a  part of me keeps thinking about what they call here, the matzav, the current situation. It's like being in the eye of the storm, while it's quiet and peaceful inside, on the outside there are violent, dark forces raging. Israel, my home, the land that I love so so much.  The land which we are told is acquired with hardship, like Torah and the World to Come, because it transcends the here and now and takes one to a whole different dimension. This land that has been designed to help us grow spiritually.  Here one can feel and see G-d's hand if one would only bother to look.  When I look outside my window or go anywhere here, I am walking in a place where everything is saturated with Jewish history.  I feel myself connect with my nation's glorious past, present and future in a way that is almost difficult to describe in words.  When I first came here, I knew that I would never feel at home anywhere else, wouldn't want to be or raise my children anywhere else, except here in our G-d given, holy, beautiful, special, out of this world piece of land.  So while the furor and the vultures' screeches  continue around us, here we are, carrying on the journey that our forefathers have started long ago, despite the wounds and the pain, carrying on in the face of adversity from within and without, carrying on what we were entrusted to do here, continuing the chain, the tradition.   "Let not my enemies rejoice, for as I sit in the darkness, G-d is my light".  The storm will blow over with all its fury and we'll pick up the pieces, if we have to, and move on into the light that is surely there around the bend.

On writing well, especially for the reluctant

One of my goals for the  upcoming months is to work on all things writing, especially with the older two.  So I've been trying to come up with some kind of a framework or an approach to that end.  I like the idea of copywork a la Charlotte Mason.  It's a way to combine penmanship exercises with grammar, while introducing examples of good writing at the same time.  Imitation, at least initially, is a proven way to learn something.  Also writing something down helps one absorb and remember it.  I think that is also a Montessorian idea, giving things to the hand first as a way get it into the child's mind.  The trick is to do it in just enough quantities to achieve one's aim while keeping it interesting enough and avoiding unnecessary frustration especially with the children that have a harder time with hand eye coordination, dislike the physical act of writing and generally have a low frustration threshhold.  I also would like to get them to write things down because they both are very articulate, like to analyze things and are creative each in his own way.  I've tried various things in the past, but none really took off.  So today I had an epiphany which might combine creative writing with all these other things I've wanted them to practice while minimizing their frustration of having to figure out the spelling, the punctuation, etc. Here it is in a nutshell.  I'd propose a writing idea or give an open ended writing assignmnet and have them dictate  to me what they'd like to say, I'd then write it down, taking care of all the nitty gritty and have the kids copy what I wrote down in their best handwriting.  So this is my idea for a beginner writing program.  As they progress I can reduce the props and have them do more of the work on their own, but for starters, it just might work.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The goings on

There has been a lot of imaginative and creative play around here.  Also, lots of free form art activities, with everyone helping themselve to supplies for whatever project they were in the middle of or just to start a new one.  One of my projects is to organize all this mess so they could continue to help themselves in a more organized way.  The boys , mostly one boy, have been very busy working on the house they were making from some foamy type building material, they put in windows and floors and were working on wiring (elastic thread type).  The building keeps morphing as they keep discussing their plans, in its current incarnation, it's a shopping center, with advertisements on one wall and store signs to be coming soon, I've been informed.  Geography is still quite popular around here.  There's been quite a lot of singing and dancing.  We've been doing a lot of reading. Kids Speak series are very popular here right now, also various miscellaneous picture books, especially those by Michoel Muchnik with really lovely illustrations.  Everyone has been browsing throw those postcards I wrote about.  We've done quite a lot of baking - bagels, muffins, cinnamon buns.  So just a lot of usual horsing around, tons of paper and tape and such everywhere, lots of reading and looking at pictures and listening to music.  Spontaneous conversations on the subject of airplanes, Yom Kippur War,   Exodus  from Egypt, holiday sequences, familial relationships, rain, baseball, adoption, good middos and so on.  I have some Chanukah crafting plans, we'll see how that pans out.  The nightly cup of tea is a something we all enjoy before bedtime and between that and stories that eases the transition for the night.  We play and ooh and ah over the baby, the girls experiment with various hair and head gear, we play or walk or ride outside and take care of errands. So much like this post, our life is often a hodge podge of all kinds of things within a loose structure that keeps it all together.  Some days are easier and some harder and more stressful but somehow with Heaven's help we always seem to get some kind of learning in.  We really liked the Lost Scotch II by Rabbi Avrohom Bookman, great stories with a halachic question to ponder in the end, the author provides his answers at the back of the book.  I really like the idea and the book cover has other educational suggestions for using the book.  I am thinking of introducing some challenges for the older kids, such as drawing a picture or making a photo based on some theme, we'll see how they'll feel about it.  And we'll continue with the three R's  and hopefully make some progress in the penmanship department with some grammar and vocabulary thrown in for good measure probably in the guise of copywork. So this has been a somewhat rambling update on the recent goings on around here.  Thank G-d:)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Crafts: Glue Batik and other exciting stuff

I tend to look at lots and lots of craft sites and the ideas and the inspirations are pretty much endless.  It also occurs to me quite regularly, that if you find a craft that you like no matter what its original purpose, you can usually adapt it and reinvent it with a Jewish twist or theme.  Here is a round-up of thanksgiving crafts, most of which will look quite lovely on the shabbos table.

Creative Jewish Mom  has more creative and jewish crafts for Chanukah too.

When it rains it pours

There seems to be some kind of a problem in finding information on Jewish homeschooling on the internet.  I am not sure why that is but it's hard to locate any recent information on the subject or to find blogs covering it.  So I was happy to find a link to a jewish homeschooling blog which then led me to a whole list of other jewish educational sites, homeschooling and otherwise.  Here it is.  This is very exciting.

Listen to your messages

Everything in life is a message or a lesson, if one is listening that is:)  I was feeling kind of under the weather between minor and major issues on personal and national and even meteorological fronts.   Things were just getting to me,  I just couldn't snap out of it.  I just needed some kind of a message from Above, to help me through this bump.  And then it happened.  First, smack in the middle of the sunny skies a little rain cloud appeared.  We desperately need rain here, they even started to say the emergency rain prayers here today and the chief rabbinate called for a fast, that's how dry things have been here.  So this was like a Divine smile, a little flutter of hope, for things to get better.  Then suddenly a song popped into my head, I probably haven't sang this particular tune in years, but the message was so timely, I felt like a stone has rolled off my chest.  Things will work out, it will be good. So here is the song.  Roughly translated:  I was young and have grown old, and I've never seen a righteous person abandoned and his offspring be in want of bread.  G-d  will give strength to His nation, G-d will bless His people with peace.  So there you go, it pays to listen to your messages, in whatever form they happen to arrive.

Postcards are educational too

Today I got a whole bunch of beautiful postcard books of different scenic photos of various geographical locations ( at a very nice price too).  The crew already enjoyed looking through them as did I.  Much like calendars, postcards can be very educational.   They can be used for developing aesthetic taste, for learning about art, photography, architecture, geography, history, nature study, for writing and reading practice, to name a few possibilities.  Not bad for such a pedestrian sounding learning tool:)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Calendars as educational tools

Calendars are very economical and multipurpose educational tools.  They come in many different themes such as  art, nature, vocabulary words, etc. They can be used to teach counting, months, days of the week.  They can be used for creative inspiration in art, photography or writing. Calendars are a good source of pictures of all sorts, that could be adapted for many different activities.  Years ago I got some calendars in a dollar store and used them to teach the kids about different species of cats and dogs.  And outdated calendars could be recycled for various paper projects of course.
So three cheers for calendars!!!

More Chanukah stuff

Here are a few more ideas and links for more Chanukah activities.

There is a ton of excellent chanukah craft ideas, word search puzzles and other chanukah themed activities at .

Here are two links for chanukah songs:
Chanukah songs at
Chanukah songs at

Over the years we did so many different chanukah projects. Here are a few ideas:
Bake and decorate cookies.
Make chanukah mosaic with cut up craft foam and simple outlines on paper with chanukah themes.
Make cards and other decorations.
Plasticiline on paper pictures.
Attach polimer clay chanukah shapes to headbands and hair bands.
You get the picture.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Chanukah Crafts

Here are a few links for Chanukah crafting inspirations.  So turn up your chanukah music and get crafting!!!  I can't wait:)
Creative Jewish Mom Chanukah Crafts

Some great decoration ideas

Origami Dreidel

I also see some original dreidel painting and decorating coming up soon.

Some Chanukah Inspiration

Some wonderful inspiration from Rebbetzin Tzipora Heller to make Chanukah more meaningful.

In the fog

Thursday night it was very foggy outside.  The street lamps filtering through the thick cloudiness had everything  enveloped in a yellow haze, kind of a comfortable almost magical feeling.  Outside there was fog but inside it was nice and cozy and warm.  A perfect night for a hot cup  of tea and a good book.  On Friday morning, it was a different kind of fog I had to contend with, faced with loads of things to do, limited time and unlimited tiredness.  Motzei Shabbos, I discovered I had some issues on the child rearing front that required my urgent attention, out of the fog.  So that got me thinking.  So many times in life we are faced with  sort of foggy situations where it's not entirely clear where we are, where we are going and exactly what should be done.  Life has a tendency to get complex.  When children are born and we look at our sweet infant we cannot see exactly what he/she will be like as an adult, we cannot see all the steps we and they will have to traverse on the way.  Much like the farmer, we plant the seeds and nurture them to help them grow, but we can only take them that far, many things are simply out of our hands.  Yes, our children are part of us but at the same time they are their own people.  It can get, well foggy and unsettling and, gulp, scary?  But back to the good type of fog, the magical comforting type,  like the Clouds of Glory that accompanied the Jews out of Egypt.  I think that sometimes the fogginess in our life forces us to step back, realize we are not in the driver's seat, to let go and have a little faith, to not always have to be able to to have all the answers.   The One who led our ancestors back then is still the One who is enveloping us in His loving protection and guiding and carrying us to where we need to go, even when we can't see, out of our personal Egypts.  

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Virtually Absent - Kids and Computers

I am going to be radical again.  I've been wanting to write about this subject for a while, why computers and kids don't mix, certainly not in early childhood.    I am not going to write about how too much computer time is bad for kids, how it wrecks havoc with their attention spans,  how it's a medium that encourages passive as opposed to active learning which is necessary for proper brain development or problematic content, etc.  All of these things have been researched and documented and written about.  I'd like to approach the subject from a slightly different angle.  The problem with virtual environments is that it is something that gives an illusion of reality, even an experience of reality, but is not real.  Authentic Judaism and mitzva (Torah commandments) observance on the other hand is all about becoming more real.  It's about breaking through the illusion that is this world, to get in touch with and  develop our deepest self. It's about breaking down the barriers inside and out that keep us away from true holiness and achieving our potential as spiritual beings. Virtual reality on the other hand, creates an illusion that is very appealing and being very addictive, gets one stuck in this illusion instead of breaking away from it.  That's why I am not a fan of virtual social networks such as Facebook.  They give an illusion of a realtionship and an illusion of communication but in reality it's a pale shadow of the real thing.  A cubic zirconium might look beautiful but it is not a real diamond and will never be.  Internet is very useful, it gives one access to lots of information and instantly too but it can never substitute for real learning or real thinking but often gives you the illusion that it does. It's a problem for adults as well, one can spend one's whole life online, but it's even more problematic for children, who as yet don't have clearly defined boundries of where fantasy ends and reality begins, who are still in the process of making sense of this world and their place in it.  So at best computers and the internet should serve in supporting roles when it comes to learning of any sort and not usurp the center stage as is often the case.  Why cheat ourselves and our children?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Acorns revisited

Sure enough we went to our plentiful acorn resources today, read the oak trees next to our house,  and picked up a whole lot of different sized acorns and hats, including an interesting "hairy" variety, sort of like a shtreimel instead of the usual yarmulke look:)  The picking was very exciting in itself and once I explained what I had in mind for today's project, the kids got into it.  So here are some results from them and me.  This is definitely an activity with lots of creative possibilities.