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 aish.com 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 www.madebyjoel.com

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. http://www.thecraftycrow.net/2010/11/thanksgiving_table_crafts.html

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 chinuch.org .

Here are two links for chanukah songs:
Chanukah songs at aish.com
Chanukah songs at chabad.org

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.

Crafts: Acorn ideas

We have lots of oak trees around where I live, which means lot of acorns. Kids love collecting acorns and playing with the cute little acorn caps (and not just kids let me tell you).  Here are some acorn crafts to try.  I see an acorn collection trip in my near future:)
Acorn crafts

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The dance

She dances across the stage. Sometimes every step is measured carefully and sometimes totally improvised.  It's a combination of ancient tradition and modernity with a splash of something almost mystical about it.  The music picks up speed and she races around and then suddenly her movements are almost painfully slow or maybe they are deliberately nuanced. Here body and soul and music and motion blend into one as she twirls around.  Is it ecstasy or is it desperation?  This dance is like a prayer in motion. It's poetry come to life. She misses a step, she stumbles but then resumes where she has left off.  It's a place where joy and light and holiness abound. But then a somber mood, almost melancholy and then back to the upbeat tune. She twirls and hops and jiggs and taps and saunters along with the music.  Somehow there is cohesion in all of this chaotic activity even harmony, beauty and grace.  The lights go on and then dim and then go on again. Such a lovely, lovely thing to be able to dance like that, to soar to the skies and still be attached to the ground.  Even with so much practice every time it's really a new creation, a whole new dance and a whole new experience.  A day in a life of a mother.

Art and engineering

Here are a few exciting links I just discovered, I particularly like the fact that they are printable and from what I saw so far they sound very promising.

Engineering lessons for 8-18 year olds, how amazing is that?

An Art Appreciation and Social Studies curriculum for Elementary age children, from what I looked at so far I really liked it, but of course you have to pick and choose with some of the things.
Meet the Masters Curriculum

The What Your Grader Needs to Know series are available for download from Coreknowledge.org .  I wouldn't necessarily use it as a textbook but it is useful to give you ideas of subjects and concepts to explore with different ages.
I also saw some interesting ideas for teaching art, writing, poetry, etc through weekly or monthly challenges/assignments that a few people can do as a group.  Each person does the assignment and then the work is displayed, discussed, etc. The idea being that it gets you into the habit of doing something on a regular basis, such as writing, drawing, reading, you name it.  You don't have to participate in any existing group and you can certainly make your own. Food for thought.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The goings on

Today was one of those days.  The type that surprises you.  I didn't have such great expectations.  I was totally ZONKED.  And then things just started happening. I baked with the kids, always a favorite around here.  We made bagels and peanut butter cookies and everyone participated and  there was surprisingly little fighting and a whole lot of enjoyment.  Then we tried to figure out how to use a photoaltering thing my mother sent me.  It didn't work but the kids found the idea intriguing anyway.  Then we went on a little bus trip with the kids.  Bus trips are always exciting and traveling in Israel is always such a joy for me.  The scenery was out of this world and it felt that everything around us was just sparkling and glittering and shining.  It was a nice start to Kislev, almost like passing through a giant menorah.  We also passed through Modi'in, which of course figures prominently in the Chanuka story.  Then we checked out an interior of a shul designed by an artist we all like.  Spent some time with family.  Enjoyed the ride back home, while talking about the months and the holiday sequence with the four year old, exchanging jokes and just talking with the kids.  Then quick supper and the kids actually went to sleep without major hocus pocusing because they were just so tired.  I then spent a whole lot of time sifting through various educational sites and links, some of which I hope to share soon and some I still need to assess for suitability. So there you go, a dream day of home learning straight from heaven.  In one fell swoop, language arts, nature study, history, art and architecture appreciation, practical skills, social studies and family togetherness.  Some days are just like this:)

You can only give what you are

We believe that there are no coincidences in the world, everything is ordained from Heaven.  I heard from Reb. Tzipporah Heller in different contexts that one can only give what one has or one can only give what he /she is.  So the greatest gift we can give our children is a gift of ourselves, our passions, our interests, our values.  They will take their own paths in life but at the same time they will take something of us with them.  So if I am an artist and a thinker or whatever than that is what I can give my kids, they were not meant to have a mathematician for a mother.  So they can learn advanced mathematics from someone else but I guess they needed personal tuition in what I can give them from me, that's a pretty big vote of confidence there.  So as we grow as parents and as individuals, each in our own way, we can give our children more as we become more.  It's  a tall order but a very empowering one for parents. 

Sunday, November 7, 2010


Jews call moving to Israel, Aliyah, which means elevation or going up, conversely emigrating is known as a yerida -going down.  Aliyah is about becoming more.  I hate politics and generally try to stick to apolitical subjects for this blog but I would be remiss, if I didn't mention that the land of Israel and its spiritual significance to the Jews is absolutely central to Judaism.  So if Israel is not part of your life or your thoughts, you are definitely missing something in your Jewish education.  It's true for a long time the Jewish people were away from their land, but just like a person can learn to live with an amputation, you can hardly call it an ideal way of being.  These days there is a massive onslaught on the Jewish right to the land of Israel and on Jews in general. Every time you read the news, it's like a stab at the heart. Not a day, if not an hour passes without constant attacks, lies, hypocrisy, mudslinging and monumental pressure to wrestle our tiny land away from us.  It's nothing short of an open miracle that we live here despite all of this, surrounded by enemies that are armed to the teeth on all sides, and not only live but thrive.  Because Jewish rights to Israel have nothing to do with politics and everything to do with G-d.  The Jewish nation living according to the Torah of Israel in the Land of Israel.  What gives us the right to the Land is the Torah.  Take the Torah out of the equation and that is what leads to the separation of the Jewish nation from their land.  There is a lot of confusion in the world today, but the Torah is what gives us clarity, because it's G-d view of what the world is supposed to be.   The Land of Israel is meant to be the stage upon which the Jewish people live their spiritual lives to the fullest by doing what G-d wants of them.  It's not the UN, not the "international community", not Obama that grant us legitimacy, that  decide where we live, where we build, where our borders lie, it's G-d.  This is not about politics.  It's about truth vs. falsehood, good vs. evil, it's a battle for life itself on G-d's terms.  We are not moving and neither our land or our people are for sale.  "The eternal nation is not afraid of a long journey", goes the song.  The Guardian of Israel is in charge here, we don't need anybody's empty security guarantees.  I know in our PC post- modern, post-nationalist world (whatever that means),  this kind of thinking is considered complete radicalism. But if there is one thing I'd like to pass on to my children is that they should stand up for the truth and defend it, no matter how unpopular.  Our forefather Avraham was called an Ivri(the hebrew) - he was on one side and the whole world was on the other, funny how nothing has changed.  May it be G-d's will that He should soon grant us a geula shleima with mercy and sweetness, so we will all continue to live and thrive in all of our holy and beautiful land.

Crafts: Wooden Orchard Tutorial

Here is a tutorial for making a cute wooden toy and wooden toys in general, still going with the gardening theme:)
Wooden Orchard Toy

Thursday, November 4, 2010

My dream garden projects

There are so many garden projects I'd love to do with the kids.  Here is a small collection from my dream list of things to make.

Stone hypertufa planters

Paver Planters

A concrete garden bench

A brick patio.

I certainly have my work cut out for me.  It makes me smile just thinking about it.

Lessons from my garden

I dream of a beautiful garden someday, with flowering bushes, graceful trees,  flowers of all sorts, brick patio maybe.  Outdoor play structures or a play house for the kids, a bench, some exciting nooks, a sand pit a.k.a. a sand box, perhaps a little gazebo or a pergola.  Righ now however my yard doesn't look much like this fantasy paradise.  We inherited a very large but very neglected yard when we moved into our current apartment.  For many reasons it hasn't been improved tremendously over the past few years.  But it 's still a wonderful place to be and play and there is plenty of scope for imagination as I turn various ideas in my mind  and pour over my gardening books.  But it occured to me that even in its' current state my garden holds many lessons applicable to life with children.  Even in its uncultivated state, there are many beautiful spots and surprise plants that grow there, that never cease to delight me.  So too we,  even along the way, as we try to grow together, have many beautiful, pleasing and exciting traits and gifts in us even in our unfinished state.  Just like in a garden, if we don't do anything to stop them, the weeds will claim significant ground.  It's the same in life.  But, sometimes even the weeds are beautiful.  In life too, things that at times seem awful, painful, ugly, useless or annoying  can turn out to be something wonderful after all.  A beautiful garden takes a lot of effort and care, the results can take a long time and it's not always immediately apparent whether what you are doing is working or if things will turn out as planned. One needs a lot of patience and perseverance.  It's this way with raising a family too.  In a garden you reap what you sow.  In a home everything one does has reprecussions, good and not so good. The most important lesson though is that without G-d nothing will grow even with our best efforts, not in the garden and not in our lives.  So we should do what we have to do but pray for success with every step.  Then hopefully we will rejoice at the beautiful garden of our dreams, enjoy the process of getting there and feel G-d's presence always.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


"I am not available to play with her right now", said the four year old.  "I know I said she can take a bath with me, but now I want to be alone, I changed my mind.  And I don't like this water".  "I am a big girl now, I need an office to work and play in", said the almost three year old.  "I need to take karate, all the kids in my class take karate, do you want me to be the weakest kid in the class?", said the eight year old.
"Is this how you do a push up? He kicked me first, what? I could just sit here and watch the army cars all day" said the seven year old.  "Could you kids lower the volume on that piano.  And could you maybe keep your room a little neater, you are certainly old enough to handle some responsibility.  This is not how we treat other human beings, especially not our siblings.  And this is certainly not how we speak to parents", said the mother. Sigh, teenagers.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Maps and more maps

Here is a great collection of various historical maps - good for geography, history, coloring, etc.

Crafts: A Quilled Monogram Tutorial

Here is a link for a really beautiful project to add to my ever growing and never ending list - a quilled mongram, stunning. If you are doing this with kids, you can prepare the letter outline ahead of time and leave the rest to them.
A quilled monogram tutorial

Monday, November 1, 2010

The prepared environment

Maria Montessori talked about the "prepared environment" that fosters learning. That means that if we provide an environment that stimulates the child's interest and provides the materials that are necessary for a particular task in an accessible way then learning will take place almost on its' own without too much intereference from the parent/teacher.  It has been a somewhat trying day here.  I was feeling under the weather due to lack of sleep and a lingering cold.  So when my four year old announced that she urgently needed some blocks to build with (she needs everything urgently it seems),  I decided that it might be a good time to unearth the myriads of blocks that lay hidden inside the chaotic mess the the toy drawers are currently.  I grabbed the nearest basket and soon there was an overflowing basket of all kinds of wooden blocks, beads and other building things.  I must say it all looked rather attractive. Sure enough while I got busy with some other things calling my attention, there was sudden activity in the block area. Buildings and other interesting structures srang up like mushrooms after the rain and then the builders branched off into stringing their wooden beads into outlandish jewelry which then lead to some other related activity which then lead to... you get the idea. Later that day when I was busy dealing with an unexpected crisis, once again there was activity around the block basket, a really elaborate building went up, a true architectural gem, with careful attention being paid to design, colors, landscaping - this time by my son with a few little ones pottering around.  Later when the said gem  was now reduced to rubble, the young ladies returned to the pile, one put a few selected blocks away in a sandwich bag for playing tomorrow and one was observed carrying off a small colorful collection with her to bed.  So there you go, a prepared environment in action.  But it's not just the blocks, I've seen it work with all kinds of books on many different subjects, with art supplies, etc.  When we create a rich environment that promotes curiosity and learning both physically and emotionally (and it doesn't have to be expensive or too elaborate), than learning will certainly take place.