Monday, February 28, 2011

Why accept the unacceptable?

One of my pet peeves is the ease with which some people give up these days.  Phrases like "Well,that's how things are today",  "this is just how kids today act, talk, dress, whatever", "you can't fight it", "you will just have to accept", "you have to be realistic", just get my blood boiling.  Is there really a reason to be discouraged and accept things that one deems unacceptable just because someone decided that there is no reason to fight against something?  Sure one has to be realistic but one also has to actively shape one's reality.  Especially, when it comes to our children's education and transmitting our values to the next generation.  Why buy into the scaremongering and the propaganda?  Why become a willing victim of herd mentality? Why shortchange ourselves and our children?  Whether on personal or on national levels.  We are the children of Avraham(Abraham) for crying out loud!   Yes, the one who stood to one side while the rest of the world stood to the other (sounds familiar?), the one who was strong in his faith and  persevered in his idealism and taught mankind a thing or two.  We have to have convictions and stand by them and translate them into reality.  This is not some impossible pipe dream that some make it out to be, this is who we are at our very essence.  We have to learn from the  history of the Jewish people.  There are myriads upon myriads of examples of people succeeding in doing just that, with G-d help.  Yes it's hard, very hard and it takes lots of faith, courage and perseverance, but it doesn't make it impossible. So why give up without even trying?

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Photo projects

I've been wanting to do some photo projects for a while.  We've done some successful ones in the past such as making photo sculptures with photo cutouts and a decorated plaster base, photo tinting of pictures with markers, superimposing family photo images on old fashioned pictures or other interesting pictures a la Anne Geddes .  In general photography is a very creative and child friendly activity for children 6 and up and making projects with pictures that are already printed out could be done with children under six as well.  Digital photography, if anything makes it even more child friendly because it is so forgiving.  There are so many great possibilities from using different props to taking other themed photos, experimenting with different techniques, making collages or putting together albums, scrapbooks or photobooks or making cards.  My eight year old son is an excellent photographer.  For years he has been convincing himself, much to my chagrin, that he is not artistic because he had trouble with many things involving hand eye coordination.  But picture taking helped him get over  this train of thought to some extent and he's since branched out into other areas of artistic experimentation with a lot more success.   So if you have some older digital cameras lying around or could get one relatively inexpensively, it might be a good idea to equip your junior photographer and let him loose to explore the world out there.  It's a very educational activity  and could be useful in teaching other subjects as well.  One could make up photo challenges for kids like take 20 pictures of fruit or 20 pictures of something green or something made out of plastic or something interesting one would find outside or inside or whatever and see what they'll come up with.   It's great for nature study too because it teaches a child to look closely at the world around him.   So a great, versatile and creative activity which doesn't have to be too expensive and is a good skill to have anyhow!  

Friday, February 25, 2011

Pictorial Jewish Learning for kids

Here is an interesting site I just found that has online modules with printable pictures for teaching children halacha(Jewish law) and mussar(ethical teachings).  There are a few categories one could choose from - daily halachos, bircas hamazon( grace after meals), shmiras halashon(guarding one's speech), making shabbos, iggeres haramban(Nachmanide's ethical directive to his son), pirkei avos(Ethics of the fathers).  Each section has a coloring page and a brief explanation, which one can amend or expand upon.  Note:  The halacha is only according to some authorities, so if one follows a different opinion, one can adjust the information accordingly.  It's also important to differentiate for the child what constitutes actual halacha and what constitutes a minhag(custom).  One can also buy these little books in a printable form.  So lots of great information, plus lots of Jewish coloring pages, divided into short segments suitable for children of different ages. sounds promising.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

A great Montessori resource

Here is a fantastic Montessori blog I just discovered through   It has lots and lots of wonderful Montessori activities for many different subjects, as well as ideas and instructions for making one's own Montessori materials and how to use them, plus a whole site of beautiful printables(just click on the title of the blog post of interest and it takes you to the files).  Great stuff for math, geography, science and more.  There are also tangrams and graphics files for making lap books.  A real treasure trove!!!  The site is in French, but if you are not a francophone,  you could still make heads or tales out of it by using Google Translate.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Book and toy storage and Purim

How to keep all the books and toys organized around here, seems to be an eternal question. Every time I encounter another pile, the question presents itself anew.  But Purim time is a good time to experiment with  different options because the stores are suddenly full of all kinds of baskets and mini-hampers and other interesting things, which are good for mishlach manos but also good for picture books and box cars, etc.  Last year I picked up a whole bunch of colorful mini-hampers, cloth with a simple wooden frame, which were pretty inexpensive, just the right size and the best option I have used to date.  But after some heavy use, a few of them are beginning to show signs of wear, so I am looking forward to seeing what's out there this year.  Wicker baskets are very attractive too and  are great for storing toys and general play.  But while I am on the subject of children's books storage and display ideas, here are a few really wonderful looking ones, a book sling shelf and rain gutter bookshelves.  What great ideas and they look fairly simple to implement too, now I just have to figure out how to say rain gutter in hebrew, if they even sell these type here:)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The goings on

Spring is here
As always there is so much going on here.  It seems to me that life just gets more frenetic as kids get older. We are really behind on many things and the house desperately needs attention.  It's a real struggle at times to keep things together and not lose it.  But it seems that spring has come to Israel.  All of a sudden, everything is blooming, the spring flowers are out.  I just love this time of the year. I no longer find it surprising that everything starts turning green in February.  I guess I am becoming more Israeli:)  We had some great rains and they say the Kinneret has risen nicely.  It's such a blessing, these rains, a divine gift of love, all the more appreciated considering the crazy stuff going on in the region  around us.  It's just so beautiful outside, the nature waking up, the azure skies, the puffy clouds, birds' graceful flight.  It's hard not to feel joy in one's heart when seeing all of these.  There has been a lot of outdoor baseball playing.  But aslo all kinds of elaborate indoor activities.   Some days are more tame and some just push one to the limit.   Change is in the air.  The three year old turned into a little girl overnight, seemingly, instead of just an oversized fluffy baby.  The baby is teething, I think, he hasn't been sleeping so well and neither have I:)

Beautiful spring flowers

I love to see how everyone is growing up, but part of me longs for those days of babyhood when some things were simpler, when I didn't have to convince anyone to do their math, or explain why one cannot get along fine without grammar or
Our pinbroidery string art projects
impress upon them the importance of discipline and  good study  habits.  I like to have them snuggle up to me on the couch, so everyone can pick a story and we can just read the day or night away.  Some kids have been a little under the weather, and I have been tired and therefore more irritable.  But we are trying to get back on track and the older ones are catching up on some of their work.   The pinbroidery string art project was a great success.  They all loved it, so I think we'll be doing more in the future .  The kids expressed a desire to do some sewing projects.  So today we got started on making oven mitts and I am hoping we'll do some more useful sewing for the house.  I saw a nice idea for pot holders and dish draining cloth.  It was a bit of a bumpy start but generally they are enthusiastic.   There were some spontaneous art projects, math of all sorts, writing and reading practice.  The eight year old is into boy detective stories and adventures.  Otherwise we've been reading Winnie the Pooh, the original one and many of the picture books we have .   Geography, history and current events tend to make their way into our lives on
Another lovely view
daily basis but in informal kind of way.  There are lots of discussions and questions.  Sometimes they look for specific things on the map to illustrate a point and sometimes they randomly ask to be shown a location just because.  I hung up some prisms, so we all enjoy the rainbows at different times on a sunny day.  They've been trying to figure out how to use binoculars and loupes, so that was exciting too.   I think unschooling ideas have grown on me some over the years, even though I am not at all an unschooling kind of person.  But when pressed for time, it does work for us with some subjects.  I took the boys to a Shlomo Katz concert, we wanted to show them what real soul music sounds like.  It was really nice and I think they got what we were trying to tell them.  I do appreciate classical music, but there is something about this very spiritual Jewish music that moves on to the very core in a way, that classical music just can't, it just doesn't reach the same place in one's soul. 

Gorgeous skies
I did make the lemon marmalade, but the folks here, I guess are just not marmalade people.  I wish I could do more cooking and baking with kids in the coming week.  It's just so hard to fit everything in:) I went to a book sale and got some really great books - pretty gardening books to look at, some books on education, history books, a book of classic board games with boards and instructions, history books, picture books, and a very interesting cookbook I can't wait to use.  There've been some really challenging days.  But I just have to keep reminding myself to appreciate all the small successes, the steps in the right direction, the days when more things go right than wrong, all the good qualities that are all still there even when we are not at our ideal selves.  I think I understand G-d a whole lot better now that I am a parent.  All the G-d as a father metaphors suddenly make a whole lot of sense.  Just today, I found myself thinking, that sure they were disobedient but at least they are nice to each other, so maybe I should cut them some slack. And so it goes, in this whirlwind that is currently my life.
Book sale finds
So thank G-d for all the messes and struggles and craziness and chaos and love and joy of a large family and endless opportunities for growth.

On childhood, toys and simplicity

I was looking at an interior design book recently which was dedicated to ideas for child friendly space design.  It was a very attractively designed book which included ideas for children's bedrooms, play rooms and outside play structures.  There were a couple of ideas that could possibly be useful in my home but overall I kept thinking that as beautiful and elaborate and creative as these designs were, there was just something over the top about 95% of them.  Not to mention that it would probably be insanely expensive to implement even a fraction of the suggestions.  Does a child really need his/her bedroom to look like a castle or a some medieval or modern wonderland? How could a child ever find this kind of a room restful or restorative? Besides, more stuff means more mess.  What kids really need is space and time and opportunities to use their imaginations, to learn and discover, not to be bogged down with more and more stuff.  They don't need convoluted set ups to be happy or entertained, unless they are trained to expect and want these things.  Young children are very happy to play with very simple things that are already in the house or outdoors.  They need their parents' love, time and attention.  Overwhelming the children with too much materialism is a disservice to them.  Here is an excellent article from Geek Dad on 5 most popular toys of all time, which basically makes a similiar point.  Life is not an amusement park, but it's much more exciting and thrilling and full of adventure in a simpler, more wholesome and nuanced way.  Parents have to stress this to their kids and teach them to appreciate those kinds of things and not get trapped by endless bells and whistles and ever growing arsenal of fancy, beautifully packaged but otherwise gaudy, useless and shallow toys.  Goes for adults as well, but it's easier if one starts them young.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Mothers and Daughters

"Will you let me wear this skirt when I get bigger, Mama?"  said the little girl to her mother looking admiringly at her mother's clothes.  The mother smiled in the affirmative and the years rolled on.  The mother read stories to the little girl, she taught her the simple sewing stitches and the the crochet one when the time came.  She got the little girl books that she thought the little girl would find interesting and inspiring.  She introduced  her to art and music and taught her to appreciated the beauty in the world.  She filled her daughter's world with things and ideas that she considered good and admirable. She taught her optimism and love of life.  She let the little girl become her own person.  She encouraged her efforts and was supportive of her dreams and the year rolled on.  When others complained about lack of communication or difficulties with their teenagers, the mother couldn't relate, she got along with her teenager just fine.  Mother and daughter would talk and drink tea together and laugh and discuss and the years rolled on.  I still remember that skirt that my mother had when I was small, it was made out of gray and blue plaid material.  I couldn't wait to try on my mother's clothes and my mothers make up.  My mother and I, are very different, both in personality and in outlook.  And yet, now that  I  am grown up and have daughters of my own.  I see how much I've been formed and influenced by what my mother did for me when I was young.  Most of the things that I value today, were planted and nurtured by my parents, mostly by my mother in my childhood.  The years rolled on and today I am suddenly the mother in the story.  Today, I understand my mother much better than when i was a child.  Today, it's my daughter that wants to try on my clothes and my jewelry, my head gear and even my glasses.  We are so so different and yet she wants to see the world through my eyes, to get inside my reality and I see from the things that my girls say, that in many ways without me saying things explicitly, they pick up on what I really try to say to them, what I'd really like to convey to them through my mothering.   Sometimes my daughters are a mystery to me, often much more so than my sons, and yet from my own mother/daughter experience I see, what profound influence we parents have on our children even when we don't fully understand each other, even when we are very different, even if our childen's paths are not identical to ours,  everything we do continues to influence our children for the rest of their lives. It's at once both sobering and encouraging to realize this and I can only pray that as they grow, our relationship should always be that of love and mutual respect and understanding.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Old books and new

I've organized and reorganized my bookshelves many times.  But my kids love books and they love to play with them, so many times they grab a whole bunch of books that strike their fancy and cart them away for some game or other.  They always say they'll put everything back, really and some of the time they try but many a time, I have to go back and reorganize the books to my liking.  But a good thing about organizing books is the pleasure one gets from coming across old favorites, books that were not relevant before but are perfect for now, books that one had forgotten  among others.  There is always the pleasure akin to visiting an old friend. There are books that I look into regularly and some that I revisit only on occasion and some that are always new no matter how many times I've read them.    So the latest bookshelf reorganization session was no different.  I love books and I always want to write about books but at the same time I always hesitate because there are just so many that I'd love to squeeze into a post.  So I'll try to mention a few of the books, some old and some new. 
Don't Move the Muffin Tins by Bev Bos - a wonderful books with lots of practical ideas for art activities for young children.  I'd love to implement some of her ideas with my little ones.  I really like her idea of using different shaped paper for art projects to teach shapes and colors.
The Myth of Ability by John Mighton   -thank you Jennifer for pointing this one out. A fantastic book about making mathematics available to all children in a way the guarantees understanding and success.   I really enjoyed this one and could relate to a lot of what the author was describing.  I didn't enjoy mathematics as a child, I also remember very well the teacher that turned me off to math to the point, that years of my parents trying to convince me that it was all in my head, did nothing to dispell the notion that I just wasn't a math person.  And yet I've never entirely given up on concurring my math demons and now that I had to come back and look at mathematics again as an adult, I find that I actually enjoy math very much.  It's a very inspiring and hopeful book.  I think that if we can give our children both confidence and competence in math, it's a gift that will serve them well in whichever direction they'll wish to pursue.
Growing Minds, The Basic Skills and The Book of Puzzlements by Herbert Kohl - I always walk away with valuable insights, whenever I read anything by Herbert Kohl.  Even though he usually writes about education within the school system and how it can be reformed, his genuine love of teaching and learning and many creative ideas and thoughtful analysis could be beneficial to parents on the home educating front as well. 
I got a few poetry books recently which I like very much - Poetry For a Lifetime by Samuel Norfleet Etheredge- an excellent collectionof poetry with cute old fashioned illustrations and some of Poetry For Young People series especially the Emily Dickenson and Robert Frost ones (one should look through the others to make sure that the content and the illustrations are appropriate), I like that it has a brief biography of the poet and definitions of harder words at the bottom to make it more understandable for young readers.  Leaves From a Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Luis Stevenson, Illustrated by Donna Green -  wonderful poetry with gorgeous illustrations, what could be better.
How Children Lived a first book of history by Chris and Melanie Rice  - the book looks at lives of children across cultures and civilizations, great illustrations with pictures of actual artifacts included,  covers things like daily life, activities, toys, etc.  It was a great hit with everybody here and while it's a relatively simple book, it was perfect for conversation starters about history, geography, etc.
This is a tiny sample of what I'd like to write about so stay tuned and look at the book widget somewhere  on the bottom right for more interesting reading ideas.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Indirect teaching

I wrote a post about the book by Rabbi Dr.  Solomon Schonfeld on Jewish Religious Education recently.  In his book, among many excellent points, he writes about using literature as a tool for indirect learning, to reinforce and help students think about the points taught directly in other areas of the curriculum.  I've notices a while ago that young children like to philosophize and think about many different issues of philosophical nature.  So using stories that kids love to explore these philosophical ruminations further sounds like a good idea.   Therefore, I was very excited to find this link that helps one do just that.   As an aside there are quite a few books out there that use literature and other books that kids enjoy to teach a variety of subjects like art, music, history and even economics.  I find this idea rather intriguing.  So perhaps I'll collect some of these for a future post.

More homegrown inspiration

I was a reading a few books recently written by educators,  teachers who really love their craft, love children and are inspired by the whole process of teaching.  And it occured to me that all great educators have a few traits in common.  The most prominent one being that they have tremendous  respect for their students and reverance for the inherent potential of each human being.  They want their students not only to learn but to do well.  They understand the process of learning something and try to make it accesible to all their students.  I think all of the above are things that parents should keep in mind when educating their children.  It never ceases to amaze me how many learning ideas I actually get from my kids.  Sometimes,  I give them something like a tool or a project and they take and run with it and come up with fantastic ideas of their own.  We kind of bounce ideas off each other.  Recently, I bought some hand lenses/ magnifying glass loupes for everyone-cheap, versatile and educational, the things I love best.  As usual when I returned from the shopping expedition, the bags were unpacked and the lenses were out before I even had my coat off.  They ran around looking at all kinds of things really enjoying themselves.  But today, I was contemplating going out and perhaps collecting some interesting things from the natural world for closer examination.  We got some boxes for keeping beads from someone a while back and one day I found the four year old filling each small compartment with acorns and various acorn caps.  What a great idea, I thought, these boxes would be perfect for keeping all kinds of things and samples for nature studies, etc.  Today, however, the four and three year olds were busy examining toast and hair among other things.  What a great idea, I thought, I don't have to go anywhere outside the house to find more things to look at, the kitchen would do just fine - bread, sugar, cut up vegetable and fruit, garbage, etc.  So to paraphrase a Talmudic dictum, I learned much from many people, but from my children most of all.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

More interesting food links and ideas

This time I was looking for a healthy halva recipe.  We like halva and sesame is supposed to be really good for you.  What I don't like is all this sugar and corn syrup that is in there in the commercial version.  And as much as I like our dentist, who is a wonderful man and can make any horrifying procedure sound acceptable to even a three years old, all the cavities and root canals do not make my heart sing with joy.  So I found a few contenders here and here.  I'd like to experiment with the first one and maybe replace the sugar with xylitol and see what happens.   At the second here, there are also wonderful recipes for ice cream like concoctions from bananas, avacado and blueberries, purple cabbage sour kraut, making apple cider vinegar from apple scraps and cores and more.  Coincidence?  I think not.  Something tells me, that my getting this family (especially all the kids with teeth problems) to eat healthier, just might come to some fruition. And while we are on the subject of halva and other Middle Eastern food here is an interesting article on the health benefits of rose water.  And a great cough remedy from my husband's grandmother is to boil a few dried figs in a few cups of milk and then drink the resulting beverage, delicious and healthy.  Another one for coughs that my kids like, also using the fruits Israel is known for, is to mix 1 teaspoon of honey into 1 cup of grape juice and drink up.  So this has been your health food update from the Land flowing with milk and honey( figs are also on the list of fruits that the Land of Israel is known for and the rose water and halva are both very popular here).

Crafts: Another great catapult

Here is a link to a very clever and a very simple catapult.  The kids will really have a ball with this one and I am sure we can round up some defunct mechanical pens for the project:) Once again science works itself into our lives.

This and that

It is interesting how things work out some times.  Our neighbour gave us a bag of lemons. So I've been thinking about what to do with them.  Here is an interesting lemon marmalade recipe I'd like to make, which just happens to be located on a frugal recipe site( plus nutrition, home remedies, etc).  How exciting on both counts!!!  This recipe sounds not surprisingly much like the esrog jam I want to make every year but never get to, oy!  Then I was looking for a sprouting link.  The person who originally told me how to do it just used two bowls, one inverted over the other.  I did too, many moons ago, it worked fine.  The site I found used some sort of a commercial contraption which reminds me of my flour sifter, just with dividers.  Hmm! Anyway, I did find some sprouting information, it just happened to be on a food storage site with all kinds of interesting ideas about frugal eating and emergency preparedness( it doesn't have to be doomsday, a burst pipe qualifies a sort of emergency situation too.)  So as always one thing leads to another.  That just the way, at least my life is:) And here is the sprouting link.  I'll have to get back to it after a six year hiatus:)  Better get some sleep, so I would have energy for all this food experimentation and of course writing something substantial for a change.

Monday, February 14, 2011

A few aliyah links

Here is a link to an interesting aliyah article
Tehillah -the movement for religious aliyah.
Nefesh B'Nefesh

A creative thinking resource

"Mommy, a dalet is a seven!", my four year old enthused.  I was about to say that a dalet was a four and not a seven, but experience has taught me, that there is always a reason behind a child's statement, especially a very emphatic one.  It took  me a minute to process this, but then it hit me, the four year old has just figured out numbers and she was practicing  writing a seven and indeed if you look at the shape of a number seven it is somewhat reminiscent of a dalet.  Then the other day the seven year old remarked that the story I was reading to them is just like another story I've read to them a while back.  I quickly thought to myself and neither the author or the illustrator were the same for these two stories, but he was right, the plot device was indeed similiar.  These are just two examples but I've seen it again and again with my kids.  Children often think by analogies it seems and very creative ones at that, often not ones that would readily occur to adults.  So when I came across The Private Eye- 5x Looking/Thinking by Analogy on I was very excited.  It said that it's a guide to developing the interdisciplinary mind hands -on thinking skills, creativity, scientific literacy, etc.  The basic idea is that one uses a loupe to look at something, then change scale up or down and theorize about what it reminds you of and why and what are the implications of that for understanding whatever it is one is exploring.  That's how great thinkers think apparently.  That's how scientists often think and children too as my experience bears out.  It can be used with many different ages and across many subjects- science, poetry, social studies, engineering, etc.  It's full of great project ideas and wonderful quotes (copywork?).   It's really a very exciting resource and I'd love to incorporate it into our educational adventures. Here is the link to more information.  It seems that one can encourage this sort of thinking by analogy, to inspire kids to examine things closely and theorize about the world around us and why it works the way it does.  The book uses a loupe to do that.  But really one can also use a mangnifying glass, microscope or another magnifying device or even one's imagination. It's good for brain development.  This is a kind of thing that one really doesn't outgrow and the possibilities are really endless becasue it is so versatile.  I really like this kind of an idea and it can appeal to different types of learners because one can just tailor it to one's students' needs.  I love browsing through this book again and again for ideas and inspiration.  Great stuff !!!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Living in Israel or unsolicited aliyah advice

I hate Israel bashing.  It really makes no differences whether it comes from left  or right, from within or from without.  My opinion is, just like with other personal matters, deal with the problem but there is no need to ever air your dirty laundry in public.  I don't see how it helps anyone or helps resolve the problem.  Hence I am not a fan of Facebook either.  I believe that private things are just that, private whether on personal or national level.  The way I see it, clearly if G-d gave us this land and wants us to live here, and said that it's good for us than obviously it must be good.  But good is not always synonymous with easy and instantaneously comfortable.  So, I've been thinking lately and not so lately about life in Israel and what advice I'd give to someone contemplating aliyah.  When thinking about aliyah, it's important to think in and out of the box simultaneously.  I'll explain.  On one hand, everything about Israel is supernatural on so many levels,  and when one does things with faith, amazing things happen.  Moving to Israel requires lots of idealism and lots of faith.  We are taught that the Land of Israel is acquired with suffering.  I think that is so, partially  because  anything worthwhile in this life requires effort and often has growing pains associated with it.  But also, the way things are designed, is that living in Israel can push one to the limit and so force one to grow like never before.  So on one hand one has to be idealistic but on the other hand one has to realize that there will be real challenges.  Not because it's  Israel necessarily but because any immigration is difficult.  One has to come prepared, so one wouldn't get thrown off and disillusioned by these inevitable difficulties.  One has to think deeply and honestly about who one is, about whom one wants to be, about whom one wants one's children to be.  One has to come with an open mind and positive attitude.  One has to do one's research  and try to eliminate as many structural difficulties as possible.  Immigration is stressful but not having a stable financial situation for example could make it a whole lot more stressful.  So one has to plan for these things.  One has to have a connection to some support  system, as well as  a reliable information and advice source like a trusted rabbinical figure.  One has to look at the big picture but one also has to come with a plan.  Everybody struggles but by being prepared one can overcome many normal aliyah obstacles and come out a stronger and better person.  Lots has been written about all the advantages  of living in Israel: physical, spiritual, emotional, etc.  It really is a wonderful, beautiful and very very special place to live.  There truly is no other place like it in the world.  But like any dream worth dreaming, it takes work to make it a thriving reality.  One has to have courage and strength to make it so, with G-d's help.   I think all Jews have to think about aliyah.  Already there are many organizations that exist to make the process simpler.  Things are changing, Israel is changing and one can do things to help oneself and others to make this land our home in the deepest possible way.  So here is to a successful aliyah!!!

Friday, February 11, 2011

More goings on

It's been a very busy week and we are all trying to relax back to equilibrium.  We are enjoying the new crop of books we just got.  I'll try to post more on that later.  But it always warms my heart to see a child pick up and study carefully one of the books I left out for them to find.  I guess the butter was a success,  I've gotten request for a repeat performance from the four year old.  She asked for some and when I told her we didn't currently have any, she nonchalantly suggested that I could make some more.  I've been contemplating all kinds of random things from sprouting, to emergency food/water storage,  making scented sugar with different kinds of herbs.  I was planning on writing about all of the above this week but life interfered:)  So stay tuned.  The kids always surprise me, be it with perceptive observations,  original questions or just going from fighting to happy cooperation and down right kindness to each other.  Suddenly everyone is into baseball or building and playing with Legos.  Today I found the three year old sitting on the couch and going through book after book - art, gardening, poetry- commenting all along.  The baby is becoming  much more interactive much to everyone's delight.  The three year old very generously offered to share her prized bracelet with him, but he was loath to give it up once her generosity expired.  The eight year old is developing quite a sense of humor in his old age.  The seven year old wants to learn to knit. And so it goes together with lots of messes and run away dough and temperamental plumbing and lots and lots of happiness.  Hopefully will post something more intelligent and educational next week.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The goings on

There has been a lot going on but a lot of it escapes me right now.  For most part we've been up to the usual things: math, reading,  writing, reading stories,  the littlest ones playing the days away, pretending all kinds of amazing things, some projects, doing lots of random stuff around the house.  My husband had to be away on business, so we were on our own for about a week and a half.  It's been a very busy couple of weeks and very educational in unexpected ways.   I think the kids have learned a lot about friendship and being a good neighbour, when they saw all the various people helping us out in big ways and small.  They also see that we do our best to help others as well.  When our pipe burst (AGAIN) and flooded the building  and our neighbours turned out in force and helped clean up the mess and then when we were essentially without water for a day and a half more than one family offered us bottled water, or to use their kitchens, bathtubs, etc I think they heard the message loud and clear and it isn't something that will ever be forgotten.  I think especially in a community with lots of immigrants, your friends and neighbours become your family, which is another special thing about making aliyah.  If one opens one's heart and gives up on certain preconceived notions about people, one can connect and relate to many other people, who even though we are all Jews, are very different from each other in many ways.   But I digress.  The three years old is finally done getting toilet trained.  The four years old is very proud of herself for figuring out how to write some numbers and in general is getting more mature.  The seven year old discovered crossword puzzles and baseball.  Apparently he is also still flexible enough to put his foot into his mouth, literally( as is the eight year old, I am told).  The eight year old is also progressing nicely with his english reading (he is already a reader in hebrew), enjoys using fancy words and has discovered his mechanical side.  The baby learned how to sit and discovered books for eating and other entertainment.  There were lots of random discussions on many different subjects, lots of scribbling, imaginary and otherwise, we have to work on spelling, because my sabras often tend to skip vowels all together when they attempt English writing, it's pretty funny:)  My husband is the geography/history person around here, so he plays all kinds of ad hoc geographical games with the kids of the "how many english speaking countries can you find on the map, how about spanish speaking?", etc and then throws in all kinds of historical trivia while they are at it.  I discovered that I can speak hebrew better than I thought, a very encouraging thing, really.  So, thank G-d, as always, busy, at times crazy,  at times very challenging and mostly very very sweet and uplifting and wonderful and most certainly educational times  around here.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Crafts: Branch-Weaving

Here is an interesting and educational project, which doesn't require any exotic supplies and comes out very pretty.  One can also tie this activity in with some other textile related topics or Hilchos Shabbos(Sabbath Laws).  I think it would be lovely to try this one with the kiddies:)

Monday, February 7, 2011

Purim thoughts, ideas and projects

This year we get extra time to think up and make Purim projects, as we have two Adars.    Purim can really get one's creative juices flowing.  From costume ideas, to mishlach manos ideas,  cooking, baking, packaging ideas.  There are literally thousands upon thousands of possibilities.  All one has to do is search for homemade food gifts, or easy to make costumes, or creative gift wrapping or...  One could just get totally overwhelmed by all the options. There are ideas one can adapt and ideas geared specifically for Purim (see for loads of great Purim activities and ideas). So here is what I like to do.  I get the kids involved in mishlach manos production.  It varies from year to year depending on what is going on around here and how much time and effort I can expand.  For a few years we covered recycled oatmeal cans with colorful contact paper, last year we folded paper hamentashen from colored paper circles. I am contemplating what we should do this year.  I try to start early so we can experiment and see what works and what doesn't and then we can swing into mass production:)  Ideally I like to send real food instead of just junk or predominantly junk.  So we bake, or decorate cookies or biscuits,or make salad.  Some years we did thematic mishlach manos like breakfast:tea bag, oatmeal or a muffin, or cereal and milk or tea time: tea with baked goods.  Someone I know used to send pancakes and fruit and a little pancake syrup box or somebody else sends deli sandwiches with pickles and a drink.  I like to make uncomplicated, kid friendly things and preferably in a frugal fashion.  So the time before Purim can be used for making costumes for the real thing or just for playing, for making or coloring and wearing masks, singing Purim songs, discussing the megilla or just making Purim decorations.  Here are some Purim suncatchers that we made based on a snowflake suncatcher project I posted before.  So unleash your and your kids' creativity.   It doesn't have to be stressful, or very expensive either.  One can enjoy the Purim spirit for more than one day.  But most importantly one has to convey the essential  message of Purim, one of optimism and faith that G-d is the One orchestrating history and leading us to where we have to go in a miraculous way, turning darkness into light and sadness into joy and illuminating our souls.   Purim is about doing G-d's will, modesty, unity and love. And perhaps one should aim to work on those things during the month or months of Adar.  One doesn't have to be fancy, doesn't have to impress anyone.  One just can keep it simple, practical, happy and enjoyable.   Chodesh Adar Sameach, Kodesh U'Mevorach (A happy, holy and blessed Adar)!!!!!

Friday, February 4, 2011

A Buttery Tale

One day I was contemplating, how hard it is, these days to find anything genuinely healthy in the stores. Everything seems to have additives one probably doesn't want in it.   How nice it would be to be able to get raw butter, I mused.  I've never seen it sold and even if it was sold, it would probably be very, very expensive.  Woe is to us, those trying to find something trully nutritious to feed our families:)  So imagine my excitement when one day a friend of mine told me about a local source of raw milk, which wasn't much more expensive than its' ultrapasteurized kin.  And being that we were trying to reintroduce some dairy into our lives, becasue my allergic child no longer reacted to milk that someone was ingesting next to him, I decided to get some.  But, back to the butter.  There I was, despondently browsing through the Nourishing Traditions  cookbook, thinking that many of the suggested wonder foods would remain a fantasy as far as I was concerned, when a thought struck me.  Wait a second, butter is made from cream, and my non-homogenized raw milk has a lovely layer of cream on top, I have some recycled glass jars with screw on tops in the house and I vaguely recalled reading about a preschool activity of shaking cream in a ziplock bag to make butter.  So a desire to try this out was born.  I found this recipe with instructions and so tonight I made butter.  It worked, it came out beautiful in all its yellow buttery glory, the left over buttermilk was delicious and I think the kids will be very excited to try this tomorrow and to help make it themselves in the future.  So here is one delicious, quick, scientific, frugal and practical activity to try.  I highly recommend it and you don't need to get a churn ( my 8.5 year old inquired if I had one, when I announced my intentions to try this experiment, I guess he remembered from the Little House books).

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

My take on workbooks

One often hears, especially among the home educating crowd, about the ills of mind numbing texts and awful workbooks, dull drill, etc.  All of the above could certainly be and often are, true.  But I found with my kids, that good quality workbooks, yes there could be such an animal, if used judiciously could actually be quite useful and the kids could enjoy using them.   I picked up one in the store the other day, called Eretz Yisrael V'yoshveha (the Land of Israel and its inhabitants).   I have a hard time passing up anything educational with beautiful pictures of Israel in it and it was inexpensive too to my great joy (and relief).  It's a local geography book for beginning elementary students.  It's written from a religious perspective, so besides the geographical information, one also finds, Jewish historical landmarks and verses from T'nach.  It's full of beautiful photographs and other lovely illustrations.  I brought it home, announced it's arrival and then just left it.  Before I knew it, the kids were passing it around, looking at pictures, reading, asking questions, answering some of the questions in the book.  To my excitement, it was a worthwhile purchase and enjoyed by everyone, parents and children ages 8.5 to 3, except the 8 months old baby who is as of yet, too young to appreciate the fine points of geography and would just eat it:).   So I found, in this and other instances, if kids are just allowed to go through the text/workbook as quickly or as slowly as they like, answer some or all the questions orally instead of in writing, ask questions and discuss things in addition to or instead of the ones provided in the book, it could be quite an enjoyable and enriching experience for all.  I think even more than the quality of the text, what is mind numbness  inducing in schools is that the speed of progress, up or down is regulated by the teacher and not the student, that text and workbook use is confined to a particular age, time, grade, space, day, etc which makes everyone feel stuck..  So creative use of textbooks and workbooks, especially if they are not the sole but one of many sources of information and instruction being used, is quite conducive to knowledge acquisition.

The Winds of Change

Change is afoot around here and I don't mean the geopolitical situation, which is unsettling enough.  I mean that the children are really growing up.  We've been looking at old photo albums and it was amazing to see how everyone has grown, and how the same personalities they have today, were already discernible when they were fluffy toddlers once upon a time, sigh.  They've grown so much.  They are becoming more independent every day.  It's interesting to see their minds develop and expand, the changing sibling dynamics,  their more mature worldview.  It's encouraging to see how far we've come in our parenting and education journey thus far and a little unnerving, not knowing how the next few years will progress, especially once we hit the teenage years ( I think some of them were teenagers from birth:)).  As parents we often tend to see what's missing in the child rather than what's already good ( such is the nature of the world when it comes to parents  say R'Tzadok HaCohen of Lublin ).  And yet to see them morphing into adults that they'll become one day, G-d willing, is both sweet, exciting and downright terrifying when one ponders one's parental responsibilities.  I've read an interesting comment recently, how we have and raise our children, often when we are young and/or inexperienced and unsure of ourselves as parents, when we are vulnerable.   The author asserted that perhaps, it's to teach us  that as much effort as we might put into our parenting, we are not really  in control, not of the process and not the end result.  All parents have moments when they feel helpless and alone and all parents have moments when they feel like they have this parenting thing down pat and so it goes, a wild ride of ups and downs until the children are grown up.  We tend to take for granted, that life more or less progresses along the same lines for years on end, but really it's just a relatively short period in our lives when  we get to raise our children and make an impact on what kind of people they'll become.  It's a gift to be treasured as bumpy as the ride is often times.  For the winds of change are blowing, an intimation of a new reality, changing relationships, etc. Sure, it's all for the good, but  things will be different and all transitions are hard.  We've come a long way, suddenly some things are outgrown and some other suddenly become relevant even though you thought it would be years and years until that happens.  I read a metaphor somewhere, that when one is in the airplane, one is going really fast and at the same time not really feeling like one is moving at all, until one lands at his destination.  That's parenting.  Wishing everyone a pleasant and meaningful journey and a safe landing:)

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Paper and Cardboard Dollhouse furniture

Just like one could never make too many dollhouses, one could never make too much dollhouse furniture and when it could be made with thrifty, easily available materials, it really doesn't get better than this for those that enjoy these types of projects.  So it's time to hold on to all those cardboard boxes or make some out of available cardboard.  Here is a fantastic link with all kinds of old fashioned dollhouse related ideas, as well as crepe paper costumes one could make, just in time for Purim.  The dollhouse furniture from boxes is amazing.  ( I love these old books from the When Mother Lets Us series). I am thinking, that one could probably make it out of bigger boxes for the child-sized versions. It's probably a good way to teach furniture constuction and design as well.  Very, very exciting, creative, educational and frugal to boot!!!  Enjoy!
Here is another link for some more paper furniture inspiration.

Toy: Flower Building toy

Here is another great toy idea from  One could probabbly make this with corrugated cardboard or craft foam and beads and pipe cleaners as well.  Hmmm!