Parsha, Purim and Hamantashen!

hamantashenWell, I finally did it. I now have a Facebook page! Just go to Jewish and Homeschooling in an Amazing World and you can join the group.  This will hopefully be a medium where I can also post other interesting links and information that I find. Purim is but a few days away and I saw that someone posted hamantashen on Facebook and realized that with all our planning we did, we did not plan making any this year! Oops. That will not do. The little one and I made a batch of hamantashen after supper tonight.

For all those who are wondering, yes, we are having school this week. Room613 is not in session, but Harper Academy is. We swing to our own tune over here, though this year I actually had a boy who finally realized that everyone else around has the week off. The nice thing about homeschooling is that we are not tied to any other schedule but our own. We have a revised schedule for this week – trying to get everything except math done before lunch. We are doing pretty good with it. This afternoon we worked more on our Purim booklets that I printed out from Something fun but with some learning.

I had been alternating between parsha and reading the story of Purimkohain gadol (mainly for the benefit of the little one, but it still gives me a chance to add in stuff for the older ones.) Yesterday was parsha day. It was a perfect parsha for in it we talk about the clothes for the kohanim and the kohain gadol, and guess who is excited about being a kohain gadol for Purim this year? Thanks goes to his wonderful Aunt who had no more use for the costume and sent it to him. He was very excited and proud to be able to take out the costume and put it on for we really needed it for school! We compared what clothing the kohain gadol really wore with the costume version. There were a few differences, some which the boys asked if we could fix. But even if we don’t add any of the missing fixtures, we all agreed that it was a great costume and the little one looked quite spiffy. 🙂 The costume was put away again until Motzei Shabbos.

This past week I have been working on the narrations for the boy who was needing help. Last week I wrote about the suggestion of a mother to have the child visualize the “picture” of a short section, then to keep adding “pictures” to the previous ones until it is time to narrate. All the child needs to do is visualize the pictures in order while he narrates. This seemed to have been just what the doctor ordered. Instead of just being able to remember the end of the section, he is able to actually do a proper narration. Now, I can actually get through a nice section of reading before he narrates.

I think I am going to end of with our recipe. I have significantly modified a recipe I found on the internet to come up with our own delicious whole wheat hamantashen recipe. Hope you enjoy!
Ingredients (for approximately 3 dozen hamantashen):
4 cups of whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon of baking soda
¾ cup of brown sugar – gives a better taste than white sugar
4 eggs
1 cup of margarine or oil
You can use almost anything for filling from the traditional poppy seeds to pie filling, jam, jelly, preserves, or even chocolate chips!
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
The proper thing to do is to mix the dry ingredients together and then add the rest, but I am lazy and I just plop it all in and it works just fine. 🙂
Add more flour if needed to make the dough solid. Roll out the dough and cut into 3-4 inch circles.
Drop a tablespoon of the filling on top of the dough circles. Close and pinch to make 3 sides.

Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes or until a nice golden brown.

Wishing everyone a Frelichen Purim!



Chodesh Tov everyone! Purim is but 2 weeks away!

I started this this past week but there was just no time to finish it. I hope everyone is staying warm. The snow storm dumped close to 18 inches of snow on us. Shabbos morning I looked outside the window over my bed and oh, how I wished I could take a picture! It had to wait until this morning, but when I looked this morning, the trees were not quite as beautiful as yesterday. Almost, but not quite. We did not get to go to shul this week for there was no way a wheelchair could have been pushed through the snow that remained from the snowplows. But I did get outside on my way to my shiur and just enjoyed all the snow covered, glistening trees. It is hard to tell with the boys, but the little bit of Charlotte Mason style of outdoor science we have done has sure had an effect on me. When coming home I noticed all the little tiny footprints made by the resident squirrel on our property. I even noticed the huge gaping hole in the snow under one of his favorite trees. What was he doing there? What made that hole? Was he looking for the leftover challah scraps that we put out there from the previous week’s leftover challah? Or, as I was try strain my head, did he drop some snow from the branches above? And then, after Shabbos, boys came and enjoyed themselves all over those marks in the dark while I was snow blowing the driveway. Ah, the joys of being a child. Though, all 4 of them came out, on their own, and WANTED to help me clean the driveway! Sweet boys!

I guess this week was a fairly successful week. I would say this is the first week that we are really back into our routine – not quite, but just about. I would have probably have gotten to the little tiny bit that we lacked this week if it were not for my mind focusing on our new found room! All the boys in one room has actually turned out very well and we have decided to make the new room our library. Up came the unused bookshelf (GASP!! How could we, as homeschoolers, have an empty bookshelf?) and a desk.

Never fear, the bookshelf is now full! Living room has been emptied of the loose books that never could all fit on the shelves there, two comfy chairs and ottomans bought (from the Love Sac) and voila! School has a new location now. There is still work to be done in both the boys’ room as well as our new library, but there is something called money that we need to wait for now.

I read an amazing post this past week. As a quick precursor, we are finishing our third year with our Charlotte Mason curriculum (Ambleside Online version). I was not looking for a curriculum but I happened to bump into it. As I was reading the AO website I realized this is what I was looking for and what I needed. A CM curriculum is very different from the standard secular curriculum that is found nowadays in most schools. One of the main differences is that we focus on oral narrations for the first 3-4 years and only after those are mastered do we add written narrations. So, most of what the boys are doing is all oral with discussions. After all, how can you expect a child to write about what he has just learned if he cannot even voice in words orally all about it for it is easier to verbalize than it is to write.

Everything sounded great, except one thing. HOW do you actually teach? Well, the short (or really long) answer is to start reading all of Charlotte Mason’s books (there are 6 in her series.) When you are 3 days before the first day of school it was really not something that was doable then. I got the idea that the child is suppose to either read (or be read to) the particular pages in the book and then the child is suppose to narrate back what he/she just read/heard. There was nothing really to “teach.”

I really like the books used and the other main ideas of the curriculum that I kept up either reading to boys or having them read by themselves and then come narrate. It was not until the next summer that I was able to do more reading on what I, as the teacher, was suppose to do. As the second year with AO started, I noticed I was starting to getting the hang of things. Yes, narration from the child is the most important part – did the child understand what he/she just read? There are the obvious set of questions – the 5 W’s – Who, What, When, Where, Why and How.

The way AO is set out, we noticed that “Oh! Hey, we ready about this guy a few months ago!” The wonderful ladies who set up AO did a wonderful job for they arrange the books in each subject  each book talks about a person or event in a different light and then to see the lights turn on in those little precious minds as they connect the dots when they hear about something they learned about before is always fun and exciting. I have even been able to bring in Torah thoughts and ways into many of our lessons. It is exciting to me to see myself growing and learning as a teacher. I think I am finally getting it. It does take practice but it is coming easier for me.

And then, I read this wonderful post. The writer starts off by describing part of a phone call she got from another mother:

Mom: What do I do when my son retells the details of a book or movie or story, but he can’t tell me the overarching narrative that goes with it? Like he can’t say the main plot points. He rambles and gets caught up in details that are non-essential to the plot, but he tells them with so much accuracy and depth, I hate to stop him.

Her son is 11.

I can relate. One of my sons can read for 10 minutes and narrate the entire thing in 20 minutes. But then, I have one that has problems remember a tiny section (2 paragraphs) and he usually ends up just being able to narrate the last thing that was mentioned and cannot remember what happened before unless I start him off. But what about the first child? The author then precedes to start her answer off with the following:

Adults summarize. They can pick out the main points and sequence them. They’ve read 1000s of stories, watched as many films, and are well aware of the narrative arc (plot diagram) by virtue of time on the planet and years logged reading/absorbing “story.”

Kids don’t have this background, and can’t summarize like you. They’re younger. Story is fresh for them. They are beguiled by subplots and character quirks and twists. They chase the shiny object called “weapons,” “cute puppies,” “sassy friends,” “weird creatures,” “magic spells” or “epic battles” and report all that is filling their imaginations to the brink of enthusiasm. When you ask them to tell you about the story, the most exciting, fascinating points overflow. They can’t “sort” the images and emotions. They aren’t likely to sequence events into the narrative arc. They retell the memorable moments, with detail, reliving them in front of you.

I think that is something that we have to keep in mind with many things. How many of us adults would be in heaven with one cardboard box? How many children would be in heaven with a cardboard box? I think my oldest is now teetering on turning more into an adult, but all three younger boys (ages 11 and below) will have lights in their eyes if I tossed them a box for them. To them, the idea of a cardboard box is still new and exciting. To us adults, well, it is old and no longer are we interested in those “simple” things in life. It is by virtue of all the 1000’s of experiences that we have growing up that we are able to weed out the “unnecessaries” (that are always necessary, just not the “ikur”, the main point, of an experience,) and get right to the chase or make that connection between different things.

The author goes on and describes how to help children sort everything out, how to help the child visualize what is going on and put it all in order. It was really interesting, although someone on my AO list pointed out that some of tactics, she feels, are not quite CM style, and some of what the blog states is made more for the high school level of CM opposed to the younger children (mainly the more technical points – like “protagonist” and “sub-plot.”) Then, the mother proceeds to add that not all children can visualize like this author is almost assuming (my child 2 example from above who can narrate only the ending of a section and cannot remember anything before.) What this mother did with her similar-minded child was to stop after each sentence or tiny section (could be 2 or 3 sentences….) and have the child visualize what is going on – not narrate, just visualize in his mind. She would do this for the entire reading, asking her son to visualize what she just read and then add that visualization to the previous ones. At the end of the entire reading he was to then visualize it all and narrate.

I agree with this mother that those of us who are teaching a CM curriculum are not wanting to teach all these wonderful living books in order for our children to be able to analyze them to death and we have to be careful when asking for narrations and then analyzing them with the children. I think this post is good but best used after finishing a book and mainly for the higher leveled students. When trying to apply this to younger students, a more watered down (basic) version should be used.

All in all, I am reminded about how much I do not yet know and will have to pick up Miss Mason’s books again in the summer!


Each To His Own

I have one boy who struggles with reading.  Our pediatrician told me, a few years ago, that reading is one of the hardest things for a person to learn.

Our beginning was not good.  I tried, multiple times, to teach the ABC’s.  It did not help that I was trying to teach the Aleph Bais at the same time.  His younger brother, who I was not officially teaching yet, was picking it up better than he was.  I decided that it was probably best for my child’s self-esteem if his younger brother did not learn the letters yet.

This child’s older brother finished the entire kindergarten curriculum in 6 months, picked up reading basically on his own I believe – I do not think I really taught the reading part very well, but he picked it up anyways, and he ran with it.  He has been a book worm ever since.

The boy in question, however, was the total opposite.  Many days I would wonder if he really was trying, and other days I could see that he was, but it did not seem to matter if he was trying or not, it just was torture for the both of us.  Most “schooling” involves a lot of reading and writing and worksheets, even homeschool learning.  When my son was in kindergarten, I read everything to him, and wrote it all down.  When it came to reading, it was 90 minutes of yelling, begging, tantruming, and crying for the both of us.  It was work that should have only taken 20 minutes, but every day, without fail, 90 minutes of torture.  I dropped the Hebrew reading very quickly, figuring that in the summer hopefully my son would have gotten the hang of English reading, at least a little bit, and we would focus on the Hebrew.  Half way through the year I was desperately looking for something to replace the reading we were doing.  It was not good for either of us.  The other subjects were learned just fine if I read and wrote things down.  He was able to talk to me about the subject and about what we had just learned, and he was usually very excited about it all.

One day I saw an email from one of the homeschooling groups I was on.  Someone did not need the reading program they were using anymore for she had just finished it with their last child and wanted to pass it along.  (It was Hooked on Phonics.)  I immediately wrote back asking how much they wanted for it and was very nicely amazed to find out she wanted to give the entire set away for free – she got her money’s worth with her 6 children.

By this time, my son could sound out very simple 3 letter short-a vowel words, but very slowly.  When I got the books, I looked them over, and then sat down with my child.  I told him we were going to start at the very beginning, even though I know he knows the stuff.  I would like him to know the stuff better (and then I demonstrated how fast he needed to read the words.)  What I liked about the program is that you can sit for any length of time you want.  You do not have to finish a certain amount of stuff in a sitting.  The program is meant to be taken and each section repeated as many times as necessary and it is okay if repetition is needed.  We would sit together, just the two of us, and read until I felt it was enough, usually either 10 or 15 minutes – just enough time to do some work, but not long enough to cause him to get too frustrated and throw a tantrum.  I would make sure I would praise him a lot for each milestone. He started to enjoy it, and very rarely did he try to fight me. This worked, for in just over a year he finished the whole program.

What I have learned since then is that he is a whole word recognition person.  It is easier for him to memorize a word than it is to sound it out.  I have not done much research on this, and perhaps I should.  Honestly, right now I do not have the drive to do so for I do not think it is going to help much, but I could be dead wrong.  My whole philosophy has been (especially with him) is to try to get each child to WANT to read.  If they want to read, they will read, and eventually they will get there, however long it takes. It has been a long push for the two of us, especially since it did not take very long before the younger brother got ahead and into a higher reading level.  I have tried to make the fact that the younger one reads better a non-issue.  Each of us has our own strengths.  For the most part I think that has worked.

The curriculum that I use for my boys has the parent reading all the material to the child until about the 4th grade for the main reason is that the readings are usually at a higher level than the child can read.  Some children can read some of the work before that time, and that is fine.  This was something that really made me like the program for my intelligent son could continue on in his studies while he works on his reading and not get left behind.  Lately, there have been times when he ASKS me if HE could read!  If appropriate, I will let him try, if not, I will tell him I am happy he is excited, but we need to find something else for him to read instead.  Slowly the hard work is paying off.  I see him reading more and more lately, and the readings are becoming more advanced.

That is, his English reading is more advanced.  Hebrew is a totally different story.  I think the difference is that he does not know the Hebrew language.  He cannot speak Hebrew.  In English, at least he can try to guess the word if he has too for he understands what the words around it mean.  He cannot do that in Hebrew. He knows the letters but still gets mixed up with the nekudos.  Trying to make him read the words while he davens instead of reciting it by memory is torture.  My son is in the 4th grade and is maybe on a 1st grade Hebrew reading level (whatever that means).

This past week I was thinking about something that my husband and I were talking about.  We were talking about how children mature and that the body and the mind both mature at the same time.  I was thinking about my son – nope, he is definitely NOT there yet!  🙂 However, I know at eventually he will get there, they all do.  So, if he is not maturing yet physically, then mentally he is not there yet either and perhaps I should not be worrying so much about the reading.  The English reading is getting there.  He loves languages, and we are having him go through Rosetta Stone in Hebrew and he is really doing well.  Maybe I should take a step back, take a deep breath and just wait.  He’ll get there.