Monthly Archives: April 2009

Making kefir

I love making kefir!  I didn’t make it very often or very regularly this winter, but now I’m back into it being a regular part of my daily routine so I thought I’d share about it with you.

Kefir is cultured milk, packed full of fantastic probiotics.  You can buy ready made kefir in stores for an outrageous price (and you know I won’t advocate this!), or you can make your own.  If you decide to make your own, you have a choice of using a powdered starter or kefir grains.  The powdered starter needs to be purchased periodically, whereas the kefir grains can last forever (unless you are like me and don’t treat them well, or one of your family members throws them away :)).  The cost for kefir grains can therefore be a one time expense.  If you’re lucky enough to get some from someone who has extra, they can be free or a very low expense.

I’ve been able to get kefir grains from an individual, though I’ve damaged their ability to propagate (kefir grains grow).  But they still work just fine, and yesterday I was amazed to see just how effective the grains I have are.  I only have about a teaspoon of grains (grains look like a clunk of pinkish cauliflower).  Anyway, until now I’ve always made kefir in a quart jar, but a quart is such a tiny sized amount for our family that I had to ration out servings to be sure everyone would get some.  However, we recently finished a gallon sized glass jar of olives, and after cleaning it, removing the label, soaking it with baking soda to remove any odor, and toiveling it, it was ready to be used as my new family sized kefir jar. 

To make kefir, all you have to do is put the kefir grains in a glass jar, add milk, and leave it at room temperature until it cultures.  It’s misleading to say you’re making kefir, since it practically makes itself.  In warm weather it cultures very quickly; in cold weather it takes longer.  I put my grains in our new large jar, and was curious how long it would take to culture a gallon of milk, since it was such a small amount of grains.  I started it in the afternoon, and by breakfast the next morning (ie less than 16 hours), the entire jar was ready.   I was delighted, and so were my kids, since now I can be more generous with how much I give them. 

If you want to know more about kefir, you can check out the following site: http://users.sa.chariot.net.au/~dna/kefirpage.html.  If you read even a small part of it, you’ll know more than most people do about kefir.  I’d encourage everyone to aquire some grains and make some kefir for yourself and your family – it’s very inexpensive (basically just the cost of the milk, once you have the grains), and it’s a wonderful health supplement that strengthens your digestive health.  One thing I like about kefir grains is that you can transform the nutritive value of regular store milk by culturing it.  I used to only use raw milk for everything, but then I’d run out before my next shopping trip.  Now I mostly use the raw milk for drinking and pasteurized milk for culturing – it would be better if I could use all raw for everything, but I simply don’t have enough room in my freezer to buy the amount I need to last from one shopping trip to the next (unless I drastically cut down on the amount of milk we use). 

As far as taste, it’s kind of like a sour liquidy yogurt.  Lots of people like to blend it up with fruit or something else for a breakfast smoothie, but we like it just fine on its own.  If I were making a smoothie, I’d add coconut oil, fruit, and spirulina powder for a nutritionally charged breakfast. 

When the milk cultures, if you let it sit long enough it will separate, with the curds rising to the top and the whey remaining at the bottom of the jar.  I stir it together before drinking it, but you can also take out the thick and creamy curds at the top to eat, and put aside the whey to use as an acidic medium to soak your grains in.  There are other uses for whey, but I can’t think offhand of what they are since I don’t do anything else with it. :)

If you use only chalav yisroel, then you’ll have to take some extra steps to be able to use milk grains.  A friend I have who checked out with her rav how to handle it told me the following: you have to make and discard three batches of kefir from the grains before you can drink the kefir – ie, the fourth batch is okay.  But ask your rav for guidance; I’m just passing on what she told me. 

In our home, the kefir jar is now back in its regular place as a countertop ornament. :)

Avivah

31 cent scoop night at Baskin Robbins

I was planning to take the kids out tonight for a cheap scoop of ice cream at Baskin Robbins, but had a change in my plans.  First of all, our homeschooling gathering is today, and the friend who is hosting told me she’ll be serving a meat meal.  Waiting six hours for the kids to be dairy means it would be late at night when we went out for the ice cream, and that doesn’t sound very fun to me.  

Secondly, my two littlest ones seem to have come down with a stomach bug.  Even if we weren’t having a late fleishig (meat) lunch, I won’t feed them ice cream when their systems are already down.  But – I’m sharing the information in case any of you want to take advantage of this offer.  Here are details: http://www.baskinrobbins.com/Spotlight/31CentScoopNight.aspx?cid=718465&jid=17365689&mc=XX&eid=1323989&cmpid=email_ext_000019_1

Be prepared for a long line.  If you can, you might want to go at the very beginning (the hours are 5 – 10, so get there before 5), so that your wait won’t be as long.  The advantage of waiting longer is it gives your children more time to decide what flavor they want – you need to know by the time you get up to the front and they’re ready to serve you.

The last time I went was two years ago, and someone came over to me and told me she wanted to pay for our entire family’s ice creams.  And when we got to the front, sure enough, she had paid for double scoops for everyone – wasn’t that nice?  But even if you don’t have the good fortune that we had to get free ice cream, it’s still quite inexpensive and a nice treat.   We only go out for ice cream on bargain or free nights (meaning once or twice a year, max), so it keeps it special for the kids. 

Avivah

Planting blueberry bushes

At long last, my blueberry bushes arrived a couple of days ago.  I ended up calling the company to change my initial order several days after I posted about it, so I only got three varieties instead of six.  The reason I changed the order is they have special pricing for ordering a prepackaged group of 15 plants (just $50 for two year plants).  When I ordered 30, it was because I wanted to take advantage of the pricing and get two sets.  But it turns out that you need to specify that you want the sets of 15, and if you don’t, you get charged a higher price.  It was worth making the call and checking, since it saved me $40.

If you order the sets like this, they send you whatever they decide to send on that day, and can’t tell you ahead of time what it will be.  But whatever they send will be suitable for your climate.  The three varieties that I received were Jersey, Elliot, and Blue Ray.

 >>Where did you buy your blueberry bushes from?<< 

 A while back I posted about an opportunity to get $20 off of a plant order, and that I ordered blackberry canes and strawberry plants from that company.  But I wouldn’t say that company has super prices – once you start doing research, you see what a wide variety of prices you’ll find, and how many plants or seeds you’re able to buy will depend on finding affordable sources for what you want.

I found a great company for seeds and fruit trees/bushes (Fedco), but they’re located in Maine and so I couldn’t order berry bushes from them because they have plants that are appropriate for colder climates than mine.  After doing a lot of research, I settled on a company in a gardening zone similar to mine, that has what seems to me pretty good prices for blueberry bushes – www.danfinch.com

Yesterday we put most of them in the yard – they need to planted in an acidic soil, so I went out with my ds to Home Depot to get some peat moss to plant them in.  We’ve put a row between us and the neighbors on each side – on one side we have a fence between us, but on the other we don’t, and I really hope that they don’t get trampled by visiting grandchildren.  :(   They are only about 24 inches high. 

After putting most of them in, we still have a few more to plant, but I don’t know where to put them!  I’m considering lining the back of my yard with them, but the partial fence there is overgrown with weeds that are like small trees and my dh is going to take care of that.  The only problem is, he probably won’t have a chance to get to it for another few weeks, and the plants need to go in as soon as possible, so they don’t die!  

Avivah

Water filters

I’ve had my eye on a good quality water filter since last year, but due to the expense, I’ve continually pushed it off – there’s always something more pressing that takes precedence.  But a month ago, I finally purchased the one I’ve been wanting – the Big Berkey.   It filters out things that most filters don’t – theoretically, I could catch water in a bucket from a rainstorm and use it after filtering it through this. 

It arrived a few days before Pesach and I said we’d put it aside to use on Pesach and then continue using it for the rest of the year.  But I didn’t get around to pulling it out during Pesach, so we finally took it out yesterday.  Since it had to be toiveled and dh didn’t get home with it until late, my dd set it up when he got home and filled it with water to filter overnight. 

First thing this morning, the kids started drinking the filtered water, and as soon as I came downstairs for breakfast, they started telling me how much better the water was.  Not only that, they very quickly found the taste of tap water, which they’ve been drinking for years, unappealing and said it has a strong chlorine taste to them now (my dd8 said it was bitter).  I was surprised that the difference would be noticeable so quickly.

The water is tasty, and since water is our main beverage, I’m glad to know that it’s really pure.  Last night, after the filter was already assembled, I happened upon the following article: http://health.yahoo.com/news/ap/pharmawater_factories.html.  After I read about the medical wastes that end up in many water supply systems, I was extra glad that we have this filter!  Unfortunately, lots of things end up in every water supply system, some of which are supposed to be helpful to us and are forced on us whether we think they’re helpful or not (like fluoride), others are contaminants that no one thinks are worthwhile.

There are two kinds of filters that you can buy with a Berkey filter – white or black.  The white filters are good for filtering water that is basically already clean; the black filters can handle more contaminants.  The white filters last about three times as long as the black filters, probably because they aren’t being used to block all of those contaminants!  Because of that, the black filters are more expensive, but I felt once we were getting a filter, it should be one that could handle anything we wanted to use it for.  I found a site (http://www.readymaderesources.com/cart/index.php?act=viewProd&productId=516)   that sells the Berkey with four filters at the same price most sites sell it for with only two filters, and they give you a choice of the white or black included in that price.  So now I have a replacement set of filters, though it should be a long time before I need them since you can easily filter several thousand gallons before needing to replace them.  And the filters can be scrubbed clean several times before needing to be replaced.

The most important element of a filter is, obviously, the filter.  The casing that holds it just makes it look nice.  I looked into buying the filters themselves and using five gallon buckets to make the casing for them (you can Google for instructions on how to make a Berkey filtering unit), but after finding the above source for the entire set up, didn’t feel the financial gain was of doing that was substantial enough to make it worthwhile. 

(By the way, I hope that this is obvious to you, but I don’t have any financial interests or benefits from anything that I link to.  I don’t make any money if you click on a link or order from a site that I mention here – I mention them because I do a lot of research on things before I buy them, and figure that if the time I spent can save someone else time, then I’m happy to share that.)

Avivah

Bulk food storage and garbage bags

I’ve mentioned that when we buy dried food in bulk, we store them in buckets lined with garbage bags.  Since many garbage bags are sprayed with pesticides, this isn’t a good thing to do unless you know the brand you’re using hasn’t been sprayed. 

I downplayed this concern for a while because I didn’t want to think of potentially having to throw away any food we had stored in this way, but finally decided to be on the safe side and check the status of the garbage bags we use.  I called the company – you can find the phone number on the back or bottom of the box – and asked them this question.  I told them I knew they weren’t recommended for food, but wanted to know in the event that they were used for food, if the food would be contaminated by any pesticidal or similar sprays.  They told me a customer service representative would call me back later in the day, and she did.

Then she took all of the information down – where I bought the bags, the code on the bottom – and told me she’d have to check with the factory in China where the bags are manufactured to check this out. Sure enough, the next day, I got another call back.  She had called the manufacturers and the manager there checked out the details for the bags we use.  It turns out, happily for us, that these bags have no sprays, and are fine to use for dry foods, though they don’t recommend it. 

The bags we use aren’t a name brand – they’re called Tuf and are sold at Walgreens.  If you’re been thinking of buying any kind of food in bulk and storing it in the way that I mentioned we store ours, take a few minutes to make a call and verify that your garbage bags are okay for this.  I was pleased with how helpful and receptive the people I spoke with were, and it gave me peace of mind to know that what we’ve been using is fine.

Avivah

Cloth diapers for nighttime

Today I received an order of cloth diapers that I ordered especially for nighttime usage.  These diapers, and almost all of the diapers that I bought in the past were from www.clothdiaper.com – their prices are low and if you don’t care about getting a name brand diaper, you can get well made diapers for about half what it would cost otherwise.  (It’s not so good for resale, though, since people like to buy known names when they buy used.  But I wasn’t concerned with that.)  They have a sliding scale as far as pricing, with increased discounts depending on the amount you buy.  Not only that, they regularly have sales on seconds (almost always prefolds and doublers), and then you can get really super deals.  I have 24 large fitteds from them that I’ve used simultaneously since last year for my two youngest (24 because that gave me the biggest discount, and size large because it’s the size most babies wear for the longest time), as well as 4 dozen Indian prefolds, and I’ve been very pleased with them.

The diaper sprayer that we bought at the same time we made those purchases was still untouched in the box (after more than ten months), and in the name of trying to help him through his to-do list, I finally decided to forget about asking my husband to install it.  (I think he had totally forgotten about it, so he didn’t feel like it was one thing less, but I knew that it was! :))  (And since I’ve been using fleece inserts – which I love! – I really don’t feel a need for the sprayer, anyway.  Solids fall right off of them into the toilet, no need for swishing.)  And of course, it doesn’t make sense to pay for something that you’re never going to use – you might as return the item and get some of your money back. 

About a week and a half ago, late Thursday night, I was browsing the cloth diaper site to see about their return policy, and noticed that they had all-in-ones in the ‘seconds’ listing.  (All in ones -AIOs- for those unfamiliar with cloth diapering terms, means that they don’t require inserts or a waterproof cover – they are one piece and are most similar to disposable diapers.  They are the most expensive cloth diapering option, but generally considered the easiest to use.)  These weren’t actually seconds, but prototypes from the first production run.  The company decided after doing more research and getting feedback that they were too thick for daily wear so this won’t be the final design that is coming out in a month or so, but they would be good for nighttime wear (which is when I have been unsuccessful so far in using cloth).  The diapers were selling for the extremely low price of $4.95 each, which was so super cheap that it was too good a deal for me to pass up (I couldn’t make them that cheaply even if I wanted to!). 

First thing the next morning, I called the company to ask about the return policy and order some of these diapers.  I was going to do an even exchange (of diapers for the sprayer), but decided to buy the diapers right away rather than take the chance they wouldn’t have the size I wanted by the time they received the diaper sprayer.  That ended up being a really good thing, for two reasons.  It seems I was the very first person to order the AIOs- they had been posted after business hours the night before (right when I saw them), so the person handling the orders hadn’t even yet heard about it.  Anyway, I ordered 2 size medium, 4 large, and 4 toddler size for $4.95 each.  I checked back at the site two days later on Sunday (I placed my order on Friday), and they had raised the price to $5.95 each, so ordering right away meant I got a price that very few people got (I don’t know how soon after my call they raised the price).  Still a very good deal at that price, but I was glad to have saved $10 by ordering right then – if they had waited for my diaper sprayer to arrive, I would have been charged the higher price.

Not only that, but today I called to ask a question about how to prep the diapers, and inquired about if they received the sprayer yet.  They had received it, but not yet processed the return.  I asked her how many diapers there had been initially in the production run, and how many they had left.  She told me they were sold out of every size but small (they still have 90 of those left).  They initially had fewer than 150 diapers in each size.  I knew there was a strong likelihood that they would be sold out fast, and feel badly that I didn’t share the details in time for you to benefit from the full selection of sizes available.  It was because I don’t generally share about something until I’ve used it and am happy with it that I didn’t post sooner.  In this case, I still haven’t used them – we washed them a couple of times to prep them and will use them tonight on ds3- they look very soft and absorbent -but thought I should post this in case any of you would be interested in the small size.

Avivah 

Resistance to learning

>>My daughter is so resistant sometimes. She has a very short
attention span and gets easily frustrated.<<

>>My oldest is 7 almost 8. The days which are good are good. We can get our kodesh and chol done in 3-4 hours (spaced around breaks and lunch). On the bad days we cannot get school going because he shleps out (or had chutzpah about) his morning routine (dressing, making bed, davening, eating breakfast and usually a chore) so he is late in getting started, then it goes downhill from there. I have seemed to solve one of the problems (more or less) by having him go to his own office with his work and a timer which he tries to beat and I also give him firm limits on how long he can take to finish an assignment (otherwise he shleps that out forever). He gets distracted by his siblings’ (boy 5, girl 2) antics and schooling. That seems to work (and takes a lot of stress of me watching him mess around all monring/afternoon). <<

I’m answering both of these questions in this post, since they both seem to be to be about how to handle a child who is resistant to learning.  I had this, too, when I started homeschooling my son for half a day.  He really didn’t like my ideas of what to do and how to do it, and we had a lot of conflict about it.  He was about 7.5 at that time. 

When I started off, I didn’t have any homeschooling philosophy formulated – my goal was to teach my child at home whatever he would be learning in school.  I read The Well Trained Mind (classical approach based on the trivium), and it sounded good.  It was the only thing I read, so I didn’t have much to compare it to.  Anyway, it was terrible for us because it was totally not a fit for my child’s needs and personality.  He was resistant because he didn’t like it – pretty simple, right?  So I had to learn more about different ways of learning, and look at what my deeper goal was.  My true goal was for him to find learning relevant and meaningful (to some degree, anyway!), and for it to be a positive experience for him, since I wanted learning to have positive associations throughout his life. 

This meant reassessing what learning looked like and how it took place.  Of course the only model I had was the school model and the classical model of education followed that in many ways, which is why it initially appealed to me.  It felt secure and safe and seemed to promise a quality education.  But it wasn’t working.  He was unhappy, and I was unhappy that there was so much tension and negativity involved in getting him to do his work.  Finally, I realized that I had to let go of my expectations and look for what would work with him.  I took a big step backwards, and started focusing on making our home learning environment enjoyable and relaxed.  I read to him, and stopped expecting him to read out loud to me a certain amount of time.  I stopped giving him grammatical rules to copy into his grammar notebook.  I stopped just about everything, I think!  I replaced that with more hands on activities, and just relaxed time together.  Though I worried that he wasn’t learning anything, our house very quickly became a much more pleasant place to live.  In seven weeks, he went from adamanatly refusing to read aloud to me, or even open a book on his own (“I hate reading!”), to independently reading to himself in his free time.

Children this age (up to and including age eight) need very little official learning time.  For our family, I’ve broken down their academic needs to the very basics – reading, writing, arithmetic.  That’s all that I expect and I know that with solid basics in place, they’ll be well eqipped to handle anything else they need as they get older.  And I don’t think it should take very long at this age at all, not more than an hour total for kodesh and chol.  My dd8 started this year (when she was still seven) reading for 15 minutes daily (alternating days for Hebrew and English), 10 minutes (or two – three sentences) of copywork, and 15 minutes of math.  Now she reads all the time so it’s not part of her official schedule; only math (one lesson) and copywork are.  3 – 4 hours is a LOT, and more time doesn’t necessarily equate with more learning.  (That’s why I’ve thought for a long time that the schools would benefit everyone if they cut the hours down – the longer a child spends on his work, the less effective he becomes.) 

I know, it sounds inadequate, doesn’t it?  But don’t forget, children are learning all the time, from everything they do.  There are lots of fun ways to ‘sneak’ in the learning and if you integrate it naturally into your day, they won’t perceive it as school work.  I didn’t even try to sneak it in; I started looking at education and information from a different paradigm, which would best be reflected by the statement ‘Education isn’t about filling a bucket, but about lighting a fire.”  (My apologies if I didn’t get the quote exactly, but that’s the gist of it.)  Then my focus became more about helping motivate them to want to learn instead of stuffing them full of what I thought they needed to know.

In my opinion, resistance from a child is a sign that you need to reassess what you’re doing and why.  This isn’t an either you get your way or he gets his way situation – if it’s not working for both of you, then it’s not working at all.  Both of you need to be basically enjoying your time together and feeling your needs are met.  That’s the beauty of homeschooling, that we can have an enjoyable educational environment that fits everyone’s needs.  Educating our kids is about really working with each of them according to their needs.  I’d suggest you think about what is a priority to you, regarding what you want him to learn, and drop everything else.  He has many, many years ahead of him to learn other things, and the best time for a child to learn something is when he wants to learn it.  You can make a child do their ‘work’, but you can’t make him internalize the message and really learn anything (I once argued this with a first year teacher, who adamantly disagreed with me – he said that a good teacher can make a child learn.  I said, ‘No, a good teacher makes a child want to learn’  He didn’t see the distinction, but it’s a very important one.) 

I really like having games around because they are a wonderful way to give a child something to do that he’ll enjoy and you’ll know he’s learning.  There are games like Scrabble and Boggle for spelling, Battleship and Monopoly for math, and so many others for every possible subject (this is a good way to get in history, geography, or even Latin roots – I bought a card game for that).  

I also have a lot of hands on manipulatives that I let them play with; I don’t really use them to explain mathematical concepts though that’s what I initially got them for.  These manipulatives include: pattern blocks (which are just wonderful), base ten blocks, cuisenaire rods, linking cubes, tangrams, teddy bear counters, a hundred number chart, spherical shapes, fraction pieces, a scale, magnets, and other things I’d have to go downstairs to look at to remind myself about.  I have flashcards for numbers, time, abcs, Hebrew letters.  I have Brain Teaser kind of things, puzzles, etc.  These aren’t getting used all the time, but when someone wants to use them, they’re there for them. 

I’m giving these as examples that taking a more relaxed approach doesn’t mean being neglectful of their education or letting them do whatever they want all day long.  One thing I feel strongly about is that the time that is freed up for the child can’t be used on tv, videos (unless they are educational ones that you feel are valuable), or computers.  If children are giving wholesome alternatives as to how to spend their time, they’ll find productive ways to spend their time.  The chances are high that the activities they choose will be those which you can honestly identify as academic time when you look at all that they’re learning.

Oh, one more thing.  I can see how a 7 yo would find it very distracting (and unfair!) to do his work when he sees his younger siblings playing around.  That’s normal, and it’s reasonable for him to feel this way.  I used to do a lot of reading to all of my kids when they were younger while the littlest ones played, and then when the little ones were ready for a nap, that’s when I had the oldest one do the more formal work – I didn’t try to do much with him until the house was quiet enough to focus on him (when my oldest was 8, we had a 1, 2.5, 5, and 6.5. so there were a lot of distractions for him!).  This dynamic does change over time – since most of my kids are now old enough to be formally doing academic work each day, the younger ones want to do what the older ones are doing!  (That’s why my three year old will insist he has to do his math before he can do anything else – a few days ago he was trying to convince me that he was 6 so he could do what his older siblings were doing. :))

Avivah

Heartburn remedy

A few nights ago I had terrible heartburn, something which I rarely experience.  The first night it was so bad that I started to throw up when I laid down to go to sleep; moving quickly from a prone position to upright is physically painful for me at this stage, but believe me, I got up fast!  I don’t know what is causing it now – I’m assuming it’s connected to being late in pregnancy – but it was mighty unpleasant.  Here’s a little experiment I did that was successful in dealing with it.

I keep a small container of baking soda in my bathroom to brush my teeth with (baking soda has tons of uses – I just bought a 50 lb bag when I did my monthly shopping last week – I think it should last me just about the rest of my life, don’t you? :)).  Since it was so late at night and I didn’t feel like going downstairs to look up what to do about heartburn, I decided to try mixing some baking soda with water and drinking it and see if it would work.  (I’d estimate the measurements to be about 1 t. of baking soda to a cup of water.)  I’ve used this for very quick relief of indigestion in the past, but didn’t know if it would work for heartburn. 

I’m happy to say that it worked very quickly, and very well, and I was able to fall asleep without any further discomfort after a couple of minutes.  So now I have one more effective use of baking soda to add to my list!

Avivah

Homemade laundry detergent

At the beginning of this week I finally ran out of the laundry detergent that I bought a year ago at a salvage store.  Before that, we had successfully once tried making our own detergent (a very large batch) and were quite happy with it.  I asked my ds to make this, and he enjoyed doing it.  It doesn’t take long at all and it’s very satisfying to know how to make something like this yourself!  And of course, it’s very economical. :)

Homemade laundry detergent 

  • 1 1/2 c. borax
  • 1 1/2 c. washing soda
  • 1 bar soap, grated (Ivory, Fels Naptha, Zote – I use Ivory because it’s easily available in my store)
  • optional – add 1 c. Oxyclean

Use 1 tablespoon per regular load, 2 T. for heavily soiled loads.

You might not have heard of washing soda or borax, but they are more common and thus easily found than you’d expect.  I was able to find the washing soda and borax in the laundry detergent of the local supermarket.  It might seem a bit pricey initially when you add up the cost of the supplies, but because you only need 1 – 2 T. of the homemade detergent (vs. 1/4 – 1/2 c. of store detergent), it lasts a long time and is actually very inexpensive if you figure out the cost per load compared to your regular laundry detergent. 

Avivah

Hebrew reading and writing

>>I wanted to find out if you have any good suggestions for kodesh studies for
1st grade. We’re using the Migdalor program (Shy Publications) and Shaah
shel menuchah for Hebrew and like both of those pretty well. We also use
lots of things from chinuch.org, and use Little Midrash.<<

I don’t have a structured program for children this age.  I’ve looked at Shaah shel Menucha and used it for a short time; it’s nicely done.  The Little Medrash is nice to read with kids, or to give to independent readers to read to themselves to prepare the parsha. I’ve also looked at a lot of things on chinuch.org and only used them the first year we were homeschooling.  At that point, I was new to homeschooling and needed the security of the kids learning things in a traditional school-like manner.  I look back and kind of smile at my need for these things – like the weekly parsha sheets I printed out for them to give to my dh on Friday night to be asked questions from (like what the schools send home).  It was so artificial, but again, I didn’t yet trust the natural learning process and it gave me reassurance that they were actually learning something.  I use very, very few of these things now.

What I use to teach aleph bais isn’t necessarily the best, but I have three different readers in the house – one that my younger brother used in his school as a kid (Aleph Binah), one that my dd used in her school in kindergarten (Sefer Kriyah Hashalem), and one that my dh did illustrations for so we got a copy (Girsa d’Yankusa).  Oh, I also have one called L’shoni – Sefer Hakriya by Ktav Publishing House – this is the main one that I use.  I don’t know if I can honestly say that I use it – my dd8 independently taught herself to read Hebrew using this.  I expect that my dd6 will do something similar.  I don’t actively teach reading, but I do listen to them read out loud, in English or Hebrew, when they’re beginning – that’s as formal as I get.  I have other programs, like the materials on tefilla by Berman House, which are good, but the truth is, most of this is unnecessary – by waiting until a child is ready (versus pushing certain skills just because they are at certain ages), they can move fairly quickly though whatever program you use. 

I have aleph bais cards that each have a vowel wheel, and I like to use that.  The child can do one card at a time with no vowel, you can turn it so whatever vowel you want is displayed underneath the letter, and the cards can be combined to create sound combinations or words.  Any kind of English reading word game can be adapted for Hebrew and pretty easily made at home – like fishing for letters, for example. 

>>Also, do you spend much time on block print?? Or just do script? My daughter
doesn’t need block to help with her reading skills, so I’m thinking of not
spending any real time on it.<< 

I’m assuming that you’re asking about Hebrew writing.  I don’t see much of an advantage to teaching block writing, except as reinforcement of letters when the child is learning to read.  My current 6 year old does do some block writing, albeit very sporadically at this point.  I don’t think it’s important enough to have a child to do it if he has no interest; actually, I think it can be a waste of time unless a child is pushing you to give it to them.  Script writing is really what’s important when it comes to Hebrew, and I think a good time to learn it is after a child is reading well enough that they won’t be confused by what is essentially like learning another alphabet.  As I said, not one of my other kids did this and the only reason I did it with him is at the beginning of the year, he wanted to do some Hebrew writing, but it was too soon to give him script because his reading skills weren’t yet strong enough. 

>>I’m finding our kindergarten year is about 50% kodesh and 50% chol. Is that what you’ve found??<<

This is a surprisingly hard question for me to answer, because it’s philosophical in nature, not technical.  I don’t use any kind of structured curriculum for kindergarten because I don’t believe it beneficial to actively teach anything at that age.  Whatever I do is very laid back and informal.  A lot of reading together, games, parsha/Jewish story cassettes, and having them work with  me on household things is their curriculum.   They pick up an amazing amount without any emphasis on ‘doing school’, but because it’s so informal, I can’t say quantify it percentage-wise. 

Avivah