Monthly Archives: August 2015

Thank you for blog feedback!

Thank you to those of you who shared your feedback in response to my request.  It was helpful to me to read what was written and to see what wasn’t written!  This has prompted some thinking about how I’m using my time and how to offer maximum value to my readers.

Sometimes I wonder if what I’m writing is of help or not.  I share about what’s on my mind but I don’t know if that’s what you want to hear about!  Hearing what you appreciate and what has been of help to you is so valuable to me.  Your responses also show me that my efforts are appreciated – it’s truly your feedback that keeps me blogging when I’m pressed to do so many other things.

If you’d like to leave feedback and haven’t yet had the chance, it’s not too late!  I’m always happy to have an idea of who is reading and what brings someone here and keeps them reading.


Nine year blog anniversary!

It’s hard for me to believe that nine years ago today I began this blog!

The blogosphere has changed dramatically and many blogs have come and gone during this time.  Some say that people aren’t interested in reading blogs anymore but the number of you reading keeps me writing!

I have a surprisingly varied readership and yet somehow you’re all reading here together!  As I begin a new year of blogging I would love your feedback as to what topics are of most interest and value to you.

Please take a few minutes to share with me your thoughts on the following

– Has reading this blog affected you and if so, in what way?

– What topics do you find of most value?  Why?

– What topics would you like to see more of?

– (Any other comments or thoughts are also welcome!)

Hearing what the impact of this blog has been on you and what you want to read more of will help me focus the time I set aside for blogging so it will be of maximum value to you all.  If you’d like to have a say in the direction of this blog, please crawl out of the anonymity of the computer screen and share your thoughts with me in the comments section below!

Thanks for a wonderful nine years and I look forward to another great year to come!



Early academic training harmful in long run

As the summer winds down, I’ve seen comments from parents of children with developmental delays, commenting with surprise at the gains their children have made during this extended period that they haven’t had therapies!

It’s kids with recognized delays that we assume most need structured learning and whose lives are often filled with nonstop therapies, and most people assume educational theories that are applied to neurotypical kids don’t apply to them.  But just like any other child (or even more, because kids with disabilities are continuously structured and have a constant focus on what they can’t do), they need space to process and do things that are enjoyable for them, without a focus on performance.

Does that seem counterintuitive?

It’s like I’ve been saying for years, kids learn best from play – direct instruction is the least effective modality!

Fortunately we’re now arriving at a beautiful place and time in which parental intuition and research studies concur – kids do best with lots of play, interest directed activities and unscheduled time to process their learning.  Not only that, evidence is showing something very interesting and even disturbing – the push for early academics is actually damaging in the areas of social and emotional development.

Here’s a great article I’ve been meaning to share with you for a while.  Take a look and see what you think.

The results of the studies quoted may surprise parents who are convinced that intensive direct instruction will catapult their child to success.  I believe that it’s when we dismiss the value of play, when we discount games and fun as having no positive value that we do ourselves and our children a grave disservice.

Childhood only comes once and what our kids need more than anything is for the time to be filled with play, activities and love.  This is what sets a solid foundation for academic success.  When you’re ready to address academics at a later age, they’ll pick up the skills they would have spent years in school reviewing in a much shorter time than you think possible.

We’re burning our kids out by pushing them so hard, from such a young age.  In the highly stimulating and competitive world our children are growing up into, a solid emotional foundation is more critical than ever.  We don’t know what exact skills they will need, but jaded and bored kids growing into jaded and bored adults aren’t primed for success in any area of life.


A summer roundup!

The last bit of vacation is winding down and this post is going to be a little bit  of everything!

Ds9 went to day camp for the first time this year and loved it.  Not surprisingly, he brought home ‘Best Camper’ award – he had a lot of camp spirit!  He’s now participating in a week long science camp which he’s also enjoying; a side benefit is that he comes home and teaches everyone else what he learned!  Ds7 was also signed up for this but got cold feet when I took him the first morning, and refused to continue even when I told him I was going to have him moved to an older group that would be a better fit for him.

I’m sorry ds7  isn’t continuing since I think he would have loved it if he would have gotten past the discomfort of being in a new and uncomfortable situation, but I also think you have to honor your child’s feelings and give them a chance to make decisions of their own.  We can’t expect our kids to make good decisions without giving them opportunities as they’re growing up to have a say in decisions that relate to them.

I’m gearing up for my fifteenth year of homeschooling – though I have my general educational philosophy that underpins everything I do, I keep my eyes open for new resources that will enhance our learning experience.  It’s important not to fall into a rut.  Every child has his own needs and this preparatory process isn’t automatic at all.  It’s about thinking about who your child is and what his needs are.  It’s so gratifying to see the groundedness and intrinsic motivation that homeschooling has given our children a chance to develop.

Last week I attended the yearly exhibit for dd’s industrial design college.  It was impressive and fascinating to see what the students have created and designed, and the quality of their work.  It was also nice to hear dd’s fellow students and teachers tell me that dd19 is considered the best student in her class (despite being the youngest).  One teacher said a number of very positive things which made dd uncomfortable, and she jokingly said her teacher was exaggerating.  Her teacher was quick to correct her and said, “I have lots more to say and I’m not even saying half of it!”

The teacher then said to me, “I’ve never seen a student like this and I truly want to know, how in the world did you raise her to be like this?”  Of course the teacher doesn’t know she was homeschooled, but home education is a huge part of their success.  Every single child is a genius in some way – we unfortunately don’t get to see that in most children because most kids don’t ever have the chance to recognize their gifts, let alone develop them.  If our kids are unusual, it’s only in the opportunities they had.

Ds7 has just started reading, which is exciting to see!  I don’t teach reading as much as I support reading readiness; this is our eighth child to teach himself to read.  Ds7 is gifted spatially and mathematically but when I saw that his auditory processing was weak I expected his reading would come later.  It’s when your child seems to be learning skills later than the typical academic curve that you really have to trust their ability and desire to learn.

I love that he can learn to read when he’s really ready without comparing himself to others and viewing himself as stupid.  Because of course, he’s not.  We each learn different skills at different times and the child who learns to read at 5 is not necessarily brighter than the child who learns to read at 9.  What really affects a child’s long term success isn’t how early or late he  but if he has an intact sense of who he is.

On a different note (no pun intended :)), dd14 just picked up the clarinet and is starting to teach herself to play.  Ds13 plays the harmonica and native American flute, dd14 plays the native American flute and started learning guitar at the beginning of the summer, ds16 plays the guitar and dd19 plays the classic flute – dd19 had six flute lessons to get started but other than that, none of them have had any lessons.  They just picked up instruments and kept spending time on it.  I’m glad they enjoy their music and find pleasure in playing.   The beauty of seeing our children learn when they’re ready and have an internal interest never fails to move me.

I finally ordered tiles for the kitchen backsplash and they arrived this morning.  Today I sent dd19 and dd14 to the hardware store to buy the supplies so we can get started tiling – I wanted to do this in the summer when the older boys were also home but I wasn’t able to get down to the store to choose the tiles.  So despite their willingness we weren’t able to start until now.  That’s not a bad things since the older four kids have done tiling in the past so now the younger kids will have a chance to learn how to do it.  It’s empowering when kids learn life skills!

We did get some other things done during vacation, though.  A nice benefit of our kids having a wide skill set is that we don’t have to do everything ourselves and this helped my husband and I shorten our ‘to do’ list at a time we were very busy.  For example, ds22 and ds16 installed light fixtures in the living room and kitchen, and dd19 recovered a couple of chairs and fixed two dining room chairs that were wobbly.  Nice not to need to hire people for this!

When we moved we changed to a different health insurance that went into affect July 1.  I started the process to get Yirmiyahu’s surgery rescheduled and last week got a surgery date (end of October) and even a pre-op date!   The last time we were supposed to have this surgery no one told me anything about what to expect and definitely never scheduled a pre-op meeting; then we arrived for the surgery and found out they had scheduled ds3 for the wrong operation!

I’m really pleased so far with the doctors here and how things are being handled.  Our new pediatrician is American and I like her a lot; when I took Yirmiyahu for an ultrasound, the technician from a friend from Baltimore!  So, so nice.  It was worth going through all the frustrations with medical professionals in the north just to be able to appreciate the difference when living in a place like this.

We had a nice mellow summer staying close to home and enjoying our time together.  It’s never long enough but I loved having everyone home for an extended period!

I hope each of you had a relaxing, summer and you’re feeling renewed and recharged for the year to come!


Four Year Aliyah Anniversary

a0060[1]Four years ago today, our family got off the plane at the airport in Tel Aviv to start our lives in Israel.

We packed a lot of living into this time and it’s hard to believe so much could happen in only four years!

It’s been good but it hasn’t always been easy.  My sense of competence, identity,  and contribution were shaken repeatedly as we faced health struggles, educational struggles and financial struggles.  Sometimes it felt overwhelmingly hard but for the most part we tried to roll with the punches and live life on life’s terms.  Even at the hardest times there were always plenty of things to appreciate about living here.

As we mark four years of being here, I am continually filled with gratitude and awe that we’ve merited to make this incredibly special country our home.

“That all sounds nice,” you may say.  “But what about your kids?”

Coming with nine children ranging in age from 18 – 2, many told us we were brave (though I’m sure foolhardy is the word that was rustling around in their minds!).

We knew the odds of successful transition with kids above age 10 aren’t good.  We weighed this information and despite having five kids at the time in the problematic age range, made the decision to come with the belief that as a strong family unit, together we would weather whatever was to come.  Our family unit was tested again and again but it was this strength that pulled us all through.  I feel overwhelming gratitude and humility that becoming part of these statistics wasn’t one of our challenges; I don’t take that for granted.

I asked my kids if knowing how hard it was going to be, they regretted moving to Israel?  Every single one of them told me they’re very happy to be living here, and the older kids told me the difficult experiences helped make them who they are now.

Here’s a brief aliyah related update on my kids at this point:

Ds22 moved here right after his 18th birthday.  He went directly to a yeshiva for English speakers and this is where he continues studying today.

Dd20 was almost 17 when we moved here and went to high school for a year, then to seminary in the US for a year.  She is working and now applying to *Israeli college programs for religious women for the coming year, which she plans to combine with working.  Her Hebrew is decent. (*When I use the term Israeli, I mean it’s a Hebrew speaking institution that isn’t geared towards the Anglo population.)

Dd19 moved here a couple of weeks after turning 15 and went into tenth grade at an Israeli high school.  She skipped eleventh grade and graduated high school in two years. She then went to an Israeli seminary for the first year, then to an American seminary for her second year while simultaneously attending a women’s college program for industrial design.  She has one year remaining before completing her design studies.  She is completely fluent in Hebrew and socially comfortable with Israelis.

Ds16 moved four months before his bar mitzva.  He was skipped into eighth grade where there were two other English speakers in his class rather than put him in the seventh grade where he would have been the only English speaker.  We then kept him in the eighth grade for a second year so he’d be in the right grade for his age group.  He went on to an Israeli yeshiva high school with a rigorous Torah and secular curriculum where he’s been very successful.  He is completely fluent in Hebrew and socially comfortable with Israelis.

Dd14 moved here when she was almost 11.  She went through two years of school before we pulled her out to homeschool for the next two years.  Next week she will start at an Israeli high school.  Her Hebrew isn’t strong right now but we expect with the solid language foundation that she has, combined with her desire to learn  and being in a Hebrew social environment that she’ll become fluent in Hebrew within a year or so.

(Social and cultural integration is an important factor for us in choosing schools for our children.)  

Ds13 arrived here as a nine year old, and was completely traumatized after a year and a half in school.  He’s been homeschooling for the last 2.5 years.  We’re beginning to consider potential schools for him for high school but we have a year until that time.  His Hebrew comprehension is good and if he needs to speak Hebrew he can say what he needs to.  It’s at the level that he’ll take off very quickly once he’s in a Hebrew speaking environment.

*Notice that it’s not the younger kids who picked up the language quickly, despite being in a completely Hebrew-speaking school environment.  Yes, I have an explanation for that but I won’t share it right now. :)

Ds9 came as a five year old and went straight into kindergarten.  He picked up the language quickly and is an incredible reader in Hebrew.  (He also reads English at an age appropriate level but nothing near his super speed in Hebrew.)

Ds7 (for a couple more weeks :)) was almost four when we moved.  He went into gan, which he hated.  We pulled him out in late winter, then put him back in pre-kindergarten for the following year.  He had fluid in his ears for the second half the year and this kept him from hearing well enough to pick up the language well.  He speaks well enough to socialize and I continue to work on this at home.

Ds6 was 2.5 when we moved.  He stayed home with me until he was 3.5, then went to gan for a few months.  I traded easy language acquisition in gan for more time at home in the early years.  Totally worth it.  His comprehension is improving constantly.

Ds3 was born ten months after we moved so there’s not much to say about his aliyah process.  :)

Sometimes I wonder how we had the courage to leave behind a pleasant and fulfilling life to start all over.  It was a spiritual choice based on the belief that as good as our lives were, they could be better living here – and they are.


Don’t be afraid to see your kids struggle

I was speaking to a friend who recently moved to Israel with her family.  When speaking about how things are going so far, she commented that she’s concerned that it will be hard for her kids.

I responded, “It will be hard for your kids.”  Does this sound like I was trying to depress her?

My intention was just the opposite.  A parent has to know and accept the reality before he can face it head on.   You can have a great attitude, your kids can have a great attitude – but that doesn’t mean it won’t be hard.  It’s very challenging to move to a new place and make new friends, and much, much harder when you have to do it all in a new language with a different culture to navigate.

A parent needs to be able to validate to his child what the child’s experience is.  Sometimes we’re uncomfortable seeing a child struggle so we minimize the difficulties he is facing.  It’s really a bad idea to try to assuage our own discomfort by telling a child to have a good attitude and smile, or doing anything else to minimize what he’s experiencing.

Parents often have the mistaken idea that our job is to make our children happy.  It’s not.  There’s no way to smooth every potential bump our children may face, and even if we could, we would be crippling them emotionally by removing challenge from their lives.

Our job is to help our children develop the tools to deal with life’s ups and downs.  They grow by facing tough times with our active support – combined with our trust in their ability to come out of the other side of a hard situation stronger and happier.


Overcoming fears about not knowing enough to homeschool

A reader asks the following:

>>I am really struggling right now, b/c I want to homeschool so badly, and my oldest is 5, so this is really where it actually begins (the fall), and I’m so scared of failing him. I feel like I don’t have the Jewish background to give him what he needs and I don’t have the organization skills or patience to give him what he needs. But I so desperately believe in it and want to.

How did you take the plunge and get over your fear? How did you learn what he needed to know, specifically about Jewish subjects? And how did you give that to multiple boys? When I think about teaching my oldest son kindergarten, I can maybe handle it, but when I think about 4 years from now, when all three of my boys are going to be at different levels, it’s sooooo much to wrap my mind around… I get lost. Any advice, I would reallllllly appreciate<<

This question – how do you do what you think is right for your child when you doubt your ability to provide for their needs? – is one that most mothers have at some time, whether they’re homeschooling or not!

If there’s a gap in your Jewish background, then you can learn alongside your child.  Learning to read , daven and share knowledge about the holidays and weekly Torah portion are generally comfortably taught by parents.  If anything on that list is intimidating to you, look for supplemental support.

You’re not on your own.  If you’re living in a Jewish community, there will be resource people you can turn to for specific ideas, suggestions and guidance.  There are also online resources that can help fill in any gaps.  (Readers, please share sites/resources that have been of the most help to you!)

Being organized is a helpful trait in life but being highly organized isn’t the primary quality necessary to effectively home educate your child.  The primary qualities are a dedication to your child’s well-being and a willingness to find resources to help him get what he needs, along with enjoying spending time with him.  Nothing stands in for a passion to do what is best for your child!

Last night I spoke to parents interested in learning about homeschooling and one asked me about how to overcome the fear of making the decision to homeschool.  There’s nothing to do about the fear except act on the basis of your convictions.  My experience was that the hardest thing I did was make the decision to homeschool because I was facing the fear of the unknown and making a choice different from everyone I knew.  That makes everything look much more intimidating and frightening!  But everything after that first decision everything was easier.

Live in the moment.   If right now you can meet your son’s needs, then right now you’re fine.  If you get to a point you can’t meet those needs, you have the option of getting other people involved in your homeschooling life (eg tutor) or sending your child to school.  Don’t feel that the choice you make to homeschool now obligates you to continue to the very end of the educational path – that’s way too much pressure.  As time goes on different factors in your life will change and you may have help later on from sources you can’t anticipate now.

Looking ahead is all well and good but sometimes we can overthink things and the result is we’re afraid to take action today because of the fear of what will happen a few years down the road!


The Truth About How Kids Learn – Sunday Aug. 9, 8 pm

I’m going to be speaking this Sunday night about: The Truth About How Kids Learn.

This will be an inspiring, entertaining and profound look at what our kids need for real learning to happen!

The information and perspective I’m sharing will be valuable for parents of schooled kids as well as teachers – and if this is you, you’re welcome to come! – but my focus in the question and answer session will be on how to apply these ideas in the home learning environment.  (There is plenty that those who aren’t homeschooling can do to facilitate their children’s learning – get in touch with me if you’d like to arrange for me to speak on that focus at a different time.)

Here are the specifics:

What: “The Truth About How Kids Learn”

When: Sunday August 9, 8 – 10 pm.

Where: 22/4 Nahar Hayarkon, Ramat Beit Shemesh, 15 shekel fee

Looking forward to seeing you then!


How a turtle and two rabbits came to join our family

I had a really intense week last week and this week I’m giving myself some space to go a little slower.  Despite my mind being full of lots of deep stuff I’m going to make a similar shift here and share something light.  :)

Before we moved into our home here, the people moving out told us they were leaving behind their turtle in the yard.  I didn’t mind and the reason is that a couple of years ago ds7 found a turtle.  He was delighted with this pet, until a sibling took it to the park and forgot about it long enough for it to disappear into the bushes.  He was extremely upset and after searching for a long time, I told him if we found another turtle we could keep it.  But we didn’t find another turtle.

When we came to our new home for the first time, after the younger boys finished exploring I told them there was a special surprise in our yard – a turtle was hidden there and they needed to find him!  They were so excited and happy when they found our new pet.

Speedy the turtle

Speedy hustles across the yard when he sees the veggies arrive

Speedy is surprisingly interesting to observe and it’s nice to have a pet that requires no care, can fend for itself outside, makes no mess or noise and costs no money to maintain.

Then a month after moving in we were given a pet cage.  My kids kept suggesting we get a  rabbit now that we  had a cage for one!  I’ve refused this for a long time because I didn’t want the mess or smell of a rabbit cage inside our home.  But since we now have a yard I agreed we could look into it.

I thought it would be ideal to get a baby rabbit to raise so it would be gentle and used to children.  Before we had a chance to go to the pet store and look at baby bunnies, I got a message that someone locally was giving away a rabbit and when we saw how friendly and cute she was we decided to adopt her.

She turned out to be a great pet.  It was nice to see how much she enjoyed our children and being in our home, and we enjoyed her as well.

Ds9 with Nessy

Ds9 with Nessy

As we learned about rabbits, we read that they’re social animals that are happiest with a rabbit friend.   I was satisfied with just one rabbit but thought it wasn’t fair to the rabbit to keep her alone.  Two weeks later when someone else was giving away a rabbit, we adopted her as well.   We had visions of the two rabbits happily hopping around together but if I had researched more before taking this step, I would have learned that was a fantasy.

It’s quite a job introducing a new rabbit to an existing rabbit.  Love at first sight?  Far from it.  These two gentle rabbits quickly had to be separated because they ferociously attacked each other within a couple of minutes.  It reminded me of a common reaction of an older child when a new baby is born – to defend his territory and position in the family.

Enter dd14 who has many gifts, one of them being her compassion to people and animals.  We learned about how to bond rabbits and with her intuitive sense of how to do this, she did an amazing job.  After a bad introduction like theirs it usually takes much longer than usual and we read that we should it expect it to take weeks for them to be able to get along, but somehow dd14 bonded them within three or four days and they quickly became the best of friends.

Relaxing together on a hot day

Relaxing together on a hot day

I had mixed feelings about the second rabbit, Fluffball.    In the beginning she was so passive that she hardly moved around.  She hopped in a heavy way that was more like taking a step.  If held, she’d sit on your lap forever but wouldn’t move a bit.  Then her behavior changed dramatically after she was introduced to the second rabbit.

The rabbits bonded and were happy together, but she wasn’t affectionate with us.  She bit my kids several times, dug holes like crazy and didn’t seem happy here.  I seriously contemplated finding a new home for her and this didn’t happen only because ds9 had such a very upset reaction when I told him someone was on the way to our house to take her.

My kids laugh at my psychological interpretations of rabbit behavior but here’s my explanation for this rabbit’s behavior.  What I’m now sure of is that she was depressed because of the death of the two other rabbits she grew up with before she came to our home and this was why she was so extremely passive.  She was then further traumatized by her move to a new home with an aggressive rabbit and a new environment.  I now see that her high speed digging wasn’t typical rabbit behavior but was her way of dealing with anxiety.

After a few weeks she settled down and is calm and gentle, friendly and loves being around us.  She digs a bit but nothing like what she did before.

It’s been very educational having rabbits and we’ve learned about their feeding and care, their social structure and habits.  I’ve learned that commercial rabbit food is as poorly designed to keep them healthy as commercial human food is for people.  The expensive premium rabbit blend that is sold actually consists of things that will make a rabbit sick and should never be given to them.  Go figure.

I had no idea what nice pets rabbits make!  They’re very social and friendly.  They run to the garden door when they hear us coming, sit next to our feet waiting to be petted and love when we’re around.  They are  quite comical when they try to sneak in the house and guiltily jump out when they hear someone call their names.  Since we keep them in the yard, it’s very easy to care for them.

Recently someone was telling me about the animal therapy in the school her child attended.  I asked what that meant, and it seems that petting an animal and feeding it is considered therapeutic.  Our kids get to do that every day so I can now add animal therapy to the list of things that we offer our homeschooled children.  :)