Category Archives: homeschooling

pic taken after the meeting was finished, l- r: me, ds5, dh, ds8 (behind), ds11, ds10

Our meeting with the Ministry of Education officials and the results

It’s been so busy with the engagement and wedding preparations, but I wanted to share with you about the meeting we had at the Ministry of Education.

We got to the Ministry early but were refused admittance since the guard said he didn’t have authorization for us to enter that day; he refused to call the people we told him we were meeting with and told us it was our problem to call them ourselves. Since I had never had direct phone contact with any of those who would be on the committee, I was stumped as to how we were supposed to do that.

He also refused to let us sit on the bench on the opposite side of the checkpoint just two steps away. Finally, ds5, exhausted after traveling two hours to get there, lay down on the floor and put his arms under his face to use as a pillow. Then the guard let me sit with him on the bench. :)

I decided the only thing we could do was wait for them to let us know we were late and call in an authorization for us to go in; fortunately it wasn’t much longer before I received a call from the secretary asking if I forgot that we were supposed to meet that day.  Just as I answered that call, an experienced guard came in who knew how things were supposed to be done and directed us to where we were supposed to go (the new authorization wasn’t waiting there, either!).  Not the most auspicious beginning for an important meeting!

We entered the room where three officials were waiting to meet with us together with all of the children we are homeschooling, and I right away noticed their eyes fall on Yirmi (ds5) and linger there.  While they were asking us about ourselves and we were responding, Yirmi went over to one of the officials, tapped her on her arm and asked her for paper to draw. The woman was quite warm and friendly to him, and he returned happily with his paper to his seat while we continued the meeting.

Then they started questioning the kids. Ds11 felt the most pressured; as the oldest sibling present, most of the questions were directed to him.  Some of what he was asked: if he wants to homeschool, if he wants to go to school, doesn’t he think it would be better if he could do what his friends are doing, does he think he’s on the same level as his friends….

Ds11 responded that he was happy homeschooling, he wasn’t interested in going to school, his friends in school don’t especially like being there and aren’t learning more than he is.  As she kept asking and asking, I could see in his eyes that he couldn’t understand why she kept asking similar questions to those he had already answered.  It felt like she was working to elicit a negative response from him.

She asked him what he would do if I let him go to school for one week; he answered but at this point, I decided this line of questioning had gone on far enough.  I asked rhetorically, “If a  child wants chocolate for breakfast every day, should I give it to him?  I’m the parent and I’m the one who will decide what is right for my child educationally.”

She disagreed, and told me that an eleven year old is mature enough to make these decisions for himself. Clearly we have a different perspective. :)

They asked each child all about what his academic schedule, extracurricular, friends. When one of the officials pulled out a book in Hebrew and pushed it toward ds11 to test his reading, I saw another son’s face blanch. He is reading in English and Hebrew, but due to dyslexia it’s not yet on the level of what is typical for a child his age. He’s doing amazingly, though, and we all see huge progress on that front! (I shared about the approach I’ve taken and the materials we use for him here.) But understandably he didn’t want to be tested out loud by strangers.

I motioned to him reassuringly and told him aloud that he didn’t have to read if he didn’t want to. I felt it was really important for the security of our children that they knew that I would protect their boundaries.  Another son also said he preferred not to. The official was about to put away the book and I told him he didn’t ask Yirmi if he wanted to read! Yirmi loves to read books and of course he enthusiastically agreed!  He isn’t reading aloud yet and there’s no rush on our parts; our focus is on input, input, input and not on testing the output (ie testing).  We’ve recently started Hebrew with him – because he sees his brothers learning with dh and is constantly requesting to learn with him as well – and we’ve been doing flashcards in English for years.  But he looked very cute looking into the book studiously and then beaming up at them.

There was extensive questioning about how I would address Yirmi’s educational needs, and didn’t I  know how much benefit the child and the parents get from the special education system? My focus is not on expressing negativity about a different system but on what I feel I can offer in the home environment, and that’s what I shared.  I added that I don’t feel I have to know everything and am quite comfortable reaching out for support and help when necessary.

When the  meeting was finally over – it was probably about an hour long – as soon as we walked out one of the boys right away asked if they’re ever going to have to do that again. They hated it! And I hated that they had to do it – it’s an intimidating process even for adults and too much pressure for a child.  Afterward I found out that legally I could have refused to bring them but I thought that it was mandatory since the school year had already started. (That’s what I was told.)

Dh and I felt the meeting went as well as could be hoped for; they were clearly charmed by Yirmi and him being so natural and comfortable lightened the atmosphere for everyone.  Overall I felt comfortable with the officials and so did dh.

The next day dh happened to pass one of the officials who was waiting outside a building he passed, and the official told us they had all been very impressed with us. That was hopeful but nonetheless, I didn’t jump to any conclusions about what the outcome would be – particularly about Yirmi. I’ve been told it’s very difficult to receive approval to homeschool a child with special needs, particularly if those needs are immediately apparent (like with Trisomy 21). And this is where my main concern about this outcome lay.

When the email came, I held my breath while I opened it. There was an individual file for each child, and after opening the first one, went to Yirmi’s.  It said the same thing as for all of his brothers.

The results? We received authorization to homeschool each of the following children: ds11, ds10, ds8 and ds5.

Yes, we received the first authorization (as far as I know) in the State of Israel to homeschool a child with Trisomy 21!!!

pic taken after the meeting was finished, l- r: me, ds5, dh, ds8 (behind), ds11, ds10

After the meeting, l- r: me, ds5, dh, ds8 (behind), ds11, ds10

I feel like writing a bunch more exclamation marks and jumping up and down and can’t think about this without tearing up with happiness.  We were ready to go to court to appeal if we were denied permission, but I kept picturing a peaceful and pleasant outcome of our meeting with the Ministry of Education officials. My mantra I repeated to myself over and over again was, “It can be easy, it can be easy.”

I have to add here that this was a huge personal victory for me. I had so much anxiety about this process for so long, and once he got to age 5, finally put my concerns to the side and did what needed to be done. My thinking had caused me to feel disempowered and threatened, and I consciously worked to release the fear I felt about dealing with these officials. They’re only people.  It’s so easy for fears to grow and grow, unless we recognize them and let them go.

What does this mean for now? The approval is for one year, which means it will need to be renewed for the coming school year. Since home visits are part of the homeschool requirements, we will be seeing one of these officials another two times this year when she comes to visit. One positive outcome of having a social worker regularly come into my home as part of the foster care process is that I’ve become much less sensitive about having officials in my home.  I don’t agree with having home visits as part of the homeschooling oversight process and think it’s invasive and inappropriate, but I’m not threatened by it.

We’ll take it one year at a time and trust that things will continue to work out for the best!

Avivah

Keeping thoughts positive about our upcoming meeting with Dept of Ed.

My husband was feeling under the weather this week and took a day off of work to stay home and rest.

At some point in the morning, he was doing a puzzle with a couple of the boys and looked up at me and said, “It’s such a beautiful environment here.  Thank you for all that you do – I know it doesn’t happen by itself.”

Often I look around at my home and family, and feel a deep sense of contentment: of being right where I’m meant to be, doing what I’m meant to to do, living my life every day with the people I love. I don’t ever take it for granted. It’s been a choice that I didn’t make one time, but many, many times.

It’s been a choice when feeling conflicted and pulled about finances, homeschooling, living in a different country.  But our decision to build our family in a given way has been a consistent. In our home there are a lot of people, a lot of personalities, a lot of things that are happening and moving parts in so many directions!

And now we come to a place of once again consciously making the choice to create this environment for our children.

We recently filed a new application that included Yirmi as he has reached the age for official homeschooling.  On Sunday morning we have an appointment – together with ds5, ds8, ds10 and ds11 -with a committee at the Department of Education regarding our homeschooling application.  I don’t find it appropriate for adults to question children about the educational decisions their parents have made for them, but no one has asked my opinion on how to run things in our government. :)

Yirmi, age 5- at day camp this summer

Yirmi, age 5- pic taken at summer day camp

I had a lot of anxiety about this process for a very long time – from the time Yirmi was an infant, actually.  I felt that submitting this application for a child with special needs would be voluntarily walking into the lions den. But as I’ve said before, making decisions from a place of fear isn’t a good place to be at.  If I’m feeling fearful I need to look at my thinking – and then I ask myself if I’m giving away my power to the officials at the Dept. of Education.

I can’t control what the people I will meet will say or do or think of me, but I do have a choice about the thoughts I allow into my mind!

  • I choose to picture a pleasant and positive meeting with all involved.
  • I choose to picture permission to homeschool all of our children, and particularly Yirmi, being granted quickly and easily.

I’m choosing to keep my thoughts focused on a positive outcome, rather than fearing our quality of life being threatened if permission is denied. I trust that the same One Who gave me these children to raise will help us through this process. That thought has helped me replace my anxiety with feeling empowerment instead. I was pleasantly surprised when I got the call about the meeting that I felt very calm – even after hearing the name of the person we’ll be meeting with (someone with a reputation for being very difficult to deal with).

I won’t write more than to say that this is a significant meeting, particularly since I’m not aware of any other child with Trisomy 21 being homeschooled in the entire country. So we’ll be blazing a new trail. :)

Another camp picture

Another camp picture :)

We’re looking forward to receiving our legal approval and to sharing our good news with you! We welcome all positive thoughts and prayers on our behalf as well!

Avivah

Shifts in our home as the teens move out of homeschooling!

It has been a busy summer and has only gotten busier as the official school year has begun! I’ve hoped to write in detail about some of the following points, but due to time constraints will just touch on some updates!

First of all, dd16 is now in seminary!  She travels daily to Jerusalem and I get to see her a few minutes in the evening, if I’m luckly.  She is really loving it so far.  My experience has been when my kids have wanted the school experience, they have thrived because it was something they chose and are emotionally invested in.

Next big change around here is that ds15 is now attending a local yeshiva high school.  It’s a new program with a small first class.  He leaves around 7ish in the morning and gets home about twelve hours later, so it’s a long day and that’s an adjustment.

Ds18 is in a post high school yeshiva (and I never got to tell you about his high school graduation and how he spoke beautifully when asked to represent his class…) and has said that everything is better than he expected. His yeshiva has a no cell phone policy, which has some benefits.  But it also means that in addition to seeing him once a month instead of once a week, I hardly speak to him.  I count myself lucky if I speak to him ten minutes a week.  And that’s longer than he’s speaking to anyone else on the phone during the week!

Dd21 is working on building up her industrial design business. She works from home, and that makes my transition from not having homeschooled teens around to keep an eye on younger siblings a little bit easier.  But she’s supposed to be working, not babysitting, so I really try to keep this to a minimum.

Dd22 is working locally and I enjoy that she’s living at home so I get to see her a bit in the evenings.

And ds24 and his lovely wife are doing well and it’s always nice to see them together!

So that leaves just the youngest five boys at home during the days – officially four are homeschooling this year.  It’s going to be a big shift not to have the older kids around.

I do like my children.  And I miss them when they’re not around.  But I’m grateful they’re growing into independent adults even if it means some pangs and inconvenience for me.

I’ve been busy in the last month doing lots of decluttering and reorganizing of my home space.  The kids (dd21, ds18, dd16 and ds15) built a pergola for our yard with swings and an integrated set of monkey bars, and we build another pergola on our porch that completely covers the porch.   They are all hard workers and did an amazing job.  I realized just yesterday that the one large beam remaining from building the pergolas is perfect for a balance beam for the kids, and yesterday set that up on the porch for them. It’s a nice to feel very settled as we begin our homeschooling year that everything was mostly in place to support us, inside and out.

I’ve also been giving a lot of thought in the last couple of months to what I’d like to focus on in the coming year, personally and with my family.  Doing this clarification process is always powerful for me.  I also just finished locally giving a four week family mission statement workshop series, helping others to navigate this process that personally has been so valuable for me.

Yesterday we finally had a speech evaluation for Yirmi, eight months after I started the application process.  We also had an OT eval a week ago, and Yirmi is now authorized for weekly therapy if we want it.

And just a couple of hours after completing the speech evaluation, I headed to Jerusalem together with ds11 to meet with the Ministry of Education’s representative regarding the new homeschooling application that I filed for this year to include Yirmi.  The rep is hoping that my past request made when living in the north was technically completed so that it will make the process of approving our new application simpler.

However, I got a call today from the local department of Education in the north asking me to remind them of the status of my file!  I thought they should be the ones with a record of that but sometimes I can have unreasonable expectations. :)   He wasn’t clear if an official exemption from the compulsory education law was granted or not.  However, the representative did remember me and that I had done all the necessary steps, and it’s clear that I’m not the one who dropped the ball in completing the legal paperwork.   If they don’t have a record that I was granted permisson to homeschool, we’ll need to begin the entire process again.  More on that as time goes on.

In addition, yesterday my bulk order arrived – I make an order twice a year.  Mostly this is several cartons of coconut oil, but this order also included a 20 kg bag of coconut flour and 11 kg of almond flour.  I’ve been wanting to make desserts that are gluten free for everyone in the family – until now we’ve made special desserts for ds5 that look as similar as possible as the gluten filled treats that everyone else gets.  While white flour and sugar still remain much less expensive than these ingredients, buying in bulk makes the cost of baking gluten free more reasonable.

I hope you’ve all had a wonderful summer and your autumn is off to a great start!

Avivah

y trampoline 2

See the possibilities in your child, not the limitations

Can you believe that Yirmi just recently turned 5?

Until Yirmi was born and we received the birth diagnosis of Trisomy 21, I knew very little about what that entailed.  I had the stereotypical perceptions of people with Down syndrome based on very limited personal connection.  When Yirmi was born, my eyes were opened to a much broader, more appreciative and more accurate way of seeing people with differences.

Though people tend to assign a lot of significance to the differences (skin color, religion, political affiliation, income level, abilities), we’re all more alike than different, and we all benefit when we place more emphasis on what makes us similar.  More than anything – every one of us wants to be valued for who we are.  And this has been my focus in raising Yirmi.

Yirmi and his big sister, May 2017

Yirmi and his big sister

We had a 3 hour appointment with a developmental pediatrician very recently (the first since leaving Karmiel 2.5 years ago), who was blown away by Yirmi.  She kept exclaiming that she’s never seen a 5 year old with T21 like him in her decades of working in the field.

She said that he is bright, communicative, emotionally present, focused, takes initiative, and has the confidence to try new things in a new environment.  She told me that these aren’t qualities that she’s seen in a child with T21 of this age, particularly combined with a language delay like his (‘Usually these kids are shut down.’).

A week later I took Rafael for his intake appointment, and again she remarked on how taken she was with Yirmi.  “He’s so emotionally intact.”

y trampoline 2

Why is it the norm for a child with T21 to not be emotionally intact?  To not be confident or communicative in new situations?  To not trust their abilities?  To not be willing to try new things?  To not keep trying to be understood?

Could it be in part because of how those with whom they interact regularly treat them?  Are the frameworks in which they spend most of their time focused on what they can’t do instead of what they can?  Are they being defined by limitation instead of possibility?

Having fun with Daddy!

Playing on the trampoline with Daddy!

People have told me Yirmi doesn’t act like he has Down syndrome, or that he must have it ‘just a little bit’.  What does that even mean??? What limited perceptions are those comments based on??  You can’t have T21 just a little bit – either you’ve got it or you don’t.  He definitely has garden variety Down syndrome, present in every cell of his body.

Though professionals have told me that Yirmi is doing very well, it’s not because he’s inherently different or better than any other child with T21.  I’m not holding him up as an ideal or trying to imply he’s the most amazing child with T21 ever. Comparisons of performance and impressing anyone else isn’t my goal – he is who he is and and regardless of percentages or testing or anything else, he is enough as he is right now.

Having said that, in line with the 80/20 principle, I believe 80% of children with T21 can be doing just as well if given similar support.  I don’t think he should be as unusual as the professionals say he is.  Actually, I think a lot of kids with T21 are already doing great but probably most of them are also being treated like outliers.

I passionately believe that every child deserves to be treated with respect. With respect for where he is right now, with support for whatever limitation he has at this time, and with belief in who he will be in the future.

It’s not hard to do this.  It’s really not.  It may be counter cultural, but it’s not hard.  People think I must ‘work so much’ with Yirmi.  I don’t see what I do as work; he’s not my project to fix.  What I do that I think is of the most value is to parent him the same as all of my other children – I look at what his needs are and try to find integrated ways to support those needs in our daily lives.

Integrating support in a fun way - trampolining!

One example of how we integrate support in a fun way – trampolining!

In my opinion, the most challenging thing is to recognize the aspects of your thinking about your child that are limiting, and then to change those thoughts.  Your actions will follow your thoughts, and your child responds to your thoughts about him.  If you think your child is capable, you’ll have different expectations and take different action than if you think your child has significant limitations.

To consciously shift from a paradigm of limitation to possibility means seeing the potential in your child and acting in alignment with what you trust he will become, long before you see that in him. 

If he can’t yet talk or can’t yet walk, it means believing that if you keep giving good quality input, that you can trust the timing of the output (ie performance) even when it’s taking a lot longer than you would like. At age 4, Yirmi still hardly said any words.  Now a year later, we’re seeing an explosion of speech.  And I trust that we’ll continue to see significant gains with time.

Shifting that paradigm means reflecting your child’s positive inner value to him even at times that he’s immature, irresponsible, unreliable, hypersensitive, or mean.  It means trusting your child’s potential and holding on to that vision even when external circumstances might give you reason to feel discouraged.

And that’s something that benefits every child,  regardless of diagnosis!

Avivah

wedding graphic

Wedding plans, post high school plans, birthdays…busy, busy!

Yesterday someone asked me how I find time to write so often.  Funny how others can look at the same situation completely differently than me – I feel like I hardly am able to find time to write!  It was good to be reminded that there are always two ways to view a situation and that I can choose a more positive interpretation.

It’s a busy, busy season of life right now!

First of all, the wedding!  Less than a week to go with a list of things still to do, but it’s all getting done calmly and without stress.  After seeing friends whose tension level was seriously racheted up when their children were engaged, my goal for this engagement period was to be emotionally present, calm, and to enjoy the joy of this time.  Thankfully that has been the reality and we are so grateful and excited as we prepare for our first wedding.  So often I’ve wondered who our children will marry, and it’s beautiful to see how perfectly our daugher-in-love complements ds23; they are a lovely couple!

**********************

Ds18 will be graduating soon, and has spent the last few months considering his post high school plans.  Since he’s in a yeshiva high school (that includes a full secular curriculum versus yeshiva ketana where no secular subjects are taught) people say it makes it harder (and even impossible) to get into the selective post high school yeshiva he’s interested in, but I don’t believe that these kind of things need to be issues – yes, it sets the bar to jump over higher but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

He went to visit several yeshivas and it was clear to him that this particular yeshiva was the best fit for him.  But they didn’t get back to him quickly about setting up an interview and it looked like it wasn’t going to happen.  (They extensively check out the student before inviting them to interview.)  It was very exciting when he was invited to test there – they’ve never interviewed a student from his high school and it was significant to be invited.  The interview seemed to go well but he was told there was more testing to follow.

I was in the supermarket two days ago when he called. When he told me he was accepted, I got choked up and couldn’t respond.  After a minute of silence and no sound on my part he was sure I didn’t hear what he said.   “Mommy, did you hear what I said?  I was accepted to ‘Blank’ Yeshiva!”

I managed to get out a congratulations through teary eyes.  It’s a huge accomplishment and it happened because of the person he’s built himself into and the efforts he’s made day after day.  Oh, my, so much emotion.  I’d better get some bulletproof makeup for the wedding.  :)

******************************

Dd16 has been considering her plans for the coming year, and last week told me she’d like to go to seminary next year.  While it’s not something we had talked about previously, I completely support her and told her it sounded like it could be a very good choice for her.  She has a specific seminary in mind, and called them two days ago for an application – and was told that day was the deadline!  She sent it in and went to visit and sat in classes yesterday, which she very much enjoyed.  She needs to interview there and it’s preferred that parents come, but I simply can’t go to an interview with her until after the wedding.  They have hesitations about accepting a student her age so we’ll see how that goes.

****************

Since Rafael joined the family three months ago, I’ve been busy working my way through a list of medical appointments for him.  Yesterday I spent hours in Jerusalem at a hospital having his hearing tested.  It was a very unpleasant test for him and he screamed for 45 minutes before falling asleep when his response to sound stimulation could finally be monitored, but I was very grateful to learn that his hearing is good!

Another project that has taken ongoing effort is getting mother’s milk for him.  I am so grateful to the many women who have donated to him!  He was obviously reacting badly to dairy formula when in the hospital and mother’s milk has been very important in building up his immune system. He’s been almost exclusively on mother’s milk for the last 14 weeks, which is a huge amount of donor milk that we’ve had to get.  For the times that we’ve run out, we’re fortunate that our pediatrician generously gave us sample boxes of a hypoallergenic formula.  I’m in the process of having him officially approved for a different formula (since he’s reacting even to the hypoallergenic formula he’s been getting) and once that happens we’ll be able to purchase it ourselves; hopefully that will be completed this week.

I’ve also been in the process of getting Rafael evaluated for early child development Ds9 and Rafaelservices.  My experience in Karmiel with this for Yirmi wasn’t pleasant and I was dreading going through this process again.  Just reading through paperwork for Yirmi (which I needed because we are opening a new file for him here and they needed it) gave me a sick feeling in my stomach.

The meeting with the physical therapist and social worker was very pleasant, completely different than my past experience.  The physical therapist said Rafael’s development is impressive and that it’s obvious that we’ve been working with him.  Yes, we do invest time and effort into supporting his development but in line with my educational approach, it’s integrated into daily living rather than therapies that we stop our lives to do.  Rafael is delicious and we just love him to pieces!

*********************

Can you believe Yirmi will be turning five soon!?  He’s doing wonderfully and I’ll update on him closer to his birthday.  We’ve been given an appointment with a developmental doctor so he can be evaluated comprehensively as part of the process to get speech therapy services.  Since he has apraxia, a clear and obvious speech delay, I hope services will be easily approved.  We’ve worked on his speech extensively at home and it’s exciting to see how beautifully it’s coming along.  He’s such a cute and smart little guy!

************

We are in the middle of birthday season here.  We started the season with ds11 in April, followed by ds8 and then dh in May.  Ds14 will have a birthday the day after the wedding, then Yirmi two weeks later opens July, ds23 two days after that, dd20 a month later and now our lovely daughter-in-love joins the birthday line-up for August!

****************

Everyone is growing up so quickly!  Time seems to speed up more as the years go by.  As I feel the days flying by I have such a strong desire to be emotionally present for every moment  (which isn’t possible but it’s a direction to shoot for!).  Life is so full and it’s easy to get caught up in what needs to be done on a daily basis, so it’s really a conscious choice that I’m trying to make each day.

Avivah

kids outdoors

Kids enjoying outdoor time without gadgets

Over three years after first hearing about it, I’ve just read the book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv.

There were a number of points made, but the overall message that I appreciated being reminded of was that nature is an important contributor to the quality of life to a child, and something to consciously nurture.

I also appreciated when the author pointed out that being in nature isn’t about taking your kids to a distant national park or walking through a forest, which is what you might mentally picture when reading the title (I did!). Nature is all around us, every day and everywhere we go.

My kids who were raised in the US had different opportunities than my children do now, but they’ve all had a lot of nature/outdoor experiences in their lives.  Volunteering at a sheep farm for several years, trips and classes at the nature center, hikes with a naturalist, enrollment in Junior Rangers summer programs at a state park, sailing lessons, bee keeping, treehouse building…

When I got into gardening, my kids joined in.  We incubated duck eggs and raised the ducks.  We did family projects that were mostly done by the kids  – outdoor renovations like building a platform deck, a brick patio, raised garden beds and a wooden six foot security fence.  They participated in 4H activities for years.

Our yearly family camping trips were such special times for us all – activities included hiking, fishing and boating but mostly was about just enjoying being in nature together.  There is something so centering about being outdoors, hearing the birds begin to chirp as the sun rises, sitting around a campfire at night…

Even our monthly shopping trips were an opportunity to experience nature, as we shopped in Amish and Mennonite farming communities.  At one supermarket I would park our van right next to the horses in the field, and when we bought our raw milk from the farmer we would sometimes go into the barn to see the cows. When I got our free range eggs, we visited yet another farm where we got to see their horses, dogs, turkeys, chickens and ducks.

When they went to sleepaway summer camps, we sent to programs with an outdoor focus where they learned canoeing and archery along with other activities.  Membership in Girl Scouts included hiking the Appalachian Trail (and coming upon a rattlesnake) and a yearly group camping trip.

Now we’re living in a different part of the world with different opportunities.  The specifics look different – we don’t have a car and that has drastically cut down on going places like national parks and campgrounds.  But wherever we’ve lived there have been opportunities to get outside.

Something I really appreciate about living here in Israel is that  It’s a culture in which it’s safer and more accepted for kids to be out without adult supervision. In the US I closely supervised my kids when they were outside, and wouldn’t have been comfortable with things that I now routinely allow.

Our boys spend lots of time riding bikes and scooters, rollerblading, creating hideouts in bushes in the public parks, and playing with friends outside.  Two of our boys participate in a weekly survival/fire/knives/hiking group and that allows them to explore areas beyond our residential neighborhood.

I still love gardening and am grateful to have a yard (albeit much, much smaller than in the US!) where my kids plant alongside me.

We don’t have family camping trips (due to not having a car to get there) but for the last two summers, we’ve set up our large family sized tent on our porch and the kids spent weeks sleeping there in the summer.  My husband has found some local hikes that are accessible by bus and has taken the kids there – one of their favorite hikes happened when they didn’t quite find the place they set out to get to.  But on the way they found animal bones and picked almonds from trees they discovered and had a great time – they plan to go back this year when the almonds are in season and do some serious picking!

It’s really about awareness and looking for opportunities even in the small moments – seeing the interesting bug or bird and taking the time to observe it, sitting quietly on the grass together and listening to the trees rustle in the wind…you don’t have to go far from home for your child to be able to experience nature.

While parents will sometimes say that kids need to invest in their technological skills so that they aren’t left behind, I feel that’s very overrated.  Kids today are inside much more than in the past, on screens and devices and that takes away from the time that they’re outdoors.  Kids need to be outside, to move their bodies, to feel sun on their faces.

I enjoyed these photos taken by a mom of four children who has chosen to limit her children’s access to television and electronic gadgets – she beautifully captured the ability of kids to just be in the moment, to entertain themselves, to enjoy the simple pleasures in life.

You know what motivated me to buy this book?  I wanted to read something inspiring, something affirming, something that focused on something that isn’t achievement oriented but is about letting your kids have room to grow and just be.

That’s a big value for me – to give our children the space and time to be kids, to grow at their own pace, to have a sane and enjoyable pace of life.  It’s something that I sometimes feel is getting lost in our society’s ever increasing pace of life, the drive to accomplish and get things done…as people are getting more disconnected from one another and from themselves.

Nature and outdoor time is part of the answer to shifting away from that driving pace and getting recentered with yourself and your family.  It can be intimidating for parents to get their kids away from screens but it’s worth the effort – there are so many benefits to the individual and to the family!

Avivah

 

 

dyslexia

Helping the child with dyslexia learn to read

I was recently discussing homeschooling with a couple of my oldest children, when one commented that he doesn’t see our younger boys doing as much academic work as he remembers doing at that age.

I would have to agree that I’m more relaxed and less structured at this point then I was in the earlier years.  I have more trust in the developmental process as well as each child’s inherent desire to learn, and don’t feel I have to make learning happen.

But let me not get into a philosophical discourse!  While my older kids had to do 30 – 60 minutes of reading daily, the younger children don’t.  The reason for that is that those who are good readers do more than that without it being requested, and those that aren’t good readers can’t do that much without a lot of stress and anxiety.

For one child in particular, reading hasn’t come easily.  I’ve been pretty patient about waiting for readiness but at the same time, felt that more was needed than patience. While I didn’t have an official assessment done, I was pretty convinced that dyslexia was the issue.

Children with dyslexia tend to be very talented in a number of areas.  When I read the profile of a child with dyslexia, I was taken aback at how obviously it was describing one particular son.  A child who is good at so many things – the athlete, the engineer, the artist.  Ds is physically dexterous/athletic, bright, creative, great at math, building, spatial skills – good at just about everything.  Except reading.

Children with dyslexia have brains that work a bit differently.  Doing more and more reading drills (sometimes referred to as ‘drill and kill’) doesn’t help because it’s only looking at the symptoms.  He doesn’t need more of the same.  If it was working, it would work without endless repetitions.  What he needs is a different approach.

Strengthening the brain connections between the right and left brain is critical because the child with dyslexia tends to do most of his processing on the right side of the brain, but reading is a left brain activity.

Here are some things I’ve been doing to build a strong foundation for reading success:

  1. I bought several sets of activity books from Dyslexia Games and the boys do two pages each day.  I really liked the idea behind these and it made a lot of sense to me.  Basically, it turns reading into a right brain activity.
  2. Sequential processing activities – each of the younger boys does these for ten minutes daily.  This builds their auditory processing skills and increases their digit spans, which means that it increases the amount of information they can hold on to.  (To read English, you need to be processing at a digit span of 5 – 6.  It’s extremely difficult and time consuming to try to teach reading to a child who isn’t processing in this range. ) Right now I’m focused mostly on auditory processing but also do visual processing activities with them.
  3. Brain Gym exercises – I would love to say that I start every day with a five minute routine but that would be a lie.  :)  But I do try to include these regularly.  Whoever is in the house does them together.
  4. Swimming – I can’t help it, even when my kids do activities like these I’m thinking about the importance of the cross patterning motions and how it benefits the brain! The boys are all taking swimming lessons and I just bought an above ground pool to give them regular swimming practice – swimming is a very therapeutic activity that builds right/left brain connections.
  5. Audio books – my boys listen to a lot of read alouds and audio recordings of books, usually daily.  This strengthens their auditory processing and also is a pathway for them to input information through other channels than reading.  (Their comprehension as a result of this is excellent and they can understand more complex plots and storylines.  We’re currently reading Robinson Crusoe, which I thought was way too verbose and long winded for them to enjoy.  I was wrong.  They were hooked after one chapter and begged me to continue!)
  6. Crawling – crawling on hands and knees is another wonderful cross patterning activity.  I try to encourage the boys to do this by integrating it into a game but sometimes I’ll ask them to go around the garden perimeter a few times.  If two of them do it at a time they race and it’s more fun.  I bought the younger three boys sports knee pads to make this more comfortable and enjoyable for them.
  7. I recently purchased a five volume set of Hebrew readers from Torah4Children based on the Orton-Gillingham multi-sensory approach.  I haven’t yet used them so I can’t give feedback other than to say that they look good.
  8. I also recently purchased a couple of English readers based on the Orton-Gillingham method.  Blast Off To Reading is for beginning readers, and A Workbook For Dylexics is for teens and up.  We decided to put English reading aside for the time being since we want to put more focus on Hebrew reading.  Living in Israel, Hebrew is more critical for the boys to read well at this point; we’ll come back to English once the Hebrew reading is solid.
  9. Flashcards – my husband has his own ideas that he makes up and then implements that are very effective with our kids.  He did lots of flashing aleph bais letters until the recognition was automatic.  Then he followed these with single words on an index card.  His thought was that it gives more of a tangible feeling of success to have a pile of cards that you read correctly in your hand, and then can review the ones that were missed.
  10. Notes on the fridge – again, this is my husband’s idea!  He writes simple notes and leaves them on the fridge to encourage reading success.

So you might come to my home and see my kids starting their day with a swim, then do some art pages and run off to listen to read alouds and conclude that I don’t have any structure for my kids and I’m not actively facilitating their learning.  But hopefully now you can see a little bit behind why I do what I do.

I want to stress that I feel it’s really important for a child who is challenged in some way to have the opportunity to feel successful and develop a positive identity – not to see himself as the ‘kid who can’t read’.  Reading is just one skill and being a good reader doesn’t make you successful in life.  In the end, it’s the person who feels competent and good about himself who is best able to tackle the challenges that will come his way.

Right now we’re feeling very encouraged by the progress we’ve seen since we began implementing the above activities.  It’s quite exciting to see a child who has always struggled suddenly be able to read words around them (in English and Hebrew) that were a mystery before.  I’m not going to predict how long it will take to become a fluent reader and it’s okay if it takes time.  We’re on a good path and learning is happening!

Avivah

overcoming-inadequacy

Feeling inadequate as a parent? Get realigned with your true values!

Tonight there was an informational meeting for a school opening in our area for the coming year.  There were aspects of the school that sounded interesting, enough for me to write in the details of the meeting into my planner.

And then I asked myself, WHY am I thinking about this???

Is there something that isn’t working in our homeschooling life right now?  Are any of the kids unhappy or asking to go to school?  Do they not have friends?  Is it too hard for me to be around them, or for them to be around each other?

No, no, and no.

My kids have lots of time to explore and play.  They have plenty of time for friendships and ‘extracurricular interests’.  They get along (mostly!) with each other. They’re bright and interested in the world around them, calm and settled inside themselves.

So after sixteen years of successfully homeschooling and seeing the short and long term benefits to our children, why was I thinking for even a minute about school?

comparisons

This happens to me periodically. This time it was because reading this lovely description of the school had me mentally comparing what I do and feeling that I was coming up short.  I began to fixate on adult-led activities rather than the long term process of supporting the natural development of children and their inherent learning process.  I felt the weight of the responsiblity of educating our children and it felt like an easy solution to send them to someone else who would take responsibility for their education.

No matter if that’s true or not!  What matters is that it felt true in the moment.   I was temporarily losing the comparison war and that triggered those pesky thoughts that periodically circle around – do I give my kids enough, do I do enough?

That’s what happens when I minimize the value of the things that are a natural part of our lives.  In one fell swoop I manage to take all the positives about our lifestyle and our children’s development for granted and with a mental flick deflect it to the sidelines as if all those things are insignificant.

Have you noticed how easy it is to downplay your successes and overly value what you aren’t doing? We all do this!  And the next thing you know, you’re feeling inadequate and looking to someone or something outside of you for different answers.  Sometimes I think that feeling inadequate is a pervasive theme for mothers.

At times like these I’ve found it helpful to stand back and consciously validate yourself.  You have to remind yourself of the value of what you do, to remind yourself about what your goals and vision are.  I took some time to think about what my short and long term vision is for our family, which was  really helpful in regrounding myself.

In case you’re wondering, no, I didn’t end up attending the informational meeting about the school!

Avivah

bin borsalina

Our boys are in the new Borsalino ad

While many people are busy scrubbing their homes for Pesach and enlisting their children to work with them, instead three of my boys recently participated in the filming of an ad for a hat company.

Our neighbor was responsible for casting and that’s how we were contacted – it’s not the kind of thing we would have gone out of our way to be part of.  The boys were paid a token amount but the real gain was to be part of an interesting learning opportunity and it was with that intention that I agreed they could be part of it.

The video briefly showcases three major life events: the bris of a newborn baby boy, a bar mitzva celebration and a wedding.

Ds11 and ds9 are hard to find unless you’re looking for them but they’re there in the background scenes of the bris.  They were considering casting ds11 as the bar mitzva boy but the filming for the bar mitzva portion was done at the end of the day – it was a verrrry long day – and ds11 and ds9 came home before that so they only participated in the bris portion.

A fun surprise was that ds18 was cast as the bridegroom at the last minute so he ended up with a main part.  Initially they said they wanted someone with a lighter complexion, but once he was there they decided he was more suitable than the person they had chosen.  So he’s the easiest of our three boys to find.

Here’s the video:

Enjoy!

Avivah

Purim 2017 – teaching children to be givers, great read aloud

Another Purim has come and gone, and it was lovely!

We enjoyed our Purim seuda with our family and guests. If you’re wondering why there seem to be no pictures of some family members, it’s because the pictures of them were together with guests and I’m not including pictures of our guests.

L to r: Ds9, ds7, ds10

L to r: Ds9, ds7, ds10

Dd22 and dd16

Dd22 and dd16

L to r: ds7, ds18, ds23

L to r: ds7, ds18, ds23

This beautifully arranged fruit platter was a surprise delivery prepared by our soon to be daughter-in-love!  (Do you notice two of our younger boys ogling it below? :))  It was so thoughtful and unexpected.  We and our guests completely enjoyed it and almost completely finished it by the time our Purim meal ended!

IMG_20170312_162924

—————————————

After the excitement of Purim day, that evening we eased into a different focus by putting out a box next to our front door for people to donate their excess treats.  We were one of a number of drop off locations in the RBS area.  These would be packaged into mishloach manot and distributed to disadvantaged children in Jerusalem the next day.  (In Jerusalem, Purim is celebrated a day later than everywhere else, so they received these packages on Purim day.)

The next morning I went with three of the kids to bring the donations that came to us to the central packaging area.  We stayed for 3.5 hours to help package the items; the kids helped sort and package the treats for the kids. 1600 packages were prepared for children from snacks that were donated post-Purim in RBS.  I was involved in organizing packages for needy families; over a hundred packages went out for families in an economically depressed area.  We all felt we had contributed in a valuable way to others and enjoyed it at the same time, and look forward to being involved next year!

It was really nice for me to do this with our children.  Purim can so easily become about getting instead of giving (particularly for kids excited about the treats they get from friends), and I was happy to have the opportunity to shift the focus onto doing for others.

—————————-

Though Purim is over, I’m still working my way through our 300+ page pre-Purim readaloud!  The book is called, Let My Nation Live by Yosef Deutsch, and it’s just the kind of books I love to read with the kids.  It’s a non-fiction version of the Purim story that integrates so many commentaries, but has been written as a story and the kids have soaked in so much knowledge.  It’s well-written, well researched and really fascinating – the older kids ended up listening in when they were home because it was so interesting.

There is another book by the same author called Let My Nation Go, about the Pesach story, written in the same style.  I borrowed a copy of the Little Medrash Says Pesach Hagada but I’m hoping I can get a copy of Let My Nation Go to read with them instead.  Then that will be our primary reading in the coming month leading up to Pesach.

Note: this  is written for adults but our younger boys (7,9,10) have good vocabularies as well as good auditory attentions spans so they easily followed this.  I did sometimes need to explain the meaning of a word.  I’d say to give it a try if you’re hesitant and see how your kids respond.

Avivah