Monday, January 31, 2011

Local (Home)school Resource… and Curriculum Mulling

image I know most of my readers aren’t local, but here’s a plug for a lovely bookstore where I spent a leisurely hour this afternoon:  The Batner Bookstore.

I had to buy some texts for Elisheva’s school there last year, so discovered this terrific store – I’ve been back a few times since.  I believe it’s Jewish-owned, but they carry lots of the curriculum-related material from many of the private schools, including Christian ones.

They have a lot of brand-new 50% and cheap secondhand books and texts, so you can usually find something worthwhile for a great price.  The shop is tiny and the location, in a nondescript plaza near Yonge and Steeles, slightly obscure – I almost drive past it every single time.

image  Got some history stuff for Story of the World next year, including Famous Men of Greece and Famous Men of the Middle Ages (annoying titles to read until you consider that there were few opportunities for women to become famous).

A few more books, including our NEXT Explode the Code book – featuring yet another weirdly drawn cover.  What is it with these books???  Does this boost a kid’s self-esteem, to think that the grown-ups putting together their curriculum can’t draw for beans?  The hand-drawn pictures inside the imagebook are even worse – Naomi often has to call me over to ask what something is supposed to be (“it’s an ANT”).

But you see what I said there?  She has to call me over.  The beauty of these books is that even at a very young age, the repetitive format allows a LOT of independent work.

I’m still wondering how to blend our work in Explode the Code (ETC) with my plan to use Spelling Workout (SW) next year.  Not to mention First Language Lessons – it sure seems like a HUGE emphasis on language… but I understand this is the ideal time for it, so I’m torn.

A blog-world friend has suggested I pick one or the other (ETC or SW)… but there are areas where they really don’t overlap.  Explode the Code is phonics-based; Spelling Workout is context-based and introduces the idea of correct spelling and word lists.

So – as usual – we shall see.  Meanwhile… if you’re in town and looking for homeschool resources (mostly books) check out the store!

Homeschool Diary: 26 Shevat, 5771

image PLEASE JOIN US! If you teach your kids at home and blog about it, just add a comment below!

Other “weekly challenges” I play:


תְּרוּמָה / Teruma

Five Senses – SMELL!


Still experimenting with various formats for the weekly schedule… this week, since I’m loving Google Calendar for meal planning and family scheduling, I thought I’d give it a try for schooling.  Except it turns out there is really no good way to export entries to any other form… drat!  Anyhow, it’s very bare-bones, but here it goes!

Mon Jan 31            
READING ALOUD: BOB / D&J / Winter Fun           
HEBREW READING: קריאה ועוד           
HWT / ETC           

Tue Feb 1            
READING ALOUD: BOB / D&J / Winter Fun           
SCIENCE: Read/narration           

Wed Feb 2            
READING ALOUD: BOB / D&J / Winter Fun           
HWT / ETC           
PARSHA:  Activity – layout of the Mishkan

Thu Feb 3            
READING ALOUD: BOB / D&J / Winter Fun           
SCIENCE: Read/experiment/activity           

Fri Feb 4            

Sunday, January 30, 2011

תְּרוּמָה / Teruma Parsha Overview: Mishkan Instructions

This is a basic overview of the parsha story in a “Q&A” format adaptable for kids of any age. Answers in brackets are traditional responses, from parsha text and midrash. Be open to anything your child might have to say!

Please see the Vayeishev overview for how we use these narratives  in our homeschool.  There are also copywork sheets to go with the weekly parsha… enjoy!

imageIn the last two weeks, we’ve learned a LOT of rules!

On Har Sinai, ה׳ gave us rules… (for living with ה׳)

Last week, in parshas Mishpatim, ה׳ gave us rules… (for living with other people!)

Why did ה׳ give us so many rules?  He wanted us to be a… (מַמְלֶכֶת כֹּהֲנִים וְגוֹי קָדוֹשׁ/priests and holy people!)

What does HOLY mean?  (Special to ה׳!)


ה׳ told מֹשֶׁה that if we built a מִשְׁכַּן , He would come live with us there!

What did משה need to build the משכן?  (gold, silver, copper, wool, fabric, jewels and oil)

ה׳ told משה to ask בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל… (to bring presents to build the משכן)

ה׳ said to ask… (all the people, and everybody who wanted could give)

Why not just the כֹהֲנִים  (kohanim/priests), the נְשִׂיאִים  (princes) or rich people?  (the משכן belongs to all of כלל ישראל!)


  After that, ה׳ gave instructions for all the sections of the משכן.

imageImagine a huge lobby, with only one main room, and a smaller room inside the main room – that’s the משכן!

The lobby was called the… (חָצֵר, the courtyard); The main room inside was called the… (קֹדֶשׁ, the holy place)

The smaller room inside the main room was called the… (קֹדֶשׁ הַקֳּדָשִׁים, holiest of holies, the holiest place)

Do you remember what HOLY means?  (Special to ה׳!)

There were different כֵּלִים, tools, to put in each part of the משכן.  Everything had to be exactly right!

image First, ה׳ said to build an אֲרוֹן, a big box made of… (עֲצֵי שִׁטִּים/wood)

It was covered up, inside and out, with a layer of… (זָהָב טָהוֹר/pure gold) with a… (זֵר זָהָב/golden crown around the top)

On top of the aron, ה׳ said to make… (two כְּרֻבִים/kruvim/cherubs) out of… (זָהָב טָהוֹר/pure gold).

What were the כרבים like?  (they had the faces of children and wings like eagles)


When בני ישראל did מצוות, the כְּרֻבִים  would face each other; when בני ישראל did עברות, the כְּרֻבִים would face apart.

Everything for the משכן had to be made so that בני ישראל could… (carry it along when they travelled)

בני ישראל could carry the ארון with… (long בַדִּים/poles that went through rings on its side)

image ה׳ told משה to build a… (שֻּׁלְחָן/shulchan, a table) with shelves to hold… (לֶחֶם הַפָּנִים/lechem hapanim/showbread)

The table was made of… (עֲצֵי שִׁטִּים/wood) covered with… (זָהָב טָהוֹר/pure gold).  It also had a… (זֵר זָהָב/golden crown).


We don’t know what the לחם הפנים looked like, but it stayed fresh all the time – it never went bad!

imageה׳ said to make a… (מְּנֹרָה/menorah) out of… (זָהָב טָהוֹר/solid gold, all the way through)

How was this different from the other כלים?  (The other keilim were only wood covered with a thin layer of gold.)

The מנרה had to have… (seven branches… three on each side and one in the middle)

The מנרה had to be decorated all over with… (shapes of cups, knobs, and flowers)

How did משה know exactly which way to make the מנרה?  (ה׳ showed him on הַר סִינַי what it should look like)


There were more instructions coming!

ה׳ said to make… (יְרִיעֹת, beautiful curtains, to go all the way around the outside and over top of the משכן)

ה׳ said to make… (קְּרָשִׁים and אֲדָנִים, planks and sockets, to make the walls of the משכן solid and sturdy)

image The קרשים were boards of… (עֲצֵי שִׁטִּים/wood) with pegs on the bottom to fit into the אדנים – like building with Legos!

ה׳ also explained how to make the… (מִּזְבֵּחַ/Mizbeach/altar) out of… (עֲצֵי שִׁטִּים/wood), covered in… (נְחֹשֶׁת/copper)


This big מזבח was where בני ישראל would bring their most important קרבנות (korbanos/offerings).

Do you remember from Parshasיִתְרוֹ  what bringing קרבנות reminds us of? (תפילות/tefillos, our davening!)

Climbing the ramp to the מזבח to bring a קָרְבַּן helped בני ישראל… (feel they were climbing closer to ה׳).

This reminds us of how we should… (think about “climbing” closer to ה׳ when we daven).

Just like everything else in the משכן, the מזבח could be… (carried on poles when בני ישראל travelled)


משה received the instructions in this parsha, but בני ישראל wouldn’t put the משכן together for almost a year. 

They still had a lot to learn before they would be ready – and so do we!

Field Trip Planning

As I mentioned, I’ve put together a few field trips this year, and one I’m working on right now is a fire station visit – kind of cool for the younger crowd.  Anyway, because it’s tough juggling 18 families’ preferences about what day and time work best, I have been using spreadsheets to figure the whole thing out.


This spreadsheet lists each family’s preferences in terms of weekday and morning/afternoon.  I haven’t heard back from most parents so far, but the spreadsheet updates itself automatically as I enter each parent’s data. 

So far, Thursday morning is winning:


It only says “yay” if there are more yeses than no’s AND only if it’s a time that my kids can make it.  I’m putting the whole thing together… why shouldn’t the trip happen at a time that’s convenient for us???  For Thursday morning, there are 4 “ok”’s , 1 “NO” and 1 “prefer” – ie it’s one family’s BEST time.

Anyway, just thought somebody would be interested in the logistical and technical juggling behind a seemingly simple field trip.  Nothing’s simple where homeschoolers are involved!

This one doesn’t even track payments (I think the fire department is free):  you should see the Toronto Symphony or Humber Maple trip spreadsheets… oy!

Menu Plan Monday #33: 26 Shevat, 5771

imageWhy the weird dates? Click here to find out! 

Other “weekly challenges”:

small challahs  We’re a Jewish family of 6 (2 parents, 4 kids) and all our meals are kosher.  Newcomers, read my MPM intro here which tells you all about how we eat, or just visit my big ol’ list of Everything We Eat.  We eat mostly non-meat, and I try to include at least one vegan meal every single week – I call it Vegan Vursday!

Sunday (tonight):  Mommy’s Aloo gobi (potato/tomato/cauliflower curry, spinach cheese/tofu/chickpea curry, along with my homemade naan and Carrot/Cashew soup, mommy-made ambrosia salad (weird?  But tasty!  Though she’ll probably never make it again)

Monday (Ted off):  Hamburgers & hot dogs w/baked beans & oven (sweepo?) fries

Tuesday (busy TSO trip day):  Corn fritters w/soup

Wednesday:  Fettucine Alfredo (YM’s request)

Thursday (Vegan Vursday!):  Beanie Burgers w/Mango Poppy dressing on lettuce salad (Elisheva’s request)

Shabbos:  Why do I even include it here?  Shepherd’s pie???

Did you know I also bake astonishingly good bread?  It’s true!  Check out my bread blog right over here!!!

More Homeschool Splurge Fun

image Yet another big-time Rainbow splurge.  I love these folks!  They ship quickly, for reasonable rates, and because they mark the boxes as educational and/or books, not one of their shipments has been stopped at the border or COD’d for customs charges.

So… this was definitely a splurge!

You might say at least I’m buying BOOKS for my KIDS… not crack cocaine.  But, as everybody knows, books – used correctly – are far more dangerous than anything else anyone has ever come up with.  (Up with which anyone else has come?)

Here’s part 2 of my Aliyah Education Plan, by the way:  though it may sound cruel and diabolical, I’ll taking advantage of the fact that we have so few vacations to “do school” year-round. 

We’ll take off for Pesach and Sukkos and maybe lay low in late December and the hottest bits of summertime, when nobody feels like learning, but as it is, I anticipate formally starting Grade 1 in June or July and finishing a few months before the “school year” officially ends. 

If we keep that up, we could very well have completed the first three years (or more) of a Charlotte Mason/Classical education by the time Naomi starts school (iy”h!) in Israel.  Not that I’m in a hurry, but if it’s all going to be crashing to a halt, I would like to give her a good basic grounding before that happens.

At that point, while it’s true that she will technically be ahead of her classmates, I figure the language barrier and general upheaval will even things out a bit… and if she has extra confidence academically as a result of what she’s learned, well, all the better!

Anyway, here are the pretty pictures of what I bought – book descriptions are below.

image image

image image


image image image image

So here’s what we’re getting…


Draw Write Now, Book 1 – a combination handwriting copywork and drawing program I thought we’d try.
Great Composers Coloring Book – I simply have not been impressed with the quality of colouring pictures I can find online.
Bible Lands Activity Maps – Laminated – we’ve been doing a lot of map studies for parsha.  Hopefully, this will be something we can use over and over.
Pillars of History - Hebrew Nation Part I – this one could end up being a mistake.  Though put out by a Christian publisher, it looks like a dynamic and highly interactive introduction to “Bible stories,” with an emphasis on the Jewish (“Hebrew Nation”) side of things.  Having looked through a long sample (samples available here and here), I really think this could be adapted well to a Jewish homeschool.  We shall see.  (it was on sale – I didn’t pay full price anyway!)

Language / Literature:

Spelling Workout 2001 Level A Student Edition – as recommended by The Well-Trained Mind (because they wrote it); but now that I’ve ordered this, I’m worried that this will be too easy once she’s finished the first Explode the Code book we’re currently working through… and redundant if we use it with the second Explode the Code.  Eek!

History / Geography:

Geography Songs Kit w/ CD – a little pricey, but it looks like fun…
Story of the World Vol. 1 Activity Book – bought the first reader and was pretty impressed.  I’m really looking forward to Grade 1 history!
D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths – apparently, one of the truly great myth books.  We have one myth book already, but it wasn’t that expensive.
History Pockets - Ancient Civilizations – interactive activities to go along with the SOTW curriculum (preview here).  Also available online via CurrClick, but I don’t like the idea of doing it electronically and don’t enjoy printing stuff myself, so I bought the printed version.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Dance, Dance, Revolution


On Thursday,  I shlepped the kids to a free noontime dance performance at the Four Seasons Centre.  Noon meaning it STARTED at noon; we got there at 10:30 – crazy-early for us – and waited and waited.

The performance, when it started, was a little… well, on the QUIET side for the kids.  It was a single dancer, Peggy Baker, who was older than we all expected, performing various self-composed pieces that highlighted the them of “The Power of Gesture.”  Though one piece was the type of “dancing” we expected – athletic flitting around on a stage – most were small, modern, intimate pieces, set to music by contemporary composers, that showcased a lot of hand and arm movements. 

Not exactly kid stuff.  Not exactly “light.”

So I didn’t regret taking them, exactly, but we got home very late and I was kind of ruing all the waiting and shlepping, especially because we had to turn around and go out again right away to the homeschool drop-in.

Why bother?

But then… sometime after supper and before bedtime, Naomi Rivka came out of her room in her leotard and flashy pink tights and started to DANCE like she has never danced before.  “Choreographed” to Naomi’s favourite classical music – supplied by the Little Einsteins electronic globe soundtrack, there were tons of wild hand and arm movements, several of which were exact copies of what we’d seen in the performance eight hours earlier.

2011-01-29 erev

From an educational perspective, it’s difficult to demand narration from a musical or dance performance, and there’s only so much good to be had from talking about stuff after the fact.   (“What did the dancing make you FEEL?” – no, I didn’t even try it… I can’t stand pompous discussions about the arts!)

So, mostly, you just have to expose your kids:  let them experience the magic… and then hope above hope that they respond deeply, internally, personally, by sharing some magic of their own.

Plans for Grade 3 and beyond…

image A friend asked a couple of months ago, now that I’m so invested in homeschooling – emotionally, philosophically, and yes, even monetarily (just bought more Grade 1 stuff from Rainbow this evening), how I’m going to turn my back on it all and send the kids to school once we make aliyah.

I definitely want them to go to school.  For one thing, it’s a bargain compared to Jewish education here.  The other things, the REAL things are:  it’s the best way to learn the language, and it’s the best way to make new friends quickly.  I don’t want to deprive either kid of those things.

(Big kids?  They won’t be kids anymore, though, of course, at 19 and 17, they will still have a home with us.  I hope, in addition to the “year in Israel” that they’re planning, that they will both take advantage of whatever ulpan is available to their age group and demographic.  But back to the little kids – who will still be little.)

So here’s my thought:  Israeli school days are surprisingly short by North American standards.  Most kids only go to school until 1-2 pm, much to the bemoaning of many Israelis, but perhaps to the benefit of a parent interested in providing a classical English education on top of a comprehensive introduction to Hebrew and Judaic studies.

If Canadian kids can spend however-many hours a week in Hebrew school on top of their regular education, how stressful could it be to spend 1-2 hours a day with Mommy studying English literature, grammar, world history, etc?  We could probably safely drop some subjects, like math and science, though we might get to visit them as “homework” – I don’t know how Israeli schools deal with this and how much is expected at each grade level.

Anyhow.  This “plan” is kind of helping me embrace the simple fact that I would really LOVE to continue watching my kids’ minds blossom.

I realize I am overlooking many realities that may intervene, such as the fact that – with some Hebrew (I can touch-type!) – I may be the more immediately employable wage-earner in our family.  I don’t know.  Perhaps Ted’s “funerary” skill set will transfer well… or maybe he’ll actually find work in his field, doing graphic arts and illustration! 

Too many unknowns here, but the fact is:  I love teaching my kids, and I want to keep doing it as long as possible… even after they start school.

Six Word Saturday: 25 Shevat, 5771

Why the weird dates? Click here to find out!

Other “weekly challenges” I participate in:

You get what you pay for.

allen gdns 006

The lesson about Dollarama things:  Even when they LOOK just like their regular-store equivalents; even when they ACT just like their regular-store equivalents (for a while, maybe)… they are still Dollarama things and chances are, you’ll end up paying for them again and again and again.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Cranky Complaints-Lady Wants to Play!

imageDear Whatever Morons Run Downsview Park (I didn’t write that!):

  The City of Toronto usually holds its Winterfest downtown.  This year, because that Winterfest isn't taking place (due to renovations at Nathan Phillips Square?), I was looking forward to the Winterfest at Downsview Park… until I realized it's only being held on a Saturday.

Located at the heart of Toronto's Jewish community, Downsview Park really ought to consider local participants when planning "public" events such as this one.  Many Jewish families would probably love to attend this event, but because of the Jewish Sabbath, which lasts until sundown on Saturday, that won't be possible.

imageIt is easy enough to either hold a two-day event, or to hold an event only on Sunday, in order that everyone from the surrounding community may participate.

As it is, I believe you have already sent a very clear message to your Jewish neighbours.

Happy Winterfest,

Cuteness – and Shabbos Food

GZ, over and over and over:  “Abba, you’re being loshon Torah!”

I have no idea what it means, but it sure is cute…

Back from tutoring plus dentist and moping at the computer – sitting staring at a bowl of Crispix, wondering how to eat it with my floppy mouth - while Ted makes Shabbos.  Here’s what he has planned:


  • Challah (I am making this)
  • soup w/kneidlach
  • Onion chicken
  • Squash kugel
  • spring rolls – with special lumpia wrappers
  • Potato Something
  • Banana cake – I’m making this


  • Challah
  • Cholent
  • Slicey meats
  • Pasta salad – just plain ol’ mayo, pasta, frozen peas
  • Broccoli salad
  • Desserts

So that’s that… wish me luck with this cereal!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Parsha Poem: מִּשְׁפָּטִים / Mishpatim

שְׁמוֹת / shemos / shemot / Exodus 21:1-24:18

Printable PDF versions here:  Ashkenaz / Sefard.
Parsha narrative overview here.
Copywork sheet and parsha activities available here.

Partly inspired by a dvar Torah from Jewish Deaf Multimedia – watch it here in ASL!

clip_image001Three kinds of mitzvos come straight from Hashem

Three kinds of mitzvos – so let’s keep all of them!

There are Eidos and Chukim and Mishpatim;

Such confusing words; let’s find out what they mean!


Eidos help remember special times in our past,

Chukim we could never dream up, and then at last,

Mishpatim, the mitzvos to be good and excel,

Mitzvos, we shall see, that help us all live very well.


A CHOK is a different kind of mitzvah, you know

It gives us small hints of how we all can grow.

We don’t understand it at all, but that’s fine;

Chukim are Hashem’s way to tell us, “you’re mine.”


Don’t mix wool and linen, but we cannot know why,

Though you might shake your fist way on up to the sky.

We can think it all through but the answer’s not clear;

Hashem is testing us, so let’s all listen and hear.


An EID is a witness and that’s what we all are,

Remembering our past and spreading it afar.

Eidos are mitzvos from the Torah we hold dear,

Reminding us always; keeping memories near.


On Pesach, it’s matzah we take and eat both nights;

Recalling for all time those most astounding sights.

As soon as we learn it all, we can clearly see,

Remembering all of that will help you and me.


But what about a MISHPAT?  Just what is meant by those?

Why, that’s a very simple mitzvah, as plain as your nose!

Mishpatim are the laws you might find in any land;

Rules that keep us happy, and living like we’d planned.


Killing and stealing?  Of course we know that’s wrong!

Why does Hashem tell us, if we knew it all along?

At Har Sinai, we heard Hashem’s awesome news,

Why such easy mitzvos now for such committed Jews?


You might think it’s obvious not to kill and steal,

Why’s the Torah coming in, inventing a new wheel?

But in different generations, different countries, too,

Things like that just weren’t so plain that everybody knew.


“We have to steal!” they might say, “so we can get rich,

We’ll knock this old guy over, leave him in a ditch.”

Our brain is a marvel, a sophisticated thing,

Thinking up those reasons, bubbling up like from a spring.


So Mishpatim are rules that seem clear to us now,

But even if things changed, we’d all keep them anyhow.

Others do them if they feel that they are just and good,

But we keep them always, for Hashem told us we should.


But why is it, anyway, we’re given such a lot:

Tons of little mitzvos bubbling up like from a pot?

The “easy” ones are there though we would do them anyway -

Just so Hashem can have a chance for our reward to pay!

רצה הקדוש ברוך הוא לזַכּוֹת את ישראל, לפיכך הרבה להם תורה ומצוות:

Ratzah haKadosh Baruch hu – Hashem wanted so, so much,

LeZakos es Yisrael – for our Jewish hearts to touch;

LeFichach hirba lahem – so he gave us many mitzvos, all in a row,

Torah u’mitzvos – so a life of living Torah we will all merit to know!