Wednesday, November 30, 2011

So now what? (tell me what to buy…!)

image Thanks to my diligent and/or shameless shilling of wares for, both here and on various online fora (the proper plural of forums), I have earned a teeny-weeny gift card.  Yay, me!

But when I went on the site and the shipping charges to Canada are RIDICULOUS!  I’m sure I’ve bought at least something there before and it wasn’t this ridiculous – like $8.99 shipping for a $5 paperback. My first thought was to find an MP3 instead, but I’m also not sure if they let me buy those here in Canada.

Argh!  I’m so frustrated… unlike B&N and every other eCommerce site, Amazon also has no way to show you a running total, including shipping, so you have to go back and forth,  pretending you’re about to order, before it will reveal the actual shipping amount.  Tres frustratundo.

So here’s where you come in.  Any ideas for how to spend this thing???  Any specific recommendations, or any workaround for the high shipping rates?  I think next time, I’ll opt for direct deposit… :-(

Raising my Jewish Children

imageGZ:  Spider’s having Christmas!  It’s Christmas morning…

Me:  So fun!  What do they do for that?

GZ:  His sister said she would get him his breakfast while he plays!

Okay, then!!!

Chanukah Lapbook Close-Up Pictures

Chanukah Lapbook Cover small  In case you’re curious about what’s inside, I finally got finished making a full mock-up of the lapbook.  There’s certainly lots going on in here.  Ignore my creepy plastic tablecloth, please.  :-)

This is just a suggested placement for the lapbook components.  Obviously, you could arrange them any way you like.  Also, they’re not decorated in any way – I would hope that when you’re working on this with your kids, you’ll personalize it as much as possible!

For more information about the Chanukah Lapbook, click here.  To buy it, click the “Buy Printables” button at the top of the page.  Or the words “Buy Printables” in the previous paragraph.

So here’s the lapbook…

Front cover – this is the cover image included in the lapbook PDF, printed on cardstock.  Feel free to substitute anything you want, especially if your child has created it!  You can also add any kind of illustration to the back cover, which I left bare on this mock-up.  Naomi Rivka loves decorating the outside of her lapbooks.


Lift the cover.  (I glue the cover over ONE of the flaps so it overhangs the other flap.  I think this looks nice and neat when it’s closed, but gives a little extra room on the right-hand flap when it’s opened up.  Because it’s printed right on cardstock, it adds durability; if I’m using Naomi’s artwork, I glue it onto cardstock so the cover isn’t all floppy. )


Left flap details:


Right flap (upper side) details:


Right flap (lower side) details:


Inner panel (upper side) – this panel is just a sheet of cardstock, creased well along one edge and glued into the lapbook.  This gives me the flexibility to add just a single page without making the lapbook too thick or complicated.


Upper panel (lower side):  (like my menorah?)


And finally… All the way inside:  (like my OTHER menorah?)

DSC01730 DSC01731 DSC01732    

As always, if you have any questions or get stuck assembling the lapbook, please just ask!

Meeting the Masters: Picasso(s) at work

To go along with our current artist, Pablo Picasso, I printed these two sheets from Making Art Fun:  “Self-Portrait 1907” and “Three Musicians.”  Naomi Rivka astutely noticed that this “Three Musicians” was not the same as the one we’ve been looking at, in the Meet the Masters presentation and in the Raboff Picasso book.

Here’s the one that we’ve been looking at:


And here’s the OTHER one I knew nothing about until I printed this PDF and Naomi told me it was different:


They’re both CALLED “Three Musicians”… weird.  We are all learning so much about art…

Naomi Rivka chose to do the Self-Portrait and so I did the Musicians.  It may LOOK like she just threw paint at hers randomly, but it took her a seriously long time, much of which was spent with her palette, perfecting the colours before she put them on the paper.  And the runny streaks of colour are deliberate – go figure.  Mine just turned out WEIRD.  It is very hard to capture all the nuances of brown, blue and black with just a glance (our neighbour was here using the computer so I couldn’t peek while I did it).  Just to be ornery, I coloured the clarinet purple.  As I’ve said before, I don’t want to be the kind of mama who hands art projects off to her kids without actually sitting down to try them myself. 

 DSC01712 DSC01711

imageThere IS an official “cubist art” project that comes with Meet the Masters.  It looks very easy, and I believe it involves oil pastels, which Naomi loves.  Basically, you colour in a picture of a guitar and rearrange the segments so it looks all “scrambled.”  I don’t know exactly how true this is to Picasso’s style. 

He didn’t scramble the pictures randomly; he deliberately and painstakingly juxtaposed several views of an object to create a cubist perspective.  This project doesn’t reveal more of the guitar by scrambling the segments, so the logician in me is howling with the inconsistency of it.  However, as in the Musicians picture above, it is certainly true that the final artwork often ENDS UP looking scrambled.  And I’m sure both kids will enjoy colouring the picture, then chopping it up.  Or chopping it up, then colouring it, as this homeschool family did.


This one isn’t Picasso-based:  I played around with creating the “Chagall-style” stained-glass windows project I discovered the other night.  The original example calls for a great big laminating pouch, but those things are something like $15 for 5… so I’m trying it with clear contact paper to see what happens.  However, I suspect the ironing step is important, both in creating the seal and in getting the coloured tissue paper to lie nice and flat.  We will see how it turns out.  (not too promising so far, but maybe it will look stunning with the light coming through it!)


Finally, after she was finished her Picasso painting, Naomi Rivka started work on a “painting-sketch” of Elisheva.  I think we were both astonished with how well this turned out.  She started colouring the background with paint and then announced, “this would be perfect for oil pastels!”  And it was.


I’m just impressed that she coloured in the entire paper.  To me, that is still the mark of a true artist – no white stuff around the edges of the art.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Cuisenaire Rods & Homeschool Fun for the Younger Set

image While Naomi Rivka was out at ballet class yesterday, Gavriel Zev enjoyed some happy one-on-one time with mama.  He’s been working well in his phonics book, Get Ready for the Code, lately, but yesterday I decided to skip it so we could work in our Math Rods ABC Book, the Cuisenaire Rods Alphabet Bookimage

The book hasn’t been as wonderful as I’d hoped; really, you could create your own rod drawings for a kid to fill in pretty easily.  But he still enjoys using it from time to time, and it has some basic instruction-following steps for filling in the letters (“now fill in the letter with only RED rods; count how many you used”) that he’ll do if I push him gently into it.

I made a crocodile for him, while he worked on the one in the book:

DSC01673 DSC01674

Honestly, he really doesn’t like most of the pictures in the book.  But the alligator captures his imagination every time.  I think we’ve done the A page more times than any of the others put together.  He also did the airplane.

 DSC01675 DSC01678

You can just see in the picture here – before we started, just as I always did with Naomi Rivka, I had him build the “rod staircase,” a pyramid shape of rods in ascending, then descending order.  He built it amazingly quickly and seems to be developing an amazing intuition for which rods will fit where.  But he had little patience for even gentle “testing” - “show me a rod bigger than yellow and smaller than brown” and started showing me rods at random just so he could go back to what he was doing.  When I pushed him a little, though, he did show me the proper rod both times.  I didn’t go any further – really, we were just doing it for fun.

imageAfterwards, we read a couple of stories, and then I let him play with Reading Eggs – which was a mistake because it’s an expensive site and our free trial runs out this week.  I joined a while back, but didn’t get around to letting the kids use it.  He loved it, though, and for the first time, I let him use the mouse on his own.  He was unsure at first, but picked it up REALLY quickly.

He was raving about the singing, muffin-eating ant, so naturally, Naomi Rivka had to try it.  We let her do it for a while tonight and she loved it as well.  At least her free trial still has another 5 weeks, because I had a fresh coupon code.

HomeschoolBuyersCo-op has this on for 25% off right now, bringing it “down” to $56 per kid per year.  Blah.  A couple of months ago, they had a deal where you could buy it with SmartPoints (referral points, of which I have over 3000 sitting doing nothing).  I was going back and forth and eventually went to bed, thinking I could sign up in the morning.  When I went to sign up, the deal was GONE!  So now, instead of nothing, it’s more than $100 if I want it for both kids… :-(

Hmm:  I could probably just get one membership for Naomi Rivka and let Gavriel Zev do the lower levels whenever he felt like it… well, that’s probably not allowed, so let’s just pretend I didn’t say anything.  :-)

Spelling Lessons with Explode the Code

DSC01684A couple of people have been asking on the boards, as I was at this time last year, how to transition from phonics to spelling. 
The assumption out there in education-land seems to be that phonics is baby stuff and spelling is how big kids learn.  Maybe they’re thinking of BOB Books and their ilk.  Since our disappointing experience with Spelling Workout earlier this year, and our return to Explode the Code, I have realize that this popular perception is not necessarily the case.  Why would they make Explode the Code books all the way up to level 8 and beyond – at least to a Grade Four level – if phonics becomes irrelevant (or less important) the minute a child is reading somewhat successfully?
In fact, it’s only now that Naomi’s reading fairly well that the phonics rules are starting to make sense, and Explode the Code guides her gently through understanding and navigating the maze that is spelling in English.
The only thing I really liked about Spelling Workout was the idea of a spelling LIST, and spelling TESTS that would check to make sure that she was absorbing the material.  And then I realized, a couple of months ago, that there’s no reason I can’t use Explode the Code lesson words as a spelling list in just the same way.   So I’ve developed a technique that works extremely well for us, offering (kinda) rigourous spelling review along with a thorough, rules-based phonics curriculum.
Here’s what I do:
  • Before we start phonics, I give her a sheet of paper to number 1-6 in the margin.  NOTE:  I only do this if her current work is a continuation of a previous day's activity.  I would never "cold-test" a child with words she hadn't worked with before!!!
  • I remind her of the “lesson rule.”  Today’s rule was that the “oh” sound is more often seen as “oa” INSIDE a word and “ow” at the END of a word.
  • Then, I hold the phonics lesson pages and choose 6 words from the current lesson to dictate.  I number them so I don’t forget which words I picked.  Today, she asked me to quiz her on “February” as well, because we did this in First Language Lessons last time, so I added it in as #2.  Why 6 words?  I felt like 8 was too many; 6 gives me some idea of whether she’s mastered the current rule and the “lesson words.”
  • Then, I mark her spelling test.  She loves seeing her mark, no matter what it is!  Today, she drew in the fraction, leaving the numerator blank so I could fill in her mark out of 7 (which was 7).
  • If she’s gotten a word wrong (100% is rare, because her spelling is still kind of random!), I give her the phonics pages and have her correct it right away based on the correct spelling.
  • THEN, if the current lesson doesn’t contain a “test” – the wrap-up page at the end of a lesson – I do another test at the end of our phonics time.  She usually manages to get 100% the second time around.  Today, I didn’t make her do it a second time because she got 100% the first time.  I don’t see any point, never have, in testing kids on words they know well already.
(In today’s lesson, she decided the “toad” looked too much like a frog – so she’s written in her own choice at the top of the page, then circled it and written it neatly on the line below.  Hurrah for independent thinkers!)
As with everything else, this is what works for us… I’d love to hear what you’re doing to adapt the programs you love as your kids get older and more capable!

(Ancient) Egyptian Feast!

DSC01697DSC01693Well, maybe not ANCIENT, exactly, but I decided to make an Egyptian-style meal to tie in with all the time we’ve spent on Egypt this year with our Story of the World history.  Just don’t make me do it when we get to Ancient Rome… the thought of all those rotten fish sauces is somewhat icky.

I kept the menu simple:DSC01695

  • Homemade pita, 50% spelt for greater “ancient” authenticity (more about the pita here)
  • Falafel balls made from a mix :-)
  • Cucumbers, which originated (as far as I know) in the ancient middle east (the tomatoes were a mistake, not just because of the anachronism, but because they were REALLY “off” tasting and I couldn’t eat the cucumber as a result... though I threw pickles into mine to compensate.
  • DSC01699Aish al Saraya (Palace Bread), created from a composite of recipes online.  We melted 1.5 sticks of butter with 1 cup of honey and 1/2 a cup of sugar and stirred in 300g of challah crumbs.  While stirring those together (careful, it burns!), I made the “cream” to go on top:  4 cups of milk, 4 tbsp sugar, simmer, then add 5 tbsp corn starch dissolved in a bit of water.  Optionally, you can add rose water and/or orange-blossom water, but I didn’t have either of those things.  This is a basic not-very-sweet pudding, except it didn’t really thicken, just stayed gloppy on top of the dessert, which, after stirring for a while, we pressed into a square pan and refrigerated with the “pudding” on top.  Naomi preferred the taste when it was still warm, but didn’t complain too much about eating it cold.  :-)

To accompany the feast, I made this foldable paper sphynx.  I don’t think I did it quite right, but considering it started out looking like this:


And – given absolutely no instructions or guide of any kind - ended up looking like this:

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…I think I did a pretty decent job of it!  Here’s Gavriel Zev, fascinated, trying to snatch it away…


I wanted to make a “friendly” sphynx because while Naomi Rivka loves all things Ancient Egypt, she’s still a little creeped out by the Sphynx.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Give us this day our daily… blog (guest posts, anyone?)


I still LOVE bread and I still BAKE bread, but I haven’t been BLOGGING my bread as frequently as I should.  So I thought I’d open it up to anyone interested in guest-posting.

Your post should be about bread (or things that are like bread, like cake, or tempeh, or cookies…!), at least in some loose way, and if you’re writing about a specific recipe, it should be kosher.  Doesn’t have to be Jewish bread (like challah), but it can be.  Posts about baking with children, homeschooling and bread, etc., would absolutely tickle me pink.


Any ambitious bakers out there who’d like to step in with a post???

“Partway-through” Update: Limudei Kodesh Curriculum

One surreal thing about schooling all year is that there’s always this feeling that you’re “partway” through the year.  Nowhere near the beginning, but not approaching the end either.  I don’t mind it, we’re definitely not in the doldrums, but it makes it tough to figure out when to stop and evaluate what we’re doing and whether it’s working.

image Here’s what we’ve got going on for Limudei Kodesh (Jewish Studies) these days:

image Things I plan to start fairly soon:

  • Being better at davening!!!  We haven’t done it with any regularity since the summer.  Something about waking up too late in the mornings… :-(
  • Safa = Hebrew Language:
    • Shalom Ivrit Book 2.  I have the book already and it looks good.  Far more contemporary and the graphics are more normal-looking and less flashy.  It has less writing than Migdalor, but I think that’s okay, because we’ll be working on script handwriting in a different book.
  • Handwriting:
  • History:

Are you at the midpoint of your year yet?  When do you sit back and evaluate what you’ve got going on and whether or not it’s working for you???

How are we doing? Social Studies…

I took a look through Ontario’s Social Studies curriculum standards for Grade 1 and had a good chuckle.  

Starting with the term “Social Studies” itself, a phrase which has – over my lifetime – replaced the more useful and specific subjects, “History” and “Geography.”  As Rob & Cyndy Shearer put it in the introduction to their updated edition of Famous Men of Ancient Greece, “The most pressing bits of information conveyed in the majority of elementary social studies texts are, ‘You live in America,’ and ‘The fireman/policeman/doctor/librarian is your friend.’  These things, we believe, any non-comatose child knows long before kindergarten.”

If that’s the case, the Ontario curriculum truly excels in presenting Social Studies for the comatose child.  I know that, given general guidelines like these, some truly gifted teachers may soar to great heights, and some, maybe many students may blossom.  But I would absolutely LOVE to see all kids and teachers challenged with specific standards such as those proposed by the Core Knowledge Series (“what your… grader needs to know”), if only to establish – well, the title gives it away – a core knowledge of shared information which we can trust that every child has at least been exposed to.

I’ll be over here holding my breath.  And while I wait… here’s a sampling of what they learn in Social Studies, Grade One.  These are just a few highlights.  I’m not picking and choosing, either… it’s just all too trivial to leave everything in.

Overall Expectations

By the end of Grade 1, students will:
* identify people with whom they have significant relationships, and the rules and responsibilities associated with people, places, and events in their lives and communities;
* use a variety of resources and tools to gather, process, and communicate information about the rules people follow in daily life and the responsibilities of family members and other people in their school and community;
* explain how and why relationships, rules, and responsibilities may change over time, and in different places.

Specific Expectations

Knowledge and Understanding

By the end of Grade 1, students will:
* describe significant people and places in their lives (e.g., parents, sports figures; bedroom, park, playground, community centre) and the rules associated with them;
* identify significant events in their lives (e.g., their first day of school, a trip) and the rules associated with them;
* describe how they follow the rules about respecting the rights and property of other people and about using the shared environment responsibly (e.g., by sharing, being courteous, cooperating, not littering).

NOT LITTERING???  Yup, that sure takes precedence over learning about rulers of Ancient Egypt and the idea that every civilization throughout history has shared the same basic needs:  food, clothing and shelter.  Cuz that’s what we’ve been learning about this year…

Inquiry/Research and Communication Skills

By the end of Grade 1, students will:
* use illustrations, key words, and simple sentences (e.g., chart, picture book, cartoon) to sort, classify, and record information about relationships, rules, and responsibilities;
* construct and read concrete, pictorial, and simple maps, graphs, charts, diagrams, and timelines to clarify and present information about relationships, rules, and responsibilities in their daily lives (e.g., timeline of a school day, class graph of students' responsibilities at home);


By the end of Grade 1, students will:
* explain how events and actions (e.g., a ban on popular toys at school, birth of a sibling) can cause rules and responsibilities to change, and describe what some new rules and responsibilities might be;
* identify an area of concern (e.g., littering, sharing, conflicts), and suggest changes in rules or responsibilities to provide possible solutions;

Really, it’s just too easy to laugh at this stuff.  Until you realize that schools are proud and kids are proud and teachers are proud and if they get it all done, they all come home at the end of the year feeling like they have done their very, very best.

To me, it’s simply reassuring… just so everybody knows, I think we’re doing okay.  We’re not missing much.  I think we’d be doing okay as long as I took my child outside to see stop lights and police officers from time to time. 

Read the whole curriculum here… if you have time and patience for this sort of twaddle.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

What do these men have in common?

image image

(Apart from their bewitchingly jaunty hairstyles, that is… :-) )

imageMarc Chagall and Felix Mendelssohn – ambivalent and/or hostile and/or self-hating and/or uncaring Jews who used Christian motifs to blend in with contemporary society and pave their way to popular recognition.

How do I teach my Jewish children about these men and their contribution to Western culture, while at the same time conveying the message that we can live the wonderful lives Hashem intends for us without compromising our spiritual values in the least?

With Mendelssohn, we have already begun.  The explanation Naomi Lewin gives in her Classics for Kids show about Mendelssohn (mp3 podcast here) is that his father converted the family to get ahead in business and get away from the prevailing antisemitic sentiment in Europe.  Fair enough.  She also mentions that his grandfather was the prominent Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn, which is very helpful.

image I do think it’s important for the kids to know that it hasn’t always been as easy to be Jewish as it is today, and that we can’t necessarily condemn people of other generations for not being able to make the choices that we make for our own lives.  But I’d like to go further… just not sure how. 

Would it be easier if there were actual frum role models in the arts, sciences or music?  Actual, recognizable names of Jews who held fast to their convictions and contributed great things to society?  With all these Nobel winners, painters and composers, you’d think there’d be a few.

Any thoughts?