Monday, January 28, 2013

New Older-Kid Parsha Workbooks: Yisro & Mishpatim

For more information about these, please click here.

Meanwhile, I have uploaded the new workbook for Yisro and will do the same for Mishpatim later on today (done!).

Here are samples from Yisro:

image image

And from Mishpatim:

image image

As before, this is a work in progress at a busy time.  That means I’m very distracted and I want to know if I’ve made mistakes.  I’d even love just a quick note to let me know how old your child(ren) is/are and which bits are most helpful.

  • To download these and hundreds of other Limudei Kodesh (Jewish) printables – including weekly parsha copywork and holiday resources, click here.  (search for “workbooks”)
  • For General Studies printables, including science, art and music resources in Hebrew and English, Ambleside, composer and artist resources, click here.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Narrations That Blew Me Away: Beshalach

First Gavriel Zev’s.  We seem to have arrived at a happy place where he will dictate while I type.  At the end, I made a game of it, so when he said “Now, print it out,” I typed “Now, print it out.”  And then, when he said, “Erase that,” I typed, “Erase that.”  After much giggling and fooling around and erasing, I printed it out.  He cut it, pasted it onto the blank page, then did the rest by hand.

What blew me away is the fact that it wasn’t crumpled.  When he undertakes an art or craft project, there’s about a 75% chance that it will not meet his bizarrely high standards (apparently, nobody has told this kid he’s only 5!) and he gets frustrated and rips and/or crumples it.  I have begun a campaign to encourage him to a) work in pencil, b) cross things out if they come out wrong, and c) live with mistakes, because we all make them.  All with mixed results so far – perhaps the crumpling ratio is down to around 60%?

Anyway, he was pleased enough with this one that he let it stand.  So I was impressed.  Hurrah!


Naomi Rivka’s, however, blew me away for another reason.  Sick of watching me handwrite her narrations, she said, “just give me the paper – I want to do it in your bedroom.”  So I handed over the paper and clipboard and my pen (a special treat for parsha pictures; normally she does everything in pencil) and off she went.  By the time she came back, it was nearly Shabbos, I was busy with other things, and didn’t have a chance to look.

So I really was genuinely blown away at the Shabbos table to pick up THIS:


“In this week’s parsha, we learn about the splitting of the sea.  Moshe held out his hands over the sea.  When the Mitzriyim came, Moshe held out his hands.  Moshe is not a magician?  The thing is, most of the work was Hashem’s doing.  Things Hashem does, we sometimes don’t understand.”


Later, she got silly and pointed out the lady dancing with her baby.  She said, “some of the ladies brought their babies,” the exact same way I’d told her that some of the ladies brought their tambourines.  I said I thought none of the ladies would leave their babies behind, and she looked at me slyly, so I’d know it was a joke.

It was a nice Shabbos.  With both big kids up in Thornhill (different places), my mother called to say she “might not” come for dinner because she wasn’t feeling well.  Now, when that happens, it almost always means she won’t come… so there I was, facing the prospect of being home alone for Shabbos dinner with my husband and only 2 of our children.  Almost unprecedented – I think we’ve had ONE Shabbos meal alone with the littles, maybe?

Anyway, my mother rallied and did come for supper… but then we were alone for lunch.  It was a quiet meal because I’d forgotten where I put the printout of Tu b’Shvat songs.  Doh!

Oh…. just realized.  I wonder if the happy-face tree in the centre of Naomi Rivka’s picture is some sort of nod to Tu b’Shvat???

Definitely wishing I was in Israel for it, but we got to enjoy my mother’s reminiscences and the thought that next year, we will be…

Monday, January 14, 2013

Three Reasons People Think Homeschooled Kids are Geniuses

Someone asked me today if I thought being homeschooled helped my kids get ahead, ie move beyond grade level academically.  I said no, right away, and I think she was surprised at the bluntness of my answer.  But it’s true:  homeschooling won’t necessarily give your kids an edge.

Here are a few reasons why people think homeschooled kids are geniuses, and why it ain’t necessarily so (though homeschooling is great for other reasons!):

  • Homeschooled kids love to show off their knowledge:  Yes, indeed!  Most homeschooled kids I’ve met are not inhibited about doing what most adults would consider “showing off.”  They haven’t been discouraged by the experience of sitting in a classroom with their hand up waiting for their turn.  Even with multiple siblings, their turn is bound to come sooner than in a class of 30-plus.  Then, too, they’re around adults all day who care about their interests and listen patiently while they express themselves.  This freedom to say what they want can make the kids seem precocious, but I think it’s just the expectation that they will be treated, to some extent, as equals in conversation.
  • Homeschooled kids are allowed to specialize: Even the busiest, strictest homeschool schedule probably has more “airtime” built into it than a typical school schedule, and not all homeschoolers are busy or strict.  That means there is extra time built into the schedule for the child’s own pursuits.  And that’s without even taking into consideration parents who are flexible enough to drop everything for a unit study or a “block” of a week or even a month to stop and study a particular area – just because the kid wants to.  Now, I’m not one of those parents, but I think it makes a difference that Naomi Rivka has hours and hours each day to read and memorize trivia about the Titanic, or Helen Keller or Princess Di or some other great tragic figure or event.  I may not always enjoy the content of her specialization, but she’s got the time to do it, most days.
  • Homeschooled kids learn at the right level, regardless of grade: Yes, homeschooled kids can work ahead of grade level sometimes.  That doesn’t mean they’re geniuses; it just means you’re paying attention to them and their educational needs.  Remember that euphemism, when tech companies were laying off employees and instead of “downsizing” it was called “rightsizing”?  Well, in this case, the euphemism is true.  Homeschooling allows parents to “rightsize” their kid’s education.  In some subjects, that may mean bumping the child up to the next grade level.  In others, it may mean bumping the kid DOWN.  Susan Wise Bauer has a lot to say about that in a lecture I’ve been listening to a lot lately, Homeschooling the Real Child (yes, I paid for it; yes, it was worth it).
  • Homeschool “Success Stories” are self-selecting:  It’s true: studies have shown that homeschoolers do equally well or better, academically.  And it’s also true, I believe, that homeschoolers are accepted into universities at equal or better rates than kids who attend high school.  Therefore, homeschooled kids are geniuses, right?  Nope.  The problem with those results is that testing – and university application – is voluntary.  Parents who sign their kids up for testing are probably the ones who know their kids will do great.  And sure, the kids who aim for university usually get there.  But what those statistics don’t show are the homeschooled children who have succeeded in other ways – like the kids who find a meaningful trade and apprentice into it at 17 or 18 (are they – who may never be unemployed in their lives – counted in the statistics as “dropouts”?).  If your head is in the mindset of testing and university acceptance, you may lose sight of the goal of educating your particular, special, individual child according to his or her own particular, special, individual path.  It often surprises me how parents put in tons of work homeschooling their kids, only to “buy into” the system and start drooling over universities when they turn 17.

Here are my two little “geniuses”:

  • Naomi Rivka is working slightly above grade level in math, which I like.  But she’s not a super-genius – she’s just good at math and likes it enough to spend time on it.  Her Hebrew and Chumash are a bit below grade level (I mean for a North American day-school student in Grade 2).  Meanwhile, her reading, writing, spelling and vocabulary and a few other things seem bang-on for Grade Two.  Oh, and her current specialty – obsession, really – is Princess Diana.
  • Gavriel Zev is well below Senior Kindergarten (US K-level) in math.  Not behind enough to worry, but he can’t yet look at a group of objects and understand how many there are.  He can see a group of seven dots identical to one he just counted – and still have to count each one.  But he actually enjoys counting the dots, so we’re working through it and having fun, working on numbers and what they mean, and forgetting about operations for now; that will come later.  Which is okay, because in Hebrew, in reading, even in handwriting, he seems to be working at about a Grade One level.  He loves words, he loves stories and pictures.  When I give the kids the first few letters from a new vocabulary word, he’s usually the first to guess the word correctly (our last word was “perseverance”).  His current “specialty” is his lifelong obsession with concocting dramatic adventure stories for Frankie, Spot and his other stuffed critters, complete with dialogue and many literal “cliff-hangers.”  None of my other kids has had so many stuffed animals with names, and no other child has been as loyal to them for so long.

So that’s my kids, and me, loving the flexibility to know my children well.  I wonder what I’d do if these were two anonymous children in a classroom of 30… how would I ever figure out their needs, let alone start meeting them?

And looking back at the headline I chose when I started writing this post four hours ago, I’ve realized something amazing…

Homeschooled kids may not be geniuses… but homeschooling parents certainly are.  :-)

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Blog Spam – the Cream of the Crop

These days, for every blog post, I receive dozens of spam comments.  Some are an uninteresting blend of keywords – boh-ring!  But others attempt to disguise themselves as legitimate comments… indeed, more than legitimate, they mask themselves as the most suck-up kind of grovelling, flattering comments, at least until the end when they ALL wrap up by saying something to the effect of, “come visit my blog!” 

Can anyone explain these type of comments to me???

I understand about search engines and keywords and spam, but what doesn’t make sense is that some  of the URLs are totally nonsensical, so it’s difficult to imagine who is actually footing the bill for these spammers’ “services.”

Anyway… however the heck they work, I thought I’d share with you the “cream” of the crop, spam-wise.  Here are a few of my favourite comments currently awaiting moderation (links removed, of course!):

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See all the fun you’re missing by not having a blog of your own???

New Older-Kid Parsha Workbooks: Bo & Beshalach

I have been playing with ideas for a slightly more intensive variation on the parsha copywork we’ve been doing all along and come up with a 6-page booklet that I think might work well not only for us, but hopefully for others.  I will explain the ideas behind the different pages and you can decide if all or part of this would be useful to you.

The whole booklet is centred around an excerpt from the parsha.  It may or may not be an entire contiguous passuk – I’ve done two so far and one is, while the other isn’t.  One draws in bits and pieces from several pessukim to create a “complete” passage that is more concise than the original text.

The idea is to introduce spelling and vocabulary words through the context of the weekly parsha.  The English words are fairly easy, so this won’t make for very intensive spelling practice.  My thinking behind this is that my kid is feeling discouraged in Hebrew, so if throwing in a couple of easy English words will help boost her self-confidence, then so be it.  This booklet is NOT meant to be completed in a single day; one or two pages a day is enough, depending on your kid’s level.

Page 1 – Introduces “list words” and presents one or two grammatical points in English / Hebrew.


Page 2 – Alphabetize the list words, in Hebrew and English.  Use them in sentences (4 Hebrew, 4 English).


Page 3 – More activities with the list words.  In this case, it’s a rhyming exercise.  The other one I’ve done so far has a bingo activity.  There is also picture matching on this page with the Hebrew words only.


Page 4 – Now it’s time to read the actual “passuk” (which may or may not be an entire passuk from the parsha).  Translated in linear form, with easy English (translations are my own simplifications of Chabad’s weekly parsha text).  Having been introduced to eight of the words already, the child should be able to read this passuk without much difficulty.  I suggest reading it line by line first, Hebrew and English together.  Then, read just the Hebrew from top to bottom.


Page 5 – Copywork!  You didn’t think I’d leave out copywork, did you???  This is a shorter portion of the longer excerpt.  In English and Hebrew.


Page 6 – Self-test, and test.  First, a quick self-test to fill in missing letters from list words in Hebrew and English.  Then, the page is folded on the dashed line and the parent dictates six of the eight list words in Hebrew and English.  You’ll have to decide which words to leave out – either the hardest two, if they are far beyond your child’s ability, or the easiest two if you want to make the test a challenge.


So far, I have finished two booklets (for Bo and Beshalach, the next two parshiyos) and feedback would be most appreciated before I do any more!!!  If you do end up using all or part of these, I’d even love just a quick note to let me know how old your child(ren) is/are and which bits are most helpful.

  • To download this and hundreds of other Limudei Kodesh (Jewish) printables – including weekly parsha copywork and holiday resources, click here.  (search for “workbooks”)
  • For General Studies printables, including science, art and music resources in Hebrew and English, Ambleside, composer and artist resources, click here.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Presenting… the 2012 Blog Posts Word Cloud


So there you are.  In case you’re new here, that’s what this blog’s all about!  (courtesy of WorditOut)

Oooh – here’s the Wordle version, for comparison:


What are YOU all about these days???

Where have I been, you ask??? And what are we reading?

Well, not taking a holiday; that’s for sure!  We’ve been reading up a storm… here’s a selection of our current read-alouds…

We’re also slowly making our way through our “Winter Reading List,” based on the Second Five in a Row unit study curriculum.  You can get the printable wall chart for that reading list here.  As with the First FIAR reading list we did last year, some of the books are wonderful; others are just so-so.  Links to all the books we’re reading are over here in the Official MamaLand Amazon Homeschool Curriculum n’ More Store.



So here's the big fat excuse for why I haven't been posting: our stupid !#$^ computer has been failing for a while, and when that happens, I end up spending 95% of my “relaxing” computer time just trying to make the thing work.  Finally, 2 weeks ago, one of the hard drives quit entirely and I ordered a new computer – well, a $250 out-of-date refurbished computer that I could stick the working hard drive into.  Which seems to be turning out better than expected, except now that it’s up and running, every time I turn around, there’s  another program I rely on daily which needs to be “re”installed.  Argh.

… Anyway, I’m still here, I promise!

The last two weeks have actually been pretty productive in terms of getting schoolwork done, because the rest of the world is so quiet and peaceful and busy with all their holidays.  Though I suppose all of that will be ending pretty soon.

imageOne of the big drawbacks of starting the computer up from scratch is that I’ve lost access to all my old posts, which means that (for the time being, until I retrieve them, somehow) I can’t easily update things like my Printables pages.  I have them, but they’re trapped on a hard drive which, for whatever reason, is upside-down on the mantel at the moment.  So I can’t tell you that I added a new Thomas Tapper composer biography last night – this one for Johann Sebastian Bach.  You can download it from my Printables page here (though I had to update the page manually, cuz I have no good way to edit it). 

(I was inspired to do the Bach book by this site, which offers free SQUILT (Super Quiet Uninterrupted Listening Time) lesson plans for classical music)

And now – well, I’m tired.  But I felt bad for not keeping in touch, AND I wanted to test the blog posting software, so now I have killed two delicious birdies with one big ouchie stone.  Told you I was tired!

p.s. While the computer was down, I was at least been breathing easy knowing that all our family photos and chinuch (education)-related stuff was stored in a folder (called chinuch, of course!) online, thanks to Dropbox. I must say again (and I’m not paid to do so, though if you click on the link and like what you see, I do get a small bonus of extra space in which to store even MORE family photos!) that I have been using computers for a LONG time, and using Windows for a LONG time, and I have never pretty much never seen a program that does a job this complicated remain as stable for so long – across both Windows and Ubuntu platforms – as the little Dropbox client. Even on my overloaded old computer, it just sat there in the System Tray, chugging along. I uploaded about 60Gb of junk and it just sat there smiling like it was nothing. So if you want a quick free painless backup solution that doesn’t require any special hardware, do check out Dropbox.

(p.s. We call them “family” photos, but I’m sure half of them are of crocheted stuffed animals, or challah, and mushroom soup like tonight’s exquisite beef-broth-based delight)