Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Weird Muslim Facebook ads…

islamicAre they trying to convert me???? 

islamic3Seriously, I’m wondering.  I have given facebook absolutely no hint that I might be open to Islamic propaganda, yet it has totally started pestering me with ads like thee every time I go on there.  These are just a few of the ads I’ve seen over the last few weeks. 

That’s all we need… Jews for Allah, out to win our souls for the prophet (pbuh).  Sad thing is, I bet a lot of Jews would go for it.

UPDATE!  (two days later… three more!)

image image image

What the heck is going on here???

islamic2Has anybody else observed this, or is it just something I’ve clicked on that’s triggered the “Muslim-curious” facebook setting?

Monday, April 29, 2013

Really, Microsoft Word –???

Really, you don’t recognize the word Jewishness?  But would rather I typed “Jewfishes” or “Jadishness” instead???


(perhaps it would rather I used the noun “Yiddishkeit” instead?)

Well, I for one am proud of my Jewishness… to heck with all the Jadishness!

(this isn’t my writing, by the way; I’m just editing for somebody…)

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Pirkei Avos (Avot) Perek (Chapter) 4 Activity Pack


If you’ve always wanted to study Pirkei Avos with your kids but never knew where to start, I’ve put together a collection of activities for a range of ages, along with a general introduction to teaching Pirkei Avos, which may or may not be helpful (can you tell I’m feeling both humble and overwhelmed these days?). 

This only covers 3 mishnayos (short excerpts) from Perek 4 (Chapter 4), so it’s not at ALL comprehensive, and it isn’t meant to be. 

This is really just a sample to give folks an idea of the sorts of things you can do to engage your kids in both the text and the ideas behind Pirkei Avos.  I incorporated a few ideas from chinuch.org along with some thoughts of my own.  I was asked to put this together for a binder of “lesson plans” being assembled for the upcoming Torah Home Education Conference, about which I am feeling somewhat bittersweet, since it’s my last time attending.  I really hope that the rest of the lesson plans they are more, well, plannish, and less of a free-for-all.

In any event, download instructions are below.  Feel free to use all of these activities, or none of them!  Here are a few more sample images:

 image image image


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

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Practice what…???

Small note I found in the hallway:


Honestly, I have no idea what they’re planning this time…

Monday, April 22, 2013

Belly up? (or, what are you reading???)

Print media is dying quickly, or so it seems from my comfy couch, where two print publications I’ve worked for this year have gone belly up in the last month (Homeschool Horizons and The Canadian Jewish News)… and it’s all my fault.

I don’t buy magazines; never have.  When I can get them from the library, I do, and if I can’t, I try to find them online, and if I can’t, then I just don’t read them.

Homeschool Horizons was the exception, actually; when it started a couple of years ago, a local, family-based homeschooling publication, I decided to subscribe.  Another homeschooling magazine I’d subscribed to had recently switched to “an exciting all-digital format” (the genteel modern way of saying “went belly-up”), so I was sort of in the market and thought it was worth supporting.


And again, it’s all my fault.  Because not only do I not buy periodicals, I don’t buy books.  Almost never.  The books I do buy, over the last few years, have overwhelmingly been ebooks, first for my Kobo and now for my Playbook (which I adore, by the way, thanks for asking!).  Even our libraries have been heading digital-ward, which is actually fantastic for me in terms of being able to access English-language reading materials even after we make aliyah.

Six days a week, the bulk of my reading is now digital and so, yes, I’m to blame for the “revolution” that is sinking print books and periodicals.  Yet, as a Jew, I am naturally hoping that books and magazines will continue to be available so I can have a couple around for Shabbos… I have a recurring nightmare that in 20 years, all we’ll have to read over Shabbos and yom tov will be the Mishpacha ladies’ section and The Jewish Press.

Yet, as a person who is a) chronically disorganized, b) overwhelmed by the amount of paper in our lives and c) poor (a and b are probably quite closely related), digital publications have given me a bit of an edge.  As long as I know where my device is, I can find my book – can find any book I want, actually, since they’re all neatly tucked away in there.  As for c), libraries are free, and there is also, to a certain extent, a freedom about the Internet which I cannot necessarily condone but of which I sometimes have been known to partake.  Except for certain obscure Jewish publications I may want to read, is usually easier and cheaper, these days, to find an ebook than a hard copy (with less waiting).

Beyond books, while digital media may clutter my hard drive, they don’t clutter my home, and for that, I’m exceedingly grateful.  Every time someone says, “I have the DVD somewhere; I can lend it to you,” I blanch, picturing this precious shiny fragile scratchable object being lost in our car or sofa or any one of a number of media-eating zones in our messy lives.

I wouldn’t say I’m an early adopter, but I am definitely a fan of digital media, to which I like to think I’ve taken like a fish to water. (Though my teenagers would probably beg to differ.  And by “beg,” I mean, of course, “laugh in my face.”)  So this post is my mea culpa and my apology to anyone caught up in the maelstrom that is traditional print media these days.  It was me; I did it.  It’s entirely my fault.

So what are YOU reading these days???

As plain as the…

Guilt trip alert!  There I was was, feeling like a fabulous mama for taking Gavriel Zev, Kid #4, out alone today.  We get to the subway and I announce that the subway will arrive in 7 minutes.

“How do you know that?” GZ asks.  Cool!  A chance to show him something amazing!

“Look on that television over there,” I say.  “There, at the bottom, it tells how long until the next train.”

“What television?”

“Um, the big one, hanging from the ceiling???”  I point, and he wanders towards it.  “See the line at the bottom with the big letters?” 

We wander closer, and closer, until he is standing practically beneath it and then, all becomes clear.  “Yes, I see it!”

Um, that’s not good.

“What about that sign in the middle of the tracks?” I ask ever-so-casually.  It’s a danger / warning sign:  he adores those.  But nope, he cannot read it at all.  Doesn’t even guess.

“How about the sign beside it?”

He grins:  “The picture means no smoking.”

“Right, but what do the words underneath it say?”

“Don’t smoke?”  (nope, they say “By Law whatever blabbety-blab”)

Hmm… by this point, I’m worried that the people on the platform will think I’m just torturing my kid because he can’t read.  He’s still very little, and most people are shocked by the fact that he reads so eloquently. 

But I am also thinking, this makes a lot of sense.  He has never read street signs or posters or billboards in that obnoxious way kids do as we go past on our way to places.  And this is a kid who cannot stop reading.  Can’t get enough of words, period.

In fact, he has never shown much interest (at least, lately – how far back?  always?) in things that were very much farther away than his nostrils.  And he loses things easily at the drop-in gym, which is a huge place where toys can easily get lost if they’re on the other side of the room.  He never seems to know where his boots are when they are right in plain sight.  And now I think, how many things have I been blaming him for???

Part of this is nothing sinister:  he’s just a space cadet.  I know the odds suggest that if you put on your shirt randomly, at least some of the time it’s going to be the right way around, but nope – he goes whole weeks with his shirt both inside-out and backwards, and it’s not a problem of distance vision.  (Though the fact that he dismisses it by saying, “nobody will notice,” might actually be a problem of distance vision, given that he probably can’t see details of what other people are wearing once they’re across the room.)

Yes, this is the ultimate parenting guilt trip.

It doesn’t help that this is not the first time for me.  Twelve or so years ago, in a very similar story, I noticed a kid’s deteriorated vision while out on a walk, making him peer at street signs and raving about the brand-new glasses that are going to help him enjoy the world so much more.  I guess around the house, we don’t notice as much.  Then, too, our living room is only about ten feet across.  He can probably see everything just fine, at home.

But out in the big wide world, there’s a whole big wide world… which is big and wide and full of words, which this boy in particular loves more than anything else.  So I do feel guilty, but I’m mostly happy that, now that it’s caught, this is such an easy fix.

I am mad at Ted, though.  Ted says he “suspected something a while ago.”  Um, what??!?  How can you “suspect” that your kid can’t see and not act on it that minute?  Within half an hour of getting home, I had an optometrist researched (7 happy-face reviews on http://www.ratemds.com/! though the site also said she was an ophthalmologist… grr… ) and an appointment booked.

Another grr – we just went for a checkup and shots two months ago.  No eye test?!?  Argh.  Bad mama, yes, but bad doctor, too.

Still, there is one small victory in all this:

Glasses people rule!  With four out of six of our family in corrective lenses, we’ll have a majority at last…

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Online Art Class with Mark Kistler (for free?!?)

Regular readers may have begun to suspect that we haven’t “done” art recently.  By “done” in quotes, I mean, the kids are kids and continue to draw… but we haven’t done anything formal in quite a while. 

Which is why I was super-happy to test-drive one of my latest free “purchases” through the Homeschool Buyers Co-op…  Mark Kistler’s Online Art Lessons.  This is a one-year subscription which gives us access to a huge library of short video art lessons. 

The lessons are mainly fun, but they also emphasize shading and technique, in a simple, accessible way.  I knew what I was getting into because you can see a few sample lessons at his site here before you buy.  imageSo today, I went on with the kids to give it a try. 

There are two levels of lessons:  younger kids (“mini-marshmallow”) and older kids (“online video art academy”).  Older-kid lessons incorporate more theoretical drawing principles along with the fun.  Little-kid lessons are just plain fun, with some theory thrown in.

We tried one of the “mini-marshmallow” lessons (free preview here).  We chose the Alien Blob first, because it sounded the least demanding, and I think it went very well!

Now, I’m thrilled to bits with any system that can make my drawings look halfway decent in front of my kids.  I get enough ribbing from them for my pictures that look like nothing-at-all most of the time.  Generally, I prefer step-by-step “how to draw” programs like the Draw Write Now series (see some of our experiences here).  I am well aware that nothing’s going to turn me into an artist, but the ability to draw something recognizable, even if it is totally formulaic, tickles me pink every time it “works.” 

And it doesn’t always work!  Just because something is a formulaic “how to draw” program doesn’t mean it will work for me.  Some of them skip too many steps, or include “basic” shapes that are way beyond me or assume some sense of perspective.  Luckily, Mark Kistler seems to be right on my level.  Yay!  Here are our alien blobs – mine, Naomi Rivka’s (age 8) and Gavriel Zev’s (age 5.5):

artclass (5)artclass (4)artclass (1)

Kistler places special emphasis on shading, and you can see that in all the pictures, to some extent.

The nice thing about drawing something basic like a blob is that with a little effort, it can turn out super-well – just about the best blob ever.  Working step by step with the video forced the kids to put more effort into their drawing than if I had just told them to draw a blob, or even if I had shown them.  As for me, well, there’s no way I could create a blob this detailed on my own.  :-o

imageThe next thing we tried was Koala the Kid, a cute little koala with a monkey on his head (you can’t see the monkey in the picture at the left).  This was a bit more of an ambitious project, but in all 3 cases, the koala turned out nicely recognizable, including Gavriel Zev’s.

In this drawing, Kistler emphasizes texture to an almost crazy extent, but the kids put up with it, and enjoyed adding the cute fuzzy texture to their koalas. 

Kistler doesn’t suggest colouring any of the drawings at all (indeed, none of the impressive samples of kids’ art at his site seem to be coloured in), but I think colour completes a picture, so I encouraged the kids to finish their work in their own unique way.  In my case (far right), I “finished” mine with a hairy monster, from the bigger kids’ section of the site.  I also generally suggest that they can give their picture a name.

artclassartclass (2)artclass (6)

For families with girls, you won’t find many fairies or princesses (or any) at Kistler’s site.  Look through the offerings carefully if you’re thinking of buying, because most are geared towards the “space-aliens, creepy-critters” end of the spectrum rather than the “daisies and butterflies” end (though there are a few flowers).  I believe there’s plenty here for kids of either gender, but some girls may be turned off by the drawings’ themes.

Click here to buy Mark Kistler’s Online Art Lessons online through Homeschool Buyers Co-op (pretty please).

Now – for something different.  I want to talk about links – like the many found throughout this post. 

Occasionally, on this blog, I include links for things I like, and sometimes, I get credit for them.  I think that’s okay, and here’s why:

If you click through my Amazon links, for instance, then every couple of months, Amazon sends me a few bucks; it’s not much.  I’ll never get rich that way, but I have gotten a few free books.  Bought Ted a nice new watch.  It wasn’t that nice, in fact, but December 2012 was a particularly good month, and that’s what he needed at the time (actually, two or three months later).  Ditto with CurrClick (which pays me in PayPal cash), and with Homeschool Buyers Co-op (which pays in points). 

So there’s the full disclosure:  if you like what you see and click the links, I get a couple of pennies or a few referral points or whatever.  If I thought about how much it was in terms of how long it took me to write blog posts, I would give up in despair, but luckily that’s NOT why I write blog posts (and it’s not because I allow myself to eat chocolate while I write, either!).

You don’t have to click the links, and I will still love you either way.

Now, this Mark Kistler art class deal wasn’t cheap – in cash or in referrals.  It costs $40, down from $100 full price.  You’d have to refer about 40 people to HSBC to get the subscription for free.  But over the last few years, those numbers have added up more quickly than you might think, and you get more points if someone you referred buys something.  There are other ways to earn points as well. 

Indeed, I was actually able to rack up enough referral points (they call them SmartPoints) to earn another subscription this week as well (I bought the Mark Kistler one a couple of months ago).  That one was for The Happy Scientist, a website of science videos that I like because they go beyond the cartoony quality of most kids’ science videos, without losing their accessibility and friendliness, thanks to the enthusiasm of the scientist in question, Robert Krampf. 

I actually think that one is pretty affordable, at just under $10 (half price) for a year, but then, I will be honest and say once again that I didn’t pay for it, last year or this year.  I believe this would be an even better value if you were either more into science than I am or had bigger kids who could watch the videos on their own.

In case you were wondering, by the way, my kids never know which homeschool programs or products I have paid for and which were free.  I try not to let the amount of money I’ve sunk into something bias which ones I encourage (read: push) them to do. 

I have paid good money for homeschool things (particularly online) that they’ve hated, and not forced the issue; we just dropped them.  On the other hand, some of the freebies have been among their favourites, and I don’t force that issue either, just (mainly) let them do the things they like best.

Still, to some extent I feel bad about shilling for these companies.

On the other hand, we are a homeschooling family of six just barely getting by on one income.  I do believe that whatever products or subscriptions I link to are reasonably good.  And in the case of HSBC, I really appreciate the way that it helps me supplement my kids’ homeschool experience with “premium” resources for free.  I also like the fact that in none of these cases do I know who is clicking on the links.  It might be you!  Or maybe not.

A final word of caution:  as with anything else online, your mileage may vary.  Try online products as much as possible with your kids before you buy.  But if you click my links, I will love you forever. 

Well, actually, either way:  if you read my blog, I’ll love you forever.

This is a troll


In case anybody was wondering:  cute, plastic, indeterminate race.

Not so cute when you meet them online, though.  There, they’re a niggling annoyance that get in the way of all the fun and happy stuff the Internet is supposed to be for.

I won’t go into specifics here, but hugs and happy thoughts would be nice.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Why don’t Jews here homeschool?

Last week at our regular Thursday homeschool drop-in, somebody mentioned that their first couple of weeks there, they saw me and my friends Rachel and Shira and our kids and we must have seemed like such a unified, cohesive bloc that they were actually afraid they were going to be in the minority because they weren’t Jewish!

Halevai.  (if only)

As it is, I usually feel like we’re the only ones in the world. 

Finding Jewish homeschoolers around here is a crazy enough challenge, even with no stipulations about observance, Jewish knowledge, Jewish studies curriculum or any other criteria – just folks who identify as Jewish along with their kids, and who are homeschooling.

I have put out feelers every single year, and have never figured out why there are so few of us.  It’s lonely, and I wish there were more.  There seem to be enough Jews in Toronto’s religious community that there would be more than a few families homeschooling at any given time… and yet, there aren’t.

  • Is it because we love our Jewish day schools so much?  (It’s weirdly NOT because we love bargains, even though homeschooling is waaaay cheaper than even the cheapest day school.)
  • Is it because, as the People of the Book, we feel unqualified to teach our own kids?
  • Is it because we believe so strongly in the authority of teachers and experts (the flipside of the above)?
  • Is it because we desperately need our kids to attain traditional measures of academic success? (clearly not in the frum world)
  • Is it because of the pressure in the frum community to be “normal” and not rock the boat?

The latter is, sadly, my suspicion.  When almost any deviation from “normal” is rumoured to potentially affect shidduchim (marriage prospects) of any child in the family, there is a strong motivation to not make any sudden movements or unexpected twists in your kids’ chinuch (schooling).

Yet even if that IS the case, it doesn’t explain where the other Jews are – the ones who might send their kids to the Reform or Conservative or unaffiliated day schools.  Being “liberal” in religion apparently doesn’t translate to being “liberal” in your views on education (see “academic success” above)?  I dunno.

No good answers here, but this loneliness is one of the big reasons why I am going to the Torah Home Education Conference in Baltimore one last time this year, even though this homeschool thing is probably running aground for us in just a couple of months. 

I don’t want to think about it, lest I weep.

But – oh, what a nice feeling.  To be normal for one day.  To surround myself with people who have put THIS MUCH thought into their kids’ education, as much or more so than me… even if their conclusions are slightly different from mine.  Or maybe because they allow themselves the freedom to think differently from me and to disagree with me or anyone else.  Maybe that’s why hanging out there the last two years felt like coming home.

Are there homeschooling Jews where you are?  If not, why not???

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

I <3 my shoes! (and feet)

IMG_00001040Look!  It’s my authentic Feiyue running shoes from China!  Not only are they tremendously geeky-looking, but also they offer a) absolutely no support of any kind, along with b) no premium features whatsoever. 

So why are they my new favourite exercise shoe???

Apparently, studies into footwear and running found that the more support and features a pair of running shoes offered, the greater the likelihood that the runner would be seriously injured.  (I don’t have sources for this beyond the popular but controversial (yet well worth reading) book Born to Run.)

Yes, indeed, folks.  The more bells, whistles, shock absorption, doohickeys and sponges and padding and gels and whatnot you introduce, the worse your feet and legs will feel wearing them.  In general – your personal mileage may vary.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/7d/Huaraches,_on_ground.jpgThis was shocking news to me.  I have always loved the idea of big, boat-like, bouncy running shoes.  Doesn’t everybody?  Well, not a friend of mine who spent a summer two years ago trying to perfect the art of minimalist DIY huaracha sandals. Smart lady; I should have listened way back then (oh, wait – I had a broken ankle).

Last fall, still trying to bounce back from a broken ankle two summers ago, I realized I had kind of plateaued.  The balance and strength in my injured ankle wasn’t improving much at all.  Around the same time, I finally read Born to Run, which talks at length about barefoot running and minimalist shoes that, rather than encase and bind foot muscles, encourage them to do what they were, well, born to do.

So I started wearing my Tom’s Shoes around a lot and, though I didn’t want to go as far as buying a pair of Vibram Five Fingers shoes (cuz they look dorky, besides being waaaay overpriced for something that’s supposed to feel almost like wearing nothing on your feet, besides the fact that my teenage son has a pair), discovered that many of “barefoot” runners prefer these cheap Chinese martial arts (wushu) shoes, which achieve almost the same thing for under $20.  (Originally WAY under $20, but then they got trendy among the barefoot running crowd.)

I got my first pair of Feiyue shoes back in the fall, and the first week I had them, I ventured out wearing them to an aerobics class, remembering, fearfully, how, in the weeks after the cast came off, the only things I could wear without pain were the heavily-padded, heavily-supportive running shoes.  But I also suspected that in the year since then, my recovery had plateaued (there is no good way to write that word without spellcheck complaining, except maybe “platypus”) at a point where the broken ankle was still disappointingly far below 100%.

So I wore the Feiyues and did the class – the only person there in minimalist shoes, and it was NOT a low-impact class.  It was a bouncing-around bopping-to-the-music kind of class.  And I thought I was going to die.  My shins started screaming about halfway through and the next day, I thought I might not be able to stand up.

But in a way that’s hard to describe (so you’ll have to trust me), it felt like “good pain.” 

I hate stories of “conversion” to weird physical disciplines, but here’s where it gets weird, maybe.  The way my feet and legs felt in the week or two after that first class convinced me that those “helpful,” supportive running shoes had taken over the job my foot and leg muscles ought to have been doing all along.

I still have that pair – wore them this morning to a Zumba class, in fact.  Six months later, they’re still holding up surprisingly well, considering how cheap, and cheaply-made, they are, and considering I only have a few pairs of shoes to my name. 

I have worn them all kinds of places, in everything but wet or snowy weather (if it’s cold, I wear the Tom’s, because they’re wool and a bit warmer).  The pair pictured at the top of this post are a new pair I ordered for when the old ones fail.  They also come in black and if all goes well between China and here, two of those are on their way as well.

I have switched my fitness discipline from plain ol’ aerobics to Zumba, mainly because I like the dance-ness of it.  It’s more fun than aerobics, sometimes in a dippy way, but sometimes in a way that makes it feel less like a chore.  (Sometimes; not always.)  The music can be cheesy but I don’t mind not understanding the Spanish (probably I wouldn’t want to know anyway). 

I’ve also started noticing that some Zumba instructors wear less structured shoes, the way dancers do.  One time, an instructor forgot her shoes entirely – oops!  There was a little less bouncing in that class, but for the most part, the routines were unchanged.  I like that – it’s not low-impact in an artificial way; it’s just naturally gentler movement, and more based on what your feet and body can do within their own natural comfort zone.

So have I advanced beyond the plateau?  The happy answer is – yes!  My left ankle still hurts sometimes; probably always will.  I don’t know what does it – there are some positions on some days that are just not comfy. 

But in general, for balance and strength, I believe it’s the same or better than it was before the accident.  Because I have been working it so much (I stand on one leg whenever I can, somewhat compulsively, in fact), the left ankle is actually far more stable for balancing (which I never would have believed, after spending a summer hopping around on my right foot).

So that’s my story.  Not a conversion, as such, but an idea that perhaps the Received Wisdom and our love of the most gadgetty thing possible is not always the best or healthiest option.  My crunchier friends have known this all along, of course, but some ideas take a while to sink in.

I should add:  the controversy is ongoing… this newish article from The New York Times suggests that barefoot running can lead to other types of injuries, so there you go… your mileage may vary, consult your physician, etc.  In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m (still) not an exercise physiologist, kinesiologist, sports-medicine doctor, running-shoe corporate lawyer or rabbi.

And that’s the story of why I’m loving my shoes, and even my feet, these days.

What a fun guy I am: yeast (& bacteria) experiments!

In all the years I have been playing with yeast and homeschooling, I have never, ever thought to mix the two!  Luckily, Ms Frizzle did, and last month’s Magic School Bus science kit was all about bacteria and fungi.  Oooey gooey fun!

Anyway, you don’t need anything fancy to do this – it takes less than 5 minutes to set up, though you’ll need something to substitute for the test tube to fit the balloon onto.  Maybe a water bottle?

  • Step 1:  Mix WELL a small amount of yeast, small amount of sugar and warm water.
  • Step 2:  Fit a balloon over the opening of the test tube / water bottle / whatever:


  • Step 3:  Wait.  Take pictures at intervals as the balloon inflates to record your observations, just like real scientists.  Cool!

IMG_00001033  IMG_00001038 IMG_00001039

(Oooh, ahh… look at that inflation!)

If you want to make it an experiment, rather than an observation, you could do one of two things (or both at once, if you have four test tubes / water bottles / balloons – just label everything well):

  1. Easy experiment:  Create 2 of the same setup, but use yeast in one tube and not in the other (sugar in both).  Question for exploration:  will both balloons expand equally?  Expected result:  no, only the yeast balloon will expand because the other tube has no fungi “exhaling” carbon dioxide and filling the balloon).
  2. More advanced experiment:  Create 2 of the same setup, but use sugar in one tube and not in the other (yeast in both).  Question for exploration:  will both balloons expand equally?  Expected results (I’m guessing here):  the balloon without sugar will either expand more slowly or not as much since the yeast don’t have “food” to consume.

Keep in mind that I’m not a scientist.  REALLY not a scientist, as in most experiments around here fail.  Like this one, from the same kit, wherein we have successfully “proven” that clean hands carry more bacteria than dirty hands (upper petri dish):


(the lower dish demonstrates that toes are the dirtiest of four body tested parts, with arm skin being second-dirtiest.  Hair and tongue haven’t grown out anything yet)

These kits are a monthly subscription, purchased through Homeschool Buyers Co-op, that is a trifle cheesy but I figured it might give a bit more “teeth” to our science this year, experimentation-wise.  They deliver an envelope to your house every month featuring Ms Frizzle and the kids walking you through five or so “experiments,” many of which are NOT experiments at all.  So I call them “explorations,” like I do with all our other science activities, as I’ve explained before.


(I’m sure this material is heavily protected by copyright; reproduce on peril of severe punishment by The Friz)

For instance, the first “experiment” this month was making the agar and filling the petri dishes in which you are supposed to grow the bacteria.  Which is not an experiment!  Because we know how it works, there are no variables, no data, no nothing.  So they’re explorations.  If you think of it as paying a ton for two petri dishes, a test tube, some yeast and a balloon, it’s a massive rip-off, but if you think of it as “not having to hunt for a balloon and shop for two petri dishes and a tablespoon of agar” then it’s a lifesaver.  All depends where your priorities are, I suppose.

(Sadly, the Magic School Bus package isn’t available right now (linking ‘cuz it may well be available in future) but the company that makes it, Young Scientists Club, has another deal on there, if you’re interested.  I haven’t looked at the price.)

The Magic School Bus science club was a 12-month subscription deal, which I think runs out soon if it hasn’t already.  There’s a different topic each month:  magnets, dinosaurs & fossils, human body and more (full list of topics).  Most of the packages are still here unopened because we have only gone through a few of them, maybe about one every OTHER month?  But that’s fine, because most of them don’t contain anything time-sensitive, so we can go through them in whatever order we want, and take as long as we want to do it… well, given that we’re only here for a few more months.  (Eek.  Don’t want to think about it.)

These monthly mailings are different from the Magic School Bus Science Kits available at Amazon and elsewhere (Germs Kit seen at left).  There’s probably some overlap, but those kits seem to contain a lot more items and are probably less cheesy.  You can also buy just the topics you want there, though the cost is higher per kit.  However, check the reviews, because it’s my understanding that the quality can vary a lot between kits.

Would you ever resort to a kit to make sure science “gets done” around your homeschool??? 

Oh, yeah, and what do you do when experiments go awry?

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Yom HaShoah – Holocaust Remembrance Day facebook status

✡✡✡ As a Jewish homeschooler, I beg anyone who is studying the Holocaust today (Holocaust Remembrance Day) to not stop at the pictures and stories of horror, but also to talk about what Judaism is and continues to be. We mustn't forget the atrocities, but please emphasize that Jews lived and STILL live with an eternal Godly mission. Our covenant has never been broken or replaced. The Shoah is one of many terrible times in our very long history, but Am Yisrael Chai (the nation of Israel still lives). ✡✡✡

I don’t write much, here or anywhere else, about the Shoah (a term many Jews prefer for the Holocaust, in which more than 6000000 Jews and millions of others were killed by the Nazis).

I got a lot of it as a kid – too much, too young.  In order that we should never forget, we were shown movies, photos, newsreels that would horrify fully-grown adults – only we were 7 and 8 and 10 and 11 and indeed, I will never forget, but I never wanted to remember, either.

So I resolved not to deluge my kids with it but rather, to imbue their Jewish lives with meaning that might provide some context against which the senseless violence could be explored in their own time and in a more intelligent way.

That said, since there was a lot going on around facebook yesterday about Yom HaShoah, and I wanted to make sure that Jews are not just a nation to “remember” but a living, breathing, viable people-with-a-mission – yesterday, today and forever.

Am Yisrael Chai!

The weirdest way to learn Hebrew ever

Some of us come up with some pretty weird tricks to teach ourselves or our kids Hebrew, but this one beats everything I’ve seen…

imageJust came across this “mnemonic” vowel chart in a Christian book about the Jewish people.  NO, this is not something I am considering for my kids, but I do like to know what they’re up to – like what they’re learning and teaching about me and my ilk.

The idea here is that each vowel can be learned easily by associating it with its place on this “boy”’s face.

The only thing I think is useable here is the “freckles” for the segol vowel (like under here: ֶ).

For Gavriel Zev, I’ve found that the secret is to make them into people – indeed, the secret of most things with him is to turn whatever-it-is into a character he can identify with.

So the cholom (the “oh” in Shalom) has become “Uncle Joe” around here.  If it’s missing the vav underneath (cholom chaseir, as in “נֹעַר”) we call it “The Ghost of Uncle Joe.”

Oh, and the shuruk (שׁוּרוּק) is “Aunt Minnie Moo,” while a kubutz (קֻבּוּץ) is “Aunt Minnie Moo going down the slide.”

Hey, whatever works – um, except maybe a goofy picture of a boy eating a flute.

Meanwhile, the same book that includes this Hebrew Vowel Boy also presents the Bais HaMikdash as “A Shadow of Things to Come,” depicting its holy objects in the shape of a cross and explaining how each one symbolizes something special that would fully come to pass in Jesus.


Here’s what it looks like all filled in:


Stuff like this makes me want to scream, but I’ll save the rant for now, because I have real stuff to do.  Suffice to say that longtime readers already know I’m not happy when my deeply-held beliefs are appropriated solely as a way to make someone else’s religion seem ancient and cool and mystical.

Ahem.  So, to get back to the theme of home education:

What weird mnemonics have you come up with to teach yourself, your students or your kids Hebrew???