Saturday, November 23, 2013

All's Well that Ends Well.

      A few months ago we decided to take the kids to the Children's Museum. I typically don't like to go to very many places on Sundays simply because the crowds make it difficult to keep track of our incredibly swift, moving targets.  During the week, things are usually pretty quiet, so I have an easier time keeping tabs on everyone (when the boys were younger I used to dress them all identically so in the event that one would wander off I could tell security that "he looks like this one"). So off we went, to the Children's Museum.

      When we got there the crowd was pleasantly thin. I breathed a sigh of relief, not because it was empty but because we had survived the transition of home to museum in one piece and we made it without too many melt downs, band-aides, bathroom trips, changes of clothes, last minute diaper changes, spills and G-d only knows what else.
                                               
      We are fortunate to have a beautiful Children's Museum relatively close by with lots of things for the kids to do. We walked in and hung up our coats. The children were so excited! Immediately the older children began to shepherd the younger ones to different parts of the museum and excitedly showed them all of  activities that they could do. It was really cute to see. Sruly had an absolute blast. He looked like any other typical child, completely enjoying himself running around, exploring and letting the other kids show him "the ropes" with a big smile on his face. He thoroughly enjoyed touching, feeling, running, jumping and simply being a part of it all.

      An hour later we found ourselves in the jumping room. This was a cavernous room with an equally large tunnel shaped moon bounce. The kids had a blast  (I'm not sure who had the biggest smile - the kids or me watching them)! This was probably Sruly's favorite activity. After about 20 min on the moon bounce, one of my boys, who is known to be a real tough guy, came limping over to me crying. Just for the record, this is a child who never ever cries unless something is very wrong. Judging from his reaction and the look on his face, I knew immediately that our next stop was most probably going to be what we are beginning to think of as our second home - the emergency department of Children's Hospital. It just so happened that as he was exiting the tunnel, his foot somehow managed to find and wedge itself in the only exposed space in the entire moonbounce, a gap five and a half inches wide between the main structure and the landing mat. As his body continued forward his leg stayed put and twisted. I found myself on the phone with my husband who was five exhibits over begging him to drop - I mean grab everything and high tail it to the moonbounce room. As my husband sat there examining my son's foot and making the determination that it would be a while until the two of them would see the cozy interior of home that evening, the staff of the museum came over with an incident report form for us to fill out and a wheel chair to bring our now immobile child to the van.

      Before leaving the lobby I made a quick head count to make sure we were all together.... Well to make a short story a bit shorter, I kept coming up with one child more then I thought we should have. This wasn't so bad, only that I honestly thought we had one child less then that in our family. When do I need to start worrying that I am loosing it? After counting the children for the fifth time I began to think, well, maybe I really do have that many kids! When did that happen?? ...But I could have sworn we had one less than I had counted.... So I counted again, and again I came up with one extra child! I was dumbfounded. How on earth?!?! Seriously, I could have sworn we were not up to that number just yet.

      While I was re-counting and trying to de-clultter my infamous mommy brain, my husband was talking with the nervous staff about what had happened. I counted one more time and my eyes landed on the sleeping child in the stroller who was covered with coats. I checked to make sure he or she was still breathing under the mountain of goose feathers and it was then that I discovered that it was nothing more than a pile of coats. At this point my patience were beginning to run thin. I had counted the children a dozen times by then and had asked them to put on their coats at least half of that, but the only thing that they seemed interested in was how fast the wheel chair could  take a corner without tipping and spilling its' occupant flat out on the floor.

      Miracle of miracles, we made it to the car without any additional tears (or broken bones for that matter). On the way home my husband called the ER to find out which attendings were on for that shift. (Not that it would make a difference either way, being that my husband pretty much knows ALL of them on a first name basis, thanks to our "ever so passively calm and quiet" dear children).

      After settling the rest of the family at home, my husband and our now immobile former Mexican jumping bean headed to what I am absolutely now convinced to be our home away from home - aka Children's Hospital.
 
      After the standard routine examinations and x-rays he was given the diagnosis (of which my husband had already bet our life savings on what it would be well before we had even left the museum) of a fractured tibia (thank G-d for little things), which would need to be set and casted. Under normal circumstances this would render him pretty much immobile for the next eight weeks. However, once he figured out that he could drop his wheel chair and crutches and still ride his scooter, skate board, bicycle and play hockey without too much pain, he considered himself a free man. Six weeks, three shredded casts and a rather relieved chief of orthopedic surgery later, he was given the "all clear" to resume his "normal" daily activities.

      "What??!" I said, when the two of them came home. "They sent you home without a rocker boot?? Do they know how active this child is???! He is going to break it again before tomorrow morning! He hasn't used those muscles in 8 weeks and they think that this is a typical child who will just ease those muscles back into use slowly and gently! Well they will be seeing him again!"

      Sure enough, 4 hours after my husband and son returned from the hospital, they were on their way back once again with a freshly re-injured leg. This time, however, they had the sense to send him home with a rocker boot. After another six weeks and a rocker boot that was shredded and worn down to the metal base plate we had a healed and happy young man who was ready to do it all over again....        

Before our son realized that he could get around just fine without his wheel chair and crutches.
- Matana


Monday, September 9, 2013

Small Miracles: A New Van

      When we upgraded from our typical seven seater mini van to our 8 seater Chevy Astro, I had to get acquainted with the slightly larger size before I felt comfortable driving it around town. So it is no wonder that I am waiting for a few lessons from my husband before I get behind the wheel of our new 12 seater van. The first time I got behind the wheel of our 8 seater, I was not accustomed to the slightly larger width of the van and hit the corner when I made a left turn. By the end of my first two week of driving I probably hit a few more corners and knocked in our side view mirror a few times, but needless to say I got the hang of the new inches and thank G-d enjoyed a few uneventful years of driving around with the kids to various outings.

      We know that with every new child comes new blessings. About a month and a half ago we decided it was time to upgrade to a 12 seater van, and what better time to do that then two days before our month long trip to Canada? Since our new van was not ready yet they gave us a courtesy van to use in the interim. When we returned and it was time for us to take possession of our new van, my husband went down to the dealership to finalize the last of the paper work. As he was sitting in the office talking with the owner, the owner mentioned to my husband how good our timing was to trade in our old van.

      "You see," he said. "A day and a half after you had given up possession of your Chevy Astro, I brought it around to park it at a lot across the street. I swung around to park, hit the brake to stop but the darn thing just kept on moving.... straight for the street. Thankfully I had enough room to veer off to the side without hitting anyone or anything. I have not been that shaken in a long time."

He looked at my husband in the eyes and said, "G-d is really looking out for you."

      Thank G-d we had an uneventful trip to and from Canada, and needless to say our old van is undergoing a full brake line rebuild... But I must say, it was G-d's timing, not ours. You see, had it not been for, please G-d a new little one, we would have no reason to trade in our van, and would still be driving the old one....





- Matana                                                                                                                  photos by Mendel


     

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Erev Shabbos: Keeping it Real.

(Cont. from previous article "Speed Dial Malfunction.")

Needless to say I did finally get through to Chani.

"So what are your plans for today," she asked. "Survival? Like every other day?"

"Um, no." I answered. "I am determined to get this house ready for Shabbos."

"Well, nothing stands in the way of determination."

"Oh, you want a bet, there are a bunch of them running around the house right now. Hang on a second... my four year old just marched into the kitchen announcing that she neeeeeds ice, went over to the freezer and helped herself. I had better save the freezer."

"You have an ice machine?"

"My G-d can you imagine an ice machine in this house? You would need boots and snow pants year round in here. We disconnected it really quickly when we moved in. Actually, when the boys were little, you used to slip and slide your way into the kitchen... and it wasn't always so graceful."

      We chatted for a bit more until a few adorable, yet loud alarm clocks or tornadoes (not sure what to call them...) came marching through the house. I did manage to get the house (ok, the downstairs and the bathrooms) looking beautiful and ready for Shabbos, all of three hours early!... So I am not exactly sure what or when this happened but before I knew it, it was 25 min before candle lighting, I had not showered yet, I still had to bathe the little ones, the house was an absolute tip with no evidence of it having once looked fit for royal guests, there was an accident in the bathroom, my toddler tripped over Samson's water bowl, so once again our kitchen became an indoor slip and slide, my boys decided that one shower wasn't enough and came running through the house dripping wet from apparently a really good water fight... I thought I heard the hose go on.... and yes, they were playing in the dirt, or shall we now call it mud? Oh well, so much for my Eishes Chayil blue-ribbon-the-house-is-sparkling-and-the-kids-are-glowing award.

                                                                         photo by Mendel
- Matana

Exploring Hashem's Creations through Botany.

      This year the kids and I decided to do a course on botany for our science curriculum. I spent a few months last year trying to find a science curriculum that would fit our needs and our style of learning. I was looking for a curriculum that complemented the Charlotte Mason approach to learning, one that was full of life and not dry, one that included many fun and interactive science experiments, one that I could use with a few different age groups so that we could all learn together, and finally, a curriculum that included Hashem (G-d) throughout. Surprisingly we found a science curriculum that fit the bill! I first went through the text book to do a bit of censoring, as there was some peripheral material that didn't align itself with our religious beliefs and convictions. Yet, the end result was a masterpiece which seamlessly melded Hashem's incredible creations with a scientific background to help us understand and appreciate its beauty and greatness. It's exciting and inspiring being able to learn many subjects together around our dining room table, while being constantly reminded of Hashem's infinite wisdom and vastness. 

      During the last few weeks we covered taxonomy, phyla, vascular and non vascular plants, moss, seed homes and angiosperms. In the pictures below we were learning about the midrib and it's role.      






                                                                             
                                                                   photo above by Mendel

Monday, September 2, 2013

Speed Dial Malfunction

      My fingers dialed her number. Typically I just tell my brain to dial Chani's number and my fingers do the rest. As I finished dialing I had a fleeting thought that maybe this time it wasn't the right number but I quickly shoved that thought aside. I definitely dialed the right number. It was naturally imprinted in my fingers. Somehow they knew just what to do.

"Hello?" The person answered.

"Hello?" I said, hoping whichever family member had picked up the phone would recognize my voice because I certainly did not recognize their voice.

      There was an awkward pause. Clearly they did not know who I was calling to talk to. "Umm, Ahh." (that was supposed to help them figure out my voice and then it would click, OH! You are calling for Chani! But that did not happen. I realized I needed to quickly ask for Chani because the person on the other line was probably as confused as I was, and perhaps getting a little bit annoyed.

"Is Chani there?" I asked. My mind racing as to who I could possibly be talking to. This didn't sound like any of her brothers, and this most certainly did not sound to me like her husband. I was stumped. I quickly introduced  myself because I know how annoying it is to receive a phone call from someone and the person does not introduce themselves, which I totally should have done.

"Now," I thought, "they will realize who I am."

I was waiting for "Chaaaaaaniiiiiii, phone for you!"

But alas, that did not happen.

In the microsecond that passed I was now even more confused then ever. Then I heard a voice on the other line respond.

"Um, honey, this is your dear husband."

And to that I will say L'chayim.
                                                                                                                                  photos by Mendel
- Matana





Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Erev Rosh Hashanah: On Gratitude.

      It's amazing how many times we second guess ourselves. How often we worry as parents. Are we doing the right thing for our children? Can I raise them to become loving, stable, self assured adults? Will they grow to embrace Torah, love G-d, hold a stable relationship full of warmth and kindness? Will they be able to understand and feel the depth and passion of not just their own emotions but of others as well, perhaps a significant other? Will they be able to embrace the trials and tribulations that life throws at them and become stronger from it? Or, heaven forbid, will they begin to feel it's easier to simply let go and search for what may seemingly look like an easier path, but it's one without growth, without a passion for life and Torah. 

      As we come closer the the new year, I am overwhelmed with all that I want to pray for. Instead I sit down and I thank G-d for all that we have. 

Thank you Hashem for giving me another day of life.
Thank you for blessing me with energy, to be able to think clearly, breath, see, and walk on my own. 
Thank you for my husband, my children and for giving me the gift of embracing life with them.
Thank you for your beautiful Torah and guiding our way of life.
Thank you for our home, food, clothing, running water, washing machine, dishwasher, vacuum and working appliances.
Thank you for helping me to slowly become more patient with my children.
Thank you for easy labor, delivery and recoveries.
Thank you for guiding us in raising our children.
Thank you for Shalom Bayis, health, simcha and laughter.
Thank you for wiping my tears and holding my hand through our challenging times.
Thank you for loving and supportive parents and grandparents, for my dear siblings, and knowing the gift of having a wonderful family. 
Thank you for all of the support you have given us for Sruly, for teachers who love him, for family who   adores him, for his growth and progress, but most of all for the gift of raising him with you.
Thank you for each and every one of our children, for the opportunity of raising them together with you and my husband. 
Thank you for all of the tests you have so carefully chosen and given us.

I hope and I pray that in this coming new year we are blessed to be given a year full of life, laughter, simcha, joy, health, strength and wisdom.

May we be inscribed in the book of life, and be able to dance with Moshiach speedily in our days. 

Amen and L'chayim!  










Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Homeschool Curriculum: Math & Reading

      Math & Reading

      There are many choices out there, but just for you to have something to compare with, look at and see if it may be the right style for you and your child, I will share with you what we have used and liked so far.

Math: 
I fell in love with Math-U-see as soon as I watched a few of their demos. It is a very visual and hands on approach, and in fact, has similarities to a montessori style of teaching math.  http://www.mathusee.com/ 

One of my little children needed a bit more extra help, so I purchased and downloaded worksheets from Touch Math. They are absolutely incredible but quite pricey so it's nice they have the option to purchase and download specific worksheets as needed to help target areas in which your child may need some extra help.  http://www.touchmath.com/

Other popular math programs are Teaching Textbooks and Singapore Math, but math-u-see was a better fit for our very hands on, kinesthetic, visual learners.
                                                                            Below: Doing math-u-see


Reading:

Now I'm Reading! by Nora Gaydos. 
My mother used these books for my siblings, and I used these books for each and every one of our children. I am not sure if they are slowly going out of print which would be so unfortunate, but I found that Barns and Nobles has some of them on their web site.  

There are 4 level plus an independent reading series. I would suggest to find what you can and if you like it purchase it.

As far as teaching the sounds that each letter makes to eventually build up to sounding out a word (or decoding), with the guidance and wisdom of a dear friend of mine I have fallen in love with the Montessori method of teaching. A popular and very effective teaching aid is their movable alphabet. Montessori also has a specific order as to which letter sounds to introduce first.

http://www.amazon.com/Montessori-Movable-Alphabet  - English Alphabet

http://www.jewishsoftware.com/products/Jewish_Montessori_Alef_Bet - Alef Bet

Learning to Write.

When the children are leaning to write and form their letters this has been my paper of choice. (In the early stages we gravitate to a Montessori approach for example writing in sand etc...)
http://www.amazon.com/Abilitations-Integrations-Hi-Write-Beginner-Paper

A fun book for the reluctant writer that was recommended to me by another homeschool mother is called Games For Writing by Peggy Kaye. http://www.amazon.com/Games-Writing-Playful-Child-Learn 

      After they have mastered reading it's all about encouraging a love for reading. In the back of our dining room we have a separate table full of beautiful books on display to encourage reading. In addition to searching for appropriate and stimulating books for them to read on their own, we have fallen into habit that I cherish. Reading at bed time. This often stretches out bedtime to about an hour just in reading. I wait for the children to snuggle up under their covers and then I typically choose a parsha (bible) story or any Chassidic or Yom Tov story that we may be up to during that time of year. I want them to associate Yiddishkyt with warmth and comfort, falling asleep to timeless, beautiful and meaningful stories and lessons from our past. I am not sure what the teenage years have in store for us, but I hope this will help set a beautiful foundation.

      A Word on Vocabulary
   
      I have learned from Charlotte Mason, that when we come across a vocabulary word, I don't stop to explain it unless the kids ask me, otherwise it is best to assume that they were able to figure it out based on the context of the sentence / story. So unbeknownst to the children, we are also building our vocabulary. There is a lot that that the Charlotte Mason method of has to offer and many families pick and choose which subjects to incorporate her methods of teaching, if not all. I have purchased CM DVD seminars and they have helped us a lot in our homeschooling journey. This is one of my favorite websites -   http://simplycharlottemason.com/

      If you are looking for a list of vocabulary words to slowly work on with the children, we enjoy Marie's Words - Visual Vocabulary for All Ages.  timberdoodle.com - Visual Vocabulary Lots of fun!

     Sequential Spelling

      The only structured curriculum that I have found for spelling that I truly love is Sequential Spelling. sequentialspelling.com The following is a short explanation from the company. "The student learns sets of words that share patterns of spelling rather than thematically related lists of words. Young writers often try to use the sounds in words to figure out their spellings; experienced writers often use this phonetic strategy first, and then try other approaches, including applying common spelling patterns. So it is definitely worthwhile to help children hear the sounds in words by developing phonemic awareness, and then exploring sound/symbol relationships and spelling patterns..."

      This DVD set has helped me find many wonderful ways to help make our homeschooling journey truly a beautiful way of life.   http://simplycharlottemason.com/store/all-day-charlotte-mason-seminar-on-dvd/   Again, this may not fit every family, I am simply sharing with you some of the things that have helped to shape our homeschool experience. Charlotte Mason, and the Montessori method of teaching have given life and excitement to our learning.

      Every day I am watching and learning as we grow as a family on this journey. It's a way of life I am happy we have found and cherish every moment of it. It fascinates me that the more time we spend together learning, reading, going on outings etc... the less space I feel I need from the children. Perhaps it's because we are spending more quality time together. Perhaps it's because we are learning more about each other as people. Our needs, our wants, our dislikes, our feelings, our struggles.... Whatever the reason may be I am honored to walk down this path, together with my husband and children. I thank from the bottom of my heart the more experienced homeschool mothers who have answered my many questions, helped us through our struggles and have simply been there in our time of need without being judgmental. It truly does take a village to raise a child. L'chayim!