Thursday, August 30, 2012

Parashat Ki Tetsei and bird nests

There are around 70 mitzvot in this week's parasha. We kept it pretty simple with just one mitzvah- shiluach haken-"when you chance upon a bird's nest...let the mother go and take only the young." Many say this is a commandment to teach compassion for the mother bird so she doesn't witness the taking of her eggs.

Here are some bird and nest activities we did:
Puffed wheat cereal mixed with melted chocolate and peanut butter. Put the mix into a muffin tin, indent center and freeze for an hour. The girls shooed away the mommy bird before eating the "eggs".
Got the idea from (great resource for Jewish crafts).

Then we made a paper plate nest with pom pom birds. Instructions Here

I plan on continuing more lessons on birds and nests with this and other books:
Enlarge Image
"In this retelling of an old English folktale featuring birds native to the U.S., Magpie patiently explains to the other birds how to build a nest. Some birds are impatient and fly off without listening to all the directions, however, and that is why, to this day, birds' nests come in all different shapes and sizes." 

Monday, August 27, 2012

Rosh Hashana T-shirt Decorating & More

Here are some easy t-shirt crafts:  

 Color on sandpaper with good quality crayons, turn over on shirt and iron. Voila!
Place shirt in dryer to help set the colors and wash separately the first time.

 Squeeze fabric paint all over shirt and fold in half

 We could not believe the cool pattern that appeared. Hearts, bird, hippos..oh my!

This is my 20 month old's creation. She was insistent on squeezing the paint bottle while it was pointed upwards, so she used a paintbrush instead. (Some of the neater patterning in the center is from my attempt to  show her how to squeeze downward).

In honor of Rosh Hashana, I cut out an apple and shofar from freezer paper (no substitute will do). Iron on the cut out with glossy side down. This will keep your stencil in place.

 Using sponge tip brushes and fabric paint, my 3 year old painted her shofar black with a layer of glitter paint and my 20 month old painted the red portion of the apple. I filled in her gaps and painted the green stem for her. 

 Not too shabby! 
Perfect PJ's for the late night Rosh Hashana Meal!

Giveaway Winner!

Drum roll please....
Our first giveaway winner is Gina !!!!

I will have your prize shipped out today!

Thank you to everyone who participated!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

When thinking about our summer, the good has so majorly outweighed the bad and the ugly, but I wanted to draw attention to some of my struggles over the last two months.

A number of people have told me that they couldn't stay home with their kids because they don't have the patience for it and they just cant imagine spending so many hours with their kids. So let me let you in on a little secret: I lose my patience too, I get frustrated, I get angry. I am not proud of it, but its true. All parents do. 
Photo Source
There were a few days where I was really bad and really ugly. When my three year old was yelling uncontrollably in the backseat of the car, I threatened to pull over the car and let her out. I saw the fear in her eyes and I cried. That was not okay. It is NOT okay. 

My children are normal children who see the world from only their point of view; they want, they need, they yell, they fight, they cry. That is not an excuse for me to snap at them. They are doing the best they can with their still undeveloped cognitive control centers. I am the adult. My brain is developed. I don't have an excuse.

So, with all that said I have taken theses really low points and turned them into teaching moments for myself and my girls. I talked to my kids about my reactions and to my 3 year old about how she feels when mommy doesn't stay calm.  I explain to her that we are allowed to feel angry, but we need to control our words and actions when we are angry.

So this past week, when my girls colored on our rug, spilled all the bath water onto the bathroom floor so that I almost slipped and cracked my head on the floor and the clincher when my 20 month old pulled off her diaper, pooped on the carpet and came running in to show me her creation in her hand!!!! I was able to take a deep breath, and ask my girls, "How do you think Mommy feels?" and respond with  "Yes, I do  feel REALLY angry, but I am not screaming or losing control. I "will keep calm and carry on". Of course we have consequences that match the 'crime' like having to clean up the mess (poop excluded) or not being allowed to play with crayons for the rest of the day.
 But these moments are priceless opportunities for me to model self control and being slow to anger. "He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city" (Proverbs 16:32). Imagine how much more peaceful our world be if children all over the world grew up in homes that were slow to anger and quick to forgive. 

 Every family finds a rhythm that works for them. 
Would love to hear about some things other families use to maintain a fun and healthy beat for their families. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Parshat Shofetim, Justice, & Critical Thinking skills

"Justice, Justice shall you pursue..." (Deuteronomy 16;20).
Watch the above video link for a cartoon summary of the five types of justice discussed in the parasha.

The parasha begins with the commandment to set up judges and police officers (loose translations) for the Tribes of Israel to maintain justice and make rulings in matters of controversy. 
 I discussed with my three year old the duty of a judge. We went through real life examples where we have to make judgements and rulings. For example, when mommy has to decide who gets the toy when two children say they both want it. We focused on the importance of doing "strong thinking" to help make these tough decisions. 

I then presented her scenarios with her stuffed animals and asked her what questions she would ask in order to decide who was right or wrong in the case. (She needed my guidance, but we definitely got the wheels turning).
For older kids this can be expanded into a mock trial with family members acting as different players in the court scene.

 I then connected the idea of "strong thinking" used by judges to the same kind of thinking we need to understand math concepts. 

I told her to use her "strong thinking" when completing exercises from this book:
Anno's Math Games
Photo Source
 This is a great Pre-Math book. There are actually no number problems in the book, but rather fun stories and activities that teach the critical thinking skills necessary to understand math. 

Photo Source

There are three books in this series. We currently only have the first book. 
The chapter titles in book one are: What is Different, Putting Together and Taking Apart, Numbers in Order, and Who's the Tallest? Again no numbers are used. So the book is really focused on the conceptual nature of math.

The math of today's classrooms looks very different from the math we were exposed to. Many of us are from the generation where math class was rote recall and memorization of facts and formulas. Today's math classes focus much more on the procedure than the outcome. Kids are asked questions like "what did you use to get to that answer" and "how else could we have figured that out." 

This disparity might explain why so many of us (myself included) are convinced that we are just not good at math. Maybe if we were taught math in a more natural and conceptual way, we would not cringe when trying to figure out how much that dress in Macy's will cost when it's 30% off regular price and we have an additional 20% off coupon. Clearly, I've been there.

Here is a great list of kids' books that center around math concepts:

A friend of mine also recommended:

I would love to hear from others about ways they incorporate critical thinking and mathematical concepts into their day with their kids. Looking forward to your comments!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

My First Giveaway

In honor of Rosh Chodesh Elul and with Rosh Hashana approaching, I would like to invite you all to enter a sweepstakes to win some goodies for the New Year.


The prizes include:

1. A free copy of  Raising Lifelong Learners: A Parent's Guide by Lucy Calkins. This book will help get your New Year started right by providing you with an amazing framework to help create a natural and enriching learning environment in your home. (Lessons we incorporated from this book: here and here)

KidKraft Rosh Hashanah Set
Photo Source

  2. A free KidKraft Rosh Hashanah Set. Your kids will love playing with this wooden pretend play set while learning about Rosh Hashanah.


To enter to win both prizes, please do one or all the following: (Each comment/like/share will be counted as entries, so feel free to enter as many times as you'd like)

1. Subscribe to my blog  (must be activated subscription)
2. Comment on my blog (I'd love to hear your thoughts, suggested topics, etc.)
3. Like a post on my Jewish Homeschool NYC Facebook Group
4. Share a post from my Jewish Homeschool NYC Facebook Group

Contest open to individuals at least 18 years old living in the United States.

Contest closes 8/26/12 at 12:00 a.m. E.S.T

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Parashat Re'eh and How to Buy Happiness

This week's Parasha is full of great lessons. We are focusing on charity today.
Photo Source

Hashem tells the Jewish people, "you shall not harden your heart, and you shall not close your hand from your needy brother" (Deuteronomy 15:7).

That verse rings true for kids and adults alike. For young children, toys are their most prized possessions and they hold onto them so strongly. Many adults (myself included) do the same with their most prized possession, their money. 

So we focused on the art of giving and sharing with toys.
Our inspiration came from the following Ted video:

If you have the time, definitely watch the video, but I'll give you the bottom line of it. A study was done where they gave people an envelope with money. Some were told to spend the money on themselves, whereas others were told to spend the money on others. 

Their happiness levels were measured before and after they spent the money and they found that those that spent on others were happier. This was true for people in over 100 countries and the amount of money and how they helped others made no significant difference. So, we actually can buy happiness it's just through others that we can accomplish this.
So today I brought out a basket of toys and treats and told the girls that whatever they pick has to go to their sister. They loved the act of giving to each other and I drew their attention to the happy emotion they caused in their sister and in themselves.

Another great source on dealing with sharing and sibling issues in general is:

Here are some ideas we have incorporated from this book to help our girls deal with sharing and learn to give more generously:
  • Whenever we see that a situation is about to get heated over toy "ownership", we preempt the tension by telling our girls "We know you are a really good sharer and we know you want to make your sister happy by taking turns." This really works most of the time. 
  • Now, I am not trying to whitewash our reality. With a 3 year old a 20 month old spending the majority of their time together, we have our fair share of screaming matches over who got what first. In those cases, I console the victim and say something like "I am so sorry your sister took that from you, that must have really hurt your feeling, etc." Ususally within a few moments the agressor will return the desired item.
  • This one isn't from the book, but I set a timer for 5 minutes and tell the girls that if they can play together and do good sharing until the timer buzzes, they will get a special treat. Of course my plan is to extend the time on the clock and wean the reinforcer. 
Ok, so today's post is getting long, but here are some more ideas that actually have to do with money and charity.

We made our own tzedakah box with a pint sized container (it was Rich Whip) and construction paper to decorate. 

You can have your kids take ownership of this project  by asking them to research different charitable organizations/causes or think of causes that are meaningful to them.
Finally, here is a great resource for step by step activities to teach kids about money and saving: 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Parashat Ekev and "I Spy"

In Parashat Ekev Moses tells the people about all the wonderful things that will happen to them if they follow G-d's laws and he also reminds them of their shortcomings during their journey in the desert.

Some take away ideas from the Parasha:

1. Discuss with your family what you are thankful to Hashem for and how do you show Him that you are thankful.  I will probably extend the conversation to what we are thankful to our parents for and how we show them our appreciation.

2. This week's Parasha lists the seven fruits of Israel. I didn't do this matching/memory game, but it is on my to do list: 

3. The incident of the spies is quickly mentioned in this Parasha, so we went on to make a bunch of spy paraphernalia:

We made a spy's looking glass with cut up paper towel rolls. Click here for instructions. 

 Homemade Binoculars. Here are some fancier ones for the more artistically inclined.

We played with ink and made fingerprints

We then went on to play "I Spy":

"I Spy" bottle filled with colored rice and little trinkets from the dollar store.

I took our really worn out book of "100 First Words" and cut out the pictures to turn it into an "I Spy" game. 
For my 20 month old, I used the actual name of the object and for my 3 year old I gave her clues. Also, a great activity when teaching kids about adjectives. 

I Spy
Lastly, make your own "I Spy" using Scholastic's interactive site.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Keep Calm and Carry On

So simple and so catchy. These five little words of encouragement are written on posters I have seen hundreds of times, but never thought to use with my children. Now I am, and it's working wonders.
Keep calm and carry on speaks to our oldest daughter who frustrates easily. If she can't do something with relative ease, a full blown meltdown will ensue. 

Of course this chart only works if its used preemptively. Whenever we anticipate that she is engaged in an activity that could be frustrating to her, we remind her that if she keeps calm and carries on, she will get the work done and get a sticker.  

This notion ties into the work ethic we would like to instill in our children. If we can teach our kids to be resilient and take pride in their work, they can accomplish anything. 

In her book, Raising Life Long Learners (mentioned in my last post, clearly I'm a fan) Lucy Calkins warns parents of telling their kids that if they work hard they will "end up with a good job, a good house, a good life." She explains that the message we are sending is that "hard work pays off in the long run; "it isn't fun,but its worth it." Not very motivating. On the contrary we should be showing our kids that we value hard work and there is pride to take in our efforts. Unfortunately, "our children are growing up in a culture that values leisure and self-indulgence."

To accomplish this Calkins suggests giving kids project chores.For example, when purchasing a pet, have the child read about different breeds, talk to pet owners and shopkeepers to turn this family decision into a project they can take ownership of.

Since my girls are still so young, we will start with what Calkins calls "citizenship chores".  The most important part about these chores is not that they do them well but that they do them with the right attitude. They should feel proud of themselves for helping their community.

We are starting with helping the community stay clean. We have been pointing out and picking up some litter when we walk outside and now helping my girls become more enthusiastic about keeping their own home  clean. 

I printed out pictures of what their mealtime table and play room should look like:
 After meal time we will check in with our kitchen picture and see if the girls can make the table look like it does in the picture

 At noon and then again before bed, we will check in with our toy room picture

 This is the printed out chart. Once the area is cleaned, they turn over the picture. My next step is to make  a chart for each girl with a picture of their smiling face glued to the back, so they can see their happy face when they accomplish their task. 

Again the goal is not perfection, but the fun in trying to get the rooms to match the picture and being proud of what they accomplished.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Parasha Va'etchanan and Teaching Your Children

I recently read an inspiring book that was recommended to me by a dear friend:
 It's a must read for any parent striving to play an active role in their child's education.

 This week's Torah portion includes the Shema Prayer which mentions the obligation for parents to teach their children. Whether we as parents choose to homeschool or use traditional schools, we are obligated to be active in our children's education.

So thanks to the book I mentioned above I have found my new focus when teaching my children. 

In her book, Lucy Calkins quotes the American poet, Theodore Roethke: 
"Sometimes, if your life doesn't seem significant enough, it's not your life that isn't significant's your response to your life."  
How amazing a life we and our children would lead if we can fill the everydayness of our world with significance. 

 So this is my new goal. This is what I want to teach my children. I am determined to instill in myself and my children the ability to see significance in the small stuff- to think creatively and to make something out of nothing.

Calkins relays a story of her son who showed up to show and tell without an item to present. Instead of giving his teacher an excuse, he searched into his pockets and pulled out a small white rock. He told his class, "In my family, we have memory rocks. You save a special rock from the tops of mountains, or from beaches, and when you hold it and close your eyes, you can remember the mountaintop and the sea." He then went on to explain the memory he had tied to that rock in his pocket.

This resourcefulness of thought has so many implications for our children's ability to create, to think critically and to imagine. All skills that can be fostered during their play. 

Unfortunately there are many kids these days who do not know how to play. They are often found saying this like, "I'm bored" and "There's nothing to do." All the while these are the same children that often have roomfuls of toys. How can this be?

Well, when so many of their dolls/figurines already come with scripted stories and when a push of a button is all you need to make their bear talk, there is loss of ingenuity to their play. 

If we can create a family environment where happiness comes from the simple things, where sticks become magical wands and blankets become caves, we can create a counter culture to the idea that happiness comes from owning things. We can create meaningful happiness.

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