There are a growing number of families that are choosing to homeschool for various reasons. Even still with the amount of NYC families deciding to take the plunge, a majority of folks still have a skewed view of what homeschool really is. And they should, as there is not just one way of doing ‘school’. The term ‘homeschool’ is more than what it implies, especially in NYC. Too often homeschooling families are depicted as shy awkward children that stay indoors and have no social life, but that’s not the case for our many families. I’m not a stay at home mom that loves to bake bread, sew all of our clothing and cut coupons. I am a rather young mother of three. I work full time, have one business, planning another, and can barely cook, although bread baking is on our homeschool to-do list! I just so happen to have an obsession with learning and am fed up with our school system. I do have a 14-year old that chooses to attend public high school but that is his choice.
Despite what you’ve heard about homeschoolers, We’re not at home most days and my kids are very social! They are enrolled in several classes throughout the city, often running into the same homeschooled kids at various locations. We even have a city-wide weekly meet-up. Plus there are always extra kids at my house, which I don’t mind. So there’s an answer to the ‘how do they socialize’ question I often get asked.
However appealing my story may (or may not) seem, this article is not about me, it’s about a conversation that took place on a sunny day in Midtown at Different Directions on West 47th Street. Different Directions is a collaborative center with classes for homeschooled kids. At facilities like DD, families can enroll children in a variety of classes ranging from drawing, chemistry, math, Spanish, or history, to name a few. These classes meet weekly for about 12 weeks on average. Experience of instructors varies as some are college professors while others are gifted or experienced parents.
There’s no GPS to homeschool
Over coffee, doughnuts and fresh strawberries, four mom’s sat and discussed our experiences. Two were seasoned homeschoolers and offered very sound advice and tips. According to Tinamarie, head of Different Directions by necessity, there are a growing number of single moms (and dads) that are working full time while homeschooling. It can seem overwhelming and some days it is. Irene Stern, another vet homeschool mom, says she worked at night and homeschooled by day. Thinking back on when her 15 year old was small, she says there were rough days but the hardest part was getting started. It’s okay not to have all the answers but you can’t find solutions if you don’t start. Truth is education can happen anywhere. For me, more important than having them in school is the bond and time that I get with my girls.
Homeschool classes – A class can be many things. It can be part of a cooperative of parents that meet each week and share the role of teacher. It could be an online computer course from sites like sciencegeek.net or Teachers Pay Teachers. It could mean staying at home with one parent and doing multiple projects. It could also mean following a purchased curriculum. It could also be a class in a home with a follow parent like Laurie Spigel who has raised two homeschooled children, who are now successful adults. She holds classes in her spacious, and very cozy, Riverdale apartment and also offers educational consultations.
There is no one way to homeschool. The Dept of Education has very lax requirements when it comes to homeschoolers so parents are pretty creative with learning. There’s also a variation of the self-directed approach where children do almost whatever they want daily and the parent is there to help offer resources as needed. Point is you can be creative as you want to be, aside from a few particular guidelines. I know of one parent that chooses affordable workbooks as well as Khan Academy and other free online resources due to household budget constraints. Her kids also attend many free homeschool classes at neighborhood libraries.
Way smaller class sizes – Our family attends classes at Different Directions. One particular class is called Stories All Around Us with Tinamarie in which she explains history to my 6-year-old by way of storytelling. Tinamarie has worked in schools doing just that and it is her passion. My 6-year-old loves it and enjoys recess with her sister’s class at the park next door afterward. This class has about 10 kids. Classes are typically maxed at 10-12 children. My big girl takes Heart of Language at DD, it has about 12 kids while her sewing class caps at 5 students. It depends on what the subject is and what the teacher can handle. All of these preferences can be determined by the teacher or sometimes what the need of the homeschool community is, mostly a mix of both.
Another plus to homeschool classes is the mixed-aged environment. But the age ranges aren’t extreme. Most classes have 3 to 5 years age difference between the oldest and youngest students. This allows for learning to flow freely as they learn from each other and observe different learning, and teaching, styles. There is a huge benefit to having mixed-aged groups working together.
Being a younger student in any type of class has been found to be more influential than the type of class. And while parents are generally more concerned when their child is in the older part of a mixed-age class, recent research has shown that older students benefit from “apprenticing” younger students. -source
Curriculum galore – There are many homeschool resources in NYC and numerous online. You could school via web-based learning using a full curriculum. Some programs have actual teachers that will follow up on assignments and Skype with you and your child from time to time. There’s also the workbook method where the child does a series or set of printed material and in most cases, the parent has a corresponding teacher’s guide. Or there is the option to mix it all around. You can alternate between an online live art class, a math class at Different Directions and all other topics done via printed material at home. More info on this in the resources section below.
Managing it all – It seems impossible to homeschool two out of three kids while both parents are working full time! But it’s possible. It is also possible for a full time working single parent! This describes both myself and my Uptown Birdies partner. We help each other and have the family to help us out as well as a paid babysitter. And we get more time with our girls than if they were in school all day. Working nights means missing out on bedtime stories most evenings but we are able to spend time with them during traditional school hours.
Our girls attend classes scattered throughout the week and spend time at home working on studies and projects. We have alternating days off to get this done, but our situation is not that unique. There’s a growing number of single parents that may rely on friends or other homeschool families to make it all work. Consider your own friends and family and determine if homeschooling is possible for your child.
Planting the seeds – What happens when your child doesn’t want to do any work?! This is another question I’ve worried about myself. Believe it or not, kids want to learn. It’s natural for them to seek out info; they are naturally curious beings. You didn’t have to force them to walk or talk as toddlers. Sure they needed guidance on these things but the average child wants to do them on their own.
I’ve learned to trust that the size of my children has nothing to do with their capabilities. Experienced parent Irene says ‘Plant the seed and if they don’t take, bring it up again’. This way you’re making suggestions on what you think they should study without forcing it on them. By giving them options, they learn to trust the adults in their life because you are trusting them to learn when they are ready to learn.
While a child is in school, especially during the grammar years, they spend most of their time with one teacher. Teachers are restricted in the delivery of information. Kids are then tested to see if they can recall this info. This gives them a narrow view of learning, lowers self-belief and discourages mistakes. Learning when they are ready gives them a sense of confidence and mastery. Learning through mistakes gives them a real-life lesson that sticks.
How to begin – It sounds cliche but the hardest part is getting started! Many parents think they can’t homeschool for fear that their kid will end up starting college, or high school, very lost and afraid. Or that they may be lacking in some sort of way. Truth is that kids are natural learners and don’t want to sit around all day doing nothing.
A small fraction of numerous homeschool resources
These links are places that we have visited or heard about. Most may hold homeschool classes even if it isn’t mentioned on their site. You would have to contact them and inquire. And if they do not have a homeschool class, you can ask if there’s a possibility to make one. Parents communicate with places all the time to set up classes, workshops, and trips.
Different Directions – I highly recommend DD! They have so many classes to keep the kids happy and having fun while learning
Harlem Math Institute
The Center by Reach – various classes offered on an hourly basis
Crayon Power My daughter loves this place! and wrote about it here
New York Historical Society
Nypl – some branches have homeschool classes
Intrepid – homeschool days
New York Trapeze School
Bread and Yoga – homeschool sewing classes
AERO – Alternative Education Resource Organization
Writopia – writing classes in various locations in NYC and Westchester
Uptown Stories – pay what you wish writing workshops (featured here)
Vocal & Piano Lessons by Terri Davis – contact Terridavis7@yahoo.com
Fort Tryon Violin
Brooklyn zoo – affordable parkour classes
Crestwood Library Branch – free homeschool classes and events
The Bronx Zoo
Biobase Science via Columbia University
Asphalt Green – homeschool swim class, call to attend
Online or Books: Reference, workbooks, and other resources
Cottage Class – online marketplace for classes
Kamali Academy – African centered curriculum and workbooks
Adaptedmind – reading and math
Nychea.org – This is where you’ll find your community and is vital for your homeschooling journey!
Education.com – we used this for printouts as well as online games when we first began
Netflix – cosmos series for a science curriculum, magic school bus for the elementary set, earth sciences, etc.
Living Math – there’s also a Living Math Forum on Yahoo groups
Well Trained Mind
What your __ grader needs to know book series
YouTube channels – There are so many channels for kids to learn from but here’s two we like to learn from ourselves on how to improve our homeschooling: Pepper and Pine and Muffy Mendoza.