Sandra Leong, financial district, with sons Julian-Alexandre Wang, age 6 (left), and Brennan-Pierson Wang, age 8.
At first my husband and I thought we might homeschool our oldest son, Brennan-Pierson, part of the time, and send him to Montessori for socialization. There were only twelve children in the class, but one 4-year-old was a bully; I never knew it started that young. All the other kids and even some of the adults were afraid of him. Ultimately we pulled our son out. We just didn’t feel he was being fully educated, academically or culturally, in that system. We eventually realized that homeschool kids are actually really well-socialized. They’re learning and living in the world. They meet people of all races and tracks of life. My kids also act and model, so they’re constantly with other kids in those industries.
Brennan-Pierson has a passion for fencing and chess, and homeschooling allows me to budget my resources. I can hire a private teacher for one-on-one chess strategy, and we let him do fencing three times a week. They advance so much faster this way. We covered kindergarten in three months. If you don’t put a lid on a child, he can grow at exponential rates.
Julian-Alexandre is also homeschooled. He’s in first grade but doing second-grade verbal and math. Brennan-Pierson is in third grade, but he’s doing fifth-grade math, seventh-grade grammar, and eighth-grade reading. I wanted to introduce our kids to the classics early, so when Brennan-Pierson was 4, I hired a girl to teach him Shakespeare. She really engaged him. Now he’s developed a love of Shakespeare as a child, which everyone says is insane.
We realize we’re the type-A New York family. It’s almost an addiction: You’re constantly trying to get new stuff for the kids to learn. Homeschool moms never go on vacation. Even on a trip, you’re still trying to make it a stimulating experience. You’re the teacher, the principal, the cook, and the driver, all at once. Sometimes I lay in bed just wondering whether I am doing enough. I’m like the tiger mom of homeschooling.
Sounji Morgan (not pictured), Queens,and children Bella, age 6; Sky, age 7; and Kumau, age 10.
I taught for three years in Williamsburg, so I know public schools can offer a good experience. But I also saw kids get lost in that environment. Once I started having children, I thought more about the values that were instilled in me and how I could live up to them—I grew up in a house with a blackboard that my father made out of plywood to teach us chemistry.
My 10-year-old went to a school in our neighborhood for two years. There was one incident where an older girl hit him but told the teacher he hit her first, and the teacher took her word for it. We think of things like that as important steps in socialization, but I think it’s negative. In homeschooling, children are held more accountable for their behavior.
My son also went to a choice private school in first grade, but it was expensive. I spent my whole day working to pay for his tuition. I also noticed that he was always coming home asking for new toys. That’s tapered off now.
Unschoolers don’t use textbooks, but I’m a schoolteacher, so I see the benefit. In the world we live in, textbook skills come in handy; it helps to be able to sit with a pencil and a notebook. But experiences like going to museums are the real meat of my educational plan. It teaches them that learning is a part of life and that it continues outside of any building.
You definitely need to weave in breaks, though. If I was working in a school, I’d have prep periods and lunch breaks. What I do now is go to a gym where there’s a day care—that’s my prep period. Or I take breaks before my kids are up. Even my husband is like, “Don’t you need a break?” You just get accustomed to it.
Rina and Mark Crane, Bronx. Daughter, Mita, age 7; son, Sylvan, age 5
I started thinking about where my children might go to school before they were born. I mean, this is New York City, and in my area there weren’t many options. Our zoned school was out of the question. There’s no outdoor space, and after lunch the kids watch TV in the cafeteria. It’s also mandatory to stay after school for several hours several days a week to prep for tests. That wasn’t acceptable for us.
At first I thought homeschooling would be too much of a commitment, but we got involved in a homeschooling community, and I loved the idea so much that it no longer seemed overwhelming.
Some people follow a curriculum, and some people do unschooling. I’m in between. We have textbooks, but we take every opportunity to teach our children something. We recently went on vacation to Washington, D.C., and while most families would consider that just a fun trip, for us, we had fun while we learned. We toured the State Department, the Capitol building, and the White House. At one point during the White House tour, a Secret Service agent asked who the second president was. People came up to me afterward because they were so impressed my daughter knew the answer.
Children are naturally curious, but in school all they’re taught is to get the right answer, which I think can be stifling. My kids were involved in a camp over the summer, and since it was a big unruly group, they had to do things like line up and wait. That isn’t normal in life. It made the homeschool parents so grateful that our kids don’t have to put up with that kind of thing. The classroom is such an artificial setting.
Agnes and Joseph Horowitz, Upper West Side. Daughter Maggie, age 15
Maggie: I’ve known I wanted to be a ballerina since I was 6. I average around three and a half hours of ballet a day, so that’s why I started homeschooling. I’ve just always been self-directed. I hate wasting time.
Joseph:When she started homeschooling, we had no idea what to expect. All we knew was that she didn’t have time to deal with school. What we learned is that we can invent our own combination of online courses, parent courses, tutors, and group courses.
Maggie:For some, I have a private tutor; for others, I go to group classes with other homeschool children. I also take a college course at Borough of Manhattan Community College. And my dad teaches me—last year he taught me a Dvorák course.
Agnes: My husband and I let her take the lead. I will never forget this time—Maggie was maybe 4—and she was taking a dance class; she was in the Sunday session, and she observed that the Saturday class was stronger and the teacher was better. She looked up at me and said, “Mom, I want to switch to Saturday because they’re better.”
Maggie:As much as friends are fun, hanging out after school doesn’t really appeal to me. I love to put my energy into ballet, and while it would be great to become a professional dancer, I’m also thinking about applying to college. As a second track, I’m preparing for medical school. I guess you could say I’m a perfectionist.
Agnes: I try to temper that all the time. This summer she took three dance intensives, a math class, and SAT prep without any vacation. It was terrible! But it’s what she chose.
Danny Timmins and Oona Hart, Cobble Hill, with son, Ocean, age 5 and daughter, Billie, age 2
Initially what attracted us to homeschooling was the flexibility, since my husband and I both travel for work. But we wouldn’t have chosen a flexible lifestyle over something that wasn’t better for our children. We gradually became aware of a community of homeschoolers in New York and realized it might work for us.
Our son has a late birthday, which meant that, at 4, we would have dropped him off at a big public school for 40 hours a week. It seemed like there might be another way. School was created when things were really different—it prepared people for the industrial revolution and factory jobs. In a lot of ways, it feels limiting. The school our son would go to is considered excellent, but if you have the opportunity to go to a good public school, it’s probably in an affluent neighborhood, so you don’t have the diversity that you would hope to have by going to public school in New York City. I certainly wasn’t worried about things like our son getting into college. I think if you’re thinking about college when your kid is 4, you’re distracted by the reality of what’s happening.
One day can be so different from the next, though there are some things our son does consistently. Twice a week we go to a [teaching] cooperative with nine other kids in his age range. Then once a week in the spring and fall, he goes to a Jewish farm school. He has planted wheat, threshed it, ground it, and made bread. He has watched people make fire with a stick. Then with his co-op, he’s done things like go to the Rubin Museum for a workshop on Himalayan art—he realizes that the reason Asian art from that region has a lot of triangles is because mountains are such an important part of people’s lives. He took a construction class offered for homeschoolers in Flatbush where kids from ages 4 to 16 built a small house in the shop. They measured things and talked about physics. It’s so much learning, but it’s happening through practical application and not through sitting in a room. That’s sort of counterintuitive to how a 4-year-old learns.