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She’s the founder of the awesome Home Grown Books, a reading specialist, and an early childhood educator, who also reveals an irreverent side—a combo we find completely enchanting.

Give us a little background on yourself and how Home Grown Books got started? How much did becoming a parent shape what your business is?

I am a Bank Street graduate and was a reading specialist for many years. After having Calvin, I wanted to do something different but still use the skills that I had acquired. I was supporting a teacher in a homeschool collective in Brooklyn, and she was making super cool little readers for the kids to practice reading. She was having the same problem I was in finding very early readers that were interesting for the kids. So we started developing our own with a focus on bringing great art and rich concepts to the books and not dumbing them down. As anybody who has children knows, having them can only deepen your understanding of the daily work of parenting. It gives you a deeper compassion for other parents, but you also see what your kid is like and what they are interested in and tend to lean towards those things.

How old are your kid(s)… names?

17 – Sam 9 – Calvin

Where do you live?

SoHo, but I am not of it. I live in the loft my husband grew up in from the 1960’s. The neighborhood is really more of a tourist destination at this point than a place to live.

Do you work in a home office, and if you do, how do you deal with working from home (while parenting)?

I work in a home office, and home school. I have a lot of help. I’m not the uber mom that can do a million things at once. Also, my kids are older, so it’s a bit different. I expect a lot of independence from them.

Can you tell me how you decided on home schooling? Do you home school both boys? Do you do it with a curriculum or do you make it on your own? is there a large homeschooling community in NYC?

I was a teacher for many years in the DOE. I also have also been very interested in the alternative education movement. I feel that how we choose to educate is outdated and limiting. That being said, my older son, who is turning 18 this summer, just graduated from Poly Prep in Brooklyn. He chose the school and a very traditional education. He was always very interested in sports and wanted a “desks in rows” kind of place. He was happy there. Calvin, who is 9 and a half, always complained about school, was always very interest-driven, and was getting turned off to reading, and math and learning languages at his last school, a small independent school in the West Village.

I thought we should try homeschooling. There is a large community in the city. I got on the list serves and followed all stuff going on for a year before we started. We have only homeschooled this year and at the end, Calvin decided he wanted to go to our local public school where he has a lot of friends. For him, he became very isolated. But he wouldn’t go to all the events and classes, etc that were available. I was very child-led. He studied what he was interested in. I had a tutor come twice a week who worked on literacy and math, just to make sure he was moving forward, no matter how loose we were. I found running Home Grown Books and giving Calvin the support he needed to be very difficult. Although he is going to go back to school for 4th and 5th grade, we are open to homeschooling again when he is older and more able to be independent and get to places without me. And NYC is great because everything and everyone is here. If you have a passion, you can learn from the best!

What would you say is your “mom uniform”?

Jeans, simple sneakers, a cotton tunic shirt.

Do you cook much–if you don’t, what are your ways around not cooking, and if you do, what are your go-tos–both for yourself, and for your kid?

I do cook. Although I’m fighting it at the moment. In an attempt to be healthy, we are having a lot of brown rice, fish, salad, and something green. Pizza’s good too.

What’s your weeknight family dinner routine?

I start cooking around 5. Ethan comes between 6 and 7 with wine in hand. We usually eat around 7 or 7:30. Sometimes at the table, sometimes while watching Bob’s Burgers.

How do you celebrate your children’s birthdays?

Luckily, they both have very poorly placed birthdays, so they are usually very low-key. Sam’s is in the summer, we usually take him and one or two friends to an amusement park or something and have a small family party. Calvin’s is at the end of December, we usually celebrate a few weeks early with a few friends at the house and a cake. He gets extra cake on his birthday just because.

Best kid purchase/bang for your buck?

Computer and the cardboard boxes that things are shipped in. Calvin is a builder and will make all kinds of elaborate sets out of cardboard. We even bought cardboard tools, like industrial staplers and box cutters so he can get fancy.

Any rules about TV/screens?

None. Should I? But seriously, I think it’s the world we live in. I have more issues with the kids shows where they all speak rudely to each other and there are tons of commercials. The computer is interactive and offers amazing training in research and on-line community among other things. As long as they get out to play too it’s fine. Calvin also plays a lot with his own cardboard worlds, so I don’t worry too much.

What websites inspire you and for which parts of your life? Preferred social media is….?

Project Noah–it’s got great daily info on cool creatures spotted all over the world and it’s crowd-sourced so it’s always evolving. There are articles that inspire me more than one specific website…Diane Ravitch, Sir Ken Robinson…I’m really interested in rethinking how we educate, so I follow Alternative Education Resource Organization (AERO) and IDEA–he Innovative Educator is very interesting. Occupy Wall Street always posts poignant things. Thug Kitchen for irreverent and healthy recipes. Wendy Priesnitz has really interesting things to say about learning and kids. Humans of New York to remind me of our diversity. Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir is totally awesome.

What’s a typical weekend like?

We don’t really have typical weekends. Ethan is an artist, I work from home and Calvin is homeschooled, so every day is what we make it.

What’s the thing that always stays on your to-do list and never gets crossed off and nags at you? 

Finding time to be alone.

Best family trip?

Locally, we had an amazing weekend on Governor’s Island when they had the New Amsterdam festival. There is so much fantastic local stuff to do with a family in NYC. When we travel, we tend to do things adults like and drag the kids along.

Any small business advice?

Running a small business means learning about ALL the parts. Not just the parts you most enjoy. It is smart to get the proper help when you don’t have the expertise. Sometimes you really do get what you pay for, and sometimes you can get a student to help and that works too. Also, having a smart assistant who really is gunning for our success changed my life.

You feel your best when?

When I feel like everyone’s needs are being addressed—including my own.

Guiltiest pleasure?

Reality shows, all of them.

Proudest moment in parenting?

I don’t really do the proud mommy thing. I feel like I can’t take responsibility for my children’s achievements.

Best parenting advice you ever got?

Do what feels right for you and your family, don’t worry about what other people say. Everybody is different.

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  1. Posted by: Sally Schultheiss

    Amen Kyla. I love your plant-filled living room and am SO with you on “family” TV shows…honestly, i’d rather my kids watch an R-rated movie with naked people smoking cigarettes than all the cynicism that goes down on the Disney Channel. Thank you for a great interview.

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