When Stephanie Frumkin discusses homeschooling as an option for families in her role as an education consultant, it is not is not only as a mom with experience homeschooling two children during their elementary school years. The Kemp Mill resident is also a former elementary school teacher with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in leadership in teaching and school administration.
Frumkin never planned on homeschooling her kids, initially. “In my mind, I was very much in that traditional school model,” she said. “But I found that school was not working for my children. One of my kids was a very much out-of-the-box learner, so I needed to find something alternative for that child.”
She eventually moved her younger child to homeschooling because not only was it working so well for the oldest, but the younger sibling wanted in on the experiences they were sharing. “I really did note I was so involved in one’s child education and I wasn’t involved in the other and it was kind of an uneven family dynamic, so we just decided to homeschool both of them at a certain point.”
Frumkin offered the following advice for families exploring the idea of homeschooling for the first time:
Don’t focus on trying to make homeschooling like conventional school
Frumkin’s academic training and work experience came in handy as a homeschooling mom, but she also found it a challenge to break free of the mindset of a classroom teacher. “I had to unlearn certain things, and learn new things,” she said. “This idea of ‘school at home’ … being like trying to take what would normally be in a traditional classroom and moving into the home environment” is not a path she recommends.
Take school hours, for instance. If a child is dead to the world in the morning and full of energy in the afternoon, there is no universal law that demands they sit at attention from 8 a.m. onward. Make school hours work for them (and for you).
And tests? “Because you’re working so closely with your kids on a daily basis, I see no need for tests,” said Frumkin. If you’re working with 12 kids, it might be different, she joked, but in her case tests did not feel like a necessity — so they were out.
Connect with the community
Frumkin recently started a Facebook group called Exploring Jewish Homeschooling (MoCo). With more than 180 members, it has drawn both experienced homeschoolers and people contemplating the option for the coming school year.
But her group is not a novelty. “There’s lots of homeschooling groups out there,” said Frumkin. “There are a lot that are local, so I would search in your area.” There are also many niche groups, she added: gifted students, nature-lovers, students looking for a Jewish education.
Members of the homeschooling community can also direct families to resources such as online secular and Judaic classes for children and pre-packaged curriculums for home use (although Frumkin recommends personalizing the latter if you use them).
Individualization is key
In a traditional school setting, Frumkin said, “It’s, ‘Here’s your curriculum, that’s what you get,’ and you follow it in more or less lockstep with other teachers of that grade.”
Homeschooling offers freedom and flexibility missing from that top-down setting, and she takes advantage of it.
“You can look at each individual child and their learning style … and really tailor it to their individual needs,” she explained. She not only incorporates her children’s interests as vehicles for engaging classwork and activities, but considers what is interesting to her as well so she can enjoy the homeschooling experience as well.
Familiarize yourself with state and county requirements
Can you hire someone to homeschool your kids? “I hear that kind of question a lot these days,” said Frumkin.
“In Maryland, there are laws that give specific guidelines for homeschooling, and you have to oversee and be responsible for your child’s education,” she said. “That doesn’t mean you can’t hire someone to do it, but you can’t hire someone to totally take over it and not be involved.”
You also can’t just decide to homeschool in Maryland or Virginia without filing paperwork with local education officials or joining a state-approved homeschooling “umbrella group.” The Coalition for Responsible Homeschooling Education shares state-by-state requirements on its website, responsiblehomeschooling.org.
It’s not for everyone, but don’t assume it’s not for you
Homeschooling may not be a fit for every parent — but, in a way, every parent is already homeschooling, said Frumkin.
“I think people are a lot more involved than they realize in their kids’ education. You play music with them, you read books to them,” she explained.
“There’s definitely things that were challenging,” she added, “but overall it was a very positive experience for our family and something I never imagined to be our lives.”