Recently a new homescooling friend sent me this note:

“Hi Beth, how’s it going?    …What is a good rule of thumb for the amount of time a kid spends on one subject per day? My kids are done so early and I think so much of a school day is wasted. I’ve already doubled up on math. Suggestions?

I wrote back and answered her question and I thought I’d share my thoughts with you. I think a lot of homeschoolers, especially new homeschoolers, struggle with this question. Here are my thoughts.
That’s the beauty of homeschooling. We don’t have to be  slaves to the schedule kept by institutional schools.

It’s funny–and kind of scary– the things we have gotten so  used to that we just accept them as normal, and even required. Most of us grew up going to school. By virtue of the fact that we haven’t seen it done any other way, we have come to believe that the typical school schedule is what is necessary for an education. The truth is, much of  what happens in school is, simply by nature of the beast, crowd control. Many things are scheduled into a school day that won’t have to happen in your home, including;

  • Standing in line for the bathroom
  • Or the water fountain
  • Or to go to lunch (and then back to the classroom)
  • Or to go outside, (and then back inside)
  • Or to wait for the bus… (Wow, lots of time standing in line, I guess that will be a skill well learned.)
  • Waiting for the teacher to take attendance
  • Or  to deal with behavior issues
  • Or to help a struggling learner
  • Or to challenge a “gifted” learner
  • Or to move the whole class from one subject to the next

You get the picture. If you were to calculate how much time is spent in a typical school–government or private–actually learning, you’d be surprised to see that it is a small percentage of the day. (And then we could start talking about what is real learning but that’s a whole new can of worms!) We don’t have to– and shouldn’t–bring the inherent pitfalls of institutional education into our homes, schedule included.  

Stop and consider the typical classroom setting. Once you get beyond all of the maintenance issues, consider what else happens to learning in a large group setting. You have one teacher and many children. These children are all the same age  (causing inherent social difficulties) but all have different personalities, gifts, learning styles and backgrounds. Even the teacher with the best of intentions cannot provide each of those children with a tailor made education, which means it takes a lot longer for children to learn in that kind of setting.

In contrast, the one-on-one teaching your child receives at home is much more efficient and effective.  

So, getting back to your question. How much time should my children spend per subject each day? I have to first say that the answer depends partly on your philosophy of education. Many homeschoolers don’t even rely on individual “subjects” to educate their children. They use a more holistic approach, teaching all areas of life through life itself. But, I also recognize that many of us aren’t comfortable with that, again, because it’s not what we know and is so different from what’s been modeled for us. So I’ll answer the question based on the model of separate academic subjects, pursued mostly with seat work.

Because home learning is so much more efficient, many homeschoolers can get through their work in a few hours. Unfortunately, many homeschool parents feel the need to add more work because they feel like their kids aren’t doing enough. I would encourage you not to do that.

When a day’s worth of work is done, it’s done.

Do not “reward” good work with more work! What could be more counter-productive to a child’s willingness to work than to know that the quicker he works, the more work he’ll have to do?

Also, you don’t want to raise your children to be clock punchers. Teach them to do a job well and efficiently, regardless of how long it takes. When they are grown they will be equipped to be paid for their work, not their time.  If they are getting through all of their academic requirements more quickly than you anticipated, look at that as success, not a reason to add more.

Don’t overlook the power of free time in your children’s education, regardless of their age.  It gives them time to pursue their own interest, which arguably, is where the real learning begins.

When you brought (or kept) your kids home from institutional school (government school or private school) you did it because you wanted something different for them. Don’t be afraid to follow through on that and offer them something different


Beth Cranford




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