A question I get a lot is this: how long should a school day last when you’re teaching at home?
First of all, it’s important to note that children have a learning limit. At some point, their brains will shut off, and, after that, time no new information is retained.
So, what’s the point of teaching beyond that point? It’s completely counterproductive.
When my mom was teaching private school, she was told that there is a rule of thumb for how long a student could retain information on a single topic. (Switching topics extended the learning time).
The rule of thumb goes like this: take the students age times two and that is the length of minutes that you can retain that child’s attention. For example, if your child is 6, you can expect to keep the child’s attention for 12 minutes on a single subject. A 12 year old can focus for 24 minutes.
Of course, this is just guideline. It may be more or less for your child but helps you know what is too much to expect from your child. Children with learning problems like ADHD will have shorter attention spans, understandably.
When you shorten classes, they actually learn more in a shorter amount of time per day because you’re not overworking the child’s brain.
Overworked brains shut off, and everything you try to teach after that is lost.
When I was homeschooled in high school, we only did three hours of school a day. I have had many people scoff at such a short period of time actually doing school.
However, when I was in 10th grade, I attended private school for a year. I got more done in 3 hours at home than I did all day long at school. School was filled with giving assignments, goofing off, correcting kids, listening to teachers tell about their weekend, etc.
The real learning happened in the evening when I did homework.
Guess how long it took to do homework?
3 to 4 hours a night.
Basically, the same amount of time it took to do homeschool.
The difference with homeschool was I wasn’t wasting all day in a social environment I didn’t like. I wasn’t waiting all day waiting to get home to do assignments.
At home, I did my work between 9am and noon. My afternoons were filled with writing, art, outreach, bible quizzing, and choir –all activities that I didn’t have time for when I was in private school because all day long we were basically occupied doing non-learning stuff.
I did learn that the Christian kids didn’t really care about the bible or morality. I learned that I was weird even among those who claimed the name of Christ. It was a learning experience, but not in the way I had hoped.
I was actually learning less in private school because I didn’t have time to dedicate to the learning that was actually important to me –like writing and bible quizzing, for example.
The self-motivated learning that I did in the afternoons was completely lost. That time was spent at school with a bunch of kids who weren’t really interested in learning.
But wait, not all schools are like that. At some schools, kids do work at school, and little or no work goes home.
What about those schools? How much do they get done?
A friend of mine did an experiment. She and her son asked to sit in on a public school class at his grade level. They spent one day in the grade school class that he’d attend if he wasn’t homeschooled.
They picked one child and made a log of all the activities he did for an hour, then switched to another child.
How much time did they spend doing school work? Playing? Waiting for their paper? Raising their hand and waiting? Standing in line and waiting? Eating?
The majority of their day was spent waiting.
At the end of the day, those children had spent less than 15 minutes of every hour doing actual school work.
In 8 hours, that was 2 hours worth of school work.
I supposed there really isn’t any other way to deal with a large classroom, but when we homeschool we don’t have a large classroom of students.
My goal with my children, even now that they’re in high school, is to limit the school day to 3 hours.
Sometimes, if the child is having a particularly difficult day, it’s less than that. This flexibility is very important and even more so if you have special needs kids or children with learning disabilities.
Remember that children are learning all the time, even when we’re not teaching them.
The afternoons can serve as time for them to learn what they are interested in, even if it’s how to better interact with kids their age in a social environment or how to beat a level on a video game.
These all have valuable life-skills applications and we shouldn’t undervalue their free time.
Do not underestimate the value of these seemingly non educational activities.
The key to this free learning time is that the child or teen is choosing what they want to learn or do. It is student-directed.
I’m sure my parents weren’t thrilled about me bringing home 50 books a week from the library and could have said I was reading too much. I’m sure it was hard to pull me away from my manuscripts, files, and charts. My hobbie could have been viewed as an annoying obsession.
But, all that time in the afternoon self-teaching allowed me to pursue something that I really love: writing. I was published when I was 19 –largely impart to my parents willingness to let me pursue my interests in the afternoon.
Everyone has to find what works for them, but in general I recommend keeping formal learning to a minimum.
Never underestimate the power of a child motivated to learn. Let them pursue what they desire to learn and see where it takes them.
If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy this post which discusses what to do with the rest of the homeschool day. Children don’t need 8 hours of school, but learning shouldn’t stop when you put the school books away: Argument Against an 8 Hour Homeschool Day.