In order to have a discussion about how long a school day should last, it’s necessary that we look at an even more important question:
Why do we educate?
Not “Why do we homeschool?” That’s a different question with a different answer.
This question involves the motivation for subjecting a child to years upon years of educational learning.
For what purpose do we subject a child to twelve years of education?
My answer is quite simple: The purpose of education is to apprentice a child to be an adult and function in an adult world.
For Christians, the purpose is also to disciple the child and prepare them for eternity. Discipleship is also a form of apprenticeship.
How would a child best learn to be an adult?
…by spending 8 hours a day with other children his age?
…by spending 8 hours a day in the house with his nose in books?
…or by living beside and working alongside adults?
Jesus discipled His followers by living with them for three years.
If you want to learn a trade like plumbing, you go to school a few nights a week and during the day, you working alongside a master plumber or a journeyman plumber learning from him. You can learn about plumbing, but until you’ve worked on it your own hands, it’s not fully learned.
The same goes for education: you can learn about the world –about math, grammar, science, social interaction, etc.– but until you’re out in the world using and sharing that knowledge, it’s not fully learned.
But more important to being an adult than the knowledge obtained is the ability to function in a healthy way with people of diverse ages, diverse beliefs, diverse personalities, and diverse backgrounds.
I would argue that this is where the public and private school falls incredibly short in preparing children for adulthood. In the public school, conformity is paramount. Diversity of age, belief, personality, or background results in bullying –not in acceptance or learning to interact in a healthy way.
What the public schools produce is the exact opposite of preparing the child to function in a healthy way with diverse people. If public school kids can interact in a healthy way, it’s in spite of the public schools and certainly not because of them.
If we want our children to be well-adjusted adults able to interact with people of all ages, they need to be apprenticed in healthy and mature behavior.
The best way to apprentice them is to have them with us doing what we’re doing and learning beside us.
Of course some formal learning needs to be done. Your state laws may even dictate what needs to be done. But, aside from the minimum of formal schooling (2 to 3 hours even for high school is my recommendation), they should be doing what you’re doing.
Cooking? Great! My teenage son can cook many meals.
Cleaning? Let them clean with you. It might take longer at first, but remember that it’s not about cleaning. It’s about training this child for adulthood. My teen practically cleans the whole house, and in his opinion, I do not load the dishwasher correctly! He will either be able to keep a clean house if he’s a bachelor or be a great husband if he gets married.
Take them to the doctor’s office, the grocery store, the bank; if you’re building a deck or painting the kitchen –whatever you’re doing– and teach them how to interact with other people both by your example and your gentle and continuous instruction.
Homeschooling offers a form of socialization that is in fact far superior to anything the public schools could ever offer.
This –living and working beside you– is not a break from their education. It is the most important part of their education.
Just like an apprentice needs to be with the journeyman actually doing the work for the knowledge to truly be useful, your child’s education is made fuller and more complete by the time that he or she spends with you.
Don’t discount this time or it’s importance even though it doesn’t look like “regular” school.
If you wanted it to look like regular school, you could just send them to regular school. If you want something different than what the public schools can offer, your going to have to be willing to do something different than what the public schools do.
If you use same formula as the public schools, you’ll get the same results.
This is why we don’t compare ourselves to the public schools –or at least we shouldn’t. We aren’t even playing the same game they are (our goals are different), so we can’t play by the same rules.
Even though it looks like they’re only doing a few hours of school, the truth is they’re learning the whole time they’re with us. They’re learning life, life skills, adult skills.
It’s all part of their education.
This is why I don’t expect 8 hours of school work from my children –not even my high schooler.