Friday, July 24, 2009

How Long is a Homeschool Day?

A homeschool day typically doesn't last as long as a day in public school. This is worrisome for many new homeschooling parents, who are puzzled when their students finish a stack of school work in two or three hours. Some rush out to buy more curriculum, assuming they need to keep their children busy "doing school" all day. Other parents resist the impulse to add additional academics, realizing their child has already completed massive amounts of work. This decision is often accompanied by guilt feelings, because the child seems to have so much more free time than his public schooled peers.

Experienced homeschoolers realize that homeschooling is simply a more efficient way to learn. There is no need to wait until a bell rings before beginning on another class subject. Students can proceed at their own pace instead of having to wait until others in a class are ready to move on. There is no time spent on role call, announcements, or other group management activities. Waiting in line is nonexistent, and the teacher is usually readily available.

Parents tend to do one of two things when they accept that their homeschool curriculum is not going to fill the hours between eight and three PM. Those who thrive on structure attempt to schedule enough educational videos, computer games, worksheets, and required reading to keep their children busy. This almost guarantees educational burnout for both parent and child. It takes a huge amount of time and energy for a parent to seek out new learning resources each day, and children can only assimilate so much information at one time.

More relaxed moms and dads allow their kids to fill their free time any way they choose. This frequently results in a mad dash to get the school work out of the way as quickly as possible, followed by watching television or playing video games for the balance of the day.

We have chosen what we hope is a middle-of-the-road approach. Our family is almost always finished with our formal studies by noon. My children are then allowed "free time" . . . to a point. The television is off-limits during the hours of eight to four. Video games and non-school computer use are also prohibited. The kids can read for pleasure, play board games, do arts and crafts, practice an instrument, work on Scout badges, or engage in creative play such as Legos, Playdough, sand box, playing "house" or "cars". This gives them a wide variety of worthwhile activities to choose from, while eliminating my need to schedule every minute of their day.

Kids learn a lot from unstructured play. (How many times have you seen a playhouse or set of blocks in a classroom?) Sibling relationships blossom when brothers and sisters are playing together, instead of zoned out in front of a screen. Reading is encouraged when other options are limited.

Our family has settled into a comfortable pattern of school days, knowing when formal study is required and confident that less-structured time is being put to good use. Our kids used to dash for the television the second 4:00 rolled around but, these days, they're just as likely to continue reading the book they started earlier.

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