You can homeschool in less than 2 hours per day

When someone first envisions homeschooling, the first thought is often a family replicating the school environment at home. Lessons start promptly at 8:30am, with children working studiously around the kitchen table until a break for lunch at noon. After the lunch break, lessons continue until 2:30pm. Then the homeschool day is over. But, for a large and growing number of families, homeschooling looks absolutely nothing like this. For example, homeschooling families who identify as unschoolers make no distinction between living and learning. Children learn from the day they are born. You can’t stop them. Other homeschooling families believe in incorporating some structured academic activities into their days and weeks. Even so, these families tend to have a lot of free time to play, explore, and go on adventures compared to families with children in traditional schools. Homeschoolers are often asked how they have time to do everything. Where does all their time come from? Let’s compare the amount of structured learning taking place during the school year with the time it takes for homeschoolers to accomplish the same thing.

How much time is spent on formal instruction in schools?

Our local public school district has 181 school days per year. There are also two scheduled half days, bringing the total full school days to 180.

The district also has 14 days of scheduled standardized testing, with each individual student spending no more than 5 days on testing. Let’s assume that our hypothetical school students will spend 5 days in testing and not have their education disrupted by testing on the other days. That brings the number of school days to 175.

Based on my personal experience attending school, I will also subtract the first day of school, the two days before winter break and spring break, and the entire last week of school, as those days are usually spent watching movies, having class parties, and managing a large group of children who are some combination of giddy, exhausted, and hopped up on sugar. That brings us to 165 days per year.

What happens in schools each day?

Let’s get down to the daily level. Our elementary schools begin at 7:45am and end at 2:50pm, which makes the day 7 hours and 5 minutes long. Students get half an hour for lunch and half an hour for recess. That leaves 6 hours and 5 minutes of instruction. Nothing gets done in the last 5 minutes of the day, so let’s call it an even 6 hours. 

In our local elementary school’s first grade classrooms, there are five blocks of morning lessons in the four hours before lunch. Subtract 10 minutes for the beginning of the first lesson and transitions between lessons, which includes explaining instructions to a group of 20+ students, handing out supplies, and getting everyone organized. That brings us down to 5 hours and 10 minutes.

After lunch there is another block of academics. We can subtract another 10 minutes for getting organized again after recess, bringing us down to 5 total hours per day.

Next, they have 50 minutes of “specials,” which is usually art, physical education (P.E.), or library time. We already spend several hours at the library each week, so I can subtract that time. My kids also spend at least an hour a day doing art projects and at least another hour or more running around outside, so I’m going to subtract those minutes. That takes us to 4 hours and 10 minutes a day.

The final 20 minutes of the school day are read aloud time. We spend far more than 20 minutes reading together each day, so we can subtract that too. We’ve arrived at a total of 3 hours and 50 minutes of formal academic instruction each day.

How much total instruction takes place in school?

To sum up the calculations so far, kids in our local school system are spending 165 days per year engaging in 3 hours and 50 minutes of formal academic instruction. That’s 632.5 hours of instruction per year. We can lop off a few additional hours for morning announcements, school picture day, dealing with crowd management, that half hour lecture every teacher gives the class at some point when they are losing their minds (who can blame them?), the Halloween party, passing out the Valentine’s Day cards, pizza parties for “good behavior,” celebrating birthdays, and so on. If all those things together take an average of one hour per week, in a 36-week school year, that’s 36 more hours gone, bringing the total instruction time to 596.5 hours.

For homeschoolers who have a relaxed lifestyle, the weekend/weekday distinction is not as important as it is for schooling kids. There is no stressful week to recover from. There is no need to catch up on sleep or finally get some time in nature. These things happen throughout the week. When the living and learning divide isn’t so stark, formal lessons can happen throughout the week without much stress. But, even homeschoolers need a break sometimes. Suppose a homeschooling family does a little schoolwork each day of the week, but takes one month off each year without any formal lessons. That leaves 335 out of 365 days.

Fitting 596.5 hours of instruction into 335 days requires 1.78 hours of formal lessons per day. That’s about 1 hour and 47 minutes every day, with an entire month of vacation each year. Let me say that again. ONE HOUR AND 47 MINUTES. You could do an hour in the morning and another hour in the evening. Or double up with 3.5 hours one day and take the next day off.

To replicate the instruction taking place in the school system, you can homeschool in one hour and 47 minutes per day.

Homeschooling is also more efficient.

Many homeschooling families take this a step further, noting that some of the instruction that happens in school is not particularly efficient. For example, you can spend hours upon hours teaching a young child what a noun or a verb is, with no guarantee that the information will stick, or you could tell them once a few years later when they are interested, and they will remember it forever. It’s also the case that many of the current instructional practices are not empirically validated. For example, lists of spelling words organized by content area vocabulary tend to have only temporary effects. Translation: learning words for spelling tests usually goes in one ear and out the other. On top of that, students who are either ahead of or behind the rest of the class in any given subject will not get much out of some of the lessons in school. Homeschooling allows you to target the learning to YOUR children’s abilities, which makes for much more effective learning.

With the above scenario in mind, you can easily lop off another hour and bring your homeschooling lessons down to about 45 minutes a day. Homeschoolers can spend their free hours learning to play musical instruments, playing sports, cooking, volunteering in the community, reading, watching documentaries, learning a foreign language, spending time with friends and relatives, traveling, taking lessons, or simply relaxing.

With all those opportunities out there and waiting, it’s hard finding the time to go to school.

Special thanks to Monkey Mum Blog for the inspiration.

Nina Palmo is a Nordic-born, Midwestern-raised, Texas denizen. She teaches sociology at a major university and blogs about attachment parenting, unschooling, alternative schooling, and intentional living at Pocketful of Pebbles. She lives in the Austin, Texas area with her husband and two daughters.

Comments

  1. Alicia j.,
    As a homeschool mom, I spend approximately 1.5 hours homeschooling. My children out rank their peers in every subject, except foreign language, and some of the arts.
    But that’s on purpose. One of the public school problems is that they create Jack’s of all trades and masters of none. I strive for mastery in three basic areas, reading, writing and math. If my children can master three three subjects, then getting to college and not knowing what a noun is won’t really be a problem. They have learned how to learn and can figure it out by using their resources.

    But an example…
    Yesterday I spent zero time “homeschooling”. My kids instead decided to set up and impromptu lemonade stand. They made the drinks, found the cups, set up the tables, wrote the signs, and made $27.00.
    Not bad for a lemonade stand in a front yard during the work day!
    What they learned was that it takes time, planning, creativity and diligence! They sat out there for almost 7 hours.
    A public school kid doesn’t have that kind of time.
    So today we will go back our book learning-which may take a back seat again if another great learning experience arises.

  2. This is a great breakdown for people who aren’t in school and don’t realize the time cost of all of the transitions, let alone all of the stuff that the post (I think very conservatively) budgets an hour a week for (Valentines parties, etc). I think that people who are reacting with horror to the 45 minute number are forgetting several things–1) that it explicitly says it isn’t counting the “specials” (art/music/gym) toward that 45 minutes, that’s happening more than 50 minutes/day already; 2) that isn’t counting read-aloud and library time toward that academic time, and that’s important and happening; 3) it’s suggesting no weekends or vacations other than the one month. I also didn’t read the author suggesting kids should be allowed to decide whether or when to study grammar–just that it, like all subjects, is learned best at the right developmental state. They’ve done studies showing how quickly students catch up in math when they begin later than we usually do–not at 12 or 15, but at 7 or 8 instead of 4 and 5.

    For middle school to some extent, and definitely for high school, no, the number doesn’t hold up–recess disappears, lunch becomes 20 minutes, read-alouds and library time and class parties disappear, kids are responsible for getting themselves between classes so no line-up time … and most important, in order to squeeze in all of the content they can’t get to in their tight schedule, they tack on one to three hours of homework/night. Now, homeschoolers have the advantage there, too, obviously–they don’t have to do a random assigned number of practice problems, but just as many as they need to master a concept; they don’t have to stare blankly at homework they don’t understand until they can ask their teacher the next day … but they’ll still need to work longer than 45 minutes/day 🙂

  3. I did not homeschool my children, but all of my grandchildren are being homeschooled. I work in a public school, and I can attest to the fact that a lot of time is wasted. Everytime they have to walk to recess, lunch, music, PE, etc as a class, a few minutes are wasted in just getting them lined up and quiet. Everytime they come in from somewhere, it takes a few minutes for everyone to get their supplies and get settled. There is very little time for creativity, even kindergarten is almost all academics, no time to paint on an easel or build with blocks, etc. If your child is unfortunate enough to get a teacher who lacks classroom management skills (can’t keep order), there will be a LOT of time wasted and depending on how distractible your child is, very little learning. I am thankful my grandchildren don’t have to waste a lot of their lives in school.

  4. Just want to tell all you homeschooling mamas that you are awesome! I was homeschooled K-12th and it was the best thing for me in all ways. So many benefits that reach way beyond just the educational aspect – fostering a tighter family relationship, no worrying about random kids bullying your children, escaping the attempted cultural brainwashings that are happening daily as theories are taught instead of science… My first daughter is due tomorrow and my husband and I hope to homeschool as well. Thank you all for what you’re doing for your kids and families!

  5. Thank you for this!! We spend 2-3 hours a day homeschooling & people always try to tell me that’s not good enough. It’s much better than what my child would receive at public school.

  6. Alicia J. Not all homeschoolers skip things like spelling and grammar. In fact, most that I’ve met teach all areas of both language arts and math.
    We did public school until the beginning of grade 3, it was a nightmare on many levels. Mostly academic.
    My son would be in 4th grade now, and is easily a year ahead in all areas.
    We do 2-3 hours a day, 4 days a week.
    We cover Math, Language Arts (writing/spelling/grammar/reading/reading comprehension), Science, History, Music, Phys. Ed, Art, Geography, Robotics, Coding and I’m sure I’m missing something.
    It’s not ridiculous, it’s efficient, easy, and a lot of fun!
    Do some research before dismissing something you haven’t attempted yourself.

  7. To Alicia J. – We spend no more than 2 hours a day on school until 6th or 7th grade. Even my 7th grader can complete his heavy load in a few hours a day when uniterrupted.

    My kindergartner does less than 30 minutes of formal lessons a day – reading and math. He is learning counting by 1s, 10s, 100s,and 5s. He has learned multiplication and division as concepts. He reads pretty well. We also read good little aloud, he hears science and history with my 4th grader and actually picks up more than you would think.

    My 4th grader, who is dyslexic, does a reading lesson, math lesson, grammar (she has memorized all the parts of speech and can diagram a sentence), art history, and science in under 2 hours. Then she has all day to create her intricate art projects.

    One in one instruction and self study are far more efficient than group instruction. When a lesson is tailored the one child’s needs it is amazing how quickly it goes, even a child with learning differences that would hold them back in a brick and mortar school can excel. 🙂

  8. Quite frankly, this is ridiculous!

    Yes, you can save time over public school work but you can’t just skip spelling and grammar.

    What if your child is never interested in learning what a noun is until they get into college and realize they’re screwed? It’s the fault of the homeschooling parent who didn’t introduce and review basic grammar to ensure the child learned it.

    Grammar is a complex subject and while English speakers learn grammar innately we don’t innately learn the words we use to describe it. You can’t just introduce the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs in one day and expect the child to just know it forever! Your kid isn’t just going to catch on to the idea of prepositional phrases! You have to introduce the idea and then review it. Your child needs to spend hours over the years working on each concept in order to internalize them. That just won’t happen in 45 minutes per day.

    Also, if you skip spelling lessons and reviews of misspelled words, your child will not know how to spell. I was hyperlexic and reading came as naturally to me as breathing but the English language has so many exceptions to spelling rules, many words still had to be learned individually even for me.

    This is a recipe for educational neglect! As a former homeschooled student, I beg parents not to follow it!

  9. As a long time homeschool mom, I’m guessing that you don’t have any high schoolers interested in higher education. I definitely spend more than 2hrs on ESSENTIAL learning for my 9th grader. Elementary would easily fit in a 2hr block. Middle school might fall into that with an unschooling model. But high school credits are critical, if your student is choosing a career outside of trade school.

  10. Add to the above allowance for dealing with the cohort of children in the classroom who are on some kind of learning disorder spectrum, and the duration of actual academic learning is reduced even further. Anyone who claims that home-based educated children are missing out because they are not attending school has not been in a classroom recently.

  11. I totally agree we ha e even sat down for a whole day and done a weeks worth of work. My son is autistic he does so much learning on his home reading, gardening and learning about his dogs. I heard from another mom our kids actually only need about 5 years of schooling.

  12. Agreed you do not have to replicAte a traditional classroom in a homeschool! You can’t separate life and learning!

  13. I’m so relieved to have found this article. Our family does about 2 hours per day of homeschool, one lesson for each subject. Some days we skip certain lessons and some days we do even less than 2 hours. I was worried maybe it wasn’t enough when my brother asked me how long my kids do school each day and when I told him he answered with a very surprised “that’s it?!” So it got my thinking maybe my kids weren’t learning enough. But I feel like that 2 hours is quality learning and if I tried to cram in more they would lose interest and it would be unnecessary frustration for all of us. Plus I go by my intuition and I feel they are thriving!

  14. I would like to answer the comment from Jolie. The problem with a lot of “online” homeschooling is that it is no different from public school. I can make a very long lecture on a math concept, which may bore my child and lose their attention, or I can make it shorter, while still giving them the same instruction, resulting in holding their attention and giving a better chance of retention of material. Sometimes more is just more. Homeschoolers will oftentimes use different sources for subjects, creating their own unique curriculum. This usually takes place over the course of years, with parents “tweaking” to meet their children’s individual learning type. Here is a website you may want to take a look at. A homeschool mom created it and it is free. She has done all the planning of subjects and set it up to do whatever level your child is at on a subject. So, if your child is a slower math learner, they can do a lower level. She lives in Pennsylvania, which has the highest laws on homeschool accountability. Google “Easy Peasy Homeschool” the creator of it is Lee Giles. She has two sites, one for K-8 and one for High School. She also has Facebook pages where parents comment and help each other out. I would counsel you not to give up and maybe try again. You bit off more than you could chew and choose a program that was way too much to do and really not necessary. It does not have to be that hard.

  15. Pingback: *Not* Back to School: How This Homeschooling Family Does September - Mariana McDougall

  16. I would love to know where this type of homeschooling is possible. We did online homeschooling for a semester and it was awful. My daughter had to attend online classes a couple of times a day, sometimes more. She had way more work than she did in actual school. It took so much out of all of us, the entire family helped, to get through every week. We finished our semester of hell and promptly put her back in school.

  17. When we asked our daughter why she wanted to start homeschooling this is the explanation she gave us. It made sense and we have never looked back

  18. Brilliant article. We love homeschooling.

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