Sunday, March 19, 2006

How to Answer the Question: How Long does it Take You to Homeschool Each Day?

Today I am writing about something important which involves how other homeschoolers (or potential homeschooling parents) perceive how we do what we do. What these adults think of the homeschooling lifestyle that others lead can boost or deflate their own self-esteem or their feelings about whether or not they ‘measuring up’. The way we answer the question “How long do you spend homeschooling your children each day?” is very important. This is about being truthful, being realistic, about not being prideful, not exaggerating, and about being honest about the amount of time and effort that it takes to homeschool our children.

The other night I was at a homeschool support group meeting. It was my first adult meeting for this academic year (which was not my own group meeting). I arrived a bit late so I missed the introductions. There were two people present who I had never met before. I knew everyone else and I knew them all to be what I will classify as “eclectic” homeschoolers who all ‘do lessons’ with their children at least four times a week. Some like the Classical method. Some have said that they are unstructured both in their daily plans as well as their plans for the school year, and consider themselves bordering on unschooling (yet they do structured lessons daily). One person says she leans toward unschooling but she uses the Sonlight curriculum (but not the scheduling part as outlines in the ‘teacher manual’). Also this was a unique group as three families present had children with special needs and I know that they all do ‘school-ish’ type work but in a way that is suited and adapted to their child’s learning challenges. (And by the way hearing some of their stories makes me realize that I take for granted that my children learn things easily and that the things I worry or complain about are really miniscule. Despite the serious problems going on in our family which are beyond our control, I need to get back to feeling more grateful for our situation, but I digress.)

Anyway we had various conversations including a discussion about how to find balance and how many outside classes/sports/other activities we do on a regular basis. In this we described the running around, the juggling of multiple children to various classes, etc. The consensus was that doing too much can drive us nuts. We also acknowledged that at various ages and stages children sometimes need more socialization and some of the busyness is arranging social time with other families or with larger groups and that sucks up time but is necessary.

Then one of the newcomers asked a question and wanted to verify if basically everyone unschooled and did anyone not do school daily or at least on a regular basis. The question blew me away as I couldn’t figure out how she came to that conclusion based on anything that we had been saying.

We all replied that yes, we do ‘do school’ four if not five days per week (and I admitted that our autumn had been spotty due to various family issues and children’s illnesses). One mother shared that recently her son with special needs has been doing one busy academic week then one week off from academics in which socialization with other children is the main focus. She is finding that the schedule is working best right now (but she fears they won’t meet the end of the year goal).

This then led to the other newcomer asking “how many hours do you do homeschooling lessons per day”. So what I want to say about this is that before you as a homeschooler answer this question I think it is important to define how we define it. Before your read further, stop and think about how you would answer this question. Okay now you can continue reading…

What I realized last night was that some mothers count up the ‘on task’ time and then it comes out very short such as 1.5 or 2.0 or 2.5 hours per day for their elementary or middle school aged children. They are not counting the breaks, the snacks; the other kind of thing that happens that takes up a block of time. One mother said her ‘school time’ is about 2 or 2.5 hours per day but then said it takes up from 8:00am to 1:00pm, which I injected to say was actually 5 hours. She defended her opinion that she wasn’t counting the short breaks, or the longer spurt that the kids went outdoors to blow off steam, etc. I hold fast that she ‘homeschools’ for 5 hours a day. This got me to thinking about how the two of us can come up with two very different perceptions of ‘the time spent’ homeschooling.

My perspective about my own family is that when we ‘do school’ it takes us 3.5 to 4 hours. I do count the breaks and whatever else happens in the middle when I think about how long we spend ‘doing homeschooling’ per day because to me I can’t do other things during that time, so the time is spent ‘doing homeschooling’. I don’t count lunch into our homeschooling time either as usually lunch doesn’t happen in the middle of school time. (I also try to just do it all in a block of time so that the rest of the day is either 'unstructured free time' or is open for the various appointments we may have scheduled for that day.

My children do short lesson times a la the Charlotte Mason method. For example for math my younger son does 20 minutes a day (I set a timer so I know it really is 20 minutes). I don’t care how many pages he does a day or how many lessons that is but he is to do 20 minutes per day. In this way if he is having trouble with understanding a concept we work on it and then after 20 minutes are up he is done, which is good because if a child struggles for a bit then the lesson is mentally taxing and 20 minutes is long enough. If instead, I had said he had to do 4 pages in the math workbook but on a struggling day, that may take him 60 minutes and that is unreasonable for a five year old, in my opinion! Also if I had the goal that every day he’d do 4 pages of math, then I’d always be living with ‘he is behind’ on the days when he doesn’t finish. I don’t think that with homeschooling a child should feel any kind of deadline pressure (at least in elementary school). What I want, at least for these elementary grades is for constant progression and mastery of information. I don’t say “by the end of March I want subtraction with borrowing to be mastered”. I just say “daily we will do 20 minutes of math”. I have not been let down by this system yet and on the subjects that I apply this method to, my children are ‘ahead’ of grade level. I apply the timing of lesson to “The Three R’s”.

Let’s also remember that if a child is “in school” they are not “on task” all day. A school or a teacher does not ever add up ‘on task’ time. They have a period for a subject and included in that is the set up, the explanation of the lesson, the work, and the clean up.

I think a more fair way to answer it would be to say the total amount of time that it takes to do all of homeschooling. That is the taking out of the stuff, the doing of the work, the eating of the snack, the going to the bathroom, and putting the stuff away.

Why do people ask the ‘time’ question?
I think that the reason the person asks "How long does it take?", is because they are thinking about scheduling and how they can fit homeschooling into their life. If a person says they do two hours of schooling a day but that takes five hours of the schedule then to me to say "five hours" as the answer is correct. If we say “two hours” and the person is figuring to be busy with other activities in the other hours of the day they will be shocked to find they can’t get all the homeschooling stuff they wanted to get done in that two hours, or else they do the homeschooling and it takes longer but they can’t do the whatever other thing they were trying to do such as doing errands or activities that take them outside the house or cleaning the house or making meals or exercising or whatever!

I know some people don’t want to say they ‘do homeschooling’ for some long period like five hours as it songs very long and they don’t want to think that homeschooling takes them a long time. Perhaps they think that saying "five hours" would be dishonest? Others may not want to say the total time because they like to think only about the ‘on task’ time such as ‘how much a child can learn about spelling in just 10 minutes’. Sometimes there is also a little comparison going on about school vs. homeschooling, to think, “Well those children are gone from home for 8 hours a day and they are behind my child in the math concepts, how can that be if I do only 20 minutes per day of math and they are in school all day?”. Sometimes I have thought this and I know others do also, that there can sometimes be a little pride thing going on about “Well look at all we accomplish in short amount of time with one on one instruction and that is so superior to the classroom environment”. I think we need to stop doing that. Stop the comparisons and stop the boasting or pride as it is founded partly on a half-truth.

Of course for unschoolers who have no routine at all or do no ‘lessons’ per day or who live with zero structure regarding the academics in their homeschool, they will laugh at my thoughts and will say, “We learn all day long and we can’t separate and define a number of minutes of the day, my children learn every minute that they are awake!” They may also go on to say, “We love learning and cannot separate it from real life and what we learn is so enjoyable and just a part of normal living so how can it be measured and counted?” So if you are of that mindset then you may scoff at my pondering about this entire subject.

However, all homeschoolers should at least ponder this for one very simple reason: by being truthful and realistic in our descriptions of ‘how we homeschool’, especially to others within our own homeschooling community, we can help make all in the community feel more empowered and capable. If we downplay the work involved in homeschooling to another homeschooler, the other may feel that they are inadequate, which may lead to various problems including negative self-esteem and in the worst case, an end to homeschooling for that family just on the basis of the parent’s idea that their family is not measuring up to the other homeschooling families in their own homeschooling community.

In my opinion, it doesn’t do any good to downplay the effort or time that it takes the parent or the children to ‘do homeschooling’ and in fact it can actually do harm.

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Sherry said...

I agree that giving a number either five hours or two hours can give newcomers unrealistic expectations, but for those of us who are moving toward unschooling or an eclectic method, it might be more helpful to say that homeschooling becomes a way of life, that we work the lessons and the learning moment into our days. We certainly don't have only two and a half or three hours devoted to teaching our children. It takes a lot more time than that. However, it can be integrated into what ever we're already doing as SAHM's--with a lot of effort on the part of the children and the teacher.
Good thoughts.

FatcatPaulanne said...

Wow. I see what you mean.

christinemm said...

Hi Sherry, Thanks for your thoughts. I find it very interesting that you say that unschooling can take a long time. My local unschooler friends and some of my self-labeled 'radical unschooler' cyber-friends imply that 'homeschooling' takes no time at all, that they just 'live' and the parent does what they want to do, and the children play and have fun, and they learn all they ever need to know.

I think the way that we describe what we do does cause people (other homeschoolers and people who don't homeschool) to come to conclusions or judgements about us, and also sometimes they then label ALL homeschoolers as doing that. That is a shame because no two families homeschool exactly alike.

When my oldest was homeschooling the Kindergarten year it was unschooling with no structure to our day. I tried explaining this to someone who was asking (my sister in law's mother) and I got nowhere. She just could not comprehend what I was saying. She kept saying, "but how LONG do you "do Kindergarten" each day?". I explained that I don't count up the minutes that we do a craft, play with play dough, read many books, etc.

Anyway now that some of our day is spend 'doing lessons' I count up that time.

I also want to say that contrary to what some believe in the 'non-lesson' time in my home, lots of learning takes place in a more spontaneous, unstructured, learner-driven and interest-led learning.

I am so tired of when some people are so black and white about things. Example: either zero structure in a home or rigid schedule all day, either learner driven learning or torture coercion lessons. It is not like that, IMO. I have friends who think this way. They pass judgement on others who do homeschooling differently than they do. I have even been accused of 'torturing' my son while teaching him to read with 5-10 minutes of a phonics lesson per day. Give me a break.

I am rambling now, so I will stop.