You can homeschool in less than two 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.

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28 thoughts on “You can homeschool in less than two hours per day

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  1. I’ve danced with the idea of homeschooling or moreso unschooling for a few years now. For some reason I still have this fear I can’t teach them what they need to know and my lack of organization makes it hard to take me serious ha.

    How do you know what should be taught at what age, are you determining that or are you using a curriculum?

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    1. I wrote this close to a year ago when we were unschooling my oldest who was kindergarten age. I didn’t worry about any kind of curriculum or standards — my thinking was that what she really needed was time to play with friends, spend time outside, and enjoy reading (being read to). It worked perfectly for us that year. The following year (this year), we decided to start her in an alternative school 3 days/week for first grade. They do follow a currriculum, but there are no tests or grades. She loves it! So for how we are kind of hybrid homeschooling-unschooling-alternative schooling. To make a long story short, I think you can only take things year by year, or maybe even season by season.

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    2. Alisha, I look at what the school in our area tests on at the end of the year and state standards. That’s how I guide what to teach our children. Additionally, most states claim that home schoolers have access to the public school curriculum, which means we parent teachers can borrow their text books!

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  2. This was exactly what I needed to hear. I question sometimes if I am doing my daughter justice with homeschooling and yet looking at the unschooling perspective has opened my eyes to something greater! Thank you for this wonderful post!

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  3. This slowly dawned on me, particularly when a friend with kids brought them over during spring break. “Do they have spring break?” I replied that no, they really don’t. No summer break, no winter break, no weekends…we really are learning all the time, on the kids’ schedule!

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    1. This literally makes no sense. Do you think that kids who attend school aren’t learning on spring break, winter break or weekends? Of course they are. Learning happens all the time for all kids with engaged parents. The difference is, this learning is in addition to a structured, formal education, not in place of it.

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      1. Exactly — kids learn all the time everywhere. This is why some families choose to unschool with no formal lessons added. But if parents choose to do some formal schooling on top of that, they can accomplish what the public schools do in about a couple hours a day.

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  4. hi i just stumbled on to your post doing a bit of research on homeschooling. my husband and i are taking the leap into uncharted territory with our oldest, she quite advanced in her academics in public school but our district refuses to bump kids into higher grades when they show they can handle a bigger challenge. our daughter is going on to 3ed grade this 2018-2019 school year although she is reading at an assessed grade 7 level and her math is somewhere between grades 5-6. and her science is all over the place but she has a massive love of zoology and medical sciences so we decided that home school would be a better fit for her as she wont have to spend as much time waiting on her age equivalent peers to catch up to her. as my husband is not comfortable with the unschooling method we have chosen a Distance learning school that’s a little more open to parents choice on how the teaching happens but has a core curriculum that’s referred to as a guide mostly. i was hoping to find some information on what a typical day of academic study looks like, do you go through all subjects or have them rotate through the week

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    1. I bet homeschooling will be a great option for her! We used an unschooling approach for kindergarten, and then for first grade opted for a hybrid model of 3 days/week at an alternative school and the other days at home. On the non-school days we participate in a tiny homeschool co-op one day and do Forest School another day, so our lessons are still very much impromptu. Our friends who use a curriculum tend to do about an hour a day of whatever subject the kid is interested in that day, and their kids are right on track. A great resource for what a typical day looks like for lots of homeschoolers is the group Secular, Eclectic, and Academic (SEA) homeschoolers. You will get lots of great perspectives there!

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  5. My two teens and one pre-teen do about two hours per day, four days a week, maximum. We take time off during the mainstream school holidays as well. I am trying to get them into more interest-based learning so Mr 16 watches documentaries on subjects that interest him – he has only been homeschooled since the start of May and he has already mentioned that what he has learned he would never have learned in school!

    We haven’t been homeschooling very long (Miss 14 began halfway through 2017 and Miss 12 began in February this year) but I would recommend it to anyone.

    Sometimes I think we’re not doing enough, but they are much happier, more relaxed, and loving life.

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    1. That’s great to hear! My kids are still in the early elementary years, so I always love to hear what homeschooling looks like for teenagers. My own high school years were ok in that I wasn’t completely miserable and I was prepare for college, but overall so much of what the world has to offer was hidden from us. I hope to expose my kids to much more of the amazing things the world has to offer.

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  6. Many of these kids who only do a couple of hours of school a day are not prepared for college as it is structured and formal. If you homeschool in higher grades this is something to consider.

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  7. I’ve been formally homeschooling my 8 yr old son for about 3 years (although he’s been learning at home since birth). Each year has looked different as I’ve adjusted our schedule and curriculum to meet his age and changing needs. We attend Classical Conversations co-open once a week and follow that co-ops weekly guide for what topics to teach. This year I’ve added in more YouTube videos and hands on experiments for science and history to suppliment the books we read. We use a dry erase board for just about everything. When we read about WWI, I laid it out on the white board as we read so we had a visual. I used the Math-u-see curriculum when we first started math at 5 yrs. Math-u-see uses hands on manipulatives. This year I’m switching to Teaching Textbooks, which is an internet based math program since my son has ADHD and he gets more out of the lessons. Every year will look different and our homeschooling day will be different for each of my children. The beauty of homeschooling is that I can tailor each of my kids schooling to meet their needs. They might he ahead or behind in some subjects compared to the public school, but that’s okay. I take it at their pace.

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  8. We did preschool with 15 minutes or less of “school” each day. He was reading before he started kindergarten. For middle school it took us about 3 hours (but we didn’t do school on week-ends or when the public schools were on vacation).

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    1. That sounds perfect! This is based on a first grade schedule, so I imagine it could take a little longer once you reach the older grades. Three hours a day sounds like a great balance that still leaves plenty of time for other aspects of life. 💗

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  9. I love the idea of homeschooling. My kids (primary school age) are of the mindset that they are happy to basically educate themselves and do not lack any initiative in this. The formal school however provides one important thing that I cannot seem to get past – the need for a parent to be at home. The school provides supervision for the children (for better or worse…my jury is still out) which allows me to go to uni and work and my husband to work which neither of us can afford to drop to be physically there at home. If there is any advice or experience in managing homeschooling/unschooling when a family cannot afford for one parent to not work, and cannot easily make big changes such as moving houses, I would love to understand more about how this works.

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    1. Yes, that is a huge pro of schooling! It has built in childcare. That is a big reason we switched from homeschooling/unschooling to an alternative school. We are a two career family without a stay at home parent. There are ways to work around that — hire a child care person, swap with another family, work opposite schedules, but they all come with their own set of logistical issues and costs. If you place a high priority on homeschooling because school truly does not work for your kid, then it can be done. If your kid likes school ok, that may be a better option, at least for a while. I know some families are able to take their kids out of school and do more self-directed learning once they are a little older and require less supervision.

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  10. I was so worried that our school day wasn’t long enough, 9 am to 1pm. Plus I have anxiety about my boys being behind traditional grades. It’s hard to let go of the public school mentality. I did choose a curriculum with grade levels and both boys are doing almost the same stuff. I actually wish I could have started from the very beginning, from kindergarten. But I guess we are exactly where we are suppose to be!

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  11. I’ve been concerned that perhaps I assign to much. I wish I could post pics of my daily lesson for feedback and suggestions.
    Plus this article says memorizing spelling words does not stay w the student. If that is so then what spelling lessons do stick w the student?

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