mom and daughter homeschooling

This is Why Homeschooling Takes Less Time

Do you ever compare your homeschool to a brick-and-mortar institution? Have you felt insecure because your homeschooled children don’t spend as much time “in school” as their public school counterparts? I know I did when I first started homeschooling! Often the school day would begin at 9:30 or 10:00 and be over by 2:00—with a half-hour break for lunch in between. We’d “do school” for an average of four hours per day. However, every institutional school around me had students for at least seven hours. Did this mean my kids weren’t being challenged academically? Was my homeschool lacking because we spent so much less time at work?

It is common for homeschooling families to spend less time per day than their brick-and-mortar counterparts. Sometimes by a large margin. In this article, we’ll look at why this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Time on Task vs. Warehousing

When I was studying for my education certifications at Madonna University, there was a lot of talk about “time on task.” Time on task refers to time spent in class on constructive, educational activities. It is what traditionally comes to mind when you think of school: a teacher delivering a lecture, students asking questions, reviewing the answers to last night’s homework, taking a test, and so on. In short, it is time that children ought to be learning.

The discussions were about how to maximize the amount of time on task within a given school day. Why would this be an issue? Shouldn’t the entire school day be time on task? Actually, a substantial amount of a school day is not time on task. This is due to a factor called “warehousing.” Warehousing is a term that denotes those aspects of running a school that are logistical—concerned not with education but with the logistics of maintaining order while keeping a thousand children in a building all day.

Warehousing is not a bad thing. it is, in fact, necessary anytime you have a building with lots of people, especially children. We forget how much organization goes into keeping a facility filled with hundreds of children running smoothly. So this is not a dig against brick-and-mortar schools for having to attend to their logistical needs. Rather, it is a call for homeschoolers to remember that much of the public school day is spent on things other than education. Thus making comparing the public school day with the homeschool day is of limited value.

Breaking Down a Public School Day

Let’s break down a public school day to better understanding of how warehousing is structured into the school day.

Suppose a public school middle schooler gets on the bus at 7:20 AM and arrives home at 2:45 PM. That’s roughly 7.5 hours. This is why we think of time at school as equivalent to a “full day’s work”. The 7.5 hours a child spends away at school is roughly equivalent to a full day of work at an adult job.

However, that 7.5 hours is spent only partially on academics. If a child’s bus ride to and from school is twenty minutes each way, that cuts 40 minutes off the day, carving the school day down to 6.8 hours.

Then we have to factor in the “in-between” times, those intermissions where students move from one class to another. Students generally have ten minutes to get to their first class when they get off the bus. The transition times between each class are generally five minutes. Assuming a six-period school day, that’s five five-minute transition periods, plus ten minutes to get to class from the bus and another ten to get to the bus at the end of the day. That’s 45 minutes devoted to simply moving the students from one room to another. In elementary school, where children stay in the same class all day, these transitionary periods are dedicated to the children cleaning up or preparing for the next subject.

Six hours remain. This makes sense, as there are typically six periods in a school day. But of course, public school classes are not an even 60 minutes. They are generally weird numbers, like 53 or 55 minutes. The reason for this is we need to find time for a lunch period within that 6 hours, which is carved out by breaking little pieces off of the other periods. Lunch times vary from state to state and district to district. But 25 minutes is typical. So we must deduct another 25 minutes. in grades where lunch interrupts one of the class hours, we need to add even more time, five minutes getting to lunch and five minutes getting back to class. Now we are down to around 5.6 hours left for class instruction.

With 5.6 hours of class instruction, an average class in a six-period day is around 56 minutes long. Are the entire 56 minutes on task? Of course not. There is the period of jostling around when the bell has just rung and students are getting situated. There is taking attendance. In the first period, there are often announcements and (in some places) the Pledge of Allegiance. Then there is time to collect homework from thirty students or deal with classroom management issues. We must also remember that giving directions takes longer when you have a larger group of people. Teachers repeat instructions and provide sufficient time for questions. Some teachers also require students to pick up around their area and/or put their chairs on the desks before they leave.

How long does all this take? There is no solid number, but I have heard teachers estimate between 25% to 30% of class time is spent on logistical details, translating to roughly 90 minutes throughout the school day.

Thus, after subtracting the time spent on warehousing, we are down to around 246 minutes, or just over 4 hours. This is what is available for time on task. And that’s assuming the teacher utilizes all remaining time for education (as opposed to, for example, saying, “You can have the last ten minutes for free time”).

How Much School is Necessary

At the beginning of this article, I mentioned my homeschooling day with my kids was around four hours. That is comparable to the time on task in your average brick-and-mortar school. This is because the time dedicated to warehousing essentially vanishes in a homeschool environment, enabling families to spend more of their day on task. Obviously, there are variables, and not every family is the same—a mom homeschooling eight kids simultaneously is certainly going to have a bit of warehousing of her own to do. However, in general, homeschool families do not need to deal with the vast logistical problems that brick-and-mortar schools with hundreds or even thousands of students do.

So if your homeschooling day is substantially shorter than the institutional school day, don’t worry! Don’t think in terms of “How long is the school day?” Instead, think about time on task. If you spend an even four hours on task, that’s equivalent to what brick-and-mortar schools are doing. This is another reason to homeschool: you can get more done in less time!

Would you like to continue this discussion? I invite you to join Catholic homeschooling parents at our Homeschool Connections Community or our Facebook group.

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