In Massachusetts, homeschoolers agree to instruct their children for 180 days and 900 or 990 hours (depending upon grade level) over the course of those days. Most states have a similar policy. For my 2nd grader, that comes out to five hours of instruction per day. That looks very daunting at first. How do I make him sit and do math and reading for FIVE HOURS? Well, I don’t. Chances are, your local public school teacher doesn’t either. We started Alex in public school. At the Open House, his 1st grade teacher gave a copy of the schedule she followed most days. There were two hours of math and reading scheduled per day. Two hours. Even high school students have down time and wait on the next part of their day. How much of the class time is the teacher answering questions that maybe your student already knows the answer to? How much time would your student have to wait to have a question answered while the teacher answers other questions? Homeschooling is generally more efficient because the student to teacher ratio is much lower. So if we don’t get in five formal hours, I’m not going to worry about it.
My son asks a lot of questions over the course of the day. So even after our formal book work is done (Usually around 2 hours for my 7 year old), we are looking up information on other topics. Little things, like asking questions about pricing in grocery stores, add up to a lot of time. Doing routine things, like taking/sending kids to places like the post office, can count. How many schools teach about the post office but can’t take their students? Taking your kids to the bank can count if you are involving them in what you are doing (how to fill out a deposit slip or a check, etc…) Do your kids cook? There is an activity that counts for school hours.
Today, we aren’t cracking open a single text book unless Alex wants to. But it’s still a school day. How? We have a four day book work week and use the fifth for field trips or educational videos. As I didn’t plan any field trips for today, I chose several educational videos for him to watch. One was about a Tuareg boy who lives in the Sahara Desert, tying into our current science unit. One was the Electric Company, tying into language arts. Then he watched several episodes of Wild Kratts, because fun! How many times have your kids voluntarily watched an educational program? Some days Alex watches these things because he just wants to. One of his favorite DVDs is about trains in Colorado. From that he’s learned about Pike’s Peak, the Rocky Mountains, the Rio Grande River, and other aspects of the state. Those shows can be counted towards your hours.
How much time do they spend on artwork on their own? Just because you aren’t sitting with them, or assigning it to them, doesn’t mean it isn’t part of their learning. Many kids like to read for pleasure, so even though they are choosing their reading material, they are still doing educational things outside of what you have planned that you can figure into that 900/990 hours.
Additionally, when you look at a schedule from a public school, much of the day is spent moving between classes/activities. For young children, play is counted as educational, thus recess figures into the school day. How much time does your elementary school aged student spend at play? For jr high/high school students, they have study halls.
As for myself, I also look at things that we do on weekends. If we spend two or more hours at an event that is teaching my son something on a Saturday or Sunday, I check that off as one of our 180 days of school. (I like record keeping…) For example, my mother in law took him to a multi-cultural event and he learned quite a bit about other countries. So, it was a school day. I took him to a wild animal event at our local Audobon Society, so I counted it as a school day.
When it comes to high school and tracking “credit hours” for putting together transcripts for college, many parents will consider completing a text book designed to be used for an entire school year as a completed credit. Even if their student completes it in six months as opposed to ten months. They don’t see the need to fill in those other four months with extra activities to count the credit. Think about it. There are a number of high schoolers in the public schools and certainly in accredited private schools that graduate early because they were allowed to work ahead of their peers. They still get full credit and a diploma even if they didn’t spend the same number of actual hours on a subject as most of their peers. That is why it’s called a credit hour and not just an hour.
Yes, I love record keeping, but I don’t track every minute of the day to make sure I’m getting in the five hours. I am looking at our lifestyle. Much of what we do with Alex is educational in nature. So I am not worried about it. As evidence mounts that homeschooled students get an equal if not better education than their public school counterparts, I know I can relax about minute counting and just make sure that we have reasonable goals for what we want to complete each school year.