Welcome to “Ask a NextGen Homeschooler…“ It’s your turn to ask the authors of NextGen Homeschool — four formerly homeschooled moms who are now homeschooling our children — to weigh in on your homeschooling questions. From the practical to the personal, all questions are welcome — whether you’re a current homeschooler or just homeschooling curious!
This week’s question is one that we see posted almost daily to the many online homeschooling Web sites, blogs, Facebook pages and Twitter feeds:
How early do you start your homeschool day? How long do you spend on each subject, and how long does your homeschool day last?
The basic question here is scheduling: What does a day in the life of your homeschool look like, and what can I learn from your experience? Just like curriculum and lesson planning, we all have a unique answer to this question. But we hope that giving you a peek into our days — as varied as they might be — will provide a few tips, new ideas, insight and encouragement as you shape your own homeschooling agenda.
NextGen Homeschool Author Rosanna Ward
Was homeschooled since 8th grade
Began homeschooling in 2005
How early do we start our homeschool day? Well, even though our family has owned a donut shop for more than 13 years (which means a very early start to our business day), I am still not a morning person. The children and I usually get up somewhere between 7:30-8:30 a.m., get dressed and eat breakfast, and try to start school at about 9:00 a.m. Sometimes it’s closer to 10:00 a.m.
I used to try to stick to a strict schedule, but invariably things come up that throw off this type of schedule. So it just works better for us to have a routine and be flexible. For instance, my husband usually gets home from our donut shop between 8:00 and 9:00 a.m. He likes to spend time with the boys before he takes his nap, which means our school work gets pushed back for a little bit.
How long do we spend on any subject? This year I have a high school senior who only has four classes (and is very independent) and a first grader. Joel, my first grader, spends about 10 minutes on Bible (Alpha Omega workbook), then 30 minutes on math, which includes a lesson or two in Horizons and some Addition Facts Practice. After math, he takes a short break. Then we read out of his reader (currently Christian Liberty Press Nature Reader 1), I read a story to him, and he does some printing practice and a phonics work page (also Horizons).
We just started a journal with Joel, where he writes the day and date, copies a sentence about his day, and draws a picture. After English, which takes about 30 minutes, we break for lunch. After lunch, we try to sit back down for a lesson in history and/or science (Alpha Omega workbooks). This might take another 15 to 30 minutes.
On Tuesdays and sometimes Thursdays, we go to my sister Elizabeth’s house to have school with her family. When there, Joel does history, geography, sometimes a science experiment, and music theory with Elizabeth’s girls — besides his math and English work. On Mondays he goes golfing with his dad after lunch, and on Thursday he has P.E. after lunch.
How long do we homeschool each day? Actual school work time fluctuates. On a good school day, I’d estimate that it’s between one to two hours of focused work time. But I believe learning happens all the time. Joel has learned math while golfing with his dad, and his understanding of measurement and distance is way beyond his years. He also understands weather conditions better than many first graders.
One of the great things about being a homeschool parent is looking for those teachable moments in life, whether it is during official “school” hours or any other time. And when your child has a passion for learning, you can wrap his education around that passion— and his chances of both learning and remembering what is learned will increase dramatically.
NextGen Homeschool Editor Renée Gotcher
Was homeschooled in 11-12th grade
Began homeschooling in 2010
I recently wrote a “Day in the Life” post as part of “Q&A Friday: Your Day in the Life” at Simple Homeschool.net. But the day I shared wasn’t exactly typical, and I know that when I was a prospective homeschooler asking this same question, what I was really asking veteran homeschooling moms was what does this homeschooling life really look like on a day-to-day basis, and can I do it?
I quickly discovered that the short answer is: It depends! It depends on your family size, the ages of your children, the working schedules you and your spouse keep, your location and access to outside resources and enrichment programs, what curriculum you choose, what teaching approach you take, and so on and so forth. If you embrace this concept of “choose your own homeschooling adventure” and the fact that it is absolutely, completely up to you, it’s quite liberating — and even energizing! So here’s what our typical daily schedule/routine looks like these days…
How early do we start our homeschool day? I will admit in cyberspace print that we do not start our homeschool day in the early morning hours that are typical to traditional school days. Or typical to morning people. Because morning people we are not! Even when the girls were infants, they slept past nine most mornings. And nothing has changed.
When my daughters attended private school in Durango, we were fortunate that our school day started a full half-hour later than the public schools — 8:20 a.m. instead of 7:50 a.m. And even with that extra half-hour of sleep, it was a daily struggle to pull my then first-grade and third-grade daughters out of their deep sleep to quickly dress, eat breakfast, and hop in the car for a 10-15 minute drive down the mountain to school. They never enjoyed it, and frankly, neither did I!
So when we proposed the idea of homeschooling to our girls, their first questions were: Does that mean we won’t have to get up early? And can we stay in our pajamas? Ah, girls after my own heart! I decided the answer was yes — as much as possible.
Most days, we start family devotion time and school work around 10-10:30 a.m. By this point in the morning, everyone is fed and fully awake, and I’ve had enough coffee, done my personal devotions, and checked e-mail. PJs are sometimes still on if there are no afternoon activities on the schedule, otherwise the girls are also dressed by now. Occasionally we start earlier when there’s a field trip or other special outing on the morning agenda.
How long do we spend on any subject? Last year I used a curriculum that came with a lesson plan where we covered almost every subject every day, breaking up the day into lots of tiny segments. It sounded like a good idea to me, and I thought my girls would appreciate the variety throughout the day, but it turns out that when given the opportunity, the girls like to get very focused on the subjects they enjoy — and don’t want to be interrupted to move on to the next task until they are “done” with their work. And “done” means different things to all three of them.
So I no longer break up our days into subject-specific segments. Instead, I have divided up our day into group work and individual time. The morning section of the day (after breakfast) is carved out for group interaction: We sit around the couch for family devotions, then we do unit study work together around the dining room table in the front room (separate from our kitchen). Then in the afternoon, we shift into individual work mode, which includes math and grade-specific language arts, and I work with each of the girls one on one.
Unit studies include work that covers many basic “subjects” such as reading, vocabulary, memorization, art, history, science, geography — even some math at times. We do some lecture and discussion, followed by a video or some reading, some writing work, and creative projects known as “expand” work in our Heart of Wisdom lesson plan, where they get to choose from a menu of options to apply what they’ve just learned in a creative form that they can use to “explain” the information to someone else later. Unit study time can take from one to two hours, depending on how creative the girls get with their unit projects and how hard it becomes for them to put it down for a lunch break.
After lunch, I give the girls some free time to play in the backyard or do something fun indoors to work out some of their energy. Once a week, the girls also participate with a homeschool P.E. program for an hour immediately following lunch.
During our individual study time, all three girls (including my four-year-old) use Math-U-See — that involves watching a DVD lesson and practicing with manipulatives with me, then completing math worksheets on their own. While I’m doing math with one, the other is working on language arts and reading independently, and then we swap. Then I check back in with both older girls again after they’ve completed their written/independent work. We usually spend about two hours in this mode, then the girls have free time again or a late afternoon activity.
This is also when I get hands-on learning time with my 4-year-old Elise. For most of the day, I let our preschooler do what she is interested in doing alongside her 3rd- and 5th-grade sisters — and I’m surprised how much she is learning by osmosis. While we’re doing our unit studies, she may listen with focus and participate with any work that involves coloring and art. Or she’ll just play nearby and listen casually. Either way, she blows us away with the information she can recite later! I’m pretty sure she’s an auditory learner.
However, while the older girls are working independently, I look for opportunities to sit down with Elise for some “focused” lessons. Sometimes she’ll come up to me and say, “I want to do my math now!” Other times, I’ll have to make suggestions, like “Would you like to read with me right now?” Our lessons are a short 15-minutes and are always followed by a progress sticker on her subjects charts (posted in our homeschool area), because she is big on instant recognition. If she’s not excited about doing a formal lesson when I am free, then we read together, play educational games, make up new ways to use the math manipulatives, or do a craft that involves my support, or just role play with her Princess dolls.
How long do we homeschool each day? My elementary age girls easily spend at least 3-4 hours on school work of some kind each day. On days that we have enrichment activities, they spend less time doing table work with me, but will do independent work (such as reading, writing, or finishing a creative project) in the late afternoons. Even though we’re not “scheduling” time to specifically cover each subject everyday, I am finding that we’re doing more than enough with this approach — and most important, the girls are really engaged with their work!
I have also come to realize that schooling doesn’t have to be limited to traditional education activities. So our days are filled with just as much informal learning as structured time. Whether it’s helping with the cooking, reading to younger sister, spontaneous Web research on a topic of personal interest, or watching a Discovery channel show with dad when he’s done working, the girls continue to learn beyond our specified school time.
Learning is everywhere, and life is full of experiences that teach and grow our children just as much as books, worksheets, and notebooks full of finished assignments. Learning is a journey, and I’m very thankful that my girls are truly enjoying the journey — and that I’m along for the ride.
NextGen Homeschool Author Cristina Eklund
Was homeschooled since the 6th grade
Began homeschooling in 2010
How early do we start our homeschool day, and how long do we spend on each subject? We start between 8:30-9:00 a.m. That half hour is spent mostly making beds, reading a devotion or finishing up breakfast — unless I know we have to be out of the house by 10 to get somewhere (a field trip, etc.). In that case, we will start a little earlier.
Since I follow the Charlotte Mason method and have a six-year-old boy, I have found that short lessons (10 to 15 minutes) and changing up the “type of learning” (i.e. workbook, manipulatives, reading, games) works best for us. So we do about 30 minutes on Language Arts (divided into 10 minutes of handwriting, 10 minutes of phonics/sight word lessons, and 10 minutes of reading or games). Then we spend 10 to 15 minutes on a math lesson, 10 to 15 minutes of math games/manipulative practice, 15 minutes of reading a science/history lesson, 15 minutes doing a science/history activity (sometimes this means exploring together outside), 15 minutes of reading good literature (fairy tales/fables/Five In A Row books/Beatrix Potter), 15 minutes memorizing poetry/songs/bible or drawing/art/listening to the composer of the month.
All of these lesson types are interchangeable and can take place in any order during our morning school time. After this period of the day, we have free time (outside) unless we go to the library or park, until lunch time. I also like to read to the kids during lunch (a short non-picture book to get them used to listening without needing pictures to entertain). Because I have both a preschooler (my daughter Arielle) and Kindergarten/1st grader (my son Elijah), I’m a lot more hands on than I know I would be with children who are in 3rd grade and beyond.
How long do we homeschool each day? We try to end our “sit down” lessons by 11 a.m. Of course, I also expect that more reading together, as well as piano practice and Spanish review time, may take place in 15-minute increments later in the day, after nap/quiet time (which ends around 3:00ish). But those activities are not very “schoolish.” They are activities that we can do together to entertain during the downtime, rather than turning to a TV or computer — we save those privileges for “diligence rewards.”
One day a week, we attend a local co-op class from 9:30 a.m. until 12:30 p.m., then go to the park afterward. All classes within that co-op time are 30 minutes long, and include subjects such as art, science, Bible, Spanish, and tea time for learning manners. They are designed for K-6th grade level students.
NextGen Homeschool Author Elizabeth Thomas
Was homeschooled from K-12
Began homeschooling in 2009
How early do we start our homeschool day? We start our homeschool time at about 8:00 a.m. on good days, but most of the time, it’s by about 9:00 a.m. We start with Bible and pray, then we dive into math — math is a subject we work on everyday.
How long do we spend on any subject? This year we have been spending about an hour on each subject. But because I have one daughter with special education needs in the areas of reading and math, most of the time we end up spending longer on these two subjects. Right now I seem to be spending about two hours just doing math (using Saxon Math) with all four girls every morning — I get a little sick of it, but I just try not to watch the clock, especially if the girls are really needing the extra time with something.
I really do try to cover each subject every day, but my focus will change from week to week. For example, I like to leave science for the summer time — because it’s just a lot easier that way and the girls seem to get a lot more out of it — but during the school year, we’ll still do something science-related once a week and read science-related books from time to time. I use Shurley English with all the girls, and we do the same history lesson — and the girls will do work that is appropriate to their grade levels. This year, we have focused on American history together using the History of US books, which makes teaching history easier for me, but they still have workbooks that are grade-specific to work on.
How long do we homeschool each day? We usually do not finish as early as I would like. I like to say we never finish… or at least I don’t! On days when I have too much to do and can’t teach as long as I normally would, I will give the girls some life skills work, workbooks, and reading to do. I also keep a bag in my car full of stuff the girls can work on — even for a fast trip to the doctor, the girls will still have something to do.
Balancing my time with all four girls and everything else we have to do is a lot like juggling to me! Sometimes it feels like a huge mess, but it works out somehow.
What does your homeschooling day look like? How have your teaching approach, curriculum choice, age of your children, and family likes/dislikes influenced your daily homeschool routine or schedule?
We are also taking NEW questions for upcoming “Ask a NextGen Homeschooler” features. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or post them as comments to this article (and let us know if it’s OK to quote you if we use your question). We look forward to responding to your homeschooling questions!