Or... "How Much Is Enough?"
In Facebook homeschooling groups and in real life homeschool group meetings, I frequently see new homeschoolers asking "Am I doing enough?" You ask this about all ages, from preschool through high school, though it tends to center around the earliest years of homeschooling.
The "Am I doing enough?" question often comes from a point of surprise. New homeschooling parents are sometimes shocked at just how little time it can take to do some basic homeschooling with just a few young children. That's because they compare their experience to a long school day (plus bus rides and homework!), and have concern about whether it is enough.
(And yes -- the daily care and nurture of young children and running a busy household can take all your time -- I'm speaking here of the notion of ''homeschooling" as a distinct part of the day -- even though it often doesn't play out in such a categorical way).
Keep in mind that homeschooling is efficient compared to classroom learning.
- The adult-to-child ratio is much better, with one adult helping fewer children learn. You are not trying to get around to thirty students in a classroom. Each child gets more one-on-one time with an adult. Efficiency!
- The learning can be customized. Every child can have curriculum or learning experiences that fit his or her learning style. There is not a lot of wheel-spinning because children are using materials that are a poor fit. If you do realize poor fit, you can quickly make changes in your homeschooling instead of spending unnecessary time.
- There is less wasted time for institutional processes. Children in school spend a lot of time waiting in line, taking turns in large groups, traversing buildings and grounds, changing classes, and the like. Your home is not an institution serving a large group, and your "class" is a family.
- Children can learn at their own optimal rates. You don't have to spend time trying to keep everyone at the same grade level or pace, worrying about "catching up" some students with review and rework which will bore students who have already "got it." If your child needs review or a slower pace, you can indulge that need appropriately, still working the same amount of time each day instead of "extra" time that might be less productive.
- You can work with children at their best time of day. For some children, this may be early morning; for others, homeschooling might work best at night-time. You don't have to work against a child's natural body clock, so you can get more done in a shorter time.
- You can choose an approach to homeschooling that embeds learning within a child's natural interests and regular experiences. This can supplement a curriculum or make up all of your child's learning experiences. This kind of learning occurs naturally throughout the day, whether you are at the grocery store, the library, or at home. Unit studies, interest-led learning, project-based homeschooling, and unschooling are among the homeschooling styles that you can adopt part-time or full-time, and if your child truly engages through these approaches, learning will be both more efficient and effective. They do take considerable time, but you may find yourself not counting all the time they take as "lessons" you are intentionally teaching in a school-like manner.
- You can give a child frequent breaks, which makes many learners more efficient in their learning, including but not limited to homeschooled kids who may have been diagnosed as having ADD/ADHD. Breaks at school are seen as taking time away from learning; breaks at home may make learning go faster!
- You can design your own daily, weekly, and yearly learning schedules, in order to optimize your time.
- You can peg learning to other events in the day. For example, your kids can watch TED Talks or Liberty's Kids at breakfast. They can listen to classical music during lunch time. They can be engaged in inquiry-based discussions at the dinner table. These are not formal "lessons" that take a specific amount of "homeschool" time, but they are educational experiences built into the environment.
- Many young homeschooled kids do no formal lessons at all. The efficiency is because the parents set up the child's environment for creative play, art, scientific observation and discovery, pre-literacy, and pre-numeracy. Reading aloud, painting together, counting and sorting, visiting the library for story time -- all these "count" but do not have to be seen as lesson time. Many homeschoolers intentionally delay formal academic lessons because of what neuroscientists, psychologists, and researchers have told us about child development and human cognition, but it also makes their homeschooling days more efficient. (This doesn't mean you won't spend generous time interacting with your young children -- just that it can be more integrated into the day).
- For older kids and teens, they can set their own pace and approach to homeschooling with your guidance. They can decide to work ahead, use online courses, follow interests, and prepare to meet future goals. If something doesn't apply to them or their goals, they don't have to go through it just to meet a bureaucratic rule. Efficiency!
On the other hand, if you are not taking advantage of some of these efficiencies of homeschooling, you may find yourself with a resistant child and the question, "Am I doing too much?"
Pushing more and more hours of work onto an individual child in hopes of creating more progress or getting through a pre-planned curriculum "by the end of the year" can be counter productive. This becomes similar to some schools skipping recess and assigning so much homework that children lose enthusiasm.
Homeschooling past a child's ability to pay attention will create frustration and can kill a child's love for learning. Insisting on finishing a curriculum "because we paid for it" even though everyone hates it will take an unreasonable amount of time and be neither efficient nor effective. Trying to mimic school schedules so you don't feel like you're "cheating" will not necessarily mean better education, but it may cheat your children of valuable family time, nurturing relationships, and a love for learning.
Rather than trying to get through "too much" in a day for some reason that you're starting to doubt, you probably need to spend time exploring the concept of deschooling.
Then you will be better prepared to create a homeschooling day that will be meaningful but not overwhelming for your child -- and you.
Homeschooling does take considerable time and commitment from the parent, and it will take you more time if you have more children or children who have special needs and unique circumstances. I do not mean to minimize the overall time that it takes to homeschool. It's a real thing. However, you can find the efficiency of homeschooling if you capitalize on its family base rather than emulating institutional school.