Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Time Just Really Isn't That Important!

Time. This seems to be an important topic when it comes to education. I'm not talking about learning to tell time. I'm talking about the amount of time spent learning something. People seem to genuinely think that the amount of time spent learning something is directly related to the amount of knowledge, depth of understanding, and quality of education you have on that topic.

The amount of time spent on lessons is often discussed in the homeshooling world. We discuss the fact that we spend less time than the public schools, and often get more done. This is, of course, due to the efficiency of dealing with a much smaller class size. I have 2 kids, and I work with them separately (being 5.5 years apart in age means that their schoolwork doesn't overlap). So, I have a class size of 1 compared to the average class size of 30 that the public school has. Of course it doesn't take me 50 minutes per subject, plus hours of homework at the end of the day! However, some public school teachers, adminstrators, and even those not associated with the schools but still anti-homeschool, will argue that homeschoolers should have to do the same amount of time that the public schools do every day. Our locals schools go from 6 to 7 hours a day, depending on which school it is. So, according to those critics, homeschoolers should also be required to do 6-7 hours a day. However, how much of that time is really spent on education, though? There is a large amount of time wasted in public school, even with really good teachers. There's time between classes, roll call, getting everyone focused and ready to work. There's also time that isn't really wasted, but is not educational, like lunch & recess. Then, of course, there's time that is educational, but not required in a homeschool setting, like answering questions & re-explaining the concept to 30 students (we still answer questions & explain concepts, just in much less time when only a few students). So, to expect homeschoolers to spend the same amount of time 'in school,' isn't completely realistic.

It would be easier to take, if the only people who concerned themselves with the amount of time we do school were the homeschool critics. However, homeschoolers also make a big deal of it. Some are required to count hours for their state reporting, so obviously time matters to them. I'm talking about the ones who get offended or offensive about it, though. Some homeschoolers seem to be offended by those who spend more time on 'school' than they do. Some feel superior to those who do less than they do, and often get rude or offensive about it. Some wind up worrying or doubting, thinking they do too much or too little, because of the amount of time they spend on school.

The problem with all of that is this: time really isn't that important. There is no magic amount of time that will be the perfect amount spent on a topic/subject/concept that will allow all children to fully master it. There is also no perfect amount of review that all students need. More time spent on one subject does not always equal more learned.

There are so many things that will affect how many hours a family homeschools each day.

How many subjects they do: Generally speaking, a family that does 4 subjects a day will spend less time on school than a family that does 8 subjects a day. Some families choose to do the 'core' subjects daily, and the 'extras' just one or two days a week each. Some do every subject every day. Some split the year into terms and do different subjects for each term. So, not all families do the same amount of subjects each day.

How fast the child works: Each child has their own pace. Some kids work slower. Some work faster. So, it stands to reason that a child who works slower would take longer to do the same amount of work as a child who works faster.

Motivation: Children who are highly motivated tend to work faster, but may also do more work & go more in-depth. How motivated a child is has a direct influence on how long it takes to do their work.

The amount of work done: 5 Math problems usually take less time to do than 20 Math problems. One paragraph generally takes less time to write than 5 paragraphs. So, the amount of work that the parent requires has some bearing on the amount of time spent on school each day.

Special Needs: As anyone who has ever lived with or worked with a child with special needs (and this includes Gifted children) knows, they have their own way of doing things & do things in their own time.

Grade level or level of work: Again generalizing for ease here, the higher the grade level or the higher level work being done, the longer it will take to do the work. A lesson in Algebra will likely take a little longer than a lesson on subtraction. A 5 page research paper will take longer than a 5 paragraph essay.

Priorities: Most of the others really boil down to sub-sections of this one. What are your priorities? What do you feel is important? Do you feel Science & Social Studies are important enough to be done regularly, or do you often let them slide? Are the Arts a big part of your schooling, or do you only do them occasionally? Do you require foreign language, and if so, how many?

What do you count?: Now, this one might be the biggest determining factor in how long the school day is. When someone asks me how many hours a day we do school, the first thing I say (usually) is "that depends on what you count as school." This is not a cop-out. It's not a way to avoid the answer. It's the simple truth. If all you count is the stuff that looks, to you, like 'real' school, aka textbooks and workbooks, a fairly small percentage of our day would count (especially in the lower grades). If you count everything we do that is educational, almost every waking moment could count as school. I generally go somewhere in the middle - counting everything that's educational, as long as it is related to what we are 'officially' covering in school at that time. Personally, I count documentaries, educational shows (like Magic School Bus), reading time, textbooks, workbooks, labs/experiments, projects/activities, their educational computer time, research, even games (as long as they practice an important skill/subject/concept).

Now, I don't personally care how long other people do school. I'm sometimes curious about it & I enjoy learning about how others set up their day, plan, etc. When I read about someone who has a longer school day then we do, it doesn't make me worry that we aren't doing enough. When I read about someone who has a shorter day than we do, I don't worry that we're doing too much, nor do I look down on them for spending less time per day on school. However, not everyone can say that. I've seen people get defensive, offensive, and downright disrespectful about the number of hours others do school. Some have been judged & insulted so many times for 'not spending long enough' on school, that they assume everyone who has a longer day is judging them. Some refuse to say how long their school day is, due to being accused of 'pushing' and 'expecting too much' so many times. I've known people to try quite hard to 'justify' the length of their school day to others.

Who are they to judge, though? What gives them the right to decide if someone else is doing too much or too little? Do they know the other person's children? Do they know if the child in question can handle the workload or if they would be able to handle more? Do they know why the person's school day is that length?

As you can see, this bothers me. I've seen too many people hurt by others who assume they know what is best for everyone.

Many would say that I am pushing my kids, that I expect too much, that our school day is too long, etc. However, they don't know my kids or me. If they did, they would know that there's not much that I 'push' for school. I push Math, because my daughter would NEVER do it if I didn't make her. I don't allow them to decide that they don't have to do something that I feel is very important (needed for life on their own or required to get into college). I don't allow them to decide that they don't like something, until after they have had an appropriate amount of exposure (one song is not enough to condemn an entire genre of music, one page is not enough to decide you hate a book, etc.). Yes, I have requirements set for graduation, but I work with them to find the best way for them to fill those requirements. However, the fact that I require certain things for my kids' education does not make me unreasonable. My kids are doing the amount of work they are doing because they can handle it and they enjoy it. As for expectations, I expect their best, and I see nothing wrong with that.

Time really isn't that important. If you are comfortable with the amount, kind, and level of work your kids are doing, do not allow someone else, especially someone who doesn't know you or your kids, to make you second guess yourself.