Homeschooling with Excellence No. 1

Time Requirements and Scheduling

While some parents struggle to keep up with their eager children ( "We're hard at work from 8:30 in the morning till, sometimes, past 4 in the afternoon — with no more than a half-hour break for lunch"), other parents worry that Sonlight hasn't given them enough material for a full year's curriculum. "We're only doing school for an hour or two a day," they say. "That can't be a complete curriculum!"

Before we address some of the issues raised by these comments, we would like to note that the kinds of time requirements we list in our catalog are for one-child families, or, rather, families in which only one child is being homeschooled.

Now, before you laugh (or cry!), recognize that there are a few such families.

But if you're like the majority, you're not dealing with just one child. Instead you have two or three... or even eight, nine or ten. (Yes, some Sonlight families have lots and lots of children!)

The more children you have, especially at widely varying ages, and, even more importantly, the more children you have that are only beginning to learn to read or write, the longer your school day is going to be. But it is possible to minimize your time requirements to make your day run smoothly.

In a January, 1987 article, now available in reprint form from The Teaching Home magazine (P.O. Box 20219, Portland, OR 97294-0219), Sue Welch, editor, wrote, "One-to-one tutoring takes only a fraction of the time that is required in a full classroom... Academic instruction might begin with only one-half to one hour for the early grades and work up to two hours of instruction and another one to one and one-half hours of independent study for upper grades." This fits fairly well with our own experience.

Why so little time? Welch put her finger on the biggest time-saver: you're teaching your children one-on-one.

But there's more to it than that. We know homeschoolers of first and second graders who spend six hours or more each day in homeschooling. They are working one-to-one with their children. So why do they spend so much time?

Some factors that may unnecessarily increase time involvement:

  1. Wrong materials: Most of the "big name" curricula on the market today were designed for classrooms of up to 30 children. Classroom learning requires much more repetition and time-consuming activities and workbooks to insure that even the slowest students learn and to keep the faster students busy all day. Some children like to fill out workbook pages, but many will stare at a page for hours if left with solitary pencil work.

  2. Activity overkill: Some people will take a whole day to build and fill a terrarium and spend a fortune to buy lizards, grasshoppers, etc. all to demonstrate a food cycle, which your child could have understood in 10 minutes of explanation with a good picture book. A two-second demonstration that gravity causes all things to fall at the same rate regardless of size (drop his pencil and his book — "See!") serves as an example of a quick activity that brings physics concepts to life. Active learners really do profit from learning activities, but you should screen all activities on the basis of how much of your time will be required in comparison to the actual learning value of the activity.

  3. Poor organization: Even if your materials are efficiently organized, you will save yourself a lot of time by organizing your schedule and environment in a consistent manner.

  4. Poor attitude: All parents teach their children, and whether it is brushing their teeth, making their beds, or learning to read and do fractions, your attitude about teaching them will greatly affect their desire to learn. Having kids at home for longer hours doesn't have to "drive you crazy"; after a period of adjustment, kids usually learn to enjoy helping around the house (cooking, cleaning, etc.) and they also become more adept at entertaining themselves. Our children used to conduct frequent "science" experiments, pretend they were Romans, build with Legos®, and so forth. By doing these things, they were gaining personal benefit and satisfaction... and giving us some time to complete projects of our own!

Remember, there are many advantages to a tutorial teaching situation. Don't fall into the trap of trying to reproduce a classroom school at home!

What Is a Reasonable Amount of Time to Schedule for Teaching Each Day?

We have figured out a 36-week schedule that, as much as possible, integrates the different subject areas in ways that complement each other and ensures that you have a fairly even workload throughout the school year.

Our schedule pages list the specific books you will be using each week and the number of pages you will be expected to cover. By arranging things in this fashion, we hope to provide you the greatest flexibility in adjusting the daily and weekly placement of subjects to fit your family needs and schedule while still following the pacing and integration of the Sonlight texts.

But our Instructor's Guides provide recommendations only. They ought never to become your taskmasters. They should be tools that help you.

What does that mean?

It means you may decide to teach only four days a week and take the fifth for ballet lessons, a group science class, and horse-riding lessons.

It means you may decide to stretch the program out to a year and a half or even two years, doing only two-thirds or half the work in any given day that we have scheduled on our schedule sheets. (Perhaps you do Monday's Bible and Read-Alouds assignments on Monday, and the other Monday assignments on Tuesday. Then Tuesday's Bible and Read-Alouds on Wednesday, the other "Tuesday" assignments on Thursday.)

If your child prefers to spend longer periods of time in a subject and s/he is able to concentrate that long, maybe s/he would like to do all the Math problems for the week on Monday, all the History work on Tuesday, and the Reader(s) on Wednesday. The options are endless, and the choice is up to you.

KC wrote her daily schedule looks like this for Intro to American History, Part 1 with an 8, 6, 3, and 1 year old:

  • First thing: quick chores, breakfast and bible/devotions

  • Morning: roughly 8:30-11:30 four times a week — All Math and Language Arts

  • Afternoon: roughly 1:30-3:30 four times a week — All Science readings first, then History (texts and read-alouds)

  • After Dinner: 7:00-7:45 four times a week — All classical readings (poetry, etc.), character training (we add to Sonlight), memory work, sometimes some other bible work.

  • Before bed: Half-hour or so of quiet reading time (ALL of us; Mom and Dad included!)

  • All day, 5th day: 3 trimesters of Fine Arts (3 rotations of drawing, art, foreign language, music enhancement, etc.), science experiments/hands-on activities, and history hands-on activities.

If this schedule sounds good to you, then try it out. If not, then work to find one that best fits your family's needs. Our schedule is meant purely as a suggestion. Here are a few other suggested schedules our customers have shared.

Michele in NC: "I have six children from age 3 to age 12 (almost). We have a scheduled half hour each day that we all sit together and I read out loud the history assignments. Another half hour is also planned for science. This usually is enough to get the reading done. But if not, we pick up the rest later in the day. We do the read-alouds mostly at night before bedtime, or in the afternoon during 'free time.'"

PJ: "We do our read alouds at night around 'snack time' at the table before bed, and the boys seem to focus more then (no distractions of wanting to go play, because they know the next stop is bed! They'll prolong it as long as possible, even to the point of sitting still to listen!"

Kathy A: "This is our third year of Sonlight (Sonlight G this year) and you have to make the schedule fit your family's needs. We do science only three days per week (no we don't finish every bit), but my kids read some of the books on their own that we don't get to in 'school.' On Fridays we meet with another family to do art and share writing examples (out-loud presentations of that week's writing), so we fit history into four days. But the kids love the history. We have piano lessons early one afternoon so we don't do Bible that day — just a little extra the other three days. We do the read-alouds as bedtime stories so my husband can be in on the schooling, too. I tend to like things scheduled so with this 'unschedule' I will sometimes begin to panic and have to talk to myself and say we are homeschooling and we are flexible."

Donna in Alabama: "We (my three kids and I) do History / Bible / Literature, Language Arts and Science on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and our extras (Spanish, Art, Music, grading of papers (they help grade their own papers with me), projects, etc.) on Tuesday and Thursday. We do Spelling and Read-Alouds every day (it shortens the length of time of me reading as they get antsy)."

One of the reasons we homeschooled our children was to give us and our children the full schedule flexibility that Kathy A. was talking about.

If you follow our schedule, you will complete all the materials in the curriculum within the 36-week school year. But this is your program to use as you see fit! This is not our program to jam down your (or your son's or daughter's) throat!

If your son or daughter needs two hours a day to finish his or her math, perhaps it really doesn't make sense for you to try to get through the entire curriculum in a year. Maybe you'll want to spread it out — or maybe not. Maybe you just need to make sure she is working to her best potential.

My point? Do what seems right to you! As Paula H, a longtime Sonlighter, suggested:

"Think of Thanksgiving dinner at Grandma's house. With the mashed potatoes, and the yams, and the stuffing, and the rolls. Are you going to eat a full portion of every single dish out there? Well, maybe Uncle Harvey will, but he'll have to loosen his belt, and he'll sit there groaning through the entire afternoon.

"No, if you're wise, you'll have a serving of each of your favorite things, and a little taste of the rest. So why are there so many foods at Grandma's Thanksgiving dinner? Shouldn't she cut back, and serve only one vegetable and one starch with the turkey? That way everyone could eat a full serving of every item. No, she shouldn't, because the item she omits might be the one you like best.

"Well, it's the same way with Sonlight. They offer it all, and you choose what you take. That way no one's favorite gets left out. Well, won't you "miss something" then? I ask you, if you skip the yams at Grandma's, will you leave the table hungry? I suspect not. Sonlight is so rich in learning you can skip things and still be "stuffed." Or you can stretch two years of Sonlight over 3 years. Mercy, if my child studies 3rd & 4th curriculum in her 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade years, won't she be behind? No. Considering how much is packed into Sonlight, she'll actually know more history than nearly any 5th grader out there.

"Besides, if you stretch it out, you also have the opportunity to delve deeper into certain periods. It's perfectly fine to omit certain read-alouds or readers, in order to keep up with Sonlight's schedule. Suppose your son skips The Secret of the Andes and doesn't learn about the Incan customs and beliefs through the eyes of a llama herder. He'll probably still do just fine on the SAT's."

Karla B concurred:

"It took me a while to figure out I didn't have to stress myself and my children out trying to keep up with the Sonlight schedule. If not for the wise advice of other veteran homeschool moms, I don't think I would have hung in there with Sonlight.

"I found that after slowing way down I had time to really examine the curriculum and got a feel for where it was going; and it was going where I wanted to take my children.

"Can a curriculum contain too much material? Not as long as you understand that it is you that rules the curriculum, not the other way around."

In the early elementary years especially, you and your child should feel no pressure to "finish" everything in a certain time frame.

"But! But! But!... I need to know what's reasonable!" you might be saying.

Let me urge you: read Dr. Beechick's Three R's series or You Can Teach Your Child Successfully. And get online at Sonlight Connections. Talk with some of the other parents who are using the Sonlight program you are using. I think you will find plenty of honest and very practical advice and encouragement... some of it from parents who are as uncertain as you may be; some from parents who have been at this business of homeschooling for two decades or more!

Recommended Daily Schedule — How Things Ought to Work in Practice

After you have gotten your family ready for the day, and members have done their morning chores, we recommend that you follow a specific schedule. You can arrange the learning blocks in whatever order best suits your and your child's needs.

However, no matter how you decide to organize your time, you should set aside a standard time each day for "school" — say, 8:30 to noon (this will be different depending on how many kids you are homeschooling, and how old they are). Such consistency will help your child settle down and concentrate more easily than if you change the schedule each day.

There are only two "rules" of scheduling that we've found helpful and want to pass on to you. First, start each day with prayer for the Lord's help in learning and for good attitudes (yours as well as your child(ren)'s)! Second, when it's time for you to read with your child(ren), do the Bible reading(s) first. We have found if we don't do that first, it tends to be forgotten, but when it is done first, the kids actually plead for us to "Keep reading!"

One more suggestion (not a rule!): When teaching two or three children, we have found it helpful to begin the day with each child working on his or her math and language arts lessons while mom listens to one or the other do his reading. After the kids are pretty well done with their individual assignments, we then bring them together to do a group "read-aloud." (It is during this read-aloud time that we start with the Bible reading.)

We suggest that, if your child finds some subject(s) more difficult than others, have him or her study the more difficult subject(s) first.