Written by: Kendall A. | Umm Iman
Once you’ve established your curriculum and the content areas that you want to focus on this year, you’ll need to organize your time so that you are meeting your goals. I don’t believe that official “school time” needs to only happen between 8am-2pm, Monday-Friday. This is the beauty of homeschooling–having the flexibility to acknowledge that learning takes place off the clock and everyday. With homeschooling, you can figure out what your child’s optimal timing for sitting down with a task is.
I also want to point out here that official “school time” can be shorter than you think. If we consider the typical school day of 8am-2pm, we have to cut out the “extra pieces,” like: 30 minutes for lunch, 30 minutes for recess, at least 30 combined minutes of transitioning from subject-to-subject or place-to-place, up to 45 minutes in the morning and afternoons for getting settled and getting ready for departure, and a 45 minute block of an extra-curricular activity. Subtracting all of that time from the initial 6 hour day that we started with, we’re left with about 3 hours of “sit-down learning,” which is just about the right amount of time…
In the Montessori method of teaching, we believe that children need a 3-hour block of uninterrupted work time to engage in deep flow and concentration with the material. Going back to my original list of subjects for my children this year (Language, Math, Quran, Islamic Studies, and Sensory Activities), that’s an average of approximately 36 minutes per subject. I think that is a fair average for attention span, not only for this age group, but for elementary and middle school students as well. I say this, because the time that it takes to show the child the lesson, allow them to explore it independently, and absorb that learning for the next day doesn’t need to be a long, drawn-out experience, especially in a homeschool setting where it’s a one-on-one lesson, as opposed to trying to get 20 students to understand a concept by the end of the period. Homeschooling is just unique.
I want to reiterate here that learning is not just sitting down with a pen and paper, and receiving a lecture. Ideally, the concepts that you are sharing in your mini-lessons are applicable to other areas of the child’s life, and she will experience that learning on a deeper level long after she has risen from the desk, because the hands-on and life application of the learning are meaningful.
I think the key to success here is setting out a chunk of time where you are available to participate in some lessons, but also being flexible to the idea that your child can engage with some materials independently and perhaps outside of the time that you have blocked out for “learning.” Perhaps you choose to do a solid hour and a half chunk in the morning, followed by a separate hour and a half chunk in the afternoon. That would be fine too. One strategy that has been working for us is to split our days between indoor time and outdoor time. Usually the mornings are indoor time, with the afternoon being more of the outdoor time. However, in these both of these blocks, I make sure that the children are getting opportunities for independent play, projects, and specific learning activities in our content areas. What I like about this approach is that it changes the setting for learning and fosters the mentality that learning can take place in any setting and venue. I also like incorporating nature into our play and our learning on a consistent basis.
Another benefit to homeschooling is that the family can create the schedule that works best for them. Often times, schools start really early in the morning to accommodate for parents getting to the 8am-4pm or 9am-5pm shifts, but with homeschooling, your day can start at 9am or 11am, if that’s what works for your family. Another idea that I have heard work well for some families is to have the school week be Saturday to Wednesday to gain some support from husbands/fathers who typically work during the week and/or to have Fridays off from school in order to attend jummuah prayers. Again, there’s that flexibility that is really just wonderful! Keep trying different things to figure out what works best for your family.