Being your child's parent and their teacher all at once might not have ever crossed your mind, but thanks to the coronavirus and school closures, that job is now yours. You definitely have questions. So. Many. Questions. Namely, how much homeschooling should you do a day? Does your child really need to start their work at 8 a.m. and work until 3 p.m.? How does this all actually go down?
The answer truly depends on your child. Dr. Donna Housman, a clinical psychologist with more than 30 years of experience in early childhood education, tells Romper that there is no "set ideal time or one-size-fits-all" time frame. "How much time you should spend on school work each day depends on your child's age and ability, as well as the educational approach of their teacher and school," she says. "If you feel your child is spending too much time, too little time, or is not being challenged enough, it's OK to discuss your concerns with your child's teacher."
Many school districts, state education boards, and private schools set their own expectations as to how long each student should spend per day on their school work while distance learning. For example, the Illinois State Board of Education recently posted a chart online that outlines the minimum and maximum number of minutes per day kids should spend on school at home. Times range from 20 minutes per day for preschoolers to up to 45 minutes per class per day for high schoolers.
In most cases, your child's teacher has probably painstakingly put together lesson plans for you to follow at home. These lessons might look similar to what your child did in school. Some work might be a review of what they've already learned, but now weeks into distance learning, there might be some new information to introduce as well. There are worksheets to complete, videos to watch, and projects to work on, but none of it should take hours on end to complete.
"We give our kids no more than two hours per day of work," Bethany Austin, a fifth grade math teacher in Texas, tells Romper. "They get a 'week at a glance' that shows their math, reading, social studies, and science studies for the week that is sort of puzzle-pieced together so that it all takes no more than two hours each day for all subjects combined."
Some districts do require students to be online at certain times, which can be hard for families with multiple children or parents who are working essential jobs, but this isn't always the case, Austin says. "I tell parents to do the work whenever they want or can. Whatever works for their schedules."
If it seems like your child is spending a lot less time on their school work at home than they spent at school all day, you aren't dreaming. It is completely fine for your child to spend just a short amount of time each day on their school work, based on their age and their school's requirements.
"Learning in a traditional classroom setting involves interchange and collaboration among students, with the teacher asking and facilitating questions in order to draw out ideas and stimulate critical thinking," Dr. Housman says. "With online (home school) learning, children complete their work individually, at their own time and pace — that's why the classroom process takes much longer."
My own kids are in kindergarten and second grade. Their teachers have each assigned work that takes about an hour to an hour or two to complete each day. Sometimes, my second grader spends a little more time perfecting his assignments (he's definitely an overachiever-in-training) and every few days my kindergartener's lessons last a mere five minutes because I just can't handle his protests anymore. But for the most part, we get their work done with plenty of time left to do fun things. It's not easy by any means, but we figure it out.
"It's important for parents to maintain their role as parent, and not try to take on the role of teacher. If you find that your child is struggling to complete their work, talk to your child openly to identify the specific challenges he/she is facing, and come up with a plan to address the challenge together," Dr. Housman suggests. "The child needs to feel the plan is fair and that the parent is there to support them in their learning. Mutually agreed consequences can be pre-established if the plan is not met. For example, a parent might say, 'We agreed you would read for 30 minutes, as your teacher asked. You know you can't watch TV until you complete that first.'"
It might feel like the answer to how much school work your child should be doing during the current pandemic should be zero, right? They're stressed, you're stressed, there are an absurdly large number of unknowns given the state of the world — their school work should be the least of your worries. In reality though, your kids should still be learning at home, and their teachers are the first line of support when it comes to how much work they should be doing. But, it's also good to give your kids (and yourself) a break when you need to.
"Parents are facing unprecedented challenges and demands right now. Stress levels for both you and your children are high. It's critical during this time to remember not only to be supportive and caring of your child, but also to put aside time to care for yourself, whether that be through meditation, exercise, listening to music, or getting on the phone with a trusted friend to talk about anything other than your kids," Dr. Housman says. "Finding a balance between work & play, engaging in both together time and alone time while making room for what’s important to you as a person, separate from your identity as a parent, will provide your kids an invaluable lesson no formal schooling can teach."
Dr. Donna Housman, Ed.D, Founder of Boston's Housman Institute
Bethany Austin, fifth grade math teacher in Texas