Written by Jessica.
In our homeschool, we do a four-day school week. We have four days of regular lessons and one lighter day. The fifth day is not a day off, but a day that is spent learning differently.
Doing a four-day school week can have many benefits. It can allow you to do valuable social activities during regular school hours such as field trips, local classes specifically for homeschoolers, or a homeschool co-op. It can provide a day at home for catching up on loose school ends, reviewing, or getting in those fun activities we all intend to do but that sometimes get squeezed out. It can also change up the week, giving everyone a needed break from the routine and creating intentional time to spend on other kinds of learning.
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As homeschoolers, we can be confident that our school days don’t have to look like school at home. One of the challenges, though, is determining what our own daily and weekly schedule will look like - in a practical, nitty-gritty sort of way. So often, in trying to create our optimal or ideal homeschool, it’s easy to over-plan the week, take on too much, and try to “do it all.”
Every once in a while it can be good to take a peek at the traditional school day model to get some perspective. Here are a few things to consider when planning your schedule:
Determine what your core subjects are
In traditional schools, there are certain subjects that get covered daily. These include math, reading, spelling, and English language arts. And often, with English language arts, teachers do not do grammar and formal writing lessons concurrently, but alternate them (although students might still write daily, such as in a writing journal). Finally, Christian schools will typically do religious education daily. But beyond those core subjects, there is a lot of variation in what other classes happen each day.
What about things like science, history, and geography? In some schools, these subjects may be covered every day. Other teachers do both subjects twice a week and have the fifth day for something extra. Some teachers just alternate those subjects every other day. Others might focus on one of those subjects for a few weeks and then switch to the other subject for a few weeks. For several years when I was a teacher, a same-grade level colleague and I switched classes for science and “social studies.” I taught science to both my class and her class, and she taught social studies. There were not enough time slots in our school day to do both subjects on the same day, so we alternated days.
As homeschoolers, defining what our core subjects are will depend on each family and the educational methods and curriculum chosen. But in planning our learning at home, we can look to the school model for ideas and – dare I even say this? – reassurance. We definitely want to get in our core subjects across the span of a week, but we don’t need to put undue expectations on ourselves for covering all subjects every single day.
Add in the “extras”
Most traditional schools have “special” classes that students leave their main classrooms for in order to attend. These include things that we are all familiar with like art, music, PE, library, technology, and foreign language, and in some schools even more. But, I’ve never been in a traditional school where students had all of their special classes every day. Many schools divide the day into eight or nine time blocks for planning purposes and to rotate the students to different parts of the building for lunch, recess, and to their special classes - there’s only so much space and personnel to go around. And if you do the math of adding up core subjects, lunch, and recess, you’ll see that most schools have only about a third of the day left for “everything else.” I taught at a school where the students had a total of six special classes, but they only had two per day and the classes rotated in a set pattern. It worked out that each special class would be attended once or twice a week.
As homeschoolers, I think it can be tempting to try to “do it all.” Our school days, by nature, are shorter and more efficient than days spent in the traditional classroom. As a result, it’s easy to make the mistake of filling up our days with more and more as we strive to provide our children with as excellent an education as possible. And yet, so many homeschool parents and children end up feeling overburdened and frazzled trying to fit it all in. This can result in burnout or feelings of failure. Perhaps, if we find ourselves feeling that way, we need to step back and ask ourselves some tough questions: Are we trying to squeeze more into our days/week than is realistic? Is our schedule the reason things aren’t working well? What subjects do we define as “extra,” and could we pare back and do those less frequently?
Make room for lighter, non-academic pursuits
Teachers in traditional schools are, in so many ways, hemmed in by requirements on how they can and cannot fill their days. They often have a very limited say in what curriculum is used, what concepts they must teach, what classes they must cover daily, and how often they must assess with classroom and state exams. By comparison, homeschoolers have a tremendous amount of freedom.
Homeschoolers have more time in the school day for learning beyond academics, things that are also good and healthy for children’s development, rather than having to relegate those things to the fringe hours of the day. This time is one of the great gifts of homeschooling. There is time to play, to be outdoors in nature, to have unhurried free time to explore ideas in, to invest in sibling and extended-family relationships, to socialize with peers of various ages, to travel and take field trips, and to pursue non-academic interests or hobbies. All of these sorts of things have much value in terms of children’s academic growth and their growth as persons. We can and should intentionally plan them into our school week - sans the guilt. A four-day school week is one good option for making that happen.
Hours, days, and other requirements
Some states do have more homeschooling requirements than others. We happen to live in a state that is highly regulated. But, I feel confident using my own discretion on how our number of days and number of hours are filled. I see the evidence that my children are learning and progressing - in their day-to-day work, in standardized test results, and when I refer to our state’s standards.
In terms of state/national standards and testing, as much as I am opposed to Common Core as it exists right now, I do think that benchmarks for what children should be able to master at each grade level are worth having. In our state, since my children have to do standardized tests, it’s important that I understand those standards to ensure that they are prepared and do well. But even if we did not have to test, I would still find it valuable to reference the standards from time to time. Doing so lets me know if we are covering all, less, or more of the material included in the standards used for each grade level. I use that information as a reference, take it with a grain of salt, and know that what we do in our homeschool will look a bit different. More often than not, though, referencing the standards serves to remind me that we’re doing more than enough learning and that we have plenty of room to do things our way.
Covering the curriculum in a four-day week
No matter what our methods and curriculum are, it’s important to remember that curriculum should only provide the framework for the year. Doing every lesson, every page, and every problem is neither realistic nor necessary. A major benefit of homeschooling is being able to teach at the child’s pace. Sometimes this means skipping over things that are too easy or redundant, joining some related lessons together, moving quickly through lessons that are easy, allowing extra time to go further into a topic of interest, or slowing down for challenging concepts that need more time. It is exactly for these reasons that I never write down lesson plans well in advance. We might do one spelling lesson in a week if it’s challenging, or we might get through several if they’re easy. It might take a week to get through an easy math chapter, or two to three weeks for a more challenging one. We might scrap a topic or add in one that we didn’t plan on. Viewing the curriculum as a guide, rather than as something rigid and binding, allows us to move at our own pace, and as a result we are easily able to cover the majority of our yearly curriculum in a four-day week.
Try it out!
Homeschooling is rewarding and well worth it, but very hard work. If you’re struggling with feeling overwhelmed or burnt out, consider implementing a four-day school week. The change might be just what is needed.