Thursday, June 18, 2009


I've been hacking away at our new learning schedule, working to allocate the time well for both chol and kodesh studies. I worked out a pretty nice schedule of 18 hours per week, 9 for kodesh and 9 for chol. The Well-Trained Mind suggests that 1st grade should take 15 hours per week, 35 weeks per year (525 hours). We should be coming out to 18 hours per week, 40 weeks per year (720 hours). Of course, The WTM also suggests 15 minutes of religious instruction during family time oughtta do it. I crack up whenever I read that! I wish I could condense it down to 15 minutes, but that is impossible.

I like the total number of hours I came up with, and don't want to go over that. Monday through Thursday will have a 2-hour block in the morning and a 2-hour block in the afternoon (with breaks, and different children learning or playing). Fridays only have a morning block.

I read about an interesting scheduling technique called looping. Basic skills can be scheduled daily, then the secondary skills (which for us at this stage include art, music, history, and science) are set up in a loop. I have four 1-hour slots per week for looping subjects. We'll do history twice in a loop, so that makes five subjects to loop through four time slots. The nice thing is, if we miss a day for whatever reason, we just pick up that subject the next time a loop subject is on the schedule. So we never end up missing it altogether.

We'll use shabbat afternoon for catching up in kodesh studies (pretty much everything but grammar and writing is possible on shabbat). For secular, I won't worry about catching up per se, just pick up where we left off. We'll also study/discuss things like tznius, halachos, and melachos.

I just saw (on google books) part of a book called Time and School Learning. Part of the book goes into details about how time is allocated in a typical school day. According to the author's research, 63% of the time in school is for instruction, 23% for recess and lunch, and 14% for classroom non-instructional time (attendance, passing out papers, etc.). The mean day length was 360 minutes. That would mean 3-3/4 hours of a 6-hour day was spent on instruction per day.

What I started to wonder is how much of that 3-3/4 hours was a particular student actively engaged in the learning? (As opposed to waiting for someone else to take their turn, or simply waiting because that particular student had already apprehended the concept being taught.) I would guess at least another hour per day goes out the window (and I think I'm being conservative). I would guess that at most 3 hours of every 6-hour day is devoted to active learning (495 hours per year). The local Jewish school has a 7-1/2-hour day. I calculated an estimate of active learning time per student based on the above (which may or may not be valid), and came up with 670 hours.

So, just to have the totals in one place:

public school: 495 hours
Well-Trained Mind: 525 hours
local Jewish day school: 670 hours
my projection: 720 hours

Our higher number of hours is mostly because we have 5 additional weeks in our "school" year, and we're probably covering things that aren't necessarily covered in a day school strapped for time. Also, I will be putting 360 hours into secular subjects as opposed to 495 in public school, but many additional "secular" skills are learned or enhanced through our kodesh studies so there's not as much of a disparity as there might appear to be. That's also a reason why I have been pondering at great length how to deliver the essential skills in the most efficient method possible, and considering what subjects require formal instruction and what subjects will just be learned as the student lives their day-to-day life. While I feel no affinity for unschooling, I do think there are many subjects that simply don't need to be taught in a formal way.

So many factors go into piecing together the curriculum - the personality of the student, their strengths and weaknesses and how best to approach both, what Jewish knowledge and skills should be imparted, how to pare down secular studies to the essentials without shaving too closely, how to keep the curriculum alive and engaging but not overwhelming. Yes, I'm sure I'm overthinking it, but it IS my hobby. My brain ought to calm down soon!! Once I have my overarching objectives in place, which I think I nearly have, I can relax into the beginning of first grade. And what a ride it will be!

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