A thousand hours

So the other day, we reached the end of our school year.

It was something of an anticlimax, to be honest. I told my boy that we had finished everything and how proud I was of him for doing it all. He gave a distracted ‘Yeah, that’s great,’ and then changed the subject.

A walk in the garden

Arriving at this point highlights to me how arbitrary the distinctions are between year levels. At the start of the year, we were officially doing kindergarten, but we all grew bored with that pretty quickly. When the assessor turned up, we all agreed that we had really moved on to first grade stuff. Next year, we will officially finish off the tail ends of first grade, and then get through second grade. In practice, though, it doesn’t even look  like that.

Some of what we do would be recognised as age appropriate, I guess. I never mark any of it, so I struggle to put a figure on it, but it seems about right. Because of an insatiable desire to know how things work, I feel that his understanding of science is far greater than regular expectations. This pleases me no end. A persons ability to use logic and reasoning always impresses me, and and they can only improve it by adding imagination as well. I suspect his understanding of history is also very good, but since it follows a completely different format to any school system, there is no real way to make direct comparisons.

A great beneficiary of my six year old’s work is his younger brother. He lacks the fine motor skills to write much more than his own name, which he does in a delightfully abstract way. On a computer or iPod, however, he can clearly show he has learned a tremendous amount of literacy and numeracy skills which are not immediately apparent. He has picked up so much just from being around the lessons.


Although I find the whole homeschooling experience far better than I ever imagined it was going to be, it is not always easy or enjoyable. We run the year in four lots of ten week semesters. The first three of these were largely spent trialling different methods until we finally arrived at a point where everyone had a comfortable sense of rhythm. We are all usually pretty much exhausted by the end of a semester.

Outside of working to a curriculum, the Board of Studies also dictates that we need to spend a thousand hours each year doing schoolwork. Certain percentages of that time have to be allotted to different subjects. They also provide lists of competencies which we need to address.

I keep track of it all using a spreadsheet. At the end of each day, I make a brief note of what we did, how long it went for, and what competencies we covered while we were doing it. A lot of people completely freak out about record keeping, but I have never had a problem with it. I actually kind of enjoy it as it helps me keep track of where we are going. Attaching competencies to our various activities is part of the game. A good spreadsheet is a strong appeal to my inner nerd.

Year one competencies

The thousand hours is supposed to replicate the amount of educational time kids get at regular school. Given the large volume of ‘dead time’ in classrooms, I can be pretty broad in my interpretation of what constitutes school work. Certainly, a lot of our time is spent playing around with ideas and concepts rather than ‘doing lessons.’

Also subjects wax and wane. Although we generally keep a fairly even spread, we will go through phases of spending lots of time on one subject at the expense of others. As you might notice, the end of the year was spent making up hours in maths and english.

So we have come to the end of the year, but it is not a very clear distinction. Since going on holidays, there has been plenty of reading, the boys set themselves up to do maths lessons on the computer, they have been doing cuneiform writing, and they have made us put together a timeline to study human evolution. It is just the normal way to spend the days now.

About Blokeschool

I am a homeschooling dad with a wife and two boys. I'm not quite sure what I'm doing, so I feel compelled to write it all down. In my spare time, I work as a manager for the local health district, drink too much coffee, and am an overenthusiastic martial artist.
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8 Responses to A thousand hours

  1. Yvonne says:

    One of the aims of the South African education system is to cultivate in learners an appreciation for lifelong learning; a worthwhile principle which is completely undermined by the marked contrast between holidays and school terms in a traditional educational setting. I love that homeschooling affords my family the opportunity to learn something new every day, including holidays. Hope you and yours have an inspiring and energising “holiday” season!

    • Blokeschool says:

      I had never quite put it together like that, but it is an interesting point that you make. You certainly can’t embrace learning by celebrating whenever you don’t have to do it.

  2. As a former classroom teacher, standards run through my brain all of the time with my own self-directed learner. I learned how to take student interests and tie them into a multitude of standards and I must say, you’re shortchanging yourself. When you’re reading a book, do you ever refer to the culture of the family, the geographic location? Even a common fiction child’s book can easily be supplemented with references to these topics. Bam, you’ve covered “social studies” at an early age. Having your kids retell the story will also count. Summarizing, identifying details, read alouds, reading independently, blogging about the story (using a variety of media).

    “Perfumes and dyes” is also reading/literacy. Did you read directions? Do you follow a recipe? Double or half the recipe and you have math. What is the science behind the dye? Where did the dye originate? Identify the geographic location or just mention it in passing. Where else is the dye used? Have you created an infographic for the dye? How about a print ad for the perfume? Have you tried adding the dye to celery? How does it interract with different materials? It is absorbed, etc?

    If your sons are open to it, chart their swim times. Start with pictographs, move onto bar graphs, put a dot at the top of the bars and erase the bars. Connect the dots and you have a line graph. What about a summary?

    Shapes. Identify the geometric shape. My kids new trapezoid at an early age. I put a little mouse under an upside-down TRAPezoid and voila, he was trapped. Right now, they don’t need a lot of the vocabulary that you can use, but it will be very common to them by the time they get to the upper grades where vocabulary becomes important (especially here in the US where regurgitating vocab is basically the foundation for all testing).

    Board games-make predictions (literacy) and probabilities (math). The possibilities really are endless!

    Also, don’t shortchange the “playing around with ideas and concepts”. That’s where most of the real learning takes place!

  3. Blokeschool says:

    I get your point about using the activities to fill more competencies. I do sometimes scatter the competencies attained from a particular activity across different subjects, although there are none in the example I gave here.
    Sometimes I will document some competencies and ignore others because I am trying to make up hours in a particular subject. Also I record things to the nearest half hour. So if we spend, say, ten minutes reading the instructions for a board game, and then twenty minutes playing it, I would most likely record it as half an hour of maths. I think that any smaller time frames would be a lot more effort on my part without getting a much different result at the end of it all. Like I say, it is something of a game, and there is a fair degree of interpretation as to exactly what is being covered in such open ended learning.
    Its funny that you picked up on the ‘perfumes and dyes’ lesson. In practice, that was my six year old getting the mortar and pestle, a collection of scented herbs from the garden, food dye, and half a dozen cups of water. He set about grinding and mixing different things, essentially trying to make a perfumed ink. He also got paintbrushes and paper to test what he had produced. It was completely unstructured and entirely experimental – a classic example of playing with ideas and concepts.
    Because he ended up painting with it, I filed it under creative arts, largely because I already had more than enough hours to satisfy my science requirements.

  4. Katrina says:

    I stumbled across your blog today and wanted to let you know how much I appreciate your authenticity! It seems like so many homeschool blogs portray themselves as having everything all figured out or try to say that if you get this or that curriculum, you will have smooth sailing. I am really enjoying reading how you are using your own curiosity and passion to share with your children. Your articles are very inspiring!

  5. Carol@LearningwithBoys says:

    Great spreadsheet. I’ve toyed with adding subjects to mine, but since our state law only requires that I agree to a certain number of hours and a list of subjects/topics to be covered I haven’t changed it.

  6. Blokeschool says:

    I find it really helps a lot. At the end of the day, though, it is just a tool. There is no point collecting that kind of information if you are not going to use it.

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