Your Questions Answered: Time to Play

Welcome to another installment of Your Questions Answered. As usual, my friend and co-worker, Laura Pitney is joining me.

Here’s the question we’re going to discuss today: For elementary students, how do you balance all the subjects and still give them plenty of time to play together?

Laura: That’s a good question.

Sonya: I think what we want to do is try to walk through a typical day and talk through what the schedule would be like and add up how much time is involved; because there really is a lot of time to play in my mind, but let’s add it up and see. I think there’s this misconception that it takes all day to do these subjects, so I’ll be interested to see the real time.

  • Let’s say at breakfast we’re going to do Scripture Memory; that takes five minutes.
  • After that we’re going to sing a hymn; that usually takes five minutes or less, so let’s just round it up to five.
  • After that they’re going to do their chores, which you can count as school work, but you don’t have to.
  • Then we’re all going to regather. (We’re talking just elementary students; let’s say we’ve got a first grader, a third grader, and a fifth grader.) So we’re going to gather together and do our history. Our history is going to take about 20 minutes, maybe 30 if I get long-winded. So give it 30 just for wiggle room.
  • After our history we could do a picture study, and that usually takes 10 minutes.
  • After that maybe we’re going to read our science together, so that would be another 20 minutes or so.
  • And then we might do our poetry. Let’s just review some of the poetry that we’ve been working on memorizing, or let’s read a new poem. That will take about five or 10 minutes.
  • Now at that point, we’re going to send the fifth grader to go read on his own, some extra history reading that’s he’s going to do by himself, independent work. While that’s happening I’m going to work with the first and third grader. We’re going to work on our math and language arts, because those are are the things we have to do individually. So let’s say I’m going to work with my first grader initially, and we’re going to do a reading lesson. Those are only 10 minutes long, and then maybe we will have him do some extra play time or work (we’ll discuss that in a moment) while we move to our third grader.
  • We’ll have the third grader practice her reading aloud for about 10 or 15 minutes.
  • And then we’re going to do her math, and that will be 20 minutes. Now she’s basically done.
  • We’re going back to our first grader to do a 20-minute math lesson.
  • Now they have free time until lunch.
  • After lunch, let’s do nature study, shall we? And we’ll take an hour. We’ll all do that together.
  • Then along about snack time, 3:00 or somewhere in there, we’re going to read. As they have their snack, I’ll read our family read-aloud together. So what, 30 minutes for a chapter? At the most. If we’re doing Charles Dickens it might be longer.
  • So that’s a typical day, how much time have we spent?

Laura: I have almost four hours.

Sonya: Four hours. And if we started at 9 o’clock, that’s pretty generous.

Laura: Yes.

Sonya: Starting at 9:00, going till 12:00 is three hours. After that, . . . well, if we did our nature study and reading, we could stop around 11:30. Nine to 11:30, and then after lunch you’d still have another hour or two. That leaves a lot of time for play.

Laura: It does.

Sonya: Before supper, between supper and bedtime, you should have a lot of time for play.

Laura: Right. Now, we didn’t mention all the subjects that you could possibly do, because you don’t do all the subjects every day. That’s something important to remember: that what we just gave as a representation is modeling a typical day, but some of those subjects will rotate in and out.

Sonya: Exactly. You’re not going to do science every single day in the elementary years. We could swap out too . . . we did picture study today, in our typical day; tomorrow we might do music study instead. But it’s still going to just take that same time slot. And you’re not doing nature study every day in the afternoon; you might do a handicraft one afternoon instead. So you can swap things out, but you still should not be dragging it out longer than the four hours. All right now, let’s back up to, while I’m working with my first grader, what’s my third grader doing? My fifth grader was reading and doing a written narration, so at some point I would’ve had to meet with that child as well. So that might’ve added on 15 minutes to read their narration, but still, we’re at four hours. But while we’re doing the individual work—the math and the language arts—individually, one-on-one, what’s the other child doing?

Laura: What I’ve done in my home is any time I’m one-on-one with one of the kids, I know what all the other kids are doing. So the younger ones I may rotate, “Mondays, you can get this play box out; Tuesdays, you can get this play box out.” So those type of situations I would consider still doing school type activities that are fun, that they would probably consider to be play, but technically they’re purposeful activities.

Sonya: Talk to me about this play box idea. What’s in this magic box?

Laura: Well, it’s one of those things where, if your children have access to everything they own at all times, usually you find them getting bored with it or not knowing what to do. So when my children were younger, I would say, “Okay, on Mondays you can choose from magnets or you can choose from Lincoln Logs.” So, yes, those are toys, but I feel like they use really good skills to be creative.

Sonya: Absolutely. They’re exploring science concepts; they’re exploring geometry and shapes and architecture, if you will. Yes.

Laura: So even though those were my choice, I felt like it was purposeful for them in that play time. So I would have a list for each day of the week that said, “Okay when you finish early or if I’m working with one of the older kids, you can go choose a play box.” And so it would still give them the freedom to choose, because they like to feel big, but it was things that I wanted them to do. And so I think there’s a distinction between using that structured school time and incorporating purposeful play into it versus saying, “We’re done, go do whatever you want” kind of thing.

Sonya: Yes.

Laura: Which is also a good play, because they can be creative and play with their siblings and that kind of thing.

Sonya: But it can also distract you from focusing on this child, whom you’re doing the math with, when you’re saying, “I wonder what they’re getting into and what they’re doing.”

Laura: Exactly. So I still utilize that time for it to be an investment in that “school” umbrella if you will. I felt like my kids really enjoyed that play time, and they liked being able to choose one of the two things or maybe three of the things. For me as the teacher, I felt like we weren’t wasting time.

Sonya: Yes, that’s a good point. We also have the post we did a while ago with ideas for independent work that is not busywork.

Laura: Yes.

Sonya: That post might give some more ideas. And we’ll give out your text number in case our readers want more play box ideas.

Laura: Sure.

Sonya: No, I’m kidding.

Laura: I know that’s not a new idea. I think it goes back to, so many of us are overly blessed with possessions in our home, almost to the point that it is debilitating.

Sonya: Yes, we call it clutter.

Laura: Yes, I was trying to be nice about it. So again, it’s thinking, “Okay, what do I have already that I can pull out of that free access pile and utilize as a tool for me during their school time hours?” And I would consider that purposeful play for sure.