How Do Kids Spend the School Day? Recommended Times and Structure

Girl raising her hand

Verywell / Sahara Borja

Today's kids are busier than ever, dividing their time between school, activities, tutoring, and family time. When they're not busy with scheduled activities, kids have to make time for homework, sleep, and personal care.

Is there a way to balance it all and still provide some structure? Sure; making room for the priorities just takes a little planning. Of course, when it comes to time management, flexibility is also important. There will be times when you need to make adjustments to meet your child's needs. See how your child's schedule compares to others when it comes to key daily activities.

Attending Class

It may seem like your children spend all of their time at school. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), students may spend anywhere from three to seven hours a day in school depending on their age and the state in which they live.

This figure does not include transportation time as well as before or after school activities. Consequently, the number of hours individual children spend at school can vary dramatically.

As for the number of school days in a school year, there is much less variation. According to the NCES, the number of school days in different states ranges from 160 days in Colorado to 180 days in Hawaii.

This means kids are not in school about 185 days or more a year, which includes weekends and breaks. On those days, kids have the opportunity to enjoy nature, spend time with family and friends, and exercise.

Doing Homework

How much time each day should kids spend on homework? A general rule among teachers is 10 minutes per grade level: 30 minutes per day for a third-grader, 50 minutes for a fifth-grader, and so on.

This rule has been around for decades, but gained legitimacy when a review by Harris Cooper of Duke University suggested that 10 minutes per grade level really is the best practice. This amount can vary dramatically between children, however.

Time needed for homework really depends on the school's homework policy, the teacher's philosophy, and the type of coursework your child is taking. High school students taking AP courses might spend more time on homework than a student in general education courses. Some educators don't assign homework unless they see a strong need for at-home practice.

Expect less homework in schools that have a strong hands-on emphasis. You can expect more homework in schools that focus on regular practice or have "flipped" classrooms, where kids cover new material at home and practice skills at school where they are supervised. Another time you can expect more homework is in advanced level classes, like those that offer dual credit to high school students.

To keep your student on task during the school year, try establishing a schedule or block of time when homework will be completed.

Allow your child to help decide when this will take place. Doing so gives them some sense of control over their day and will more likely lead to positive results when it comes to completing assignments.

Socializing With Others

Two girls with masks sitting outside

Verywell / Sahara Borja

Experts agree that school-age children need to have friends. Friends help children build social skills such as listening, sharing, and problem-solving. Children also learn how to handle their emotions through relationships with other children.

Research doesn't dictate any specific amount of time that is necessary for children to socialize with friends. The quality of the friendships and whether or not the child is generally happy with their social time are most important. Children or teens may have just a few friends or several friends.

Social Impact of Distance Learning

The pandemic had a significant impact on kids' social activity. During the 2020-2021 school year, many parents found it challenging to find ways for kids to spend time together while still observing safety precautions.

That may mean there is a void in your child's social life that needs to be addressed this year. Now that many restrictions are being lifted, look for ways to encourage more socialization.

Encourage your child to try a new extracurricular activity (or return to one they had to put on pause) and help them plan get-togethers with friends. Kids who are not vaccinated should still wear masks when gathering with people outside their immediate family, especially in indoor spaces.

If you feel that your child would benefit from having more or better quality friendships, start by suggesting that your child to get involved in clubs or activities where they can meet new friends. If your child seems a little shy or like they need practice meeting new peers, try coaching them on how to make friends.

Being With Parents or Caregivers

Don't stress about spending quality time with your kids. Research from a large-scale longitudinal study on the effects of time with parents compared to child and teen outcomes had some surprising results.

The biggest takeaway is that time spent with a parent who is stressed out and moody can decrease positive outcomes, while more time does not show a strong benefit. For this reason, it's important to be mindful of your family's moods.

As COVID-19 restrictions ease and things return to "normal," there is a lot to look forward to. Still, it's important to recognize that the pandemic has been hard on everyone. Aim to find ways to laugh, address your anxiety, de-stress when you can, and cope with your sense of loss and grief. Doing so will improve your overall mental health as a family.

It's also important not to put too much pressure on yourself when it comes to spending time as a family. The study, published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, found no relationship between the time a parent spent with their 3- to 11-year-olds and the child's academic achievement, behavior, and well-being. Teens do get into less trouble when they have six hours a week or more of positive, engaged time with parents.

That means that parents can and should take a big sigh of relief. These results suggest taking care of yourself first and not sacrificing or martyring yourself for the sake of your children is best. If you find yourself stressed out about money, you can return to work or work more hours without feeling guilty.

You also will be in a better position to spend time with your kids in the teen years when the benefits are much more tangible. Just try to enjoy your time together no matter what that looks like. It still stands to reason that your child will benefit from having some positive attention from you every day.

Sleeping

The amount of time a child needs to sleep varies according to their age. But every child, no matter their age, needs adequate sleep. Not getting enough sleep has been linked to falling asleep during school or missing school altogether.

What's more, kids who don't get enough sleep struggle to wake up in the mornings, and have trouble learning or doing school work. If you are concerned that your child is not getting enough sleep, learn what symptoms to watch for as well as what steps you can take to improve their sleep habits.

Sleep Recommendations

According to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the recommended sleep times for school-age children are:

  • 10–13 hours each night for 5-year-olds
  • 9–12 hours each night for 6- to 12-year-olds
  • At least 8 hours each night for kids 13 years old and older

Eating Meals

Little girl feeding her mom

Verywell / Nusha Ashjaee

Most experts recommend 20 to 30 minutes to eat a meal, and 10 to 15 minutes to eat a small snack. Keep in mind that even children's bodies need 20 minutes after eating before they begin to register feeling full.

To make sure your children have plenty of time to finish their food without feeling rushed and get adequate nutrition, emphasize the importance of family meals. This time not only provides your kids with the nutrition they need, but it also gives you valuable time together as a family.

What's more, regular family meals promote healthy eating and protect against childhood obesity. Make sure you are selecting healthy options for your family and that electronics are turned off and away from the table. Meal time also is a great time to catch up on what's going on in everyone's lives and to laugh together as a family.

During meals, allow your kids to share their concerns about returning to school, their losses from the pandemic, and more. But keep the conversation encouraging and save the heavy or emotional conversations for later. You don't want to heighten anxiety during mealtime. Kids may begin to associate family meals and food with stress.

Being Physically Active

Children should engage in 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Not only does regular physical activity promote health and fitness, it also leads to lower body fat and stronger bones.

Physical activity—which should consist of aerobic, muscle-strengthening, and bone-strengthening activities—also has a positive impact on a child's brain health. Studies have shown that exercise improves cognition and memory as well as enhances academic performance and reduces symptoms of depression.

When kids exercise daily, this also sets them up for good health in adulthood. It reduces the likelihood that they will experience heart disease, obesity, and Type 2 diabetes. Plus, being physically active is a great stress reducer. It allows kids to take their minds off of stressful things and do something fun.

Enjoying Nature and the Outdoors

Kids running in a field

Verywell / Sahara Borja

Many children spend much more time indoors than they did in previous generations. Various studies have linked this increase in indoor time to obesity and other health issues.

While it is important to note that some of these effects do not have enough research to say with certainty that indoor time is to blame, it makes sense that time spent outdoors and away from screens would be good for children and adults alike.

How much time outdoors should you aim for? The U.S. National Wildlife Federation suggests at least one hour a day. This nature advocacy group even includes this concept in its "Be Out There" campaign, calling it a "Green Hour." Likewise, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) also recommends 60 minutes of unstructured, free play (indoors or out) every day.

You can help your children get in their physical activity time and their time in nature by getting them outdoors. If you're short on ideas, try hiking on a local nature trail or tending a small container garden.

Using Electronics

For years, the AAP had fairly strict recommendations limiting the use of any electronic devices to a few hours a day. However, in late 2016, new guidelines were announced that are much less stringent. The guidelines were created in response to how we are using media today.

This change came about because electronics and screen time have become a facet of almost every part of our lives. Children use tablets and computers at school. Cell phones with video messaging are used for daily communication. And internet use for homework is more likely to be required than optional. Then, after a child's required use of electronic media, there is still entertainment and free time to consider.

Overall, the recommendations indicate that electronic media use for entertainment should be limited to one or two hours a day. Parents should ensure that this entertainment is high quality, and create screen-free zones (like the family dinner table), so children and teens learn to function without their devices. Doing so not only allows them to relax and de-stress but it also gives them the space needed to be creative.

Of course, during the 2020-2021 school year, kids may have been online multiple hours a day just to get an education. Now that schools are being encouraged by the CDC to return to in-person learning, finding a balance between using electronics for school and for socializing and entertainment is important. You may even want to consider taking a few days to detox from technology as a family.

How to Fit It All In

It can be a challenge to meet all of these recommendations. One way to manage is to combine one or more activities so you can get more done in less time.

For instance, time outdoors in nature, away from electronic devices, can be combined with exercise and even time with same-age friends. Meanwhile, the time a child or teen needs to be engaged with a parent can be met by eating dinner together. Thirty minutes each night totals more than six engaged hours. The only activity you can't mix with others is sleep.

The key to fitting in everything a child needs is to establish a daily plan or school year routine. Pre-planning or scheduling also can reduce parent stress, keeping the time you spend with your child positive.

A Word From Verywell

As you think about how to structure your child's typical school day, try not to be too rigid with your planning. With the exception of sleep, you can be flexible with how your kids are spending their time and tailor your routines to meet their specific needs.

The key is that they are getting appropriate rest, attending school, and doing their homework. Socializing, time with family, physical activity, electronic use, and family meal times can be adapted as the days unfold.

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Article Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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