How Much Time Is Recommended for Children on a School Day

Mom guides boy in doing his homework.
Individual techer policies, grade level and subject all affect how much time your child should spend on homework. Catherine Delahaye via Getty Images

Time Spent on Homework

How much time each day is really optimal for homework? A general rule of thumb among teachers is 10 minutes per grade level. This rule of thumb 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. It depends on your child's school homework policy, assigned teacher's philosophy, and the type of coursework your child is taking.

Expect less homework in schools that have a strong hands-on emphasis. Some educators refuse to give homework unless they see a strong need for at-home practice and will not regularly assign homework.

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 the school where they are supervised. Another time you can expect more homework is in advanced level classes, like those that offer college credit to high school students.

Homework time: 10 minutes per grade level

Time Being Physically Active

Children should get 60 minutes a day of physical activity according to numerous experts, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Heart Association, and even the U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Parents could also benefit from being active for 60 minutes a day.

Physical activity: 60 minutes per day

Time Spent in Nature and the Outdoors

Many children spend much more time indoors than they did in previous generations. Various studies have linked the increase in indoor time to obesity, among other 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 for the problem, 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. The nature advocacy group even includes this concept in its "Be Out There" campaign, calling it a "Green Hour."

The one hour a day rule is also supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations for sixty minutes of unstructured, free play. You can help your child get their time being physically active, unstructured, and in nature by getting them outdoors.

Time spent outdoors: 60 minutes per day

Average Time in Classroom

It may seem like your child spends all of their time at school. The U.S. national average has been around 6.7 hours a day, for 180 days a year according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The figure includes the time from the start of class time to the end of daily class time.

What the figure does not include is transportation time and before or after school activities. The number of hours individual children spend involved at school can vary dramatically.

The number of school days has much less variation. In the same 2007-2008 school year, the National Center for Education Statistics showed that the number of school days in different states ranged from Colorado with 171 days to Florida with 184 days.

That means children are not in school at least 181 days a year. Hopefully, this is time parents can enjoy spending with their children.

Time spent in classroom: 6.7 hours per school day, 180 days per year

Time Spent Socializing

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 suggest any specific amount of time that is necessary for children to socialize with friends. What does seem to be clear is the quality of the friendships and whether or not the child is generally happy with their social time. Children or teens may have just a few friends or several friends.

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

Time 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 for parents 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.

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. The study showed a minimal positive impact for teens who 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, not sacrificing or martyring yourself for your child. It won't work, anyway. Parents who find themselves stressed out about money can return to work or work more hours without guilt. 

It still stands to reason that your child will benefit from having some positive attention from you every day. You will also be in a better position to spend time with them in the teen years when the benefits are more tangible. Be sure to enjoy your time together.

Quality time with parents: 6 hours per week

Time Spent Sleeping

The amount of time a child needs to sleep varies according to a child's age.

Recommended sleep times for school-age children are:

  • 5-year-olds typically need 10-13 hours each night
  • 6- to 12-year-olds need 9-12 hours each night
  • 13 and older teens need at least 8 hours each night

Not getting enough sleep has been linked to falling asleep during school or missing school altogether, struggling to wake up in the mornings, and trouble learning or doing school work. If you are concerned that your child is not getting enough sleep, learn what symptoms to watch for along with steps you can take to improve their sleep habits.

Screen Time and Electronics Should Be Limited

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

How did today's media use lead to such a change? The use of electronic media and screen time has 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. Internet use for homework is more likely to be required than optional. After a child's required use of electronic media, there is still entertainment and free time use.

The new recommendations are that electronic media use for entertainment be limited to one or two hours a day. Parents should focus on ensuring that the entertainment is of high quality.

The new recommendations also include parents creating screen-free zones in the home that will encourage children and teens to entertain themselves or relax without the use of electronic media. 

Perhaps the new guidelines aren't all that different, as far as parents are concerned. Electronic media use that parents can monitor is still limited to one or two hours a day.

Time Spent Eating

Most experts recommend 20-30 minutes to eat a meal, and 10-15 minutes to eat a small snack. Even children's bodies need 20 minutes after eating begins to register feeling full.

Time spent eating: 80 to 120 minutes per day

Fitting It All in Your Child or Teen's Day

One hour exercise, one hour outdoors, homework and reading, time with parents, time with friends, time in school, time to eat, and time to sleep. You could try to complete all of these recommended times and activities one by one. Or, you can combine several of these activities to get them all done.

Time outdoors in nature, away from electronic media can be combined with exercise and even time with same-age friends. 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 the six engaged hours from the longitudinal study cited.

Your child may even get some of their needed exercise and outdoor time during their time at school. 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. This can also reduce parent stress, keeping the time you spend with your child positive.

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Article Sources
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  2. American Academy of Pediatrics. Energy Out: Daily Physical Activity Recommendations. Updated July 16, 2014.

  3. The National Wildlife Federation. Connecting Kids and Nature.

  4. National Center for Education Statistics. Average number of hours in the school day and average number of days in the school year for public schools, by state: 2007–08.

  5. Sakyi KS, Surkan PJ, Fombonne E, Chollet A, Melchior M. Childhood friendships and psychological difficulties in young adulthood: an 18-year follow-up study. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2015;24(7):815-26. doi:10.1007/s00787-014-0626-8

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  7. Milkie, M. A., Nomaguchi, K. M. and Denny, K. E. (2015), Does the Amount of Time Mothers Spend With Children or Adolescents Matter?. Journal of Marriage and Family, 77: 355–372. doi:10.1111/jomf.12170

  8. Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. How much sleep do I need?. Updated April 29, 2019.

  9. American Academy of Pediatrics. Media and Young Minds. Published November 2016.

  10. Cohen JF, Jahn JL, Richardson S, Cluggish SA, Parker E, Rimm EB. Amount of Time to Eat Lunch Is Associated with Children's Selection and Consumption of School Meal Entrée, Fruits, Vegetables, and Milk. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2016;116(1):123-8. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2015.07.019

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