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

Girl playing Hop scotch in playground.

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Today's kids are busier than ever, dividing their time between school, activities, tutoring, and family time. Plus, all of these scheduled activities cut into the time kids need to spend on homework, sleep, and with other family members.

But is there a way to balance it all and still provide some structure? Sure there is. Making room for the priorities just takes a little planning. Of course, when it comes time management though, try to allow for some flexibility so you can adjust as needed to meet your child's needs. Here are some general ideas on how much time your kids should be spending on key daily activities.

Attending Class

It may seem like your children spend all of their time at school. In fact, 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.

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

School During the Pandemic

These figures will likely be drastically different for school years because of the influence of COVID-19. Regardless of how your child's school plans to approach the school year though, you can use this guide to determine how to plan your day—even if your child's in an online classroom.

Just keep in mind that the school day at home will likely be shorter because there is less time needed for things like taking attendance and moving between classes or stations. Plus, your child may be able to move at a quicker pace without classroom interruptions.

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 ranged 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. This extra time can be used for incorporating some things like enjoying nature, spending time with family, and exercising.

Doing Homework

How much time each day is really optimal for homework?

A general rule of thumb among teachers is 10 minutes per grade level. What this means is that a third grader might spend 30 minutes on homework.

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 between children though.

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 refuse to give 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 2020–2021 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

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. 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.

Social Impact of Distance Learning

The pandemic is having a significant impact on kids' social circles. It's challenging to find ways for kids to spend time together while still maintaining safety precautions like social distancing.

Look for creative ways to encourage bonding like Skype and FaceTime. Parents have used these options to have virtual sleepovers, play online board games, and even watch movies together. During school, kids can even use these online tools to have virtual study groups.

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—even if the group is just virtual to begin with. If your kids seem a little shy or that 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 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.

During the pandemic, 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 interactions with your kids.

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 and not sacrificing or martyring yourself for the sake of your children. It won't work, anyway. 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. Also, be sure 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.


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

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.

Allow your kids to share their concerns about school, the coronavirus, 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 (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

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 for the problem, it makes sense that time spent outdoors and away from screens would be good for children and adults alike.

But, 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.

During this pandemic, being outside is more important than ever. Because so many activities are cancelled or limited, there is not much that families can do by way of entertainment. So, making use of outdoor areas allows you to mix things up a little. Plus, the fresh air and sunlight are great stress relievers.

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 device to a few hours a day. However, 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.

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. 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.

Plus, now that COVID-19 is impacting the school year, kids may be required to be online multiple hours a day just to get an education. So, there needs to be a balance between using electronics for school and using them for socializing and entertainment.

Under the new recommendations, electronic media use for entertainment should be limited to one or two hours a day. And parents should focus on ensuring that this entertainment is high quality.

The new recommendations also suggest parents create screen-free zones in the home like the family dinner table, so children and teens to entertain will 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.

How to Fit It In

You may be wondering if there are enough hours in the day to meet all of these recommendations. It can be a challenge for sure. Of course you could try to complete all of these recommended activities one by one; or you can combine several of these activities to get them all done.

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 begin to 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. The socializing, time with family, physical activity, electronic use, and family meal times can be adapted as the day unfold.

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Article Sources
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