One of the great things about homeschooling is the amount of free time my kids have in which to explore and create and do things of their own choosing. My kids are very young, not-quite-8 (2nd grade-ish), not-quite-5 (Kindergarten-ish), and 1.5 (currently a leader in the School of Destruction and Interruptions), so keep that in mind as you read. :o) Maybe teenagers will spend more time in academic pursuits, but I am just not there yet so I can only imagine how that might work.
The academic skills my children have gained--reading, basic math, writing--in their careers to date have not taken tons of time for them to acquire. During the course of a typical day, each kid does some kind of independent reading, I will often read something out loud, some math worksheets will get completed, a writing project of some sort happens (with help in the spelling and punctuation department from me as needed), and that's about it. All told, those sorts of activities add up to about an hour. Maybe.
What's great about this is that my kids, compared to their schooled peers, spend a high percentage of their time pursuing activities because they choose to. As I write this, Ryan is listening to Mr. Powell talk about Ancient History. Morgan is drawing pictures on BrainPOPJr. Sean is destroying and interrupting.
Many times, their pursuits are less smarty-farty sounding that Mr. Powell and BrainPOP. Often, Ryan is setting up battles and building armies or writing letters or creating flags (a new hobby) or making up businesses. Morgan will play World of Goo or play Pet Store or watch a movie or drawing pictures. Sean is pretty consistent with his Destruction and Interruptions, but even he will toddle off and play with cars or dinosaurs (dine-doors) or dogs with Morgan or watch a show or otherwise be disengaged from my personal posterior.
Ryan and Morgan play elaborate imaginative games that make no sense whatsoever to me. They're beginning to bring Sean into those games, too. It's truly fun for me to observe them running through the house, usually in some kind of costume, off on some secret mission that for some reason involves them counting in French. (They can only go up to four in French--they picked this up from a movie.)
I think free time is so important for anyone, but maybe especially for children. It's a time in which they are learning about themselves--what they like to do, how to get along with others--and learning about the world. When I hear that locals schools are reducing or canceling recess, it reaffirms our decision to keep our kids out of school.
School environments have built-in inefficiencies due to their nature. When you need to get 20 or so 7 year olds to do any one activity at the same time (or possibly smaller groups doing one of three different activities) . . . well, let's just say I don't envy teachers that difficult job, not one bit. Optimizing for the group means that individuals will not necessarily get to use their time efficiently. Some kids will sit there bored. Some kids will chit chat to their neighbor. Some kids will create disruptions. Some kids will struggle to keep up with the pace. A lot of time is spent waiting--for the bus, for class to get started, for the teacher to explain something, for lunch, for recess, etc. I see this phenomenon on a much smaller scale in our homeschool co-op, where kids in Ryan's chess class must sit and wait for other kids to finish up their games, where they must wait for everyone to arrive before getting started with class.
Waiting, waiting . . . inefficient. And yet, it can't be helped in such a setting, I think. Getting lots of people organized and pointing their minds in the same general direction takes time and effort, and while necessary, it's impossible to accommodate each individual's pace and interests fully.
Anyway, back to Free Time.
One thing I purposely do is stay out of the kids' free time as much as possible. I don't try to organize or direct it. I don't interrupt unless it's really necessary, such as if we need to leave for an activity at a particular time. If the child seems at a loss for something to do (rare), or more likely, if I think he would want to do something and believe that Right Now or Very Soon might be an optimal time in which to pursue that goal, then I'll make a suggestion. For example, I suggested that Ryan do history this morning, because he's been talking about it (we've been slacking lately), and since it's snowing today, I thought it would be a good time. So I said, "Haven't you wanted to do history?" And off he went in search of his notebook.
The combination of Free Time and Benign Neglect (meaning that I generally leave them alone, and often wish they'd reciprocate in kind!) is good for all of us. As an example, I've mentioned before that I don't fix them breakfast or lunch (or often, dinner). I provide a variety of food (and they have some input into what I buy), but it's up to them to go eat when they're hungry and fix their own food. So the older two have become very independent in this area (although I still need to remind Ryan to eat sometimes, but I've become accustomed to this fact by now). But they fix their own food for the most part, and I think they like the independence that comes with being responsible for fulfilling this need.
This is good for me because it gives me more Free Time! See? WIN-WIN! Apart from loosening jar lids and opening yogurt containers, I'm off the hook, and it's a wonderful thing. In fact, I'm so used to Ryan and Morgan handling their own meals that sometimes I forget that poor Seanie needs help. I know! But he's the sort of guy who doesn't hesitate to vocalize his needs and desires, so he doesn't starve (lest anyone is worried).
Similarly, when it comes to our work, each person is responsible for his/her own activities. I work on my writing or the cabin business or the housework or any of the zillion other irons I currently have going in various fires. Ryan reads or writes or listens to history or plays board games or organizes imagination games or builds battle fields. Morgan reads or writes or draws or barks. Sean does his thing, too. We all work together on housework or read aloud projects or errand-running, or we work separately on our own things.
It's a happy existence for each of us now, and I think that their learning to be self-directed will help them very much in the long run.