Each year teachers send home notes about how to help your child be successful with homework. One of the notes is always create a space for learning. Let’s be honest, how well has that worked out? In my experience this is a common problem that parents struggle with especially now that in many places everyone is home. Each family is unique, and each person is unique, but let me share with you the ideas that I have tried, and what has worked for our family.
A month ago, my brother reached out to me about my 10-year-old niece. She is a bright child, but it not doing well with the COVID-19 move to learning at home. Our schools district is sending home paper packets for the elementary children. She does not learn well this way, and her mom is overwhelmed with five kids schooling at home. I started tutoring her, and when my brother was diagnosed with COVID-19, we made the choice for her to quarantine with me. So, I have gotten a refresher on things that work.
A separate space, does it work?
This is how you are supposed to do it – aren’t you? This concept ignores that fact that by nature we are social creatures. We had an extra bedroom, so I turned it into a classroom and put desks in it for each of my children. It had been a playroom, when they were small, so it was ideal. I had used chalkboard paint on one wall and then to keep my children from writing on the walls, we purchased a piece of shower wall and hung it. Check out Fairy Dust Teaching for the exact steps on what you are looking for. We framed it with trim, but you can also have them cut it for smaller whiteboards that can be used anywhere.
Pros: This created a separate space that contained the school stuff. LOVED the white board.
Cons: Mom had work to be done, and this tied me to spending most of my day in one place. Small children do not work well independently – shocker! At a homeschool conference in Cincinnati, I attended a workshop about realistic expectations for a child by age. I don’t remember who taught it, but I do remember they had a child development background, and they laid it out clearly.
Reframe your idea about space to include age appropriate needs
Ideas for Every Age
Everyone struggles with time. I use clocks that show the time getting less and digital watches. Kids can learn to use a timer before they can tell time. The Learning Resources Time Tracker has lights and the Time Timer shows time disappearing. For less than $30 this can change your life. These work with older kids too and holds an adult accountable to check. As an adult I know I get distracted too. Timers keep me focused.
Having tools available when you need them saves lots of wasted time. I gave up on desks. Consider putting stuff in a basket for each child or use their backpacks. Things can be taken from spot to spot, and this is a quick way to tidy up so the family can eat dinner on the table. Put a pencil box in each container with standard tools such as pens, pencils, erasers, flags and anything else that is used frequently. I even put mini-staplers and 3-hole punches in each basket. Rolling carts are a wonderful invention. They are study enough to hold books and move with you. You can keep art supplies, extra notebooks, seasonal items, or tools that are used occasionally in them. They can be pulled out to use and then moved out of sight. Some parents use sturdier carts and keep multiple kids’ baskets of books on them.
Write on the Windows & the Mirrors
Expo markers wipe off windows. Our sliding doors became my whiteboard for daily schedules. My children wrote their spelling lists, math facts and vocabulary words on their windows. There is just something fun about writing on the windows. Spray, wipe, and you have a blank slate, plus clean windows. Mirrors also work for things you are learning or memorizing. Do scheduling and To Do Lists. Plus, you are teaching a valuable life skill. Check out 15 Habits of Highly Successful People. Having my list on the window by the table created conversation at dinner and time for review, reflection, and adjustment.
Did you know that not being able to find things costs time and money, plus it is a source of anxiety and stress for everyone? Interestingly young people are more apt to lose things than older people. Perhaps because we have more things today than in the past? Check out this Infographic by Pixie Technology. The average person can only keep track of 7 things at a time so STOP! Give yourself a break and label everything. This becomes a fun art project when you involve the kids, plus you might be surprised that some of them are really good at organizing and labeling. I found my daughter explored Pinterest, found great ideas, organized cupboards, pantries, and junk drawers so well, they stayed organized because everyone knew where everything went.
Technology tools can help. My son introduced me to Tile. These little devices attach to important things and connect with an app. If I can find 1 of my things or connect to the app, I can locate missing items. If you pay the upgrade for the app, it will even notify you if you leave the house without something like your wallet, ID, sports bag, or musical instrument. Things we tend to get to lessons and then realize we do not have. I am proud to say, it has been a welcome relief to not look for my phone or my car keys.
Another very useful tool for all the odds and ends you need to find are scannable labels. I am working on implementing these into my house. I have trouble remembering what is in the freezer., or the closet, or the boxes in the basement. So even when I try to label well, I find I am still looking, let alone keep track of what other people move or where their things are. Try Elephant Trax Smart Storage QR Labels. They were designed for moving but can be used for so much more. Pack a box or put food away in the pantry and as you do so use the audio to record what is in there. The information is in the cloud and can be shared. My kids and spouse can access it to know where things are, and I can look up where anything is from anywhere. The app lets you update contents. I finally feel in control of where things are in my house.
Ideas for K-3
You need to be very close to the child, if not right beside them. Their attention span is very short, and they are easily distracted. If you shadow a 1st grade room, you will see that activities change every 15-20 minutes and seat work time is short. Teachers are moving all the time and use techniques such as a double tap on a student’s desk to help them focus again. Sometimes these lower grades are referred to as herding cats. Once children learn the routine, they do great, but need constant monitoring. What does this mean to you as a parent with a child at home? They need to be in the same room with you, or at the very least where you can see and hear them. The spot does not matter. A card table works, but so does a lap desk and sitting on a couch.
Little ones love small spots and clearing out a space in the closet for them to work or under a table with a blanket over it creates a special fort to study in. Head lamps work great. But you can hear and see them and check on them frequently.
Students at this age learn well using self-talk where they tell what they are doing as they do it. Usually teachers must discourage this, but at home it is a powerful tool.
Time is something they struggle with at this age, so I used clocks that showed the time getting less and digital watches. The Learning Resources Time racker has lights, and the Time Timer shows time disappearing.
From 4-6 grade
Students can work on their own a little bit and check in with you if you have given them clear directions in small chunks. Start with 30-minute check-ins and then extend as they show they can be responsible on their own. Students at this age can tell time or give them a digital watch with check in times. There are many options for space that do not have to be a desk in their room. Consider closets. We turned a section of a walk-in closet into a space for my daughter. Lap boards or lap desks can be used sitting in bed. But the spot we found we used the most was the couch and the kitchen table. This is not uncommon, and many parents try lots of things and then end up at the kitchen table. Why? It is because it is the center of the family, and where others are. It was easier for me to go over and help my child when they were at the table and I was cooking dinner. I could fold laundry while we all listened to their history on audio or slip in the living room to make phone calls while they worked close by. I know that siblings often are oil and water, but once we set up a routine and everyone knew what they were doing, and that I did check on them, they found that siblings could be a source of information and a partner to collaborate with when I was unavailable.
Don’t assume that all learning is book learning. Math comes alive in real life applications. Grocery shopping can be a math lesson and so easy now that we can do online. Give your child a set amount to spend, a chart with meals for the week and have them figure out a meal plan, and if they can afford it. You may not be excited about your meals that week, or you could be pleasantly surprised. Giving children some control over their life is important, especially now.
This is training that helps your family run better as young people get better at it. My daughter hated math, but once we took on redecorating and art projects, it was interesting watching her fractions and understanding of variables soar, plus I got my living room painted. Multiplying and dividing recipes is a great way to learn fractions. The cookies are a bonus. Consider purchasing a small chest freezer. Freeze half the cookie dough for a quick treat another time or consider involving them in doing freezer meals which make everyone’s evening better. It is possible to prep an entire month of meals in one afternoon and your child develops skills in planning and organizing, math, money and cooking. Plus, life just became less stressful when everyone knows what is for dinner. There are so many good blogs and webpages, but FreezerMeals101.com will get you started.
From 7th and up
As students get to junior high and high school, they can start setting their own schedules up. We had a daily huddle at breakfast to see what everyone was working on. The goal at this age is to transition skills and abilities. You want your child to be able to transition to adult responsibilities when they go to college. This is not a switch that flips upon graduation, but one that is best transitioned into. Plus, at this age young people want to have control, and think they know more than adults. Sometimes the conflict is so strong at this age that the more a parent presses a child to do something, the less likely they are to do it. So, facilitate their learning based on interests. Even video gaming can be reframed into why their school needs to be done. They are starting to think about what they want to do with their life. Ask questions about their goals, and then assist them to build their calendar. When they make the choice to do something, you will be surprised at how they start taking an active role in their schedule.
Shared electronic calendars are great especially when there are different sports, work, practices schedules and people are mobile. Especially with people home more now, I also like a physical board that everyone can see at a glance where everyone is or should be. Plus, there is something about writing and moving things that helps people to connect with what they are doing.
Attention span is longer at this age, and I checked with my kids at lunch and at the end of the day to see where they were. I also scheduled time that I was available to them. At this age they can start to keep a list of questions and go over it in a scheduled time. Learning to skip that problem and move on to what you can do, is a skill also. Make sure you are available to them during your scheduled time. Respect their schedule and they will respect yours. This is important.
There is not a right or wrong answer to creating a space. Each person, and situation is unique. Reframe your expectations from what you think a schooling space should look like. Instead of focusing on the space, focus on the person and your family. My windows now have lists and drawings on them and there are baskets of books in the kitchen and an art table. Its not Martha Stewart. But I have a child who is getting her school done, exploring creative options, and discovering she loves having time to read the entire book. Learning is a lifelong journey, not something that is done just at school. You have a unique opportunity to get to know your child, and influence where their journey will take them when they are at home with you. Transition this time from SURVIVING to THRIVING.