Creating a homeschool space isn’t hard. Quite honestly, all you need is a place to write and a place to keep the books. That said, I’ve learned how to create a great homeschooling space the hard way- through trial and error. Learn from my mistakes and create an inspired learning space right from the start.
Mistake 1: Not making it livable. When we first started homeschooling, I decided to use the small home office in our house as a school room. It was an 8×10′ room off a hallway, and it turned out to be a bad idea. The room was much too small to fit several desks, and we felt cramped and closed in. The only window faced southwest, and I live in the deep south. We sweated our way through every afternoon. Eventually, I moved our workspace out into the open family room and we all breathed a sigh of relief.
Fix it: Make your space functional and comfortable. Make sure there’s space to walk between the desks, and that the room doesn’t get too hot or too cold. Basements and garages can be great learning spaces- if they’re insulated correctly. No one is going to learn anything if their teeth are chattering! Try to choose an area with wall space, so you can hang posters or the children’s projects. Creating a comfortable, livable homeschooling space might mean using the family room, or giving up the formal dining room. While it’s nice to be able to pack it all away or close a door on “school”, if you live in a small space you may have to embrace your homeschooling lifestyle, and learn to live with maps and timelines as living room decor.
Mistake 2: Making do with old furniture, instead of making desks a priority. When we began homeschooling, I thought I’d simply use the kitchen table. However, as homeschoolers we were eating three meals a day at home- on the kitchen table. It quickly became an annoying burden to pack up our lessons every time we got hungry. My kindergartner also couldn’t work comfortably at the big table, and I would often find him standing on his chair in order to reach his paper or desperately trying to reach supplies in the middle of the table from his booster chair. No wonder he struggled with learning to form his letters!
Fix it: Your students will need a flat surface and a chair, preferably one that fits them comfortably so their feet rest on the floor. Invest in desks, tables, or build in the workspace they’ll need from the beginning. Don’t forget to include adequate lighting and make sure the desk is large enough to hold an open textbook or binder and a notebook. Adjustable chairs, such as office chairs, are a good pick because they’ll grow with your child. Small children may need child sized tables and chairs, or even a coffee table will suffice.
Mistake 3: Not embracing technology. I use our computer and our printer in our homeschool almost every day, but when we first began homeschooling, I treated technology as an afterthought. Our computer was housed in an old armoire with a kitchen chair pulled up to it. There wasn’t room for the printer, so that was kept on another shelf and connected to the computer only when I needed to print. That was uncomfortable and inconvenient, and I often had backaches.
Fix it: Build technology into your homeschool room. Modern homeschooling usually involves technology of some sort. Virtual Schools are conducted entirely online, while other more classical homeschoolers may find themselves using the internet for research. If you use apps on a tablet, such as an iPad, for math practice or reading books, make sure there is a comfortable place to use it and keep the charger handy. Put the printer (and supplies) where they are easy to access. Invest in a quality computer chair if your child will be spending significant time in front of the screen. Other technology to consider: a DVR or DVD player, eReader, camera, and an MP3 player for audio books and music files.
Mistake 4: Keeping toys in the home school room. At one point, I decided that I wanted learning to be so fun that it would be indistinguishable from actual playing. I lined up shelves and bins and filled them with all of the kid’s toys and all of our learning materials. I quickly learned that it was hard to do math if the cuisenaire rods were at the bottom of the army men bucket, and that it was a poor use of resources to allow the $20 fraction blocks to be mingled with the Duplos. Having all of their toys so close was very distracting and teaching became a battle.
Fix it: Treat your manipulatives with respect. Teach your children to put items used for schooling back when they’re finished so they can be found quickly and easily when it’s time for the next lesson. You might even consider an institution style “check out” sheet to help instill a sense of responsibility for learning aides. That said, don’t hesitate to use Hot Wheels as counters or to put Legos on the bucket balance. Just don’t confuse curriculum with playthings.
Mistake 5: Underestimating storage needs. I was in denial about our need for bookshelves for a little while. At one point, I tried to make a library out of produce boxes turned on their sides. Resourceful, yes. Durable, no.
Fix it: Let’s face facts. Shelves, cabinets, and cubbies are a fact of life for homeschoolers. Whether they are chic vintage lockers, repurposed pie safes, or build-it-yourself bookshelves from Ikea, make sure you have both open and hidden storage. Plan for a few shelves to be empty. You can use them to display nature items, works of art, or inspirational objects until you fill them.
Mistake 6: Not making it right for my family. I loved reading blogs (and now surfing Pinterest) looking at homeschool organization and other people’s learning rooms. But every time I’ve tried to simply create a carbon copy of what I’ve seen online, it’s been a disaster. Why? Because my family is unique to me.
Fix it: Use other peoples learning spaces as inspiration, but be true to yourself and your circumstances. If you are living paycheck to paycheck until that next raise comes in, trying to duplicate a Montessori classroom complete with official materials will just be stressful. If you are homeschooling in a small space, don’t become discontent by trying to recreate someone else’s 800 sq. ft. homeschool loft. Make it work for you!
I’d love to hear about some of your favorite homeschool spaces or the best features you’ve included in your homeschool space. Please share in the comments!