The last thing that I think parents need right now is more pressure. Pressure to provide the perfect instagram-ready home learning space for their child, with the colour-coordinated stationery set and soothing wall colour.
Many families are facing really hard times and my aim here is to offer some advice to suit all families with children, regardless of your socio-economic status or the size of your home. With the obvious spatial constraints of city dwelling and the all too-common lack of good internet in more spacious countryside homes, we are all facing different challenges. My aim here is to try to offer a variety of practical and realistic solutions to help you create the best environment for home learning, so that your children can feel better throughout this difficult period.
1. A space for all
Identifying that a space is theirs is key to letting your child settle into it, to take ownership of it, and later on, accountability for it. This space could be the kitchen table, one end of the dinning table, a child sized desk in the playroom, a fold-down desk in the hallway, a coffee table in the living room – anywhere with a table and chair where they can sit comfortably. Many children are lucky enough to already have a desk in their room which, no doubt, is far from study-ready.
My son’s work station is the kitchen table, because his room is not set up for a desk yet. Offer a few choices dotted around the house and the garden – a cosy reading area, a sunlit table outside (dream on!). It might be that it will be easier to work with them sitting next to you so that you can help with questions and not have to go to them every few minutes. Your child could be happiest sitting in the kitchen while you cook.
Should you need to create a study or work zone from scratch this can be done very economically and in a space-saving way. Consider overlooked spaces, which could house a workstation such as hallways, window sills which can be extended and turned into great desks or try a wall mounted floating desk in the corner of the kitchen or living room.
In fact my desk is in the living room built into the recess next to the fireplace, I had shelves installed above for all my work related books and I even store samples and drawing equipment in baskets. It’s not instagram ready, but it’s real. This is where I work, not all the time as I like to change it up, especially if the sun is streaming into the bay window – I sit at the dinning table looking out at it. Figure out what works for you.
2. Declutter for Home Learning
To start off with, any space in which you intend to work needs to be as clear of distraction as it can realistically be. Clear the decks – have a spring clean, declutter – get your children to do their own work stations and empower them to make decisions about what stays and what goes.
3. Spruce it up a bit
Make the space inviting: add a poster or inspirational quote, a comfy chair, a family photo, get them to make a collage of their favourite things – let your children help you to “decorate” their workspace. Do paint if you like – it could totally be the right time for a spruce up in a lovely calming and relaxing colour like light blue, blush, grey or soft green. Think of bringing the outside in – with the colours and textures you use as well as pot plants. You could also use chalkboard paint for art, study and general organisational lists if you have the space.
4. Get organised for Home Learning
Create a space for everything to be tidied away. This is so vital I can’t stress it enough. All our home spaces are now likely to be multifunctional so putting things away after we have finished with them so that they don’t add to the sense of clutter which contributes to stress and that uneasy feeling is super important for every member of the family. Putting work away and having a clear space will also create that mental break – school is over for the day, time for fun. Bins, baskets, a mug for pencils, magazine files for worksheets – keep it simple and work with the space you have. You might consider purchasing some small storage items to get things organised. For more on organising check out my blog on getting your child’s room ready for Christmas Getting your Child’s Room Ready for Christmas and the Mess Goddess’s guest blog Organisational Tips for the Whole Family.
As I said, my son works at the kitchen table, there are two crates on the end of the table that contain his workbooks and worksheets and all the stationery and supplies he needs. Work comes out, gets used and then goes back in the crate and hey presto, it’s the kitchen table again. We also get out a plastic table cloth and use the kitchen table for art and model building- the art supplies are stored inside the bench seating. Tidying up is a great habit to learn and it could be a wonderful positive outcome of this time at home.
Wherever your child studies needs to feel quiet, cosy, warm, uncluttered and distraction free. Make the best of what you have. If you have time you can create an interactive and engaging space for your child to learn – remember they may already have this in the form of their bedroom.
Once they’ve got their workstation(s) set up and they’re working away remember to use movement breaks and sensory paths (assault courses) in between subjects or when children start to get a bit fidgety and fractious (this is also worth keeping in mind for the adults of the household too).
5. Spaces can change over time
Places can be different things at different times. When space is a constraint, don’t forget you can repurpose your space throughout the day and night. Change it up – just like with our kitchen table come breakfast bar come work station come art studio come dinner table. Consider sharing your home office with your children, if you are lucky enough to have one, you could be in a shift pattern or working side by side. Make the living room a movie theatre for family night.
Pre-school Home Learning
I thought that toddlers and pre schoolers deserved a special mention in that their needs for home learning are much less sedentary.
As pre-schoolers won’t sit still for more than a few minutes talking about their desks seems silly but a place to sit comfortably is very important for developing good manual dexterity, mark making and handwriting. Take a look at this great set up of a mum working with her daughter, who is sat at her mini desk, next to her.
Pre-schoolers learn from play and need to choose from activities set up for them. With a bit of prep first thing in the morning you can set up a few simple activities around the house for them – it’ll become obvious as to how useful this is throughout the day as they discover new things to do. Activity stations include a water/sand tray which could be in the garden – I used to set ours up in the kitchen and fill it with warm water, bubbles, glitter, ice, animals – changing it up is great for them to be able to explore more widely. Construction toys, small world toys, music, a reading area, games like threading, arts and crafts and play dough are all pre-schooler pleasers that will help with their development and give you a few moments to help other children or work or to just sit!
Remember to display their work as it really helps younger children to develop a sense of achievement. Use your whole house for learning by cooking with them in the kitchen, den building in the living room, or having cosy story time in their bedroom.
We are our children’s main teachers as they learn from us all the time, so just by spending time playing board games or cooking with them, they will learn – don’t be hard on yourself that you haven’t finished the school activities for the day.
Primary school Home Learning
Primary school aged children will likely need some help with their learning and will happily do some learning independently so sitting together, or having them in the same room as you is probably the best solution.
Secondary school Home Learning
Secondary school children will be more independent and will need to sit quietly away from distraction to study independently. Allowing phones and headphones is probably a good idea so that they can be sociable and less distracted from the goings on in the background around the home.
The near future
My advice for the coming months would be to keep things fluid – don’t put extra stress on yourselves – you will all find a rhythm for your new normal. You will need to make changes to routines as the novelty of home learning wears off. Be flexible and adapt to moods and feelings as they happen – finding space for everyone in your home is a bit like a juggling act on a timer – or hot-desking, but you can make it work. Your home should offer a reprieve from outside stresses, make it cosy, welcoming and relaxing – small changes can go a long way. For more take a look at my blog post on Making Your Child’s Room Cosy for Winter .
I’d love to see your children’s workspaces, mess and all – to wake designers up a bit and remind them that design needs to be functional as well as beautiful. Feel free to comment below on anything else you think that I could help with during this tricky time.