You’ve got science experiments in progress on the kitchen counter, art projects on the dining room table, and books and papers all over the house. And you’re determined that before you resume homeschooling at the end of the summer, you’re going to get organized. Setting up a homeschooling space is not a one-size-fits-all venture: your ideal arrangement will depend on both available space and your homeschooling philosophy. Whether you’re a school-at-homer or a radical unschooler, there are some common issues you’ll want to consider when designing your homeschooling space.
Determining your goal
For many families, the beauty of homeschooling lies in escaping the confines of the traditional classroom. Others enjoy the structure of a dedicated classroom or learning area. Some students work best at desks, others at the kitchen table, still others hanging upside down on the couch. In addition to determining how structured you will be, you’ll want to answer the following questions.
1. How does my child learn best? If your child is a kinetic learner who finds it excruciating to sit quietly for more than a few minutes at a time, you’ll want your plans to include some roaming space and some comfortable seating. A visual learner might benefit from a large blackboard. Knowing your child’s learning style will enable you to outfit your homeschool space to maximize her learning.
2. How will homeschooling fit into the flow of family life? Perhaps you’ll “do school” for a finite period of time each day. Or perhaps you’ll have a less predictable schedule. You may be working as well as teaching at home. Or you may have a large family that requires you to perform other tasks while teaching. You’ll want to consider these factors when selecting the best space.
Choosing a space
Once you’ve articulated your goals, you’re ready to select a space that will most efficiently allow you to meet them. If you’re in the kitchen for a good part of the day, that extra room down in the basement may not be a great fit, but the nearby formal dining room that you rarely use might be perfect for formal bookwork. If you’re running a family business out of a home office, you might want to carve out some space in the family room next door for your more relaxed learner. Or perhaps you’ll choose to set up more than one area based on function (art, science and PE in the basement; reading in the alcove under the stairs; writing at the kitchen table). With a little creativity, almost any area can be successfully used for homeschooling.
Outfitting the space
Much like interior decoration, setting up a homeschooling space is a very personal undertaking. While there are nearly as many great possibilities as there are homeschoolers, there are several common elements you’ll want to include in your space.
1. Storage. Adequate storage is the most important factor in keeping your homeschool environment organized. In a dedicated space, you may want to invest in furniture such as built-in cabinets and drawers, an armoire, or bookshelves with bins (“closed” storage is much more forgiving than open shelving). Distinct and clearly marked sections of your storage should be designated for teaching materials, curricular materials, craft materials, school supplies, and completed projects. If you’re using a room that also serves another purpose, you may want to consider portable storage such as rolling carts of drawers or rolling bins.
2. Technology. You’ll want to make sure that the space you’re using is wired for the Internet and television. In a separate classroom, you will probably have a computer and television set up permanently. In a multi-purpose room, you may have portable laptop or television stands. The key is to make access to technology as efficient as possible. Another item to consider is a clock. Although not nearly as important as in a traditional school, a clock can be handy for testing or just keeping track of other family obligations.
3. Display space. Whether it’s a wall of white boards, a column in your dining room, or even the front of your refrigerator, display space is a must. In addition to calendars and planners, you’ll want to display completed projects, educational posters and maps. Make sure that your chosen display area is easy to refresh as new projects are completed and areas of concentration change.
Because homeschooling families share a love of learning, there will always be overflow from the designated school area. Books and magazines are most commonly cited as being found throughout the house. Embrace this by making room in bedrooms, family rooms and basements (anywhere the urge might strike) for bookcases, magazine racks or even large decorative baskets. Allocate a special basket or centrally-located shelf just for library books. Corral puzzles and games in a bin or drawer in the family room.