Inside: Get a free printable template of the most important questions to ponder when setting up a homeschool space, plus kid organizers, and a peek into our homeschooling setup.
You have probably clicked on this article wondering, “Will it help me?”
Are you suffering from a growing sense of discontent when something you need disappears for the fifth time this week? Does your dining room table resemble an archeological dig, and everywhere you look is stuff—art projects, notebooks, textbooks, pens, and half-finished experiments?
Or maybe you are a beginner homeschooler dreaming of a picture-perfect homeschooling space you would be proud to showcase on your Facebook page? Hey, look here, FB friends, we are totally nailing this homeschooling thing, and here is proof! But when a photo op is over, everyone walks out of the room without any desire to return.
If these two scenarios speak to you, then maybe my experience will help you.
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Is the Kitchen the Heartbeat of Your Home?
When we decided to officially become homeschoolers, I rolled up my sleeves and with vigor threw myself into setting up a fabulous homeschool room. We had an empty room on a bedroom floor, and it seemed like a perfect space for homeschooling. Lots of natural light streamed through large windows. The freshly painted blue walls were a perfect color of calm and learning (or so I thought). It held a huge writing desk, lots of shelves for books and manipulatives, floor space for jumping and cartwheels, and a ridiculously comfy rocking chair.
I think you get the idea: it was a perfect homeschooling room.
No schooling ever happened there.
In a nutshell: it was too far from the kitchen.
When my kids woke in the morning, I was already in the kitchen all set up with my cup of tea, projects, and to-do lists. It was easier to run upstairs and bring a couple of their books down than move all my paraphernalia upstairs.
Plus, the backyard door is off the kitchen, and we love to get outside frequently for a quick dash around the yard or just a few satisfying breaths of fresh air. In fact, from May through October, we often do some of our lessons outside because the beauty of homeschooling is that you can do it anywhere.
And, of course, at some point every morning, I would have to start a healthy lunch prep. I would dash (I don’t walk, I dash) between the sink, oven, and refrigerator while the kids sat at the kitchen counter and did their schoolwork and asked questions. I loved the fact that I didn’t have to run up the stairs for the umpteenth time.
School books, abacus, rulers, and maps started to migrate to the kitchen and squeeze our living space like a boa constrictor, and eating dinner meant maneuvering the plates around piles of crayons and copybooks.
Dream Big, Start Small
Homeschooling is rarely static. As we and our home was changing and evolving, it was time to re-evaluate our perspective.
These are some “Dream Big” questions I asked myself:
- What were my long term goals for my children?
- What were the reasons for my goals?
- And what could I do that would set my kids up for success?
Then I moved to “Start Small” questions:
- Where do we spend most of our time?
- Where’s the access to the backyard? (since this is important to us)
- Where do we feel most happy, relaxed, and comfortable?
- What was the most logical space for different aspects of school work (math, music, etc.)?
The Force Within
Pondering the questions made me realize several important things. For example, I value, among other things, a sense of responsibility in my children. If I didn’t want to spend the next twelve years reminding my kids to do schoolwork, I needed to create an environment specifically engineered to help my kids get started and keep going. The initiative had to come from within.
The human brain is wired to respond well to routines. “Habits are, after all, thought to be driven by reward-seeking mechanisms that are built into the brain.” — Elizabeth Dougherty, McGovern Institute for Brain Research
The secret to harnessing habit’s true power is in setting up routines that support the desired habits.
What could I do in our home to building routines most conducive to learning?
One day I realized that what I needed to do was break our homeschooling needs into small bits (stations) by intentions.
So, for example, one thing that older kids do every day is table work—writing, spelling, cursive, etc. We ended up arranging our eating area so that when our kids eat breakfast in the morning, they are looking directly at the shelves lined with their school books. As soon as they clean up their plates, they always pull out their books. It has become their habit.
The computer nook is between the eating and cooking areas, so once I’m in the kitchen, the kids who had some computer work (like CTCMath) are reminded of it. All of the action in my house is in the kitchen. Like a moth to the fire, every member of my family is drawn to it. So it made sense for us to concentrate the majority of our homeschooling effort into this area—even though we have lots of space in other areas of the house.
There were a few problems with this arrangement: storage!
- With homeschooling comes “stuff.” Lots and lots of it. Where and how should we keep our homeschooling resources—textbooks, manipulatives, globes, maps, etc.?
- And what was the best way to organize all the stuff? By kid, by subject, by age?
According to research, “The environment in which the children learn can have a dramatic effect on their ability to concentrate and complete their work.”
If I wanted what’s best for learning, I had to become very strategic and intentional about how we keep our homeschooling resources.
Your stations might be different from my stations. This is what works for us:
- Big kids’ station
- Computer station
- Independent work station
- Little kids’ station
- Music station
- Artwork display station
- Storage station
- Books and reading
Big Kids’ Station
That’s where the majority of schoolwork gets done. As soon as my kids finish breakfast, they clean up their plates and pull out their books.
It’s noisy. It’s where every family member is most of the day (my husband works from home), but my kids have developed an amazing ability to block the noise and focus in spite of it.
We invested in a huge wall unit to keep the most frequently used items.
Kids have their to-do lists taped to the side of the unit. Each of them has a dedicated box and a shelf space. Whatever is left on the table at the end of the day, I throw in an Amazon box on the floor. I call it Lost-and-Found, even though it should be more properly called Didn’t-Clean-Up-Fast-Enough box.
It’s actually my desk. Now that the baby is old enough to let me sit down for five minutes at a time, I blog here.
My kids don’t have much screen work, but when they do need a computer, they use my laptop. They can move it to the kitchen counter if they prefer. We also have a computer in the office, but it rarely gets any use.
Independent Work Station
Sometimes the older kids want to gather their thoughts in peace or work without (too many) interruptions. In this case, they use a writing desk in the living room. We squeezed one behind the loveseat. It doesn’t have as much natural lighting as I wish, but the cordless lamp works really well.
Almost all of the kids have desks in their own rooms, too, if they need to be completely alone. They don’t use them that much.
Little Kids’ Station
When my kids were (and are) little, they loved this table. We’ve been using it for eight years. It works for snack time, and it works for coloring. It’s easy to clean, and it’s light enough to be moved easily if we need the space for a project.
I don’t keep anything on this table except things they are using at the moment, or it makes the whole room look cluttered.
This fantastic cork board served us for many years, but it’s not enough to display everyone’s work. So, we let the kids tape their work to the walls with gentle painter’s tape.
We have a ton of homeschooling supplies and materials. To save time, I used to try to keep everything handy. The opposite was true: it was irritating and time-consuming to find what I needed. Now I keep the current books in the kitchen and move the rest into the living room or even upstairs to the office.
I tried keeping learning activities in bins on shelves so my kids could access them at any time. It looked pretty, but some pieces were constantly getting mixed, others were permanently missing, and, in the end, it seemed better to leave out only a limited number of things and keep everything else away. I rotate supplies, and everyone is happier for it.
Books and Reading
Reading stations are everywhere around our house. We all love books, and we’re drowning in them. But, hey, there is no such thing as too many books, right? Unless they pile up against your front door and you can’t open it. Khe – khe.
I generally spend a lot of time moving books around and rearranging them. I think it helps to stimulate the flow. I see it all the time. My kids pick a random book I left on a window sill or table, and before I know it, they’re sharing with each other what they’re reading on page 125.
If you’re looking to create an ideal homeschooling space, make sure that your design matches your needs. Instead of thinking what you need to organize, think how you want your space to function. Don’t forget to take into account everyone’s natural habits, their needs, and your goals for your children.
If you’re a pen-and-paper gal like me, then you might prefer to print it. You can print it from my private library. That’s just a fancy name for the password-protected area I created to simplify sharing all my printables with Kid Minds readers. If you want to subscribe to Kid Minds click here.
Dream Big Questions:
- What are your long term goals for your children?
- What are the reasons for your goals?
- What do you want your kids to see and remember?
- What kind of environment would support them best?
- Imagine: it’s 5 years from now and your kids are focused, motivated, enthusiastic learners, what most likely led to it?
Start Small Questions:
- Where do you and your family spend most of your time?
- Where do you all feel most happy, relaxed, and comfortable?
- What are your essentials: lighting, seating, storage?
- How do your kids learn best?
- What can you do to set your kids up for success?
- What are your homeschooling needs (or specific stations)?
- What is the most logical space for school work?
Once you ponder these questions, it will be much easier to set up your stations in a logical fashion. It’s not about visual appeal but about functionality and efficiency. Research shows that how you organize your space affects how you behave in that space, not only right now but also in the future.
“Human beings often replicate what they see from an early age. It becomes an unconscious part of our emotional DNA.” —Regina Leeds, A Year to an Organized Life
What do you want your kids to see and remember? What kind of environment would support them best? How do they learn? Where do you tend to spend most of your time?
And now I am going to share our most useful and cherished resource – our magic kid organizer.
Kid Organizer Template
Magic Kid Organizer is something I came up with a few years ago, and it stuck. Every time we stop using it, my kids ask to bring it back. Why? Because it eliminates confusion. I don’t have to remind my kids to do things because there is a system in place to serve as a reminder. Also, it reduces the conscious effort required, and my kids don’t get stuck figuring out what needs to be done.
As kids get older and more things are added to their plate, it gets increasingly challenging to keep up. With organizers, they know exactly what needs to be done, they decide how and when to do it based on the flow of that particular day, and they get an enormous sense of confidence and satisfaction to have a visual proof of their work done.
Kid Organizer is a sort of a personalized chart + to-do list that provides an overview of everything that my kids need to do in one week—schoolwork, chores, and classes. It’s personalized with the stickers and graphics they chose on Google.
The Organizer gives my kids accountability and helps them get things done. It works really well from age 5 and up, though, of course, younger kids like the idea of having charts like the older kids. I’ve noticed that even very young kids can sometimes look at their charts, quickly scan a room for something that needs straightening or cleaning, crossing it out on their list, and going back to playing.
Ours looks much different than yours will look. I’m just showing it here to give you an idea of what works for us. If you would like a template to fill out yourselves, let me know. I can share ours with you.
The amazing thing about Kid Organizer is that it allowed us to better determine our stations (or structures) and build routines that help us get things done. We do a tremendous amount of school work and sports (including competitive team sports). In addition, all of my kids have musical instruments and are learning foreign languages. The only way to stay on top of the game is with our organizers.
We also use a Work Plan Timeline template for big projects that kids have difficulty with because it helps them break it down into smaller steps. Finally, we have a magnetic family calendar in the kitchen. But we can talk more about organizing later since the post is getting too long.
A well-planned homeschool life is definitely attainable. It just takes a bit of initial time investment, but it saves a lot of stress and inefficiency in the long run.
Your organization system is never going to be absolutely perfect because the home is a living entity, and it’s always in flux. But you can get a space you will love with a bit of pondering, planning, and determination.
Share in the comments below, what’s your biggest challenge when it comes to organizing your homeschool space?
Are you looking for more Homeschool Room ideas? From Creative Homeschool Organization Ideas in Small Spaces to Homeschooling in a Dining Room, you can get a peek into the life of diverse homeschooling families and perhaps find some inspiration.