by Lori Snyder
Invest now to minimize homework battles later:
As the school year approaches and we stock up on school supplies, buy new backpacks and prepare our kids for a year of new challenges, it’s a good time to prepare an optimum workspace for your children to do their homework. It may be a matter of tweaking and updating an area you’ve already established as your child transitions from elementary to middle school, or it may be the first chance you’ve had to finally establish a spot your child can call his own. In either case, a well-designed work space can establish a solid homework routine and encourage starting the school year off with good work habits. Whatever the ages of your children or challenges of your home layout or size, with a little help every family can find a space your child enjoys being in.
Criteria for a well-designed child’s work space:
The work area must be organized and distraction free, sheltered from the phone, the TV, and distracting siblings. Equally essential is the ability to individualize the space with personal photos or artwork. Your child’s favorite colors and patterns should also be incorporated. Sharon Hanby Robie and Deb Strubel, in their book Beautiful Places, Spiritual Spaces: The Art of Stress-free Interior Design, encourage promoting energy and inspiration through color. In their insightful book they say “children have an innate sense of what colors make them happy, and a happy child is a productive child.” So it’s worth taking the time to find out what your child’s favorite color is first. The location of the work space is also critical. Younger children need to be close by so you can help them and keep them on track, while older kids often work best independently in their rooms. Keep in mind that older kids also need supervision if they are working on computers. You may want to locate a central computer in a highly visible area of the home for family use, such as the kitchen, which will easily allow for adult supervision. The last criteria in designing a successful work space is good lighting, preferably near some natural light.
Now the fun part: finding a workable space
Parents tell me that the most common place for doing homework is the kitchen or dining room table. I encourage parents to find an alternative location so a child can personalize the space and encounter less distractions, and so ongoing projects like reports can be left in the homework area for a few days at a time, if needed. Having a separate space also helps your children stay organized and focused and helps avoid spilled drinks and messy snacks from marring homework papers. With all this in mind, it’s time to take a good look around. Does your house have a dead-end hallway or nook that’s underused? Is there a niche next to a fireplace that can be transformed? Or maybe there’s space to put an armoire in an entry foyer, hallway or family room. With this solution, you never have to worry about looking at a messy desk — just close the doors. Using a free wall next to kitchen cabinetry or even removing cabinetry to create a small desk can also work well. Don’t worry if you can only squeeze out work space for one and you have three children — schedule time for each child to use the desk. Each child can have his/her own bin where he or she can find essential supplies undisturbed when it’s time homework. Keep in mind that some kids find a desk too confining and may alternatively prefer to sit in an overstuffed bean bag chair with a laptop desk in the middle of the family room. As long as they have good lighting nearby and a soft rug under their feet, that can work great also. It’s all about individualizing, making your children as comfortable as possible, and being nearby to help make sure the homework gets into the backpacks.
Lori Snyder is a local architect who runs Imaginary Spaces … In Ordinary Places. You can contact her by calling 202-441-7475 or emailing [email protected]