March 30, 2020
When my son was entering the 3rd grade, we made the decision to homeschool. We didn’t know for how long or what that would look like. To be honest, we had no clue. All we knew was that we wanted to create a space at home that felt like a “school room” where he could work, learn, and excel. I had grand ideas and looked at a million different Pinterest pages to get inspiration on how to set up the most productive space for my child.
We transformed our dining room into an oasis of colors, activities, and a desk. I went to the local Teachers’ store and bought posters filled with inspirational sayings and quotes. And I thought, “Maybe I missed my calling! I should have been a teacher. I’m good at this.” Then real life set in. My son didn’t want to sit at the perfect little desk. He didn’t read the colorful posters and wasn’t interested in the limitless activities I painstakingly organized. He just wasn’t into it.
What was I doing wrong? The “school room” looked so perfectly equipped and appointed with arts, crafts, learning kits, activities, educational posters, and so much more. Then it hit me. One of the main benefits of homeschooling is to really get to know, sometimes for the time, your child’s learning style. I knew from experience that my son was a physical learner. He was also an existential learner who needed to move around and ask big questions ALL the time. He loved science–specifically paleontology and biology. Also, he loved fantasy books and stories from mythology. He was a learner who didn’t like the demands of school all that much. He wanted to learn about things he was deeply interested in. So, I let his interests lead how I set up the dining room.
If they are visual learners, you may want to use lots of posters and visual aids. If they are auditory learners, you may want to set up a stereo space with headphones so they can listen to audio books and music. For some kids, too many visuals in one space can be distracting. For other kids, lively displays and lots of educational information is inspiring.
Using a dry erase board, a piece of paper, or a wall planner, write down a simple schedule which can be displayed prominently. Remember, kids who homeschool do not have to be schooled 7-8 hours a day as in a traditional school. Cut your homeschool time way back, and keep lessons to no more than 20-30 minutes. In our case, we did away with creating schedules that started and ended at certain times because it created too much anxiety for finishing and moving on to the next experience. Instead, we’d write “Reading: 30 minutes” or “Online Math Games: 20 minutes.” Other kids thrive on set times, so just do what works for you. After a few days, your child will go straight to the schedule board to see what the day will bring.
Clear one wall of your designated space and make it completely blank. Make sure that it’s free of pictures or furniture blocking access to it. Together, make a poster that reads “I Want to Learn More About…” and put it high on the wall.
Depending on the age of your child, find images online and print out the things he wants to learn more about. In our case, I would print images of chess games, a giant squid, the history of video games, Egyptian pyramids, dragons, cupcakes, and more. After printing the images out, my son would tape up the images all over the wall and we would talk about why he wanted to learn more about certain subjects. This would give me great insight into the sorts of library and online resources I would need to gather to in order to create lessons.
Depending on your child’s learning style, they may prefer to do work at the kitchen table, on the couch, on the floor, or with colored chalk on the sidewalk. Setting up a learning space can look as unique as your child! The idea is to let them take some control over the “hows” and “wheres” of completing their work. In our case, I created a comfortable reading nook for designated reading time. We also had a large folding table with storage underneath it. We stored crafts materials, math supports (rulers, calculators, fake money, flash cards, science kits we purchased online), and other educational tools. On top of the table were active projects that my son was working on. He could either work at that station, or move it to another area of the house.
Use this to keep track of activities including online class times for one-time classes or a class series, deadlines for larger projects, meetings with friends, field trips, and “free days” that they can look forward to. Involve kids in planning calendar activities. The more ownership you give them, the more committed they are to their own success!
In the end, we used our homeschool room mostly for reading time, organizing materials, figuring out what lessons would be planned, taking online classes, storing games, and doing certain crafts projects that required more floor space. But most of the homeschooling really happened in the kitchen when we measured ingredients for math. Or the greenbelt when we’d track small animals and birds and then look them up online when we got home. Or when we’d read a scene from an old play and then act it out by memory just to see how much we could remember. So much learning was first-hand and hands-on. Kids have an opportunity to learn subjects through the lens of their own interests. This is the gift of homeschooling.
So, before you invest in the homeschool classroom of your dreams, get to know how your child learns and what he or she is passionate about. You don’t need to re-create school at home. Your child’s learning space needs to be unique to how they best learn. This is a whole new kind of education. And the journey is truly an adventure.
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