TV and movies would have us believe that as a rule, kids don’t like to study. Fortunately, that’s not entirely true. Sure, some kids like it more than others, and few kids would put it at the very top of their list of things they want to do, but there’s no reason that learning has to be an arduous task.
Creating an engaging workspace dedicated to studying is a great way to foster an atmosphere that encourages learning while minimizing distractions. And it’s not difficult to create a study/homework nook, even if you’re dealing with limited space.
We chose to put the study nook in the bedroom, under a loft bed, and so far it’s been a great success, but we learned some valuable lessons along the way:
Make it a team effort!
This isn’t your workspace; it’s your child’s workspace, and they’re more likely to use it if they feel some ownership.
We started with questions: Where should it be? What kind of desk do you want? What kind of chair do you need? Obviously you have to steer the choices somewhat unless you really think they can sit in a beanbag chair and work on a Lego desk, but incorporating as much of their input as possible – especially when buying supplies and furniture – can go a long way to making it their space.
Whether your child is in first grade and is mostly working with crayons and big fat pencils or if they’re in high school working on their computer and spiral notebooks, you need a good surface to work on — and the bigger the surface, the better. We have a loft bed with a desk built into it underneath the bed, so our task was more about arranging the work surface than picking it out, but there are some universal lessons we learned that should apply to any situation:
- You will need more space than you think you do – Through trial and error, we realized that the space we had set aside for writing and drawing was just too small. Take the space you think your child would reasonably need to do their work in and double it. Without that extra space to set things aside and put temporary things like textbooks, the space starts getting very messy very quickly. Trust me.
- Even if it’s a smooth surface, consider a desk mat or calendar – If the surface of your desk isn’t particularly smooth, it’s going to be a problem, particularly for kids who are just learning to write. Our desk is too narrow for this, but a fun solution is a desk calendar – it serves the dual purpose of acting as a calendar for them to keep track of the date as well as a writing surface for drawing and writing practice.
Most kids love to shop for themselves, and letting them pick out their own office supplies is a great (and cheap) way to not only engage them in the process of setting up their own study space, but also teach them to be responsible for their own things. Our study nook has its own calculator, tape, scissors, pencils, pens, paper, etc., and those are the only ones available for kid use. No more looking for the tape because it was absconded for a pirate ship project.
Of course you need light, but what kind of light? We decided a small desk lamp was perfect for our space, but you might do better with a gooseneck adjustable lamp or you might even be fine with the overhead light. We found this was a great opportunity to involve our child in the process, first evaluating what kind of light we needed to illuminate the work area, and then picking out just the right lamp to fit.
There’s nothing more distractible than a child who’d rather not be doing their homework, so we follow a strict rule of no electronic devices allowed on or near the study nook during homework time, unless it’s something that’s needed for the assignment. And even then, it’s a closely monitored situation. In general though, it’s best if there’s not a TV within the line-of-sight of the workspace, even if it’s not on. Open windows can also be a distraction, but every child has their own concentration threshold, so you’ll need to do a little trial-and-error on your own to figure out what works best for your situation.
In our house, homework can be a group effort, and there needs to be room at the table for helpers to sit too. Sometimes it’s just encouragement and sometimes it’s legitimately putting our heads together to solve a tricky problem, but we’ve found that it’s vitally important to be able to plop down next to our child without rearranging the world and dragging chairs in from across the house to do it.
Homework can be daunting at times, and while your child needs to be able to accomplish their tasks by themselves eventually, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t help them get to that point when they need a hand. Actually, that’s kind of the whole point.
So that’s our story, and so far, so good. It’s not perfect and our study nook would best be described as a work-in-progress, but the lesson is that a little imagination and a lot of involving your child in the process can go a long way to creating a great study spot, helping to form good study habits when they need them most.