Friday, August 7, 2015

A room ready for learning

Before we began drawing out plans for our new house, we always knew we would want a space dedicated solely to homeschooling our children. It had to be functional, filled with light and a room all it's own. Because, with my perfectionism, I had to be able to shut the door if I couldn't get around to picking it up after a day filled with workbooks, puzzles and art time. I needed to be able to close it off from the rest of our home. After all, out of sight, out of mind right?

In January of 2014 we moved out of the dark, almost windowless basement and into the light filled space of the upstairs. It's beautiful and I love it but decorating is tough. When your husband is in construction, and you build your home almost completely on your own, you realize all the work that gets put into each and every part of it. So, to think about hanging things on the walls kind of makes me nervous. I don't want to decide to put something here or there and then, after seeing it a few times, change my mind. It takes me a while to think and mull and envision it in my mind before I can say with certainty that I want to put a hole here. But, we're slowly getting there, and I'm beginning to arrange things on the walls to make our home more welcoming.

The "school room" has always been a tough one for me though. Pinterest has some great inspiration. Still, it's hard to make a space cozy, appealing to the eye, yet functional in our everyday routine. We have certain pieces of furniture that have to be included and it limits the creativity just a tad. The roll top desk Glen got me as wedding gift is a given as it means so much sentimentally and it holds my computer that I use to edit sessions along with a lot of our office supplies. Another must is the bookshelf he built for me the Christmas we were expecting Blake. It's tall, wide, stained a beautiful color and holds everything from books I've accumulated at Library sales to the boys' vast collection of reading material to every book and planner we need to complete our school year (along with art supplies and storage bins). Add in there two antique school desks (given to us by Glen's Aunt and refurbished by me), rugs to go under them (this style from Lowes worked perfectly!) so they don't scratch the hard wood floors and an art easel and space is pretty limited. But, by arranging everything along the outside walls, we're able to get a nice open space in the center of the room for any floor time we need and I'm pretty pleased with how I've been able to use baskets and crates to organize all of our supplies while still making it somewhat pleasing to the eye.

With that, here are a few must haves for an organized and productive school space. Things that work for us and things that don't! Every family is different and so, of course, every home school family is different. What works for you will depend on the curriculum you've chosen, the schedule of your day, how many kiddos you have versus how many you are schooling, their ages, your work situation, the list could be endless.

 Must Haves for a Great Year of Homeschooling :

  • A good sized bookshelf - or someplace to designate for school book and supply storage
  • Bins/baskets/tubs - someplace to keep all of the things that take up too much space to store on their own. I ended up getting these baskets from Lowes and I love how they look on the shelves. Plus, they'll work for other things down the road if I ever decide to replace them. Also from Lowes, paint buckets like these work perfectly to hold crayons, markers and chalk. The supplies don't get mixed up that way, they are super easy to clean, very inexpensive and they still flow with the decor of the room. 

  • Lots of light - it definitely helps keep the bad moods and negative thoughts at bay when working.
  • Space to store each child's curriculum separately - this helps to keep things organized and makes school time less stressful if you don't have to dig through everything daily.
  • Individual work space for the kiddos - make sure they have some space to themselves so they're not competing over who's things get to go where.

  • A great planner that allows you to organize and record everything school related in one place. Planners that offer space to plan for multiple kiddos are great so you don't have to keep track of more than one.
  • Magnetic bookmarks! These are small but very useful. I love being able to hook them over the top of the pages I am using in my planner so I don't have to search every morning and at different points throughout our day. This year, I purchased these at Mardel. They are the same brand only different patterns from the kind I used last year. In all honesty, I still have last years, I just use them in books I'm reading and they're inexpensive so I didn't mind picking up another pack just for some fresh patterns.

  • Standard School Supplies - i.e. pencils, erasers (because we all know they'll have to erase a million or more times a day), a good ruler (the plastic see through ones are great when they're just learning to line it up and measure), loose leaf lined paper, and folders to store samples of each child's work (we have to begin documenting our hours this year so I made sure to get a good folder for each child so I can add papers as I need to but also, they store easily without taking up too much space). Also, small chalk boards or dry erase boards are great for the kiddos to use individually. I found this one at Mardel this year and I think it will be great for Lucas to practice writing without wasting a lot of paper but it will also be reusable for Blake and our youngest as they get old enough to begin schooling. There are, of course, many options available but I like the different colored lines and we have paper that looks like it so my boys are used to making sure their letters line up correctly. A wrack like this to hold your loose paper, small chalk boards and student folders is helpful also. Though not incredibly great looking (I may replace this if I find something I like better in the future), it does make everything easily accessible. 
  • A place to display things they do well on - whether you're using a cork board, tape, extra space on your bookshelf, or a space made just for this, kids love being able to show their hard work off for everyone to see! I can't count how many times JD would show his daddy his spelling test when he got 100% and was allowed to hang it on the board last year. They love it!

  • Patience. This can be a hard one. Especially on those days that your first grader thinks he knows the answer and you can't convince him otherwise without using the "Mom Card". I don't like to do that. But, sometimes you have to be humbled to realize you can't do everything on your own. Isn't that the point of school, after all? To learn new things and improve in areas you are already good in? I think so. We never stop learning. Even when we are teaching our own littles.
  • Of course, if you're like me and have younger kiddos that aren't quite old enough for "school" yet, then some great learning toys to grab their attention are a must. I love shape sorters, puzzles, colored blocks, stacking cups, etc. It keeps them entertained and it's easy to pop down beside them and have a little lesson of their own!
  • Learning games (flash cards, pattern blocks, stacking cubes, etc), some good quality books they can read/look at on their own, and board games for down time are some other great additions to any home with littles but, especially families that school at home. We don't like to do a lot of TV time so it's good to be able to have options available to them when they're bored. Unstructured play is good! I think it's great for their imaginations. But, sometimes they need a little more.
But, perhaps the most important thing to take with you when you start a day of schooling is a good attitude. I struggle with this some days as we go through different subjects, each with their own level of difficulty. Someone gets mad because they feel they can't complete the task they are given correctly. Someone else is on the verge of throwing a fit because they know how to do it and don't want to take the time to read the instructions carefully before beginning. I forgot and scheduled something else in our regular school time so we are hurried to get through as much as we can before leaving the house. There's always going to be something that goes wrong in my big plan for the day, week or month. And, in all reality, there will be many, MANY things that don't go according to my schedule. But, does that mean that we've failed at our attempt to school at home? No. Absolutely not! Just because we didn't make it through a whole week day without someone throwing a tantrum for some reason or another does not mean that I should pack it in now and list all my supplies for sale online. It just means that we are still learning how to go about this adventure and what works for us. Some days we will breeze through our schedule and have lots of free time, while others we will get stuck on one subject for far too long, butt heads and end up scooting a couple of subjects to the next day. But, that's the beauty of homeschooling. We can move things around when we need (or want) to. If someone just isn't getting it today, that's alright. Stop and pick back up in an hour or two after everyone has had some time apart. If I feel like we are really having a tough day, I also like to take some time to say an extra prayer with my boys. To let them know that I can't be perfect either. I need to ask for God's help with this because I truly cannot do it alone.

All in all, homeschooling is such an incredible thing to be able to do! Even on the hard days, it really is the best thing for our family and I am so glad that we decided to take the plunge three years ago and start schooling at home. It has been such a blessing!

Anyway, I hope this post has helped some of you home schooling mamas out there in some small way today. If you're unsure about your schooling journey and feel like you just can't get into the swing of things, hang in there! You can do hard things!

Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her.   ~ Psalm 31:28

On a side note : I'm thinking of putting together a post about our homeschool schedule and how we work around it to include more life. Maybe comparing last year, when we didn't have to log hours, to this year, when we do. After we get through a few days of lessons and make any changes we need to, that is. Would there be any interest in something like that?

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