Many new homeschoolers wonder how best to set up their at-home learning space. The possibilities can seem overwhelming. Here are some tips as you envision and establish a practical spot in your home where homeschooling can be comfortable and productive.
Keep an open mind. Your homeschooling area doesn’t need to look like a classroom! You will need a work area with a flat surface, comfortable seating, good lighting, and space for storage. Ideally it should be located near wherever the parent or home teacher will be so that they can be available for questions when they are not directly involved in the student’s work. In larger homes, there might be an entire room dedicated to homeschooling. In a smaller home or apartment, the homeschooling space might be a tabletop in the kitchen or dining room.
If possible, dedicate a table or large desk where work can be spread out, left undisturbed, and returned to as needed. If the work surface must meet more than one family need, consider using a table that is only used occasionally or for just one other purpose. With a shared surface, make it a priority to always keep it clean and uncluttered, and develop a family habit to clean up thoroughly between uses.
Make sure your workspace is comfortable. Choose a chair that you don’t mind sitting in for a long period of time. Uncomfortable seats make for fidgety students – and parents! Make sure you have enough space and comfortable seating for each student as well as the adult(s) who will be helping them. Consider seating for additional collaborators, too.
Your home learning space will need good lighting. Can you position it near a window? Natural lighting is ideal, supplemented with general lighting and focused task lighting. If your homeschool work surface doubles as a dining table, consider bringing a desk lamp to the table for homeschool use and moving it off the table and out of the way at mealtime.
Locate shelves and organizational units nearby so that materials can be kept easily at hand. You’ll want some combination of shelves, drawers, and other storage options to keep supplies organized. You will also need a place to store curriculum, reference books, and library books. An inbox and outbox or a set of dividers can be helpful for sorting work in progress. Lesson books, desk supplies, art supplies, science tools, math manipulatives, and other materials also need storage space.
If there are small children or younger siblings in the home, try locking storage tubs and/or high shelves for anything that is not safe for little fingers. Label everything! (Use symbols or pictures for those who aren’t fluent readers.) Lower shelves can be stocked with “help yourself” materials that can be used by all ages without supervision.
Place a trash container and a recycling bin near the workspace to simplify cleanup. A washable plastic tablecloth can be helpful in quickly transforming an academic workspace into an arts-and-crafts space and back again. If budget allows, a prep sink can be a helpful addition for messy experiments and art cleanup.
A single centrally located work space will be enough to meet the needs of most younger homeschoolers. Older students will need an area that is quiet and free from distractions. In families with siblings, this might be need to be a separate space where students can go to study and work on projects that do not require adult support.
It can also be very helpful to have a comfortable reading nook somewhere in the house where children can relax as they read or study. In families with multiple homeschoolers, some will need to get away from the center of things to recharge, and a designated out-of-the-way corner will help to fill that need.
Aesthetics are also very important to consider when preparing your homeschooling space. Are the colors pleasing to those who will be using the room most? If you have the option of repainting the walls, choose a restful, peaceful color such as pale green, light blue, or muted lavender. You might find it useful to paint part of one wall with chalkboard paint.
Peace and quiet may be a very important priority for a distractible student or parent. If designating a completely distraction-free area is impossible, consider protecting the “sound space” by limiting loud activities during certain times of the day, asking other family members to use headphones if listening to audio devices, or providing earplugs for those who might need them.
Create a visible homemade art gallery to display current academic work and artistic creations. If possible, choose a wall that is not directly in the learning space, to keep the learning area simple and uncluttered. You might use a large bulletin board or a series of cork wall tiles to define your gallery, or simply choose a wall to decorate and let it declare itself!
Keep your homeschooling workspace as free of clutter as possible. If clutter is unavoidable, find ways to trick the eye by hiding it in baskets, wooden crates, or cabinets, behind doors or curtains, or beyond a folding screen. A fabric “skirt” around a side table can hide many things while storing them nearby until they are needed.
Don’t forget to consider the spaces that are available outdoors! Perhaps there is a porch, gazebo, patio, or garden table that could be used in warm weather. Some of the same principles apply to outdoor learning spaces: comfortable furniture, shelter from the bright sun, and a flat space to work on. A large, flat board can be used as a workspace on grass or inside a tent. A hammock can be the perfect cozy spot for reading and studying. A large basket can be used to store materials and carry them to/from the house. Older homeschoolers might expand their horizons and study at the park, the library, or a local cafe.
As you consider how to set up your homeschooling space, ask the student who will be using it what they would find most helpful. Be flexible and allow your learning setup to evolve as you discover what works best. Reassess your space periodically, and make changes and improvements with the input of those who use it most.
Is writing neatly a challenge? Perhaps the desk or chair aren’t the right height, or the writing space is too cramped to support the forearm. Does your student have trouble staying on task? Perhaps decluttering the walls and space and creating a more distraction-free zone will help. Do library books keep getting lost? Make sure to have a handy basket next to the reading area so that all books are returned to one place.
Above all, don’t worry if you don’t have the perfect space! Let your heart, creativity, and experience guide you. Homeschooling, like life, is a work in progress.
How is your homeschool space set up? What do you wish you had done differently from the start? What helpful tips do you have for someone who would like to make better use of their homeschool space?