by Samurai Mom
With the Coronavirus resurging in many states, a growing number of parents are exploring homeschooling or enriched distance learning for the first time. Schools are waiting to hear from us. Are you sending your teen back to school?
We’re all wrestling with that choice as the news from the CDC changes every day. And then there’s this: When considered as a whole, homeschooling can be daunting. If that’s all that’s standing in the way of your decision, you can make it easier by focusing in one piece at a time, starting with the physical layout. Once you can visualize you and your child working in the space, other parts like the curriculum seem to fall into place.
So how do you organize your homeschool space? The area in which you create for home learning should be:
- Welcoming, comfortable and distraction-free
- Organized with storage and areas for different types of learning
- Rich in multi-format resources.
Whatever your experience level with teaching at home, here are some tips to create or upgrade your family homeschool/distance learning space so that you can all concentrate better on the teaching and learning.
Full disclosure: as a middle school teacher, I lean towards creating a bit more of a formal classroom vibe (with emphasis on mini-lessons, shorter activities and movement breaks), because that’s what’s worked for me. In every classroom I’ve created and lesson I’ve taught in K-8, my goal has been to communicate that learning is important and also fun. A space that is organized and prepared also communicates to your kids that this is the place we show up to do our best work, whether we feel like it or not. : )
Others aim to keep their home classroom more casual, and that may serve your family too. You’ll find what works for you as you go, but it never hurts to start more structured and ease up later. It’s much harder to go the other way.
Anyway, that’s what they taught me in my Teacher 101 class, when my instructor growled, “Don’t smile [at the kids] until Christmas.” That’s not my style at all by the way, but here was my takeaway:
Communicate your seriousness of purpose so that kids will respect you and the process. While you create your unique homeschool, you’re likely to have a transition period in your kids’ eyes from parent to parent/teacher. This transition can be smoother with well-planned, engaging lessons that are customized for learning styles and interests.
Start with the environment.
First, evaluate which area makes the most sense in your house to create your homeschool, considering available storage, traffic patterns, family routines and ease of multi-tasking for you while your homeschooler is working. You may be limited to the corner of your dining area or have an entire room devoted to your homeschool.
The Basics – a Room Layout that’s Welcoming, Comfortable and Distraction-Free
Learning takes place in many ways: through individual study and reflection, through watching, through movement and practice, through writing and discussion, etc. Effective homeschools have a balance of area configurations that are easy to change up with the workflow. One of the biggest “nice-to-haves” is to be able to honor your kid’s preferred learning styles and move easily through different learning activities. This calls for multiple places to learn in your homeschool.
All these ideas are scalable. Depending on the size of your homeschool and budget, this could be as simple as a desk, a table and an area in a corner for quiet activities.
At minimum, plan for:
- An individual workstation for each student with easy access to reliable technology like a Chromebook. Storage of school supplies, textbooks and other current learning materials should be within easy reach.
- A comfortable chair and desk at the right height. For frequent movement throughout the day, students will benefit from either a stationary and/or mobile setup paired with an exercise/yoga ball.
- A table to meet with you for a mini-lesson, work on a project, to play a game, have a writing conference, etc.
- A quieter and cozy area (like a beanbag in a library corner) to read, reflect in a journal, take a break, draw, etc.
Visuals/Instructional Wall Space – Use what you have! If you lack actual wall space, you can get creative with hanging displays instead – string a clothesline or twine across the room and use clothespins or binder clips to attach the important stuff.
- Whiteboard – Post directions, questions on a good-sized whiteboard or two. I like the ones with magnetic backing so I can change up the display easily. Whiteboards are handy while you introduce new material or your homeschooler reviews concepts. If you’re on a budget, make your own whiteboard with this $20 DIY project.
- Create or buy anchor charts to support your curriculum visually – These highlight procedures, core concepts and best practices that help your student focus on the important stuff. An example of an anchor chart is an editing list of writing conventions.
- Daily schedule – homeschools thrive on routines. The structure helps you and your student(s) keep on track, and encourages independent progress when you aren’t available.
- World/country maps and a globe – help make interdisciplinary curriculum connections to geography clearer by providing current political and physical maps.
- High speed Wifi – Obviously, a reliable and fast connection is critical to online learning. When things don’t go as planned (hiccup in the router, power outage, computer fail etc), plan back up activities and lessons that are print-based to keep your homeschooler learning. Also, WiFi boosters and extenders can help you get your WiFi signal to more distant rooms and levels of your home or office space. A booster like this one can extend and strengthen your signal so that you have fewer dropped connections.
- Computer/Mac/Chromebook within range of an outlet to prevent loss of charge interruptions.
- Smartphone – there are many ways to use a cell phone in your instruction. You can set up guidelines about when and how, so that the phone is a learning and engagement aid instead of a distraction in your homeschool.
- Large display monitor – you can use this to project a screen – computer, device or phone – to show slideshows, documentaries, Ted Talks, educational YouTube videos, Zoom/Google Meet sessions and your homeschooler’s work.
- Printer – while you may plan to deliver your instruction mostly digitally, there are many, many ways to enrich your program with printed materials and just as many reasons that you should.
Here are a few: to annotate articles; review with flashcards; print out lessons and activities that you’ve located on the internet, backup when digital learning is not possible, etc.
- Calculator – once your homeschooler has progressed past basic math operations, you’ll need a calculator. Calculators are widely used in public school from 5th grade forward, and are especially important in solving algebra, geometry and calculus problems Students who are proficient with using calculators will score better on standardized math tests which require them, like the PSAT, SAT and ACT.
Organization – How Much Storage Do You Need?
It’s easy to underestimate how many physical objects are used in a learning program, even if you’re planning on using digital resources. If you’ve been supporting distance learning this spring, you’ve had a taste of it. But the difference between emergency distance learning and full-on homeschool can feel overwhelming. Before you were supporting a teacher’s lessons. Now you’re creating the lessons.
It’s best to get a bit more storage than you think you’ll need.
Draw a Line in the Sand
Even if you share space, it’s important to draw a line between your homeschool day and your family time. Organized storage helps you keep some separation, especially if you’re able to put supplies away in covered storage at the end of the day.
When I homeschooled my kids in elementary reading, writing and Spanish, we did everything at the kitchen table. It was convenient to supervise them and review while I cooked and folded laundry but it quickly became a mess! I struggled to keep the books and papers out of the pb and jelly goo left from lunch. Our word wall stretched the floor to ceiling and the length of the kitchen. The fridge was buried under so many layers of work on display that they fell to the floor every time someone peered into the fridge. Flash cards and manipulatives, popsicle sticks, markers and little whiteboards teetered on the baker’s rack 24/7.
There was no separation between school and home. Even when the kitchen was clean, it was cluttered all the time. If you are brave enough to try homeschooling in your kitchen, the chaos may soon drive you crazy. Try to find another space if possible.
Aim to acquire storage for everything organized by academic subject or format – shelving, drawers, and baskets can all work well. Be sure to leave some empty space because you’ll acquire more materials as you find your groove as a homeschool.
Follow our Pinterest Boards Happy Homeschool|Middle School Teacher & Homeschooling on a Budget for lots of homeschool organization and design inspiration! Just don’t fall victim to FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) when you see what other families are doing. Your homeschool can be as simple or as complex as you wish, and it takes time to build it.
Rich in Multi-Format Resources
The core of a successful homeschool is providing the right resources, at the right level at the right time.
And it’s no easy feat to do this, as your kids are changing and growing every day. Their interests will change, their ability to think abstractly will grow and their motivation may be inconsistent. This all happens while your homeschool curriculum that you’ve chosen essentially remains the same (except for adaptive math programs). That means that it’s up to you to bridge the gap between where your kids are (that day or week) and the curriculum. Will they need reinforcement activities to master the material, enrichment to make it more challenging, alternate assignments to keep up the motivation?
In other words, the more tricks you have up your sleeve to get to the same learning objective, the better.
Curriculum – so the quality curriculum that you choose will provide many resources, but will never be a truly self-contained program. You’ll keep tweaking it and adding enrichment to fit your values, your kid’s interests and learning styles.
Build a Home Library – independent reading drops off sharply in middle school and high school. You can head off that possibility in your house by providing a variety of books that are interesting and relevant for your homeschooler. See Teen Doesn’t Read? 9 Parent Ninja Moves to Get Them Reading for a step-by-step plan to keep books in their lives.
Here are some low-cost ways to stock your library with a fresh selection of awesome books for your homeschooler:
Thriftbooks – millions of titles and free shipping! Most books under $5.00 in gently used condition.
Better World Books – extensive collections of used books that are a bit pricier – $6.00 and up. Also offer free shipping.
Goodwill and Savers – in-store shopping. Books are usually under $5.00 and paperbacks can be bought for $1.00 – 2.00. You’ll want to assess the potential risks of visiting consignment stores and put any books you buy away for a few days (or leave them in your trunk!) to be sure they’re safe to use. This is also true with the other vendors, but mailing already builds in some time.
Public Libraries – Homeschools have always used libraries to enrich curriculum and support independent learning. Many libraries are now doing contact-free book circulation. You may be able to reserve books, games and other materials ahead of time in the online catalog.
Manipulatives/3D Models/Games/Puzzles – Adolescents crave novelty and fun! Supplement a traditional textbook or online exercises with a variety of activities to achieve the same objective. For example, here’s a great game activity to teach kids how to create in-text citations. Or learn American History through a combination of text book, a research project, and playing games, Hands-on activities are not just for elementary school; all ages learn better when experiences reinforce learning.
Command Center/Teacher Area – This is where the magic starts. And the magic is YOU. Remember to support yourself as the teacher with an environment that allows you to bring your best self to your homeschool.
- Depending on the specific laws in your state, you’ll need a homeschool portfolio or some other format that documents your student(s) progress. The types of documents required may include a letter of intent, attendance records, instructional hours, tests, grades, and other assessments, transcripts, curriculum used, reading lists, etc
- a binder of lesson plans for each subject,
- Daily, weekly, monthly schedule
- notebooks and folders,
- a teacher copy of each textbook,
- a dedicated computer just for your use.
Planning is essential for a successful homeschool. I’ve experimented with many combinations of digital and printed planners and I always come back to the spiral bound teacher books with vertical printed days of the week like this one.
Teacher library – to continue building your homeschooling knowledge, collect books of instructional ideas and how to grow an independent learner. It is arguably the most important thing that you will teach.
Here’s a list of supplies that your teen or tween may need, depending on your curriculum choice.
To save money, buy just the basics now and revisit stores in early October – many supplies will be deeply discounted by then. Or you can avoid the in-store visit by finding sale-price supplies online.
- Paper – lined, graph, and colored construction
- 1 Subject Notebooks
- Paint & Brushes
- Chalk and Chalkboard if you like a retro feel in your homeschool (mini ones are fine)
- Expo Dry Erase Markers (Get thin ones for personal whiteboards and thick ones for the wall whiteboard)
- Markers/Crayons, etc
- Binder Rings (Great for keeping flashcards organized or illustrating a progression like mitosis).
- Post It Notes (These are essential for notes/annotating – kids can use these to mark pages books and notebooks- literature, textbooks, teacher manuals, etc)
- Index Cards and Box (Used for many things, like vocab or math, fact memorization, speaker notes, games etc.).
- Wooden Craft Sticks (so many ways to use these in education)
- Laminated wall maps of the United States and World
- Mini Dry Erase Board for each child (these are useful for quick review, call and response, working on vocabulary and facts, etc)
A note: Consider that it takes about 4 years for a new teacher to really grow into their professional selves and that they never stop learning. The same will be true of your homeschooling. While there are a million different ways to set up a successful homeschool (and a classroom) and none of them will be perfect, especially the first year. You’ll see images of homeschooling families on social media, everyone smiling and engaged in a tidy classroom, going on field trips, siblings walking hand in hand along a path as the sun shines above.
Homeschooling can seem so idyllic, but a photo op is not the daily reality. Here’s the truth – learning is messy! So be patient with yourself and keep expectations reasonable as you begin this journey with your kids.
Using the resources, your curriculum, your homeschooler feedback and trial and error, you’ll find your way, even on the days everything goes wrong. If you decide to homeschool long-term, every year will feel a bit smoother.
Hopefully, these tips have given you the confidence to get started. You can do this!