What with the new teachers, shifting schedules and sudden onslaught of paper, the back-to-school transition can be challenging for parents and kids alike. Manage the chaos by putting an action plan in place to handle some of your home’s hot spots — including a spot to study — and you (and your kids) can step into the new school year feeling prepared. The following tips will help you set up a homework zone for your scholars, whether they’re entering kindergarten or applying to college.
Supporting your scholar. The needs of a kindergartener and those of a tween may seem miles apart when it comes to study space, but there are a few things that hold true for all kids:
- Pick a place where your child feels comfortable to set up a homework zone. If he or she loves being in the heart of things, this may be the kitchen table.
- Keep supplies close at hand. If children have to hunt for that glue stick or report cover, the whole process will feel more frustrating.
- Feel free to create a separate zone for reading. No matter your child’s age, it’s often more comfortable to read in an upholstered chair than in a stiff desk chair.
What to expect: The focus for preschoolers and kindergarteners should be on cultivating a love of learning. A cozy nook for reading (or being read to) and a project table for practicing cutting, drawing and writing are all that’s needed. A clean, inviting space like the one shown here encourages children to explore good books without offering an overwhelming number of choices
Homework-zone tips for younger children:
- Using child-height tables and chairs helps preschoolers and kindergarteners feel ownership over their work area.
- Younger kids sometimes have a hard time if there’s too much on the table at once. Keeping extras stocked on shelves above the table or on a portable cart will help avoid spills and make it easier to focus on the task at hand.
- Keep an eye on the clock: If your kindergartener gets homework, be sure to ask the teacher how long it’s expected to take, and don’t force your child to work past that amount of time. At this age, it’s better to keep the homework routine short and positive!
What to expect: As kids progress through elementary school, they’ll gradually be asked to take on more responsibility (and likely more homework too). This is when organization and time management begin to come into play — and having a well-organized homework space can help.
Homework-zone tips for school-age kids:
- Homework in elementary school can involve a mix of reading and writing with creative projects, so be sure to store some art supplies along with the No. 2 pencils.
- Decide on a system for keeping track of homework papers, and stick with it: A simple inbox and outbox (or labeled “in” and “out” clipboards fastened to the wall) should do the trick.
- Designate a roomy document box or bin where you can store completed schoolwork and projects. Aim to sort through it with your child once a month, choosing a few special pieces to keep and recycling the rest.
- Let your child add photos, artwork and special treasures to personalize their study space.
Working at the dining table? Read this. Kids in elementary school often feel more at home doing homework at the kitchen counter or dining table, where they can chat with you (and sprawl out) as they work. If that’s the case for your child, there are just a few things to keep in mind:
- Ideally, your child shouldn’t have to clear away work in progress when it’s time for dinner. If that’s impossible, try to find a nearby surface that can be kept clear so there’s a place to hold your child’s supplies.
- Consider using a cart on wheels to hold homework supplies. That way, your child can pull it up while working and tuck it away at mealtime.
- If your child just wants to be in the same room, see if you can find a nook to put a desk in the kitchen or dining room, to avoid the cleanup issue.
DIY treat-stand supply tray. If you have a rarely used treat stand gathering dust in a cupboard, consider pulling it out and putting it to work as a handy homework supply station. Simply fill each level with cups (recycled cans and jars work well) filled with pencils, crayons, scissors and other supplies, and set it near your child’s homework area. A caddy like this is especially helpful for kids who like to work in the kitchen or dining room, since it can be picked up and put aside when it’s time to set the table.
Tweens and Teens
What to expect: With a heavier workload at school, more responsibilities at home and after-school commitments, middle school and high school kids have a lot on their plates. Even though they may be taller than you now, tweens and teens can still use your support — and setting up a comfy spot to work is a good first step.
Homework-zone tips for tweens and teens:
- Using a laptop or the family computer likely will be a necessity for doing schoolwork in the tween and teen years, so consider where you want this to happen. Especially for younger tweens, you may want to have the family computer in a main living space for greater supervision.
- With teens’ increased workload, the system that has worked until now for keeping track of homework and schedules may no longer cut it. Help them experiment until they find a system they like to use: This could be a paper planner, an app or lots of Post-its — whatever works!
Stay on top of paper clutter. Once teens have multiple subjects to manage, paper clutter seems to expand exponentially. The built-in storage compartments of a desk hutch (like the one seen here) can help keep lots of paper neatly organized, making this a good choice for pack rats and organization junkies alike. Here are a few more ideas:
- Use stacking paper trays to keep track of to-dos and finished work
- Assign a hanging file to each subject and keep important papers inside.
- Reduce paper and keep track of things digitally with an online system like Google Drive.
More than one kid sharing a space? Consider study partitions. Make sharing a study space easier on all involved by providing a desk with a partition between work areas. In the space shown here, the entire desk unit is built into a closet, so when the kids are done working, the doors can hide it all away.