Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Homework, research papers and tests, oh my!

With school already in session, or about to begin for some of your kids, I thought I'd post a magazine article I wrote a few years ago about creating a space in your home conducive to studying. I wish I would have known all of this when my kids were growing up!


How to Find the Perfect Study Area in Your Home

By Hana Haatainen Caye

The new school year has arrived and parents like you are scrambling to pick up book bags, notebooks, number two pencils and other necessities to help their kids succeed this year. Whether you have a little one heading off to kindergarten or a nervous teenager entering high school, you face another challenge other than buying the right school supplies. It’s a challenge that perhaps you haven’t thought about. Where will your child do his or her homework?

If your older children have already established study habits that include being sprawled out on the floor in front of the TV, it is time to re-examine the importance of having an area in your home that is conducive to studying.

Where Can You Find the Space?

Many of the newer homes are being built with kitchens that are large enough to accommodate a study nook or work space. One of the advantages of children doing homework in the kitchen is that you or your spouse can be readily available to help your youngster or to answer questions. The same can be true when you convert a corner of your family room into a study area.

But what if you don’t have a huge kitchen or even a family room? Then what?

Children’s bedrooms can be a place to squeeze in a desk, but that is not always a good idea. For one thing, a child who studies in his bedroom tends to receive less supervision from you. In addition, some experts claim that having a study area in the bedroom can disrupt sleep.

Sometimes it is simply impossible to add a study space that is used solely for that purpose. Gathering around the kitchen or dining room table then becomes the focus. The best way for an arrangement like this to work is with portable office furniture that can be wheeled in at homework time. Visit Demco.com to view some of the rolling carts that they have to offer. There is a Mobile Art Cart and a Mobile Storage Cart that can house most, if not all, of your child’s school supplies. Having everything contained in one spot helps to eliminate wasted time spent searching for supplies every time they’re needed. Kids often require room to spread out their books and papers. A dining room or kitchen table can be the answer.

What’s in Your Closet?

Other options include clearing out a closet and placing a desk or workspace in there. Add shelves above the desk for books and supplies, hang a bulletin board or wall mounted grids on the back of the door and you’ve created a space for your child to study in that can be closed up when their schoolwork is completed for the day. Supplies can be kept in a variety of containers, in a wide range of colors. Try hatboxes, wicker baskets, unique tin containers, or plastic storage bins. To personalize the space, shoeboxes can be decorated by your child and used to hold pencils, crayons, paper, and more! Don’t forget to label the containers so that there isn’t any time wasted looking for supplies. In small spaces, in particular, eliminating clutter is essential. By storing supplies in containers on shelves the clutter is almost non-existent!

Since this is a closet with a door that can disguise the area, why not allow your child to truly make it his own? Give him a paintbrush and a little guidance and allow him to express himself. If the study area really feels like his own space, he is much more apt to get his homework done, without much prompting from you!

Here are some paint color suggestions that are important to keep in mind:

• Avoid bright white! It is disrupting.
• Red signals danger! Skip the red wall!
• Pale apricot or other earth, pastel and wood tones are soothing and help to keep your child calm and confident as she does her work or studies for an exam.
• Blue walls slow pulses and are conducive to studying and concentration.

More important than color is the choice of lighting. Dim lights can make someone drowsy, particularly if the bulbs are missing the blue element of the spectrum. Having enough light is essential, but make sure that it doesn’t create a glare that could cause eyestrain. The Verilux desk and floor lamps are wonderful choices. The natural spectrum bulbs are glare-free and energy efficient.  Proper lighting can make quite a difference in your child’s ability to complete her assignments.

What about the Computer?

Having a study area that de-emphasizes the computer might help your child to get his homework done faster. Once a computer is turned on in front of a child, particularly a teenager, distractions multiply. His IM buddies will know he’s online and want to chat. While having a computer is becoming more and more necessary for students, there are several things to consider.

If your child will be accessing the Internet to work on school projects, make sure that you are aware of what she is doing. Place the computer in a central location with the monitor facing out toward the middle of the room. You want to be able to glance at the screen whenever you walk by. Make your rules and the consequences for breaking them clear from the start. During study times, do not allow your child to chat with anyone online. Their focus has to stay on the task at hand.

Younger children using the computer will benefit from having a kid-sized keyboard and mouse, which can be found at Ergocube.com. The variety of character-based hardware is sure to excite your little computer geniuses!

Desk choices are limitless! A corner desk is a space-saver and can be found at any office supply store that carries furniture. IKEA carries several different choices in a variety of price ranges. Particularly appealing is the corner work station, ALVE, which is actually a corner armoire that can be closed up when the homework’s done!

What about My Teenager?

A survey conducted by Lowe’s and Ispos Public Affairs revealed that 96 percent of teens say they would like studying at home if they could design a cool study space. Take them up on it! If you have the room, allow your teen to adapt an area of your house to fit his personal style and compliment his study habits. Give him some perimeters that he has to follow, however, such as, no TV! This is not a place for your teenage daughter and her friends to hang out – it is a study area. Hold her to that!

What Do I Need to Get Started?

Once you have established where your child will do his homework, and you have purchased the necessary furniture and or storage containers, you will need the right supplies. Following is a suggested list of school supplies that will help your child succeed this school year. For earth-friendly options, check out O'BON's great school supplies.

• Thesaurus, Dictionary and World Almanac
• Box of No. 2 pencils
• Several ballpoint pens with black or blue ink
• Large eraser
• Stapler and staples
• Scissors (safety or sharp, according to age)
• Paper clips
• Ruler
• Calculator
• Tape dispenser and transparent tape
• Recycled copy paper
• Notebook paper
• 3 1/2 X 5 inch index cards
• A collection of magazines that pictures can be cut out of
• Rubber bands
• Box of colored pencils
• Markers

With a new school year already upon us, it is time to think about how to help your child be successful. A study area that he can call his own is the first step toward a report card that you will be proud of!

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