Comic by Todd Wilson
I can't believe it, but it's that time of year again! Public schools in some states started this week, some schools and homeschools do school year-round, and pretty much anyone still squeezing the last little bit of joy out of summer they can find is getting ready to start school within the next month! Have you already started, or are you hammering out the lesson plans and getting the school room ready as we speak?
Some years, I go into the school year more prepared than others. There was the one year that we had moved not long before, and were preparing to move again, and my homeschool room was a train wreck. I shared the picture on social media, thinking I would break out of the "look how perfect I have it" mold and share what sometimes is "real" in homeschooling. I thought perhaps it would make some people feel better if their homeschool room wasn't looking quite perfect yet. What I got were a bunch of comments about how my picture was stressing the viewers out and how they were getting anxiety even looking at my room! But you know what? Sometimes this is reality, and we carry on anyway, because we need to, so I'm still sharing!
Other years (and other houses), it has been better. I'm not a complete slob all the time. I go in cycles!
Through 20 years and many military and post-military moves, we've had different solutions for our school space. In some places, I just had the kitchen table on which to work. In other places, I've had a full, well-organized school room. This year, the last of my progeny is headed off to a college dorm and my journey is taking a new direction. Here are some of the things that have worked well for me in a school room over my homeschooling career.
1. Having a space dedicated to school.
True, sometimes the space was the kitchen table and it was only dedicated to school for a few hours a day. It is also true that much of our school took place doing labs at the kitchen counter, puzzles on the floor, activities outside, and field trips away from home. For a while, however, I let the kids "do school" wherever they chose, letting them sit on the floor in front of the TV, take their books up to their rooms to work on their beds, or whatever. While movement throughout the day can be good for a lot of children and it seemed like a wonderful flexibility afforded to us by homeschooling, I soon lost control of the schedule and the workload. Kids ended up playing in their rooms, watching TV in the living room, or falling asleep on their beds rather than getting any schoolwork done. In the end, it was a good, habit-forming routine to have a certain number of hours each day or week that we sat together, in chairs, at a table or desk, with no distractions, to concentrate on our subjects.
2. Having flexibility.
Now that #1 has been established, it's good to have the flexibility we enjoyed as well. On nice days, we would sit in the swing outside for reading out-loud time. On cold days, we would snuggle in front of the fireplace with hot chocolate while watching an educational video. School could happen anywhere and everywhere and it was a good thing to have both some very structured time and some less-structured time. Balance is key!
Sometimes this was a luxury. We didn't always have the space or the money. But once we got desks for the four kids at a school surplus sale and moved the house around to make room to put them, this was a very helpful luxury. Each of the kids had their own workspace and their own space to keep things. While homeschool for us was full of field trips and outside activities, this was the one little bit of traditional school that it helped for me to bring home.
Kids working on their own tend to finish workbooks quickly, or to not have the attention span to sit down and do them at all. And if you overload any kid with workbook work, it tends to not go well. I've never been one to want to shop for clothes or fancy home decor, but set me loose in an office supply store or an educational store, and it can be dangerous! I learned to find these educational gems second-hand or on sale in order to keep to my budget!
- Time Lines, Maps, and Globes - We had tons of these and tried to tie as many lessons as we could into the time and place they happened in relation to other lessons we had. A great resource for pulling it all together and seeing where and when things fit into their place in the world is Knowledge Box's own Stage of the Ages Timeline Notebook, which, along with your whole order, can be obtained for half-price using the code STOCKUP50OFFEVERYTHING from now until August 15th.
- Math manipulatives and Science experiments - I feel like we did lots of science experiments but never enough. We watched some of the large-scale ones online as well, such as the Steve Spangler Science videos, which were much larger and more impressive than what we could have possibly done at home.
- Books, books, and more books - Have lots of books available, whether you own them or make a trip to the library every week. After they have done the required reading they need to do for their school curriculum, let kids read what interests them, no matter what grade level it is (as long as the content is appropriate). I had one student who was reading high school level before middle school and sometimes enjoyed the classics, but who also loved reading things like The Diary of A Wimpy Kid in middle school, which was far below his reading level. It doesn't matter. Just get them to love reading, and they will be learning all their lives.
- Blocks, puzzles, and art supplies - For a certain period of time each day, if my kids were done with their required schoolwork, they could do "fun school" activities, which included all kinds of reading, puzzles, art projects, coloring, etc., but did not include any television or video games. They can occupy themselves with these activities and be learning and developing their creativity without a lot of pre-planning going into the activity.
- Games - I had four close in age, so that made it pretty easy to incorporate board games or card games. Some games are outright educational, while others just continually reinforce things like waiting your turn and good sportsmanship. We did a lot of learning through games!
- Music - I play piano and my husband was in band, so we had some actual musical instruments. We also had a lot of play instruments like bells and rhythm sticks. We listened to an eclectic blend of music with appropriate lyrics or no lyrics. The importance of music in education cannot be covered in this little blog post!
If all this seems pricey to you, check out the homeschool used-book sales, thrift stores, yard sales (especially where people homeschool!), ebay, and what's available to use or borrow at your local library or children's museum. Homeschooling can be done with a big budget or a small budget!
What must-haves do you have in your school room that you'd like to share with others? What has helped you overcome limits to budget and space in a school room? We'd love to hear from you!
Until next time,
Happy 2023-2024 School Year!