I sure didn’t think we’d be here right now – a few days away from starting the new school year… at home. And if you’re like me, last spring left me feeling less than enthusiastic about my dining table becoming a desk, the daily class zoom calls, and my ambitious “schooling” schedule proudly hung on the wall, that I abided by for about… 3 days.
But here we are. Some of you might be homeschooling, others might be aiding with remote learning from a computer, and there might even be a few lucky ones who are actually getting backpacks ready. Whichever category you fall into right now, you made the best choice for your kiddo, and we’re all just trying to do the best we can while holding on to our sanity. I’m a big believer in making the most of what life gives you. I’m also a believer in simple is best – in your home, and in your mind. We all have enough going on right now, so I’m here to take some unnecessary stress off your plate.
Whether you have a preschooler, high schooler, you have one kid at home, or 4 (godspeed), I’m sharing 5 simple tips for setting up a more organized learning environment. If the saying “a place for everything, and everything in its place” works for the rest of your home, you better believe it will make a huge difference when it comes to a learning space. So here we go… let’s make fall learning more successful for everyone… especially moms.
1. Select Your Space
Don’t underestimate the power of the space you select for learning. This will be different for each family and each home, but here are a few keys:
Dedicated space: This might seem like a no-brainer, but a key to success will be routine and consistency. Chose a dedicated spot as your child's workspace, keep all their supplies close, so they know once they're seated, it's time to learn. It's the same concept as keeping your bed a place to sleep, helps you sleep better.
Distraction-free: This will depend on your kid’s age. For younger children, you might want to keep them out of their rooms or any space that has a lot of their toys. Or it might mean away from the kitchen where you’ll be preparing meals or other siblings might be making noise.
Natural light: If possible, select a space near a window. Sunlight, even if not direct, produces serotonin, which helps boost alertness and focus. And let’s face it, we all need a little more of that when at home… because napping just sounds better when your bed is steps away.
Near an outlet: If you’re a part of the remote learning camp, you’ll be relying a lot on a laptop. Place your desk or table within cord’s reach of an outlet to avoid cutting out of a zoom call because the battery died. (well… maybe that wouldn’t be so bad)
It isn’t necessary that you have a desk for your kids, it just needs to be an area that you won’t mind being the dedicated school zone for the next several months. This means that a kitchen counter, breakfast table, or even your desk – with all your papers and incoming mail – might not work for you. For me, I'm moving my first grader from the dining table (which has permanent marker sunflowers on the wood as a reminder of how fun spring homeschooling was...) to a desk in the dinning room. Same room, but a dedicated space.
If you have multiple kids sharing a space, or even a table, you’ll need to get creative: place them on opposite ends, and utilize partitions (I will provide a list of products at the end of this article). While they won’t help with noise if your kid’s are on calls at the same time, they will give a sense of separation, and limit distractions.
2. Select Your Tools
Hopefully by now your school has sent out a supplies list. Print it out, but don’t go to the store quite yet. To avoid adding unnecessary stuff to your home, check what you already have on hand. This will save you money, and save you space. Yes, getting back to school supplies is so fun (I’m guilty!), but before, all those supplies would go to school… Now they’re residing at home. Checking the inventory of your house will also serve the purpose of allowing you to see the craft/art/school areas that might need a little love before.
Depending on grade level, here’s the categories you’ll need containment for:
Writing tools (pens, pencils, crayons, markers, highlighters, whiteboard pens, etc.)
Paper (you might have several types of paper – white, lined, craft)
Binders, notebooks, and dividers
Ear pods/headphones, chargers
Craft supplies (glue, scissors, erasers, tape, etc.)
Post-its, index cards
3. Simplify Your Storage
This does not need to be complicated. Or expensive. You can utilize items already in your house:
Mason jars or emptied/cleaned candle jars for writing utensils and craft supplies
Utensil organizer for pens and crafts
Magazine holders for paper, binders and notebooks,
The top of a large shoe box for laying papers flat
Involve your kids in the hunt for organizing items, and get creative – it’s amazing what you can find in your house.
On the other hand, you can indulge your inner child and have fun purchasing some handy organizers (um, yes please!). Hey, we can all use a little fun right now. A few of my favorites include a rolling caddy, table-top caddy, and stacking desk organizers. Find a list below!
Small tip: since you'll be seeing a lot of these containers this year, make it more visually appealing by choosing one color. If you've selected items from your house you already have, you can use adhesive wallpaper or spay paint to cover them.
I also recommend finding a wall (directly in front of, or close by) to hang a pin board or magnetic whiteboard. Not only will this allow your student to hang important reminders and info (schedule, teacher's emails, technical support, to-do’s, that week’s goals), but it will also create an element of personalization...
4. Add personalization
We all take better care of a space if we feel a sense of ownership, right? And since we’d love for our kids (no matter the age) to help keep their learning area tidy, it will help if we allow them to make it their own. This might look like letting them pick the color of their supply containers, decorate a pin board, or add a small plant. They don’t get a super colorful elementary school room, or a locker to decorate. This is their chance to make “home school” more fun. On top of that, have them help set up all their supplies and the organizing systems (or if they’re older, do it all on their own). Not only is this fun, but then they'll know where everything is.
5. Create helpful systems
All the papers
Remember when you’d open your kid’s backpack and find half a dozen doodles or completed worksheets? Well, all that goodness is now being made at home… and there will be a lot of it. Now is the time to create a system to sort, edit, and store papers and art.
Arts and crafts:
Make a plan for how you’ll edit the completed art, and involve your kid. A system that works well is to sort through all the art each Friday and let your child pick their favorite 2 items. If they really want to keep more, that’s okay. But remember that we might be doing this for a while. And while we love all heart and cat drawings, we only have so much space in our homes.
Find a designated spot to store or display the items you’ll keep. This spot should be off the desk, in order to leave room to work and for the other supplies. Consider a service like Artkive which creates a photo book out of your student’s art. This majorly reduces clutter, and it’s fun for them to look through a book of all their creations.
If you’re doing virtual learning, a lot of work will be done on the computer. But there will still likely be paper and notebooks with writing, math, and other studies.
Make a system for paperwork in the following categories:
A Family Calendar
When I saw the first grade color-coded block schedule my eyes pretty much glazed over. And that's just for one first-grader! Or you've created your own learning schedule for one or more of your children. No matter what your situation is, the reality is that our families will function more smoothly if we are all on the same page, and prepared for the days and weeks ahead.
My suggestion: Buy a large wall calendar – paper or whiteboard – and map out each person’s schedule for each day during the week.
Place it somewhere everyone can see it.
Use a different color for each family member.
Use stickers or magnets to mark important events such as a zoom call, test, or project deadline. This will help you plan and prepare for when a call is coming up, or when extra help is needed for a particular family member.
Look at the week ahead and see where you, as the mom, need extra help with groceries, cooking, study help, or even planning. Planning can be a lot of work!
Give yourself a little wiggle room for figuring out the calendar system that will help your family function more smoothly. This might take a few weeks to iron out, or even change, and that’s totally okay.
Lastly, in any space I organize – my home or a client’s – an organized system will only remain organized if there’s consistent, simple upkeep. That might sound like yet another to-do, but I promise you – a few minutes of tidying each day will save you hours of tidying at the end of the month. It will also prevent you from overbuying because you’ll avoid misplacing items or losing them under heaps of clutter. Okay – pause – I’m guessing that if you have a teenager, the idea of encouraging them to tidy up makes you envision eye rolls or super pleasant pushback. You know your kid best, the environment they learn best in, and what motivates them. I’ll let you figure out what upkeep system you’ll create with them. However, if you have a kiddo who still (mostly) listens to you, you can make this daily clean-up routine fun. Allow them to pick their favorite song to play while they put things back where they belong, and end the school day with a way to connect with them – in a way they choose. For me, that means listening to Taylor Swift and probably painting nails. Whatever it is, find a way to make it enjoyable. This will help everyone – a clean space ready for the next day, one less thing on your mom-list, and hopefully a little more lightness in the home.