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Monday, August 29, 2016

{radical art of homeschooling} learning spaces

Even though homeschoolers spend a huge amount of time outside of our homes, how you use your home when you homeschool will no doubt change. Maybe even radically. Your home will become a laboratory for learning and experimenting. It might shift from a place to relax and find refuge to an active playhouse of possibilities. And you will accumulate more stuff (books, art and craft supplies, recycled things, globes and microscopes...).

Several years ago at an unschooling convention, I led a discussion on how eclectic homeschoolers used their space. I was fascinated to hear about how families had completely reimagined their homes, reclaiming dining rooms, formal living rooms and even hallways and walk in closets to use as learning/reading/dancing/art making spaces. The creativity applied by these families was inspiring and boiled down to 2 major points. 

Rethink space

After actually deciding to homeschool, rethinking domestic spaces and how we use them is the next big mental shift. You might want to start with a description of a perfectly supported learning home, if you have a clear idea. Most of us, will more likely try new things and evolve along the way. 

You can decide if you will have a dedicated school room. Some people decide to use an unused bedroom, basement, or formal dining room as a learning space. Although I am not interested in recreating a traditional school room in my home, we do have a "learning lab" which is essentially a family office. Each kid has a desk and some wall space. In addition, the learning lab has shelves with basic art supplies and storage for notebooks, workbooks, science apparatuses etc. We have this room because our current house is big enough, but to be honest, the kids rarely use their desks and prefer to work lounging on the couch or at the dining room table. (note: we recently moved and are using the dining room as a learning lab, along with laptops that move around the house). 
I see all rooms in the house as education rooms, really. The kitchen is open to everyone to cook and make experiments. Making sure kid appropriate tools are accessible is a key to kids learning to use this space. A learning tower was one of the best investments we made when our children were younger (it was so sturdy, we were able to sell it for a good price when they outgrew it). They were in the kitchen during most meal preps, either helping or playing with various kitchen materials. They are all now pretty proficient cooks and I own much of it to their ability to hang out safely in the midst of kitchen work from the time they could stand. 

The bathtub was a prime learning space for many years. We built with pool noodles, read poetry, mixed benign ingredients, try to make floating  crafts, turned off the lights and dropped in glow sticks. You can search "bathtub science" on Amazon and Pinterest and find enough ideas to have an entire tub curriculum.  

You might even want to rethink the way you use your bedrooms. I feel like we have had every combination. When our kids were very young we had a huge family bed on the floor that ensured everyone got great sleep. Then my kids all shared a sleeping space and used an extra room for a playroom. Now, everyone has their own room, but our landing area is where we meet and read together at night.

The point is, there is no one right way to organize your space. And even if you find the perfect set up, be prepared to rethink it later. We have discovered that the only constant is the frequent evolving. 

One extra idea I want to share is the the joy of an empty room . There is nothing better to offer your kids than a completely empty room, at least for a while. If you are moving or renovating a room, see if you can give your kids the gift of an unstructured space.  And then stand back and see the villages and race tracks and forts they create. 

Bless the mess
There is no way around it. If you homeschool, your home is not likely to look magazine or even company perfect. Your home is a work space, and as such you should expect it to be full of projects and displays and works in progress.

It is very easy to be hoard-y when you homeschool. Empty yogurt containers and bubble wrap are kept on hand for building projects. Old electronics are piled up in the garage to  take apart. Fabric is stacked on shelves for quilt and clothes making. Cheap books and passed down curriculum might fill your shelves. There is a temptation to keep things around just in case you need them in the future. 

While you might want to keep a few things on hand try not to gather items for years ahead. Not only is it a pain, but I think in many ways, it impedes creative, open thinking. Work books, craft kits and various supplies that you never use become reminders for things not done and might create a guilt that slows you down. Be realistic and frequently cull your supplies, books and stores. A clean space is often way more invigorating and inspiring than a multitude of cool things piled up. 

I thought it would be interesting to share a list of our most used supplies. These are the things that are consistently used and that I have to effectively store. Obviously, these would be different for each family. (I am leaving off books and curriculum).

a microscope

blank notebooks

poster board paper

pencils and an electric pencil sharpener

3 ringed binders and page protectors

pronged folders

glue sticks

water color paints

globe and world wall map
pom pons, popsicle sticks and pipe cleaners
cigar boxes - I buy them at the local cigar shop for $1 each
a variety of papers and stickers
a sewing machine

a recycling center - we have bins like these and keep egg cartons, old cereal box cardboard, strawberry baskets, newspapers, yogurt containers, and any interesting packaging that comes into the house. I try to keep the recycling limited to this area. If I start to get too much, I cull.

stuff for the yard

a place to dig a hole - my kids have had the most fun digging big holes
sand box - to build rivers and forts and playscapes

scrap wood and various junk to build a shack

water source

trampoline - we love our trampoline! I am pretty strict about only allowing one kid on at a time ( I recently read that 75% of injuries happen when more than one kid are jumping). My friend has an autistic son and told me that the trampoline and swinging were really good for his vestibular system and sensory processing. I have noticed a remarkable ability in my kids ability to calm themselves down with a 10 minute jump - so maybe there is something to that!).

geodesic dome - this was a big gift from grandparents. And even though it seems super expensive, it is made to last forever and so beautiful in the yard. It is sturdy enough for adults to stand inside and climb on.  

skateboards, balls, kites


What would a perfect learning space look like for your family? Write a list or make a Pinterest board. 

How are the rooms in your home used? 
Are there rooms that are not being used?

Where do you homeschool now? 

How do you store supplies? Are there any issues? Too much? Need to add a few things?

What outdoor space can your kids use?

Are there any projects that you would like to add to your indoor or outdoor space?

Are there items you would like to add to your homeschool that you could ask for as a holiday or birthday present?

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