Setting Up a Homeschool Room: 12 Tips For New Homeschoolers
Starting to homeschool can be a bit daunting, and one of the questions we get asked a lot is about homeschool organisation and organising our ‘homeschool room’ (we have lots of posts on info about homeschooling and frequently asked questions here). Many homeschoolers like to have a room where they keep most of their homeschooling resources; this is often a dining room as a large table is obviously a useful thing to have when getting stuck into crafts or other practical activities.
However, getting organised is way more important than having a huge dedicated homeschool room- we used to live in a crowded flat, then moved to a house with large kids’ bedroom but tiny living room (I mean *tiny*). Now we have a spacious living area with a dining table in one half of it and we use this to store most of our homeschool resources as our ‘homeschool room’, although of course the kids learn in every room of the house as well as clubs, classes, trips out… there’s always learning going on! It’s important to remember that when creating a homeschool room you are not trying to replicate a classroom- simply create a happy, welcoming space where there are plenty of interesting activity options, accessible storage and comfortable areas in which to engage in activities.
We have had lots of practise at organising our homeschool bits ’n’ pieces and i thought I’d share my best tips for keeping things accessible for children and manageable for adults, to maximise fun and learning while minimising clean-up time!
- Storage is everything. We have a fair amount of art supplies, a ton of books and more Lego and Playmobil than you can shake a stick at. I like things to be accessible but not in-your-face and my favourite two storage solutions are these cubed units and these drawers. The cubed units are more affordable versions of the Ikea Kallax range and I purchased these cute boxes (I got them in white, before I remembered I live with three walking talking grubby-fingerprint-makers) to hold Playmobil and Lego in them. We also keep DVDs in one box and stack puzzles in another; they are generally awesome for just keeping toys separate, neat and easy to get out and put away at short notice. I use this natural, non-toxic lavender spray to keep the units clean and smelling lovely.
The drawers are fab for keeping art supplies in- they are wipe-clean so it doesn’t matter if paint spills or splatters on them, and they are small enough to separate things like playdoh or clay, sewing kits, glue and paint, craft kits, paper, etc (you can also get medium and large boxes for bigger resources). Altogether in our house we have four of the cubed units (three 2 x 4 and one 2 x 2 which also doubles up as a shelf for a couple of candles and a vase at the bottom of our stairs) and two of the drawer units– we hardly notice them though as they are neutral, you can’t see the stuff inside them and they fit neatly into corners of the room and against the walls. You can also get the drawer units as smaller storage combinations and use the top as a base for playing LEGOs etc.
- Pick a few toys / resources and have a good amount of them, rather than loads of little bits. This means that kids can really get stuck into something instead of being overwhelmed by choice- studies have found that children get choice paralysis which is why you might hear children complain that they are bored despite being surrounded by toys! The other reason we do this is so that when the kids get into something they can really go deep with it; for example we invested in a lot of LEGO (around 30kg) which means that when we get it out (everrrrry day) the kids can go all out and build huge cities, fairgrounds, robots, whatever- instead of putting together a couple of small models and having their ideas interrupted by lack of resources. (I would recommend this LEGO starter kit as it has bricks as well as wheels, doorframes etc so it gives children a good base for exploration). We did the same thing with Playmobil (it travels really well and we’ve highlighted it in our post about our favourite travel toys!), Scheich animal figures (the most anatomically accurate animal toys and they’re pretty much unbreakable), wooden train tracks, science kits, puzzles, art and crafts supplies, dressing up (this wooden costume trolley makes outfits super neat and accessible) and books- a decent amount of each so that when the children make the choice to play they can really get into it instead of hopping from one thing to another and losing interest. That might seem like a lot of toys but our kids are at home more than school kids so we need resources- what we don’t buy are cheap quick-use plastic toys or ones that do things ‘for kids’ like flashing musical toys where there is very little input from the child (this kind of thing– it’s sold as ‘educational’ but it’s tat). Kids quickly get bored of these, they have little developmental benefit and they are terrible for the environment so I choose things that I know I will keep for grandkids after my children have finished with them!
- Strew (read about how to strew here). Each morning I choose three things to get out for the kids according to what I think they might like, and I strew them around for them to pick up as and when they feel like it. This means they have something to start after they have breakfast, it discourages them from starting their day watching TV or on iPads (please read my post on why we don’t limit screen time here- we think digital devices are a valuable resource but that they should be chosen consciously and positively, not mindlessly or from lack of something else to do) and I get to feel like a prepared, ready-for-the-day, all round winning at life homeschool parent. Kind of. If the kids haven’t engaged with what I’ve strewn by early afternoon I pop them away and make other suggestions of things to do (although usually we will have gone out by then or they will have found other activities).
- Have a dedicated desk space for each child. We have these desks for our kids and it has been a dream- they each have three drawers plus shelves for their own projects, they can keep their things safe and they don’t have to clear everything off for someone else to use the space, because it is theirs and theirs alone. Esmae’s desk in her room is generally covered in paper, scissors, staples, slime and glue- Eira’s and Elfie’s are generally used as bases for elaborate Playmobil scenes. If you don’t have room in your house, use a dining table or do turn-taking at one desk, making sure that each ‘slot’ is long enough for each child to have a decent amount of time to do what they want to do (I would suggest at least one hour, depending on the age and inclinations of the child).
- Have more than one book space. It’s tempting to have one bookshelf where all the books are kept but every homeschooler I know has split their books up into several collections around the house- this encourages reading as the kids are more likely to get books out if they are accessible wherever they are and being surrounded by books is shown to be excellent for children’s development and wellbeing. We have this bookcase in our living room, one of these gorgeous space saving front-facing cases for Esmae’s room plus several of the cubed storage units I mentioned in point 1. If I was starting from scratch I would get one of these space-saving feature shelves, one of these Scandi bookcases with more compartments (as the books often slide down on our wide shelves and it can look a bit messy), and one of these library-style easy selection units for the kids’ room.
- Have somewhere for children to display their current craft creations. I use the top of the drawer units I mentioned in point 1 as there are three flat surface areas so we use one for each of our children. Eira is currently displaying her painted squirrel feeder, Esmae has put out a book she wrote, illustrated and stapled together, and Elfie has got out a paper-and-drinking-straw windmill.
- Have a ‘morning basket’. This is a Charlotte Mason idea whereby you have several books on the go at once, keep them in a basket separate to the others and choose several to read a few chapters of whenever there’s a natural pause in the day. I love starting the day by reading over breakfast (captive audience!) and often if I start by reading to the girls they will a) want me to keep going for ages and b) come to me to ask me to read more throughout the day. At the moment in our basket are George’s Marvellous Medicine by Road Dahl, a Secret Seven adventure by Enid Blyton, You Are Special by Max Lucado (I cry every time) and a couple of Hairy McLairys. Having a morning baske (these ones look lovely in the cubed furniture) ensures that we know where the books we are enjoying are at any one time and also works as a go-to activity option if we’re at a loose end.
- Use outdoor space to your advantage and consider physical activity as important as every other area of learning (if not more). Consider getting a climbing structure for your garden (this dome is an excellent option for smaller gardens/ those who don’t want a massive climbing frame on the grass!) as well as some garden activities like a sand/water table, giant Jenga, archery, hoopla/ring toss and swing ball– all easily stored in a shed when not in use. Mini trampolines are brilliant for burning off energy quickly and can be easily stored too. If you have a garage or shed use these really useful boxes to neatly store not-in-use resources and prevent dust or damp getting to them.
- Rotate toys. Putting some toys away in a cupboard or shed and getting them out when some new inspiration or novelty is needed is a great way to inject fun without spending money. I keep a couple of Playmobil sets and puzzles in a cupboard and have others out for a couple of weeks, then I’ll swap them and it’s like the kids have got new toys!
- Ask for your children’s input when it comes to how they like things being stored. Getting their ideas will help you set up the best homeschool room for them and help them feel fully involved in their life and learning experiences.
11. Try and create a variety of mini-spaces where children can feel comfortable hanging out and getting stuck into whatever they are doing. Floor cushions, a hanging chair, a hammock, smaller desks, lap desks, a dining table- even a teepee den– work together to create a multi sensory environment where children can best process and learn.
12. Have a small clear out as often as you can. Old artworks can be photographed and stored digitally if they’re not being kept; blunt pencils can be sharpened, broken pens can be disposed of, half-sewn cushions can be finished. Keeping things as in-use and working as possible ensures that your children are able to engage in activities whenever they like, without being hindered by broken, disorganised or messy equipment.
Setting Up A Homeschool Room: My Homeschooling Resource Recommendations For Getting Started
This is a super basic list for parents wondering what resources will be useful in homeschooling their child (if you follow the national curriculum or a homeschooling curriculum (check out our article on these here) these things can be used either to learn the curriculum materials or as enrichment). The following items are what we have found invaluable for us; every child is different but we have found the following resources constantly helpful and engaging for our three children and are what I would encourage my friends to buy if they were considering purchasing them.
Arts and crafts materials: I would recommend a well-stocked base of paper, scissors, glue, paint, pencils and pens, things like sequins and pompoms for younger kids, sewing supplies, flower press, plasticine (way better than Play Doh!), oils and pastels for older kids, 3D pens, fabric and glass paint, some scratch art and building kits.
Books: I would aim for a good mixture of fiction and non-fiction books to spark interest and imagination. If your child is primary aged I would go for a Roald Dahl box set, a few Enid Blytons, this excellent children’s Classics set, the Horrible Histories collection, the Horrible Geographies set, the Horrible Science set the Murderous Maths collection and a fantasy series like Harry Potter. Don’t worry about anything being super academic or aligned with the national curriculum; your child will let you know what they are interested in and you can fill in the gaps as you go along on your homeschool journey.