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Whole family benefits from a designated homework area

July 25, 2012
Mirror Moms

By Jen Zbozny

Mirror Moms

Tina Cunningham of Hollidaysburg recently created a study area for her 8-year-old daughter, Norah. But she didn't just clear off half the dining room table. A creative do-it-yourself-er, Cunningham made a dedicated space for Norah's studying and creative projects - a homework haven.

The benefits

Research has shown that having a designated area with appropriate supplies helps students develop effective study habits, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. The AAP stresses the importance of a quiet space away from distractions - especially the television.

Kim Olsavick of Hollidaysburg, an elementary school teacher for more than 35 years who now is at Frankstown Elementary School, said experience with her pupils and her own children (now grown) has shown the difference a designated space can make.

Fact Box

Tips for creating

designated study spaces for kids


A designated schoolwork space benefits the parents as well as the children.

Most people have what they need in their homes already.

It can make a homework struggle into a happy homework haven.


Go with the flow. If possible, create your space in a place where your kids already gravitate to.

Think long term. You'll want a space you can update as your children grow older and study needs change.

Get down to your children's level and visualize from there. Remember, they're working from their height and arm's reach, not yours.

Start with a goal in mind.

Make sure you have appropriate lighting.


Don't plan your kids' study space in an area they won't be comfortable working in. If they're used to working a main area of the home, don't put the study space in the attic!

Don't plan a "right-handed" space for a "left-handed" child. Make sure you're not putting cord, etc. in the way of the work space.

Don't over-organize.

Sources: Jessica Dolan, a professional organizer, and Kim Olsavick, an elementary school teacher

She said a clear, quiet, well-equipped space and having parental help available if needed can help children focus and reduce stress. She recommends good pencils - not mechanical pencils which children might use as toys, scrap paper and a really good eraser.

The area aids in "developing a positive sense of responsibility. [Kids can] experience the satisfaction of managing their tasks efficiently," Olsavick said. Otherwise, "when the [resources and supplies] are all over the house, the homework ends up all over the house."

As kids grow, they will increasingly use computers. They will also want more privacy - which could be created simply by turning the desk.

Olsavick emphasizes the importance of kids knowing parents are involved and monitoring, but not staring at them. She suggested that when children know parents are present, it encourages focus and timely completion, and keeps kids from undesirable websites.

"Parents should set parameters and be involved. That's another way the space [can] work for the whole family," she said.

How to get started

Jessica Dolan, a professional organizer from Room To Breathe Home Organizing and Staging in Boalsburg, said a homework area is "a very important retreat for reading, studying, being creative. Kids love it. They want to be organized, and they love helping."

To begin, Dolan, a member of the National Association of Professional Organizers, said, "Follow your family's natural habits. [You want] the space to be where your kids already gravitate."

In Dolan's experience, the most effective location is within the home's main area. Families with multiple children should create different zones in the same space, and involve the children.

"Key in on your kids and how they work," she said. "Letting them [help make] their space unique gives a sense of ownership and pride. Children can help paint or pick out colors and containers. It also makes them excited about using [it]," adds Dolan. "Make sure to have good lighting and a comfortable chair."

Customizing the space

The size depends on the home. The study area can be custom-built or just a special place in a room. It doesn't require much money or space.

Building a customized center "can cost a great deal, but it doesn't have to," Dolan said.

She says most people already have what they need at home and can repurpose it. With a few smaller purchases, the space can be fairly inexpensive.

Dolan suggests thinking about your preferences. Start with a goal in mind. If you want a clear surface that makes things accessible, "do what you can to achieve that."

She urges committing to a space.

"If you decide on one container for markers, when you've filled that container, that's enough markers," she said.

She discourages over-organizing.

"The more little spaces you have, the less efficient it is."

If you need many drawers, label them so you don't waste time on recall.

Dolan emphasizes thinking about future needs. She said she has created spaces that are homework and craft stations, but later will "morph into computer and finally, entertainment centers."

Cunningham's story provides a good example. Cunningham's daughter Norah always had a desk, but this year, the Cunninghams repurposed their under-used office into a space for Norah.

Cunningham says it "creates a sense of focus and emphasizes the importance of schoolwork." She also likes that Norah's schoolwork has its own home and doesn't take over the dining room table.

Cunningham started by choosing a space that "felt right" - a well-lit room in the home's main area. Though it's near the room with the television, they keep it off while Norah works.

The Cunninghams were able to dedicate a whole room, "but even a very small space can work," Cunningham said. "You could repurpose a small closet by removing the door and adding shelves, a desk and lamp. It's about what works in your home."

Cunningham planned to keep just day-to-day basics within arms' reach. Above Norah's small table and comfortable chair, she keeps pens, pencils, scissors, glue, crayons and a ruler in a set of cups which hang neatly from a small rod screwed into the wall. That way Norah isn't distracted by having to get up and look for supplies. They even have a special place for library books.

Cunningham uses vertical space. She keeps paper handy in wall-mounted bins she updated with pretty sheets of scrap-book paper. And she uses wall space for cork boards and school-work display frames.

She also purchased a few metal trays at a yard sale which she spray-painted and hung above Norah's desk. Next, she glued colorful buttons to magnets. Cunningham uses the magnets to hold Norah's work in the frames. It's easy to change out the artwork, they're a tidy showcase and they cut down on clutter.

Clipboards are great, too. They're easy to hang on the wall and can limit how much is displayed.

To visualize, Cunningham suggests first clearing out the area.

"When it's cleared, you can see potential," she says, "and measure to know what fits." After that, "start with anything that inspires you and go from there. It will lead you to colors and styles."

Using bright colors and an eclectic style, the Cunningham space looks both cheery and educational. Norah feels involved since she helped pick the colors.

And try using white-board markers on glass. Cunningham took a few paper maps and purchased some inexpensive poster-sized glass frames for them.

The maps hang at Norah's height with white board markers nearby. Norah can mark on the maps when studying geography.

Cunningham says you don't need to spend a lot.

Most of her items came from thrift stores, yard sales or her home. With a little spray paint, a stapler and a glue gun, Norah's study space is a picture perfect homework haven.

"It helps me focus and I get really excited to work in here," Norah said.

Mary Ann Smialek, educator and author of "Don't Miss the Bus: Steering Your Child to Success in School," said it can "reduce poor organizational habits and procrastination."



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