Back to school time. Whether you love or hate this season, most families acknowledge this time of year calls for some major shifts to the household routine. Today we’ll assess the “function” of our real homes, and give some tips for how to set up your space to accommodate the needs of the school year.
Maybe your kids are already back at school, in which case, it may be the perfect time to consider what is and is not working so far and make any needed tweaks. If the transition is still looming for your family, then start planning now for how to make it the smoothest back-to-school season ever!
Space #1: Accommodate School’s Coming & Going with a Landing Pad
Mudrooms dot the pages of decor magazines these days, but let’s be honest … many (dare I say most?) of us don’t have one, and, even if we do, they’re usually not the dream spaces you see on Instagram. Don’t despair! Your family CAN function without this coveted space.
First – if you do have a lovely mudroom, then by all mean – clean it up! Swap out the sunscreen and the beach towels and find your backpacks and organize your fall sports gear. Buy a pretty basket (or 2 or 3!), hang an inspirational sign to speak to your kids as they come and go, and then embark on the hard part … TRAIN YOUR KIDS TO USE IT! This will be much, much easier, if they actually have to walk through the mudroom on the way into the house, if not, all bets are off, in which case, you might want to …
Set up a landing space by your kid’s main point of entry. This may sound obvious, but I’ve seen many lovely homes where the functional entryway is NOT near the entrance where your family mostly comes and goes. So, you might have a spacious foyer just begging for a cute bench and some hooks to hang those backpacks, but if your kids come and go through a garage door that dumps into your kitchen or laundry room, then you need to get creative in your space plans.
Whatever door your kids come into, is where they will dump their stuff. Make life easier on everyone by accepting this and planning for it! Hooks, benches and baskets are ideal for backpacks, coats, and shoes, so if there is space for any or all of these near the door, even in a narrow hallway, then by all means add them. Another great option, if you are coming in off an attached garage, is to make this landing pad inside the garage before you enter the house. I’ve seen this done with great success in homes where that door drops you in the kitchen. Finally, if your kids’ main entrance dumps them into a living room or family room (like my own home), then consider some sly furniture arrangement to carve out an entry space where there is none. The back of a sofa is ideal for separating a room AND has added benefit of blocking some of the clutter from your view when you are sitting down inside.
Space 2: Set up for a Successful Homework Station
The best place for homework will vary greatly from family to family. I know many experts tell you your child needs a quiet place for the task, one that is free from distractions and ideally only used for homework. As a mom, a former teacher, and a designer, I think this is ridiculous – mostly because it’s unrealistic! It may work for some families, but there are many, many space set-ups that can successfully get your kid through their evening homework. The key to setting up a homework station is to consider your family needs when choosing a consistent space, add a supply station … and enforce routine!
First off, if you have elementary-aged kids, they are going to need your help, so plan your homework space accordingly. You don’t want to be looming over a child who is sitting at a solitary desk trying to coax them through their math! Both parent and child will be more relaxed if you are able to sit down next to them when needed (glass of wine or cup of calming tea in hand!). Even in this day of home offices and built-in desk nooks, I bet the kitchen table or island is still where most homework gets done, at least in the younger grades. Besides being large enough for the whole family to sit down and work together, these spaces also have the great benefit of proximity if parents are cooking or cleaning up dinner.
Teens are probably the most likely to benefit from a desk in their room or a quiet corner of the house. I say probably, because I’m guessing (hoping) that the cute little desks, which both my children begged to have in their bedrooms, will some day get used. (Of course, by then, you have to start worrying about what they are into online, so you’d probably wish they’d just stay put at the kitchen table!) My daughter is in middle school and will sometimes do homework in her room, but still mostly prefers to work near me in the kitchen. My younger son only uses his desk to stack Legos. (The work of putting them together still gets done on the floor!)
Honestly, I think the most important thing to a functional homework space is having handy supplies nearby. So whether you are in the kitchen, dining room, bedroom, or elsewhere, plan for the task at hand by having paper, pencils, rulers, scissors, and the like within arms reach. The last thing you want to do after the 15 minute negotiation of getting your kid to start their work is to interrupt it for a 15 minute search for index cards or glue sticks! So commandeer a nearby drawer or two, or use a rolling bar cart to keep everything organized and close. A safe place to stash unfinished work is another important part of the space, as you don’t want lost papers or dinner spills on half-done work. A pretty basket works just fine for this.
Finally, the hardest part (again) will simply be to enforce the routine. Much of this is just good old-fashioned discipline (whatever that means to your family) but some space-related ideas can help with the struggle. First off, no matter what the space is, try to keep it consistent. (Kitchen counter every day vs. sofa one day and desk the next.) Then, consider using some cues to alter your environment and signal homework time, such as a lighting change, a favorite scent wafting from a diffuser, or soothing background music. (I tried lighting a candle on the table when my daughter was young – which I thought was a great idea – until she started her homework on fire one day! Yes, seriously!)
So there you are. Two simple spaces that you can set up today, to make your children’s back-to-school routine easier! Try to contain the chaos that comes and goes with your child each day with a landing pad and create a consistent place to get homework done. Then, your home will be doing it’s part to help your children have a great year ahead! The rest is up to your kiddos!