GET IN THE (STUDY) ZONE

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - SUN­DAY PROP­ERTY - The best spa­ces for kids’ home­work? Nathalie Mar­quez Court­ney learns the new rules

THERE’S a lot of con­fu­sion amongst fam­i­lies about what the school year will hold but one thing is cer­tain: we need to be pre­pared to have kids learn­ing at home a lot more than be­fore. But how do you cre­ate a pos­i­tive learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment? I turned to Eloise Rick­man, par­ent­ing coach, home ed­u­ca­tor and au­thor of the re­cently pub­lished Ex­tra­or­di­nary Par­ent­ing: the es­sen­tial guide to par­ent­ing and ed­u­cat­ing at home

(€14, Ea­sons). Here’s the good news: there is no need to take the black­board paint to the kitchen walls just yet.

“One of the big­gest mis­takes par­ents make is think­ing they need to recre­ate the class­room,” says Eloise. “So many class­rooms ac­tu­ally try to repli­cate things from home – if you look at the Montes­sori or Wal­dorf ap­proach, when you go into these schools they have done ev­ery­thing in their power to make these of­ten quite in­sti­tu­tional, bland boxes look homely: they’ll put rugs on the floor or bring plants in, for ex­am­ple.”

Eloise has dived into a lot re­search about what makes the best learn­ing space for chil­dren and it’s rarely the things we think. “Of­ten, it’s very sim­ple things, like hav­ing ac­cess to nat­u­ral light, fresh air and a calm­ing, en­joy­able en­vi­ron­ment.”

She rec­om­mends avoid­ing over­fill­ing the space, or plas­ter­ing walls in ed­u­ca­tional posters and draw­ings, which can dis­tract and over­whelm. “I’m not say­ing every­one needs to be min­i­mal­ist,” she con­tin­ues, “But I do think there is some­thing about cre­at­ing spa­ces that are rel­a­tively sim­ple and calm. From the re­search I’ve read, it’s nicer for chil­dren to not have con­stant visual dis­trac­tions.”

LEARN­ING STYLE

Cre­at­ing an at-home study or school space is also a bril­liant op­por­tu­nity to ex­plore how your child learns best. “We tend to think of learn­ing en­vi­ron­ments as a desk and a chair,” says Eloise. “But stud­ies show that if you give chil­dren in­for­ma­tion and they then run around or do some kind of phys­i­cal ex­er­cise, they re­tain that in­for­ma­tion much bet­ter.”

Study­ing or ed­u­cat­ing at home means you can fac­tor a child’s need for move­ment into the day more seam­lessly than in a tra­di­tional school set­ting. “Maybe your child is go­ing to learn bet­ter lis­ten­ing to an au­dio­book and do­ing hand­stands or do­ing roly-polys, or run­ning around the gar­den, or do­ing their maths hang­ing down with their legs up on the sofa.”

Rest is also just as im­por­tant as move­ment, and again, be­ing at home al­lows you to cre­ate the per­fect spot. “We also need to give our brains time to switch off, as­sim­i­late the in­for­ma­tion and grow,” says Eloise. “It might be some­thing as sim­ple as hav­ing a cou­ple of blan­kets on the sofa, or it might be set­ting up a snack tray in your teenager’s bed­room, with a cup of tea, bis­cuit and ba­nana. Just small, sub­tle ways of re­mind­ing them to rest and nour­ish them­selves.”

GET IN THE STUDY ZONE

Eloise is al­ways asked how to sep­a­rate study and play spa­ces, es­pe­cially in smaller homes. “Although I com­pletely un­der­stand that ques­tion — be­cause for many of us that was our ex­pe­ri­ence in school — the nice thing about be­ing at home is that you don’t have to sep­a­rate the two,” she ex­plains. “For young chil­dren es­pe­cially, they learn through play. So a good learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment for a young child might sim­ply mean giv­ing them space to tinker and play, and find that flow.”

This might mean get­ting some big bas­kets you can chuck toys into so there aren’t too many out, hav­ing a tray or trol­ley where you can put all of the art ma­te­ri­als to­gether, or mov­ing the TV to a dif­fer­ent room.

“Does the TV re­ally need to be in the mid­dle of the liv­ing space?” asks Eloise. “So many fam­i­lies try to en­force lim­its around TV time and then end up tear­ing their hair out when their chil­dren ask for it all the time, but I of­ten liken it to try­ing to tell your child that they can’t have any more cho­co­late and then leav­ing a big bowl of choco­lates in the mid­dle of the room!” If you can’t move the TV, Eloise rec­om­mends cov­er­ing it with a blan­ket while your child is play­ing and study­ing.

OLDER AND WISER

When it comes to teens, we as­sume they need lots of space, but it’s also im­por­tant to make the home a place of con­nec­tion, ex­plains Eloise. “If you’re work­ing from home, could you both work and study to­gether some­where some of the time? Maybe you’re on your lap­top at the kitchen ta­ble and they’re study­ing be­side you,” she says, adding: “Of­ten it’s those spa­ces when you’re not even look­ing di­rectly at each other where older kids can feel like they can open up a lit­tle bit more or talk about some­thing that’s both­er­ing them.”

Some per­sonal space — es­pe­cially for older chil­dren — is still cru­cial, how­ever. “Older chil­dren are more in need of hav­ing that so­cial con­nec­tion with friends, so give them that space to have phone calls or video chats. Try­ing to carve out lit­tle nooks of time and space where we can re­spect each other’s needs for soli­tude can be very valu­able in a busy home.”

A WHOLE HOME AP­PROACH

Ul­ti­mately, cre­at­ing a space for study­ing or ed­u­cat­ing at home comes down to see­ing that learn­ing doesn’t hap­pen in a vac­uum, the way it of­ten has to in many schools. “It can be daunt­ing at first, but can we by­pass the need to recre­ate the class­room and ask, what makes a lovely space to be in? What makes an en­joy­able space to learn in?” says Eloise. “It’s about fig­ur­ing out what needs your child has, and how they can best get those met in your home.”

Se­cret to learn­ing spa­ces? More peace and quiet, less colour and chaos. Oeuf Brook­lyn height ad­justable desk, €690; jelly­bean­group.com

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