GET IN THE (STUDY) ZONE
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.”
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