“Work” gets most of the attention, but “home” also plays an important role, and may even enhance a student’s skills with some thought given to creating a consistent and efficient place for books and brains to come together. The U.S. Department of Education notes that students do best when they know that their parents and adults close to them think homework is important. One way is to provide a special, pleasant place for that work.
A successful homework center should reflect the student’s age and learning style, but also jibe with the family’s routine, said Laura Davis, who owns College Nannies and Tutors, a Minneapolis-area business which provides nannies who also serve as tutors. One of their first tasks often is helping a family create a space dedicated to homework.
“In elementary school, the work is more back and forth, give and take, repetition and reinforcement, where having a partner is great—hence the usual spot at the kitchen table while Mom’s making dinner,” Davis said. But the table may need to be cleared before the work is done, so it’s better to create some other nearby spot.
That could mean installing a work surface in a little-used alcove, or realizing that in the era of cell phones, no one ever actually sits down at the old “message center.” Instead of letting that counter become the place where mail piles up, make it the homework center.
Wherever you end up, Davis said, make sure it’s stocked with the tools of the trade: pencils, calculator, paper, white-out, highlighters, protractors, etc. These could be housed in built-ins, or perhaps even better, kept in a “tool kit” of sorts that can travel with the student throughout the house, especially if there’s more than one child. That also helps nurture a sense of responsibility.
The study space is likely to shift as the child grows older, so this kit could shift to the dining room table during middle school, and to the bedroom or home office during high school, if those changes make sense. In middle school and high school, the parental scrutiny is likely to shift from being within earshot of questions to instituting a nightly check-in with the student’s assignment notebook or school planner.
Look for an underused area
Architect Scott Newland has experience in finding homework spaces in both old and new homes. Often, he said, these are created out of corners and spaces that aren’t in the normal flow of the home activities.
“Sometimes it’s as basic as repurposing an underused or redundant space, like a formal dining room,” he said. “Where possible, we’ll try to find a niche or area that can be devoted to homework or home organization. It’s not always possible or prudent to design a homework-only space, since that function will eventually go away when the kids move out. If it can do double-duty as a place to organize family files, put the message center and a computer, so much the better.”
Kitchen designer Christine Nelson seconds the notion of a space doing double duty, especially since “sometimes you can plan a space, but that’s not always where the kids end up, especially in the age of laptops,” she said. Many of her clients like to monitor how their kids use the computer, often essential for homework, which makes the kitchen the most logical location. The space needs to have the right outlets and plug-ins, while a bulletin board provides a handy way to post schedules or study guides. Having the recycling center at hand helps keep those backpacks from becoming wastebaskets, said Nelson, who owns Christine Nelson Design in Minneapolis.
Somewhat surprisingly, quiet might not be so essential
“We’re not huge advocates of quiet,” Davis said. In a shift from past generations, “these kids are almost immune to background music or conversation, and sometimes this even puts them more in their comfort zone. It might not work for you, but for them it’s a comfort. In any case, that’s not a battle worth having.”
The battle that is worth having is over the cell phone. “You do want to get rid of the cell phone” during homework time, Davis said. “That’s a distraction. Likewise, turn off the e-mail program on the computer. They may tell you they’re doing homework together. But they’re not.”
Creating a homework center, whether in a home’s blueprints or reimagining a corner of a room, has a huge impact on establishing a consistent routine, which is crucial not only to the school year, but to lifelong habits. “Getting behind is a huge downfall,” Davis said. “Establish when and where the work will be done.”
But bear in mind, she added, that one size does not fit all. “Pay attention to your student’s learning style, or living style,” she said. “Some kids need to decompress when they come home before doing their homework. Others need to get it done before they can decompress.”
Creating a homework center
-Scout out a kitchen corner or a small closet to convert, or look for a window niche to retrofit in the kitchen. Install a countertop across it, then buy a file cabinet on wheels.
-If you have a simple desk area in the kitchen, add a cork wall covering using tiles or sheets, with plenty of push pins to post schedules, good grades or quick references for math and grammar. Fabric-covered bulletin boards add a punch of color, as does a small lamp with a fabric shade.
-If the homework center is in the kitchen, you can make dinner and use recipes as a way to stealthily incorporate math—reading recipes together and working on fractions with slices of cake, for instance—which can double as a reward for an A-plus effort.
-If the homework center has some room to spare, adults can act as role models by doing their homework there as well, such as writing checks or filling out forms while their children are doing homework.
(c) 2009, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.