As we gear up for another back-to-school season, get your kids off on the right foot by creating the ideal place for them to work and study.
The right homework space and a regular routine help them to focus, stay on track and develop good study habits. How that space looks will not be the same for everyone: It depends on what you have to work with, whether or not your child needs to be supervised, and your family’s overall routine and schedule.
But there are a few general things to keep in mind.
A study not long ago in the Journal of Neuroscience showed that the ability of children to focus depended on how many objects were in their field of vision. That means that the less cluttered their work space is, the better they can concentrate.
Keep the space clean and tidy and avoid too much open storage (pullout bins on shelves are a great way to hide visual clutter). If you have a budding artist who likes to display their artwork, consider a rule that if new piece of art goes up, another comes down and gets put away.
Also affecting focus is other distractions. If you have a child who thinks they can do their math while the TV is on and their siblings are running around, they’re fooling themselves.
It’s a common belief that colour can affect moods and emotions, although that hasn’t necessarily been proven.
But if you think colour plays a role, use colours that are meant to work in your favour. In general, the cooler colours (blues and greens) are thought to be calming, unless overused, and warmer colours (reds and yellows) are energizing, again unless overused. If your child has a favourite colour, a pastel shade may be the best option.
The science may be inconclusive when it comes to colours, but it’s not when it comes to plants, which have been shown to increase focus and creativity and have multiple health benefits such as decreasing stress and fatigue and purifying the air. A study by the Royal College of Agriculture in England that looked at children taught in classrooms where there were plants found there was a 70-per-cent boost in attentiveness.
The higher your plants are located – think hanging plants, climbers or pots on high surfaces – the more effective they are said to be at purifying the air and filtering contaminants.
NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) recommends the following plants for best air purification: Lady, Areca, Bamboo and Dwarf Date Palms; Ficus Ali; Boston Fern, Peace Lily; Rubber plant; Dracaena; and Philodendron.
The old adage of Work First, Play Later is not just for grownups. It’s good advice for kids, too. Having a routine where homework is done first thing when the kids get home limits the chances of it being skipped. Families have hectic schedules and it can be difficult to fit everything in.
When there’s a routine, it becomes habit and is less likely to be forgotten. And by having a rule that homework gets done first, school and study are not sacrificed for hockey or dance practice. If your kids are old enough to come home on their own after school, they can get homework done while waiting for Mom and Dad to get home and begin evening activities. If your children are in after-school care, often arrangements can be made with the caregiver to have the kids do their homework before parents pick them up.
Where to work?
This is where things get less predictable. For some, a desk in their room, where they can shut out noise from the rest of the house, is the best option. For others, especially young children who may need help with their homework, the best spot might be at the kitchen island where Mom or Dad can lend a hand while making dinner.
In their room: Make sure the have a dedicated study space with a desk, light, good chair and any supplies they will regularly need close at hand.
In the kitchen: If you have space for a desk, great! If not, keep the counter or table as clutter-free as possible so they can focus. And minimize distractions such as household hustle and bustle. If you have a breakfast nook you never use, turn it into a kid-friendly homework zone with desks, supplies, calendars and reminders close at hand.
In the living room: Avoid letting homework get done on the floor. Kids need a proper space to work. And keep the TV off when it’s homework time.
In the loft: Lofts can be a good place to do homework, particularly if you have more than one child who needs to work as there’s often enough room for everyone. Plus, there can be a line of site so parents can keep an eye on them. This is particularly true of study lofts created in oversized landings between the main and second floor.
Regardless of where and when your children do their homework, keep the basics in mind: The more organized kids are, the fewer distractions, the better they learn.