How to Outfit Your Home to Help Your Kids' Study Habits
Create homework areas for your kids that'll encourage focus and organization and help them improve their grades
A top-notch education starts at home, and a dedicated homework area could help your kids complete their assignments efficiently and successfully—with the least amount of kicking and screaming. Whatever your space or budget limitations may be, any devoted space for study is better than sprawling out on the floor in front of the television. Not convinced? Build it—whether it's a nook in the kitchen or a room all its own—and the good grades will come. Here are a few pointers to keep in mind as you get started.
Consider your kid's age and learning style when deciding where to site a study space. The U.S. Department of Education recommends a quiet, well-lighted place that's fully stocked with the necessary materials and supplies for your child's grade level. Younger kids who need homework help and supervision, for example, might benefit from working in the kitchen, where rolling out a supply cart can indicate the start of study time, and you can do quiet chores or prepare dinner while they work.
Older kids might do well with a bit of privacy and isolation, so carve out space in their bedroom or the dining room, where you can hide the work area with a room divider if necessary. Above all, make sure you respect your kid's academic efforts by mandating household quiet time while schoolwork is being completed, especially if he or she is working in a common area. You may be winding down after a long day's work, but it'd be hard for anyone to concentrate while overhearing half of a lively telephone conversation or the latest episode of Wheel of Fortune.
A consistent study routine with about 30 minutes of downtime before getting started is widely recommended. "Use a power period of 45 minutes of work and 5 minutes of break time to promote productivity and efficiency. Create a workflow process with your kids and it will make all the difference," advises Ellen Delap of Professional-Organizer.com.
Elizabeth Hagen, author of Organize with Confidence (and mom of five!), suggests supplying kids with a timer so they can learn to focus on their homework for an allotted period, and work toward finishing so that they can watch their favorite TV show or go play.
A spacious, flat surface (desk or table) and a comfortable chair that suits your child's height will encourage neat handwriting. For desks, opt for a lamp with a built-in holder for pencils, scissors, and other supplies. A small bookcase or wall-mounted shelves preloaded with an atlas, dictionary, and thesaurus wouldn't hurt, either.
If you have the wall space, hang a corkboard or inconspicuous magnet strips for posting those A+ exams and a calendar for keeping track of assignments, school events, and extracurricular activities. Mimicking this school feature is a fun way to put kids into student mode at home.
Appropriate window treatments will allow students to customize the flow of natural light coming into the room, especially if daylight is interfering with computer monitors. When decorating, remember: You're not the one using the space, your child is. So take their feedback seriously and create a pleasant homework environment where they won't mind settling in, while being mindful of clutter and distractions.
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Computers are a tremendous part of the educational process and many schools provide access to technology. But for homework, the Internet is a valuable research tool; giving your child access to a home machine will allow them to hone their typing and information retrieval skills. No matter what kind of computer you have in your home, make sure that the monitor is level with your child's head and that it sits 18 to 30 inches away from his or her face. Consider use of an antiglare screen film to prevent eyestrain, especially for older students who may need to work on longer assignments. Don't forget to provide a way for your child to back up his or her work, like a Web-based service (Google Docs) or a portable data-storage device.
Make it easy to monitor your children's activities online by placing your machine in a central location, or keep your computer and Web browsers password-protected so that young kids require your assistance to access them. Look into using free tools like Online Family Norton to monitor and block sites, and even limit the amount of time your kids can spend online.
Multicolored highlighters, index cards, and sticky notes may not be on school supply lists, but they could be helpful in your child's study process. Ask your kids what they think will help them do homework and study more effectively. Check your school district's website for required supply lists and grade curriculums, then start stocking up at back-to-school sales. You can get multiple discounts by shopping on state-tax holidays, during which some states lift taxes on select school-related items. Check the Federation of Tax Administrators' website for details.
Even the most organized families fall victim to the forgotten, last-minute project every now and then, so keep extra poster board, construction paper, and a couple of shoeboxes for dioramas on hand. Store extra supplies in underbed storage bins so they'll be in pristine condition when they are needed—and out of the way when they're not.
A small filing system for school memos and graded papers, which should be kept until the end of the year, is something that many families overlook until there are stacks of papers on the kitchen table or counter. Decide whether a hanging file holder or an accordion file would help your youngster keep his or her work organized.