Bring Home the Good 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.
Focus on Location, Location, Location
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.
Keep It All Quiet on the Homework Front
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 they are 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.
Do Homework in Timed Heats
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.
Lay Out a Power Desk
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 organizer for pens, 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 magnetic strips for posting those A+ exams and a calendar for keeping track of assignments, school events, and extracurricular activities. Mimicking the common school feature of a bulletin board is a fun way to put kids into student mode at home.
Keep It Light
Window treatments that allow students to customize the flow of natural light coming into the room are recommended, 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 distractions.
Get Tech Savvy
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 their work, like a Web-based service (i.e. Google Docs) or a portable data-storage device.
Keep One Eye on the Screen
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 tools like Norton Family to monitor and block sites, and even limit the amount of time your kids can spend online.
Stock Up on Supplies
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. Since kids have different learning styles, ask them what they think will help them learn 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.
Make Like a Scout and Be Prepared
Even the most organized families fall victim to the forgotten, last-minute school 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.
File It Away
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's a heap of papers on the kitchen table. Pick up an expanding file or hanging file organizer for stashing loose papers.