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Posted: July 28, 2011

Space where kids can work

Experts say students need designated place at home to study

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By Helena Oliviero

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Atlanta, GA —

School projects took over their dining room. A stack of construction paper here, a cluster of crayons there, tape everywhere.
The chandelier at Harold and Kimberly Melton's home didn't set the mood for meals as much as it illuminated watercolors and Dr. Seuss books.
And that was OK — for a few years.
But, as the three Melton children grew, so did their need for a dedicated space where they could learn without having to shove everything in a closet when Mom and Dad hosted the occasional dinner party.
Last year, the Meltons sacrificed the dining room. Craftsmen transformed the area into a room with new lighting, shelving and hooks to hold backpacks. A new dining room was built in another part of the house.
"It's about giving your kids a space where they can work and it's not going to be interrupted, " said Kimberly Melton, who now home schools her three kids, Lauren, 9; David, 8, and Julian, 6. "It's also about being able to find things. It makes your life a lot easier."
As the school year gets under way this coming week for much of metro Atlanta, many parents are scrambling to get organized. From decluttering to setting up new shelves to moving furniture, parents are getting the house — and their kids — ready to focus and thrive.
Experts say a well-lighted, designated place for kids to do their homework, and a system to keep the paper and projects in order, can be just as important to a child's success in school as eating a healthy breakfast and getting a good night's rest.
"If the student is organized and the family is organized, the rest is easy, " said Linda Stokes, director of a Sylvan Learning Center in Cumming. "You'll also be in a better mood. And when you are in a good mood, you can accomplish more."
In today's highly wired, fast-paced lifestyle, experts say parents need to be purposeful in creating a quiet place for schoolwork.
Stokes said the work area should be void of a TV and a computer, since a computer also can be distracting. When a child needs to use the computer for schoolwork, he can move to use it. Having it nearby at all times can get children off track because they might play computer games or message their friends instead of tending to the task at hand.

What works best for child
"Nothing is more frustrating than not being able to find something you need, " said Sylvia Morrow-Nocon, mom to 14-year-old Amelia, who will start her freshman year at Centennial High School in Roswell. "We have saved some family drama by having things where they are supposed to be."
Weeks ago, Morrow-Nocon and Amelia started discarding mounds of school papers that are no longer needed and boxing up the items they want to keep, such as report cards and artwork.
The teenager's desk is now clear. And Mom and daughter are getting organized, labeling folders that will hold homework divided into three categories: daily homework, short-term projects and long-term projects. Each folder will note when the work is due.
"It really helps because, when she comes home, she just needs to grab the right folder and get to work, " Morrow-Nocon said.
Dr. Erik Fisher, an Atlanta child psychologist, said while it's critical for parents to establish a designated place for schoolwork, it doesn't have to be a desk.
"If it's the couch where your child likes to study, that's OK, but make it the same couch every day, " he said.
And while some children like a quiet space, others like background noise, he said.
The key, he said, is figuring out what works best for your child and then being consistent to establish good habits.
Allison Lanier Jones of Insight Design said parents often don't provide enough light in a room. She said a combination of natural lighting and an overhead light is good, but children also need desk lamps.
Jones also said parents often don't leave enough space for the desk and chair.
"Remember, kids don't always want to sit at the desk, " said Jones, whose architectural firm did the redesign project at the Melton house that also included adding a mezzanine-level play room. "They may want to kneel or perch on the chair and that takes more space."

Room of their own
Back in May, 9-year-old Lauren Melton covered a long wooden table in the former dining room (but now kids room) with wood and paint. Working on a history project about Neil Armstrong, she crafted a wooden model of a spaceship.
"It was so nice to be able to leave it there and she could keep going back to it, " said her mom, Kimberly Melton.
The Meltons ended up setting up a wooden dining room table in the room now devoted to the kids.
The table features a metal insert originally designed for ice to chill beverages. They use it to neatly hold crayons, markers and pencils.
The room is adorned with the kids' artwork — some are framed; others are taped to the wall. There's room for more.
Everything in this corner of the house is ready for another school year.
"You have to get yourself up for it and you have to say, 'Yes, we are going to do this and make this space work, " said Kimberly Melton.


Getting ready

Here are eight tips for getting your home back in shape for school.

  • 1. Carve out a homework spot: Whether it is a bedroom or family office, find an area where your child can work distraction-free and make it a designated work space. Stock the area with all of the supplies and tools needed to complete the homework.
  • 2. Organize: Use separate, labeled notebooks for each class or subject area. Create files for each subject. Use a calendar to keep track of important dates and deadlines.
  • 3. Lighting: Take advantage of natural lighting and use an overhead light, but also add desk lamps.
  • 4. Storage: Storage bins and pullout trays keep items neat and organized and yet easy to transport. Use clear ones so you can see what's inside or label them.
  • 5. Don't commingle: School work books, library books should be stored separately from family books and papers. This way it will be much easier to keep track of where everything is.
  • 6. Artwork: Hang your child's artwork with pride, consider framing it in interchangeable mattes. It's inspiring and sends the message to your child you value his or her creativity.
  • 7. Label everything: With more than one child, it can be easy to get kids' stuff mixed up. And this will also prevent your child's stuff from getting lost at school.
  • 8. Noise: Avoid loud music, but remember not all kids like it silent. Some like background music. If so, go with instrumental, not Top 40 songs.

Source: Insight Design, Sylvan Learning


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