School is back in session for everyone now, and since we’ve gotten the supplies, textbooks and backpacks together (and all of those forms filled out!) our thoughts turn to the actual assignments the kids have to get done. Where do your kids gravitate to for homework time?

Are you hoping they’ll settle in at the kitchen table, but dismayed to find them reading upside-down on their bed? While we see all kinds of articles about productive work environments in the business world, how often do we often stop to think about a productive homework environment for our students?

When I was in third grade, my mother furnished me with an ornate, vintage writing desk and matching chair in my room. She was an antique lover, and I’m sure she had visions of me sitting at it reading Shakespeare, solving algebraic equations, and pondering all of the world’s great mysteries. But those things never happened at the desk. I rarely sat at it, for any reason, much less homework. The writing space was a little cramped, the chair was slightly too low, and while it looked beautiful it just didn’t serve. Instead, I always ended up lounging on my bed to study, and most days I would stack the textbooks at the foot, fluff up my pillows, and work my way through the assignments. The desk eventually became the spot where I just…piled things. To this day, I’ve never been all that comfortable doing lengthy, intense work sitting up at a desk.

The idea that the perfect study space can be set up away from a traditional desk area isn’t something we as parents always embrace (especially when we’ve invested in furniture!). But when I think of my own kids, I figure they can hang from a trapeze to study as long as the grades reflect their abilities. It pays to watch what your kids’ natural patterns are in terms of settling down to work. I’ve outlined four common types of study styles I’ve noticed, along with a few tips for optimizing each:

  1. The Sprawler – This style was (and is) so me. I’m even writing this post stretched out on the couch in my office. The Sprawler spreads out all of their work and supplies on the bed, the floor, the futon, or wherever they can manage to take up lots of space. They need access to two key items. First, a small bin or basket that can be placed on their bedside table (or tucked just under the bed) that holds pencils, pens, calculator, crayons, or whatever else their homework calls for. Second, they need a lap desk that has enough surface area for writing or holding a laptop securely. There are some great options available online, some even with compartments for supplies underneath the writing surface.
  2. The Nomadic Scholar – These students like switch it up, and activate by changing their environment. One afternoon they’re in their room dutifully reviewing vocabulary words, the next they’re on the back porch practicing with flash cards. They can make most any space work (think coat closet, landing on the stairs, floor in the laundry room), but their supplies should be as mobile as they are. Take an afternoon with them to create movable storage by using a supply caddy and some small containers for writing supplies, sticky notes and devices chargers. Younger kids can decorate it with stickers or permanent markers, but be sure to LABEL where everything goes. Keep it close to where they come in from school, and it’s ready to go where they are.
    kids study space organizing school supplies caddy
  3. The Social Student – Some kids really need other people around, even if those people are engaged in other activities. Background noise, and the presence of others, is stimulating as opposed to distracting (these are also the children who may grow up and feel most comfortable working at a booth in a busy coffee shop). For these students, the kitchen table while a parent is cooking, or even a coffee table in the family room, can be multi-functional and provide the right atmosphere. A rolling cart of drawers can work well in this situation: wheel it out to grab the scratch paper or highlighters, then tuck it back in a closet or corner out of the way.
  4. The Desk Worker – This child is probably the easiest to accommodate, because most student desks have drawers or cubbies for supplies. If you’re repurposing a table as a desk, organize smaller labeled boxes or containers for their supplies so that they’re not scattered all across the surface. For kids who need to see things to remember them, hanging pegboard above the study space with hooks for supplies can be a lifesaver. If possible, utilize a chair that is adjustable and comfortable. Get your child’s input on this piece of furniture – have them test it out and see if it’s easy to raise and lower the height. Some kids even do well sitting on an exercise ball, so don’t be too bound by convention.

Once you’ve figured out where your kids work most effectively, spend a little time refining it with them. Get them to invest in the process! Remember, it’s not about the location – it’s all about the results.

sara-skillenSara Skillen is the owner of SkillSet Organizing based in Franklin, TN. Her mission is to help busy people from all walks of life manage their stuff, their time, and their technology. An active blogger and speaker, her tips and ideas have been featured in Fast Company, Angie’s List Experts, and NOU Magazine, as well as her own blog “Sorting Through the Haystack”. Sara is an Evernote Certified Consultant and became a Certified Professional Organizer® in 2015.