Tips For Creating The Perfect Learning Space For Your Child

 

As my eldest daughter and I prepare for our third year of homeschooling, and my youngest for our second year, I’ve been in hulk mode with getting our curricula and learning space together. I don’t know what happens, but something clicks in me when it’s time to plan for our new school year. My thoughts run wild all day, I become obsessed with my to-do lists, and my insomnia kicks into high gear. I really take this homeschooling journey seriously, and my goal is to make sure that everything meets all of our expectations for an amazing learning experience. This school year I recognize that not only are myself and other veteran homeschooling parents preparing for new school years, but new homeschooling and virtual (distance) learning parents are as well. That, unfortunately, brings on an immense amount of pressure to figure things out for something that is new to both the parent and their child(ren).

As someone who’s not new to creating a learning space, it’s actually not necessary to create a new learning space each school year; it’s a choice. I enjoy making small or big changes to my family’s space because my children age out of certain tools, I realize there other things I’d like to add and/or remove, and it brings on some excitement for the girls and myself when we change up our space. Now that school is upon us, many are posting what their learning spaces will look like for the school year. I’ve seen so many beautiful spaces and beautifully curated pictures. They have been gorgeous, inspiring, and creative. However, seeing those pictures can make some feel insecure about what they are able to do for their family. I’m here to tell you to acknowledge the greatness, but erase the images of those big lavish and perfectly designed spaces from your mind NOW! If you’re able to create a space like those images, do it! But if not, don’t fret!

It’s important that you think about your family’s needs, preferences, and budget when creating your perfect learning space. The meaning of perfect for me is that it is perfect for the individuals involved, which means that it’s not for any and everyone else. You can be inspired and want to try different setups you may have seen on Pinterest or Instagram, but you have to be sure to tailor it to your needs. It is so important that you understand this because some of you are working with a little bit of space and feeling defeated because your learning space doesn’t look like someone else’s. Homeschooling does not have to be expensive at all, and that’s why I love it. You have so much room to make this experience absolutely amazing for both you and your child(ren). That’s a vital thing to remember when creating the perfect learning space. There are so many learning and teaching styles (i.e. Montessori, unschooling, Charlotte Mason, mixture) so your space has to reflect the one(s) that you use. So! Let’s talk about the different learning spaces you can create for your family, big or small, lavish, or minimalist. At the end of this post, you’ll find a list of the places I like to search and shop from. Feel free to comment and/or email me if you have any questions, or if you’d like to share some of your favorite places. I’ll update this post as needed.

WORKING WITH A SMALL SPACE WITH A SMALL AND/OR OPEN BUDGET?

So often we believe that if our space is too little, we aren’t in the position of homeschooling our child(ren). Well clearly it’s not a choice for many anymore, and now you have to make it work regardless if your space is limited. You are more than capable of having an excellent educational experience with a limited amount of space. You can’t compare your homeschool/virtual school to a perfectly curated picture on social media. If you have no room to work with, purchase an ottoman or try making a little space in a closet to store the materials that you’ll be using for school. If you have a dining room area/table, please use your table for learning! It’s the perfect place for you to work on one end, and your child(ren) on the other. You have the choice of setting up and breaking down your dining room set up each day, or you can get your child(ren) involved. It’s important to make them a part of the cleaning and maintenance of their learning space. If you have a little more room and can afford to have your learning materials out in the open or in a corner, consider using a storage cart or storage bin. I love the multi-drawer storage carts and plastic storage bins with wheels for easy movement. I believe in being strategic about what you invest in. Storage can range from $15 (Here’s a cheap cart I found at Walmart) to the hundreds, it just depends on your budget. They range in size and design so there’s a host of options.

If you don’t have a dining room table to work with or open space for storage, make use of the couch and/or floor. Use what you’ve got to make things happen. Your child will be perfectly fine with their laptop and books lounging across the couch and/or floor eating and learning. In addition, you may consider moving some things around in your child’s room in order to make a little learning nook. It’s a bit of a costly investment, but I’ve recently considered purchasing a daybed in order to combine my children’s room and our schoolroom. While it’s ideal to have a set space that separates learning from sleeping and/or play, you can still add to your child’s room and simply set some boundaries and rules. Got a little more space? Invest in a desk. You can get a student desk that fits their current size, one that you can adjust as they grow (the legs on the desk adjust as if it were a crutch or cane like this one), or one that can work for both you and your child (i.e. a writer’s desk). Facebook Marketplace is an amazing place to look for classroom items, especially desks. I was able to snag a student desk last year for $8 from a music school that was renovating. I’m 100% sure you’ll find storage carts and more on there. You can also purchase learning materials such as curriculum, manipulatives, etc.

WORKING WITH A MEDIUM TO LARGE SPACE WITH A SMALL AND/OR OPEN BUDGET?

Even if you’re working with a big budget, you don’t have to spend a lot of money to fill up your large learning area. However, what you choose to invest in can determine how long it may last you throughout your homeschooling journey. With more space, there’s more of an opportunity to purchase school materials in bulk, furniture for organizing, create different learning centers, reading nooks, easels, decorations, and more. Be careful not to get too carried away! It’s best to budget so that you don’t create clutter, and the rest of your money can go toward curricula, online resources, co-ops, field trips, food, and more.

My first year with an actual room dedicated to learning was last year. While it was exciting to have the bigger space, interior design doesn’t come to me naturally so I did my best to make a space conducive for both learning and play. I was gifted and purchased additional organizing bins that I placed on the floor for easy access to the girls, and utilized plastic storage drawers for the storage of the things that we would not yet be using. I didn’t even think about the amazing storage carts that I mentioned earlier. For my desk area, I used an old, round TV dinner table with a fold-up chair that (now that I think about it) was not pleasing to the eye. As the school year neared the end, I realized that I played myself short and really needed to step my game up for this upcoming year. When things were primarily on the floor, the room became cluttered and junky easily. Also, while I like shopping on a low budget and thrifting, that doesn’t mean I can’t make it bring out the amazing space that we have!

I didn’t go crazy, and you don’t have to either, but if you desire to and have the means to do so, GO FOR IT! Go all out for your child(ren). Fill the walls up with pictures ( a cute school picture is great), artwork, inspiring quotes, and educational posters. LED lights or Christmas lights are simple, but they create fun but relaxing vibes. Be sure to leave room for things such as sight words, but especially for graded school work/exams and your child’s artwork. With your larger space, you have more room for trial-and-error. Try a setup, and then try again if it doesn’t work. Discover what your style or learning theme is and literally create. You can make your space have a rustic, Pan African, classical, cartoon character themed, and more. You can even buy a large roll of paper, attach it to your wall, and let your child(ren) create a mural. I find it best to have as much open space as you can though. It leaves room for dance breaks, P.E. indoors, building, creating, and more. The biggest and simplest change I made to our room this year was purchase organizing shelves/stands. I absolutely love them, and my girls do too! It still allows for them to have access to their things, but clean up is much easier and clutter is almost nonexistent (considering I have a toddler who drags everything in and out of the room). I was also gifted a bigger and rectangular desk and chair that fit perfectly. I would love to say that our space is complete, but it isn’t. I, like you, can change up decorations to match seasons, holidays, and more.

I would love to go on and on about the endless things you can do with your small to large space, but you’d be reading for days. For now, hit the subscribe button, and follow me on Instagram @_queen.tiana and Queendom Wife and Mother on Facebook. I will be going live, and creating IGTV videos sharing more of my thoughts on this topic, and learning at home in general! Pictures/Videos of our previous and current learning spaces are below.

Places I like to shop or think are great for furniture, decorations, school supplies:

  • Target (Has an excellent teachers sale and back-to-school sale)
  • Walmart
  • Amazon
  • Dollar Store (Tree, General)
  • Ikea
  • Facebook Marketplace
  • Goodwill
  • Lakeshore Learning
  • Five Below

There are so many more out there, but these are my go-to’s! I am not a brand ambassador or influencer for any of the brands mentioned above. While I do not receive any incentives or income from those mentioned, if you’d like to donate to our family in any way, my cash app is $QueendomWM and PayPal is tiana.gurley@gmail.com or PayPal.Me/queengurley.

Small learning space

10 Ways to Make Reading Fun for Your Child

Wow! What a year 2020 has been thus far, right? Those who are parents and/or guardians of grade school children were propelled into the homeschooling journey. Schools across the nation are closed until the end of the school year, and some states are considering keeping them closed for the fall, are considering keeping distance learning in effect, or are creating new ways for schools to operate. That also puts summer programs at risk of taking place. What does that mean? You’ll still be responsible for your child’s learning experience.

I personally advocate for parents to continue teaching and encouraging their children to learn throughout summer break regardless of what’s happening in the world. Why? It helps bridge the learning gap that exists at the beginning of the next school year. When your child’s teacher introduces new material you want to make sure your child isn’t left behind or struggling to keep up. There are ways to make sure that your child is having endless fun throughout the summer, but still learning. I remember when I was younger (all the way through high school), my mother would create summer work packets for my sister and I. They were always ELA/reading based so I’m sure that’s why I love it til’ this day. When our schools sent home Summer Reading lists, my mother was right on it! Our work and chores were to be complete before playing, watching TV, or going outside. If I was attending a summer camp or had a summer job, my packet needed to be worked on when I came home.

Since reading and writing are my favorite subjects to learn and teach, I thought I would start with a few tips on that subject alone first. I’m no expert, but these are some methods that work for my children and I. Every learning experience differs per household and that is just fine! Find what works best for you and yours. I’ll include other subjects in the future.

So how do you make reading a little fun? There are several ways to incorporate some fun into reading time, but here are my top 10 go-to’s.

Read aloud together-Children participate in reading aloud all the time in school. When they are preschool-aged it looks more like the teacher reading at circle time. As they grow older, children take turns reading aloud. This still takes place in middle and high school as well. The teacher will call on students to read instructions, syllabi, and paragraphs in reading materials or books. Keep that same energy at home! Reading aloud allows you to hear how your child reads. Is there a flow? How many words per page are they struggling with? Are they pausing at commas and stopping at periods? These reading sessions are great for the parent and child alone, siblings and parents, or the whole family. It can even turn into a family book club. Older children may enjoy knowing that they aren’t the only ones in the house tasked with reading. They will feel supported.

Use an accent or favorite character voice-  This goes along with reading aloud. As the adult, I would start it off in order to set the tone. I loveeee using an accent when reading with my daughters. I always tell my 8-year-old to become the characters in the book she’s reading. How do they sound? Where are they from? Are they short or tall? Are the filled with excitement, or sadness? Are they mean or timid? I want to hear that when she’s reading. Of course you don’t want to make fun of another culture, however; if the story is based in a place like Texas or Louisianna there are distinct accents associated with those states! Using an accent, a favorite character voice, or even mimicking a loved one’s voice will have your child saying, “Ok! My turn!” I introduced my daughter to Harry Potter books a few months ago. When she would read aloud I reminded her to become the characters. Lo and behold, I had a mini wizard from Hogwartz sitting beside me. LOL

Act it out- Bring entertainment into the home! After your child reads a chapter or two, put on a play. You can choose to stick with the chapters that were just read or start from the beginning of the book until the last chapter read. This is basically putting a book report into motion! Have them go around the house and grab some things to create the setting of the book, make a mini stage, and make a costume (bonus: arts and crafts). If you have them, grab some wigs, makeup, and more. You can leave it as a one-man/woman show, or you can get the whole family involved. This is a fun way to get your kid moving. It gives them something to look forward to at the end of their reading. It forces them to actually pay attention to, and comprehend what they are reading rather than just reading words on a page. Afterward, you can give your critiques. If you feel like they missed a major part of the main idea, you can mention “I loved what you did here! Wow. What an amazing job! I remember there being a part of the story where ______ learned _____ no longer wanted to be friends. I didn’t see that in your show. Is there a reason why you didn’t include it in the play?” If your child doesn’t favor putting on a show, try making them a broadcast news journalist. They can “report” the news from the book and provide weekly or daily updates. If they are interested in music, they can make a song (rap or sing) about it.

Read in silence together– So maybe your child doesn’t like all the extra stuff, and they’d rather just read independently. That’s just fine. You can still take the experience up a notch by you each reading your individual books in the same room, and then discuss them. It’s very simple. You’d simply take turns telling each other what is happening in your book so far and do a little reading comprehension aloud. For example, sharing how you relate or don’t relate to the main character and story. What do you think will happen in the following chapters? What would your alternate ending to the book be?

Scavenger Hunt- Time for a mini scavenger hunt! These are great for younger children and older children. The great thing about scavenger hunts is that you don’t have to have a lot of space in order to have one. It can be done indoors or outdoors, in an apartment or a house.  Find specific objects from the book in your house and scatter them wherever the scavenger hunt will take place. If it’s a hunt with older kids you don’t even have to gather the items. Leave them where they are and have your child find them and bring them back to you. Set a timer to bring the drama and excitement. We all know kids love games and small competitions. There’s nothing wrong including a prize or incentive at the end.

Arts and craft– The things you can do with arts and crafts are endless. Craft or create what the book was about in any way that your child finds fun. Color worksheets that feature items from the story, draw, sew, build, and more. If you’ve taken care of the writing for the day, doing an arts and craft book report is a fun and creative alternative. If your child needs more writing work, have them to write out their book report first, and then use that as their blueprint for their artwork.

Easy. Just Right. Hard– Oftentimes, reading isn’t fun to children because they aren’t reading the right books. Maybe they’re bored because the book is too easy (older children), or maybe the books they find fun are too easy for them (younger children). You may even find that your child dislikes reading and quits easily. With your young child, let them read an easy book first. It gets them excited for reading time and builds their confidence. They’ll most likely know the book by heart and make little to no mistakes. For all ages, find books of their interests that are just right for their reading level. For example, my daughter is 8 and still loves picture books, however, her reading level is that of an 8th grader. So I let her choose some graphic novels or picture books as her easy book to read, and then choose just-right books that still meet her needs. She loves unicorns and mystical/magical worlds and characters, so Harry Potter and books like them are right up her alley.  I also choose some books that I’d like her to read as well that aren’t in the same genre as those. Lastly, you want to challenge your reader as well.  Choosing a book that is a little more difficult isn’t a bad thing. It allows you to gauge their reading progress and gives you words to work on with them. To make it a little easier on them, let them help you choose some of the difficult books. If it peaks their interest, it may make them more interested in reading it regardless of the difficulty. Remember, it’s important not to focus on the harder books because it can discourage them. We often make the mistake of giving our children nothing but difficult work. That is the easiest way to make your child lose confidence in themselves. You have to balance the reading material out by giving them a challenge, but not taking it overboard.

Create a reading nook–  Create a space that is specifically for your child that encourages reading and comfort. Also, let them choose the books they’d like in their nook in order to encourage independent learning. When reading together, you can let them select their favorite choice from a list of books you have chosen that is “just right” for their reading level.

Combine reading with another subject– When homeschooling, I often combine my daughter’s reading lessons with other subjects. She absolutely loves science so we’ll read articles, stories, and more on whatever we’re learning then. I use this method for all subjects! Including, but not limited to music, health, history, and geography.

Switch up the reading format/platform– It’s easy for human beings, not just children, to become bored with routine. Try audiobooks, kindle, or other downloadable books, online stories, and reading games through learning sites. This gives you a little break also. Young children can watch/listen to stories on many websites, but you’ll never go wrong with YouTube. Just be sure to check the quality of the video and videos to follow to make sure that you’re protecting your child’s innocence from anything inappropriate that could pop up.

These methods are perfect for new homeschooling parents, experienced homeschooling parents, and distance learning parents. We tend to believe that our children’s learning only takes place inside of school walls and that is far from the truth. Even when schools open back up and you return to work, do your best to incorporate at least one of these methods into your weekly schedule. Reading together or having your child read independently should take place daily and be no less than 20 mins, but can be as long as you and your child desire. You can split the time up into increments if 20 minutes is too long for a sitting. When you’ve chosen one day of the week to add on the fun activities listed above, the entire session should last no longer than an hour. However, if the fun is too good to end, keep going until you’ve passed out!

Happy parenting and teaching!

 

Homeschool 101: Issa Global Pandemic!

It’s no mystery that the world is facing a global pandemic. People all over are being heavily impacted by these conditions. People are losing their jobs, being sent home with no pay, teleworking, schools and programs are closed, and the list goes on. Originally, schools that were closed in the United States were closed for two weeks. Those closings have now been extended for most of or the remainder of the school year. Working moms and dads are now experiencing what it’s like to be work-from-home and stay-at-home parents, in addition to being homeschool parents. So many lives were changed overnight.  Many families are scared because they have elderly, sickly, or essential loved ones, suffering a financial loss, and most of all nostalgic about how things used to be. How do I homeschool?  This was never my plan? Heres my take.

Now that you have a few more weeks added to your new (kind of forced) homeschool journey, RELAX! It’s not as bad as it seems. There are a few steps you should take in order to make the most out of this time with your beautiful child(ren). First of all, yes you are homeschooling/distance schooling, but please understand this is not the same as normal homeschooling. This is pandemic-schooling. Those of us who were homeschooling before COVID-19 aren’t even schooling the same! No co-ops, no playgrounds, no library visits, and more. So take a step back, breathe deeply, and take this new journey on day-by-day.

Unschooling/deschooling is one of the most important steps you can take during this time. It is the process in which both you and your child(ren) release your ideas and/or learned ways of schooling. It encourages exploration, student-led, and life learning. I stress that unschooling is not just for your child, but it is also for you. Teaching in a home environment is completely different than in a school building. While you may keep some of the public school methods that work for your child, it’s important that you do not force those things that to take place at home. Your child views you differently than he/she does their school teachers.

One of the biggest lessons I had to learn with homeschooling is to become flexible and to remain flexible. I’ve tried to stick to a schedule hundreds of times. It never works! Some days I’m up at 7am with a solid plan for my daughters, others I’m up at the same time, but not moving until 9:45-10am. I used to stress over having a strict schedule, but the flexibility works for my family. The days that I find myself moving slower, I actually notice my oldest daughter needed the extra time as well. However, I realize that many reading this blog will be running to the car or bus stop to get their children back in school once it’s open. So keeping a schedule similar to what it’ll be like once school begins again may work best. I also know that you may have to work! If your child has a zoom class meeting, set them up and work. If they can work independently, set them up and work! But if you are required or needed to help finish schoolwork, give your baby some simple tasks like journaling, cleaning, watering the plants, and more to hold them over until you have a break or you’re logged off for the day. Working, cooking, cleaning, and teaching is not easy, so don’t put that much pressure on yourself.

In addition to those two steps, be sure to incorporate a lot of fun and playing in your day. Like I mentioned at the beginning of this post, pandemic-schooling is not the same as homeschooling. Your child loves you and enjoys being home, but they are missing their friends, teachers, recess, extracurricular activities, festivals, dances, graduations, and more. Most importantly, those old enough to understand are under a lot of pressure and possibly scared. Try incorporating some of their interests into their learning experience. For example, if they are into music have them write a rap or song about one of their lessons or a topic. Let them put on a show and perform it. It combines music and creative writing all in one. You can discuss, proofread, and edit it together. You also never know what your child finds interesting. Bring them into the kitchen to cook with you. If it’s ok, let them see how you do your job, give them some assignments based on your work. They need real-life experiences still! I intentionally let my daughter watch me work on our family budget sheet, pay bills, and put money into our savings. I also let her work with me when I completed our taxes. You can really do anything and make it a learning experience!

Lastly, remain confident. Be confident that you are an excellent parent, employee, and person. You are doing your best with something that was just thrown into your lap. If your child only worked with workbooks, printouts, YouTube, and online lessons for the day, that was a productive day. If you were able to interact and actively teach for the day, that was a productive day. Every day doesn’t look the same, and that is OKAY! You have been raising and teaching your child since the day they were born. You are more than capable of teaching your child during this crisis. I understand that some of us are parents to younger children as well. I have a very active 2-year-old daughter. Some days we’re working together, others she’s learning through play. I am a parent who uses YouTube all the time for learning. We use puzzles, she plays with her dolls, blocks, and more. I recently purchased an Elevated Learning binder from Momi Swap. If you have a preschooler thru 1st-grade child, it is one of the best investments. The owner is Majidah Muhammad, a beautiful mother of two, who is an educator, but also homeschools and owns a homeschooling co-op. You can learn more about her and what she does through her website Momi Swap.

Be sure to subscribe and turn on your notifications. I will be posting a follow-up video where I speak a little more on what’s mentioned here and show a little bit of the changes that have taken place in our household.

Happy teaching!