I’m warning you now. This is going to be a ridiculously long post. When I loaded the pictures onto my computer, I had 87 photos. No worries, I cut it down significantly, but this is going to be part ONE…and next week you can see part TWO and the rest of our school area (and probably my favorite room!).
I’ve received several emails over the last few months from parents that are interested in homeschooling for the first time, but the thought of squeezing “school stuff” into their apartments or small homes is daunting and not at all appealing.
Don’t worry – it is possible to homeschool your children in a small space without sacrificing all of your personal home decor!
We currently homeschool our three kids while living in less than 1500 sq. feet. (Our youngest is just turning three, so his “school” is learning to sit quietly, entertaining himself, and keeping his crayon drawings on the paper.) Our two girls are in third grade and Kindergarten (with some first grade material thrown in) so we have plenty of blocks, manipulatives, craft projects, maps, timelines, workbooks and fiction books strewn across the house at any given time.
A few years ago, when we first started homeschooling, I realized that in general, I just shoved things places, never put things away, we lost books, projects and papers, things were spilled on lesson plans — it was a nightmare and so frustrating, because even though the very nature of homeschool is flexibility, it was still too chaotic for me!
Once my oldest was in first grade, she still wasn’t at the age that I needed to start keeping records (legally) for our State requirements, and I realized during our first semester, that school was an after thought – ie: “we’ll ‘do school’ if we can get to it”. I started her early, and I was in no rush to make things “rigid” at her young age. However, as we got into the homeschooling routine, it seemed that there still wasn’t time for this or that project or field trip. I was afraid that subconsciously, school was negotiable to her – not routine enough. We made it through her first grade school year with flying colors, but we still had a very lax schedule and method. It was perfect for her age range, but still, going into second grade, I wanted to work out a better system for all of us.
I decided to make some major changes before she started second grade and so I made the move to merge homeschooling and aesthetics. I put our school space in a prominent place in our house because I want education to be prominent in our lives. I want my kids to know that learning is top priority and I wanted to create that kind of atmosphere in our house.
So, before we start the grand tour, here’s a little insight on how I approach our homeschool set up in a small house:
First and foremost, we’ve decided to make homeschooling a way of life. We do occasionally entertain guests, but when our friends come over, they know that we homeschool, and so although everything around them pertains to education, it’s also in vintage style, tidy (in a perfect world) and inviting.
I don’t hang up a lot of items (posters, etc) because all though cute and classroom-y, they are not my first choice in home decor! I make an exception for a cool wall map and some vintage bird pictures. Plus, the wall hanging over the corner chair in my pictures is composed of photos of places around the world that my hubby and I have traveled – cute – trendy – educational (the picture is below).
I am very selective about what furniture we use and I’ve slowly bought new (old) items over the last year or two (more on that in a second). I only buy functional pieces, but I make sure that they’re cute and fit my personal tastes as well.
I store everything in drawers, cute baskets, vintage cases, or (mostly) out of sight.
I try to keep everything in ONE location (in our case, it’s downstairs, between the living room and dining room). It saves me time and it means that the rest of the house isn’t cluttered with the items that are actually meant for our lessons (although it never fails that I find math manipulatives in toy boxes…).
I’ve found that it does actually gets easier as they get older! Plus, the longer you do it, the more you realize what items and books you actually use versus what is just fun to have on hand. I’ve learned to pare down my homeschool stash significantly, to fit the space that we have to work with.
My biggest tip is to have stylish yet functional storage. I don’t use plastic tubs, or plastic anything really, unless it’s in a drawer. Storing projects in wire baskets, woven baskets, metals trays, etc makes them functional and still decorative and it makes things so much less institutional and more home-like. It can be a bigger up front investment (unless you can score items at a flea market or thrift store), but this was a sacrifice I was willing to make happen, and I’ve built my stash slowly. We plan on homeschooling our children all the way through high school, and I couldn’t quite live with the over-abundance of primary colors that comes along with a lot of school supplies everywhere!
So, here is a look at how we organize our homeschool (and living) space:
Most of our learning takes place here:
The couch in our living room is school-central. We start each day with our group schooling – the subjects that everyone participates in. Sometime after momma has had her coffee (around 8:30 or 9), we cuddle up on the couch and read our Bible story and lesson, our poetry, whatever current fiction book we’re reading through (we just finished the first two books in this collection), and our history or science lesson. On the right side of the picture is my little white vintage cabinet. It has shelves inside, and we keep paper (for coloring and writing), math manipulatives, blocks and board games inside. The coffee table in front has a chalk board top ( I gave it a few coats with this and it’s a favorite spot in our house!) and the kids love to sit and doodle on it while I’m reading.
Our book basket sits on top of the white cabinet and holds our most current read-alouds and daily work. Again, I store practical things in containers that I love, so that even though certain items are left out (both for ease and because we’re short on storage space), I don’t mind looking at them! (the basket above I grabbed at a local shop, but I also love these)
We also keep that large basket of knitting supplies underneath the coffee table. It gives their hands something to do while we read and teaching my girls to knit has been beneficial in many ways. (I am able to find my Bolga baskets locally, and these are my absolute favorite baskets for storage! They have so much character, and they’re incredibly durable. If they become misshapen, you simply wet them and then reshape. Here are a few that I love!)
Here’s the view from the couch, on the other side of the room:
On the far right is our armoire that I grabbed at our local Habitat for Humanity ReStore. It’s SOLID and HEAVY (just ask my hubby!). At the very top, in the baskets, we store art supplies that are NOT kid-friendly.
In the large part with the double doors, we store a small filing cabinet, my laminator and supplies, and a small (15″!) television from 1987. No joke. In fact, the top drawer of the armoire is full of old school VHS tapes!! The middle drawer holds art supplies and extra paper and the bottom drawer has puzzles and more blocks and random school supplies that don’t have a home (plus all of those things that you hide before company comes over.) (You know you do it too…)
Now, jumping over to the other side of the room…
We installed a gas fire-place several years ago and we’re so glad we did. It makes it so cozy, (especially for reading in the winter time) and I love filling the mantle with meaningful objects. All of the books there are classics, the yellow frame with clothes pins holds our most current art-study picture (Van Gogh right now), the globe gets regular use with our geography and history studies, and the green linen box at the bottom of the stack of books (under the globe) holds our chess set. The little white bowl was just filled with acorn tops from my daughter’s ever-growing collection of random nature items.
The built-in bookcase in the next picture was a major selling point for me! Our house was built in 1904 and to our knowledge, this was an original part of the main living area when it was constructed. This is where most of our school books are stored, and each shelf holds a subject (or two) so that the kids know where books go when they’re done. I don’t worry about them being in any particular order, I’m just thrilled if they end up on the right shelf and I don’t find pictures books in the math section.
At the very bottom of the shelf, behind the (very red) rocking chair, there are three durable woven grass baskets. These hold my son’s toys and blocks and things to keep him occupied while we are doing our lessons. He just wants to be with us in the same room, so these are a mini toy box of sorts.
In the picture below, you can see these silver book plates that I stuck to the side walls of the bookcase, as a friendly reminder of which subject goes where.
On the right side in the picture below, there’s our “tin type” lamp (homemade from our pioneer studies), a small white CD box that holds DVD-roms and any history-related videos, our Chinese writing set, and some foreign currency (for our culture studies).
The basket underneath all of that, on our science shelf, has some Science flash cards, plant identification cards, our magnifying glass and some spare rocks and pebbles that were collected on our last nature walk. We can easily grab this basket when we are exploring nature outside or working on our nature journals.
The next picture is of the frame that I painted and stapled some chicken wire to (we’re high-class around these parts). I used wooden clothes pins to hang some of the most scenic travel pictures that my husband and I took from various places that we’ve lived/visited. We want our kids to get used to seeing foreign places and interesting cultures from an early age, plus this brings back great memories and always makes for interesting conversations. (It’s hard to see, but there are images from Bosnia, Moscow, Quito, Paris, Beijing and Normandy)
This next corner is where I gave in a little. This is my daughter’s “museum” – her collection of random nature items, pictures and crafts that go along with whatever we are currently studying. I made her tidy it up some, since, you know, I’m broadcasting our living space to the entire world. The cork board at the back holds her museum signs and labels for the various “artifacts”.
In the drawer under that, my daughters store the craft items that are just theirs – their special paints and papers, their looms (oh, the millions of bands that I find in the carpet…), and little projects that they’re working on. This space is “theirs” and as long as it’s tidy and the drawer isn’t overflowing, I grin and bear it.
In the large space underneath, we have 2 large woven baskets. The one on the left holds our library stash. All checked-out library books go there, so that they aren’t floating around the house in random places. The basket on the right holds all of my husband’s art supplies and drawing paper. He is quite the artist and the kids regularly have art class with papa.
And there you have it.
Are you still there? Seriously, that was LONG but hopefully it gave you some ideas on how we make things work and fit, without giving in to the typical “school room” look. Next week, I’ll wrap this up and show you the dining room – probably my favorite space!
Do you homeschool in a small space? How do you make everything fit??
(*This post contains a bajillion affiliate links. If you make a purchase by clicking on one of them, there’s no additional cost to you, but it helps support our adoption from Ethiopia)