Whether you’re homeschooling this year or doing a blend of virtual and physical school, creating a custom space in your child’s play area at home with the same intentionality of a preschool teacher can create a fun play environment dedicated to growth and development. 

For the purposes of this piece, let’s embrace the example of a parent’s desire to meet the unique and exciting needs of their preschool child. 

As you begin to plan and organize, there are some important early childhood development skills that you’ll wish to consider, including:

  • Problem-solving skills
  • Cognitive skills
  • Speech and language development
  • Gross & fine motor skills
  • Emotional skills
Here are some exemplary features that we’ve seen helping to define fun and educational classrooms in the home:

The “Circle Time” Rug

This cool creation is a meeting place where students can begin their day. Even if your little one can’t meet on the carpet with other schoolmates right now, this is still the perfect place to talk, read, sing, and have fun. We encourage you to join in! 

Most circle-time rugs have numbers or letters to facilitate “learning moments.” Try asking your child to sit on a specific letter or number during different times of the day and encourage them to find it on their own. Look for bright, vibrant colors to help engage and maintain their attention and imagination, even if it doesn’t necessarily gel with your home decor! www.kidcarpet.com is a great place to buy one!

A “Play Pretend ” Station

Continue to spark and nurture your child’s imagination while also encouraging the development of multiple foundational skills with this “station.” While traditionally encouraged in association with peer play by pre-school educators, parents are stepping-in as substitute playmates during the COVID-19 pandemic. One helpful suggestion is to allow them to take the lead on how the imaginative story develops, letting their creativity dictate scenes and scenarios. In general, children love acting out behaviors and scenarios they observe in life within the safety and freedom of their own play environment. A grocery store playset is a perfect example of the fun possibilities with this home educational tool.

The Library

Even when merely glancing at pictures or familiarizing oneself with the letters and words on a given page, the benefits of reading have been scientifically proven to be countless! Most kids already have books in their bedrooms, of course, but what we’d like to help you achieve here is the recreation of the preschool classroom environment.

Consider beginning by making sure your child’s books are displayed in an open and visible manner, so that ultimately he or she can independently browse, identify, and select their own choice. Creating a comfortable and inviting place to relax and read is the next step. This can be as simple as adding a couple of pillows or a bean bag next to the bookshelf!

A Reading Station

Different from a library or incorporated into it, this simple and comfortable area should be a quiet place that fosters focus and imagination at the same time, so keep it simple. If your room has a window, consider using that spot for your reading station.

Rolling Homework Stations

If you live in a small space, like a cramped apartment, multi-family house, or even a tiny home, you may not have a spare room available to dedicate to homeschooling. No problem, because kids are usually going to be completing “home school” classwork during school hours, and their homeschool workspace can be cleaned up at the end of the day and be returned to its original purpose.

Educational Workstations

If you have a room that can be dedicated to your new homeschool classroom, you may wish to try setting up educational workstations. Each workstation can represent a single subject, and be set up to maximize focus and performance on that subject while at that specific workstation.

Some examples of educational workstations that are great for kids of all ages, listed by topic, are:

Arts & Crafts Station
Gather up all your markers, crayons, coloring books, and other arts and crafts materials…because the arts and crafts station is now their new home!  Arts and crafts can be done just about anywhere, including on the floor, which is a sigh of relief if you’re a little short on classroom furniture. If you don’t have a small table and chairs that you can turn into an art station, try using an area rug, beanbags, a group of chairs, or really anything that can physically denote the purpose of creating visual, written, or even sonic arts!  If you don’t have a table to use, there are plenty of things around your house that can be used as a hard surface for coloring and drawing. Many things can even be customized and decorated by your child to make it feel more personal.
Workbook Station
Having a large clutter-free table for kids to spread out when working on projects and studying for tests will help keep them organized and focused. Finish the area off with an ergonomic desk chair and a desk lamp. Keep any surrounding decorations clean and minimal to reduce distractions. Try not to set this workstation up near a window, as it can easily lead to daydreaming.
Exercise Station
A miniature trampoline, some small hand weights, Pilates bands, or a yoga mat can be used for a workout station. Breaking up the school day with movement and physical activity will allow kids to refocus faster by providing their brain with a healthy burst of blood oxygen. It also just naturally leads your kids to feelings of well-being!

Getting Started!

Physical and spatial considerations are instrumental in carrying-out this most educational of residential missions! Here’s a checklist to guide your worthy effort:

1. Choose an Appropriate Work Area

When designating a homeschool classroom space, whether it’s a new spot every day or a dedicated room.

Your homeschool classroom space should be well illuminated, preferable by natural lighting (a skylight, patio or an abundance of windows), overhead lighting or even a smart collection of well-placed lamps will do the trick.

2. Create A Flat Workspace

Most of us don’t have an old school, attached desk-and -combo laying around at home. But that’s ok, because you need only see your way to creating a flat workspace that has enough room for your child to spread their papers out and do classwork on a computer. This could be anything from a dining room table to a traditional desk. If at all possible, try not to use a wobbly desk or a table with a broken leg. (Many children will find just about any reason to shift their focus away from their work when they get bored or overloaded, as you may already be aware.)  You’ll also want to make sure that seating is comfortable enough for your kids to sit for extended periods of time, but not so comfortable that they could possibly fall asleep. So while a desk chair is ideal, a kitchen chair or even barstool with a back will suffice.

3. Provide Storage Space

Teaching children to keep things organized is incredibly important, and the requirement is simple: WE just have to keep OUR things organized! Cubbies, rolling carts, desk drawers, and even portable storage bins will help maintain a high level of organization. The last thing you need is to be constantly interrupted by your child rummaging around for some paper or a pencil with a good eraser, especially if you’re also working from home due to the pandemic. Making a habit out of returning things to the same spot will help your child(ren) to routinely locate school supplies themselves, leaving you more time to focus on your own work!

4. Keep it Clean

Keeping workspaces clean and organized is equally important whether you have a dedicated table or desk, or a spot that is used for other things. When you are using a shared surface, however, like a kitchen table, be extra diligent about keeping it clean and wiped down between school time and meals.

If you have a playroom, spare room or even a corner in your den or living room to dedicate to a temporary homeschool classroom, that’s great! Whether or not your homeschool learning space looks like an actual classroom is entirely up to you. The beauty of setting up a classroom at home is that you can custom tailor it to best fit your child’s educational needs and style.

Teaching Kids of Different Ages

Should your pre-school kids be joined by other children of differing ages (which indicate different educational needs and requirements), it might not be a bad idea to dip into what we’ve learned from the history of education. As you probably learned in school yourself, children used to be educated inside of a one-room schoolhouse. Although adopting the one-room schoolhouse philosophy might seem like a step back in time, it actually applies very well to educating more than one child at home with different educational needs.

Whenever possible, try to combine activities that can be completed by kids of any age. Try to scatter each child’s solo activities and schoolwork between group activities. This will change things up and give your kids a little mental break while also keeping them (unknowingly) focused on educational tasks.

Stick to a Schedule

Young children tend to thrive on structure to stay focused and engaged, regardless of how old they are. Spending too much time on one subject can lead to boredom, lack of focus and temper-tantrums, so it’s important to make a schedule and stick to it.

Remember when the teachers sent home that sheet of paper at the beginning of the school year to let parents know the breakdown of the students’ day? Use it as inspiration when creating a homeschool schedule. Each block of time throughout the day should be dedicated to a different subject.

And One More Thing: Smart Kids Mask Up!

Both the CDC and the WHO recommend that children wear a mask when they are out in public, and in indoor situations where a minimum of 6-feet of separation between individuals can’t be maintained. But have you ever tried asking a 4 or a 5-year-old to be cognizant of their distance from other individuals? Summiting Mount Kilimanjaro might be more easily achieved! Especially in instances where you’re including another young child in your new home preschool classroom, whether it be a neighbor or a cousin (or a cousin who lives next door!), we recommend masking-up for class time. This small step in personal protection is proving to make a major impact on our culture, and our collective livelihood. But we can’t ignore the necessity of keeping the preschool intellect engaged and entertained, so the medical-grade N95 or surgical face masks should probably remain reserved for health care workers.

One of the hardest things about childrens’ face masks is making sure they don’t slip off little faces. The Baublebar company (www.baunlebar.com) is one manufacturer that makes fully adjustable, super soft masks especially for little ones. The standout feature about BaubleBar is that they sell their masks to you at their cost. A reflection of their company culture, they believe that safety comes first.

Another one of our favorite family brands is the trusty Old Navy company, who offers reusable, non-medical grade masks that are made of 100% cotton poplin. These trendy masks are available in kid sizes – and adult ones too – and they come in five masks per pack. These trendy masks have cool prints like flowers, bananas, and polkadots, everything you need to help you make your children feel a little bit better during these uncertain times. Old Navy has also donated 50,000 masks to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, to further help those in pandemic need. Visit them today at www.oldnavygap.com.

Crispy, Stills, Nash & Young summed it up when they sang “Teach Your Children” in 1969. In claiming victory together during this challenging time, showing little ones the way is critical. We thank you for what you’re doing.