school at our dining-room table

In an ideal world, we would all have rooms in our homes that we could devote solely to homeschooling. We’d have plenty of space, plenty of bookshelves, and plenty of roomy cabinets. We’d have space on the walls for maps and charts, and we’d have a comfy corner for reading, cuddling, and projects.

In a realistic world, most of us use the dining room table for homeschooling. A few years ago, my husband made us a school room in our basement, but since it was Minnesota, the basement was quite chilly and dark for much of the year, so we still used our dining room table a lot. In all our other homes (and we’ve lived in 9 homes total in our homeschooling years), we never had a school room. It just makes sense that the dining room table has been the best place for us to have our school each day.

It’s like having a one-room school — in a house. As another mom recently commented,

Our school room is our dining room (the only eating area since we have a galley like kitchen). Our play room is the living room and the kids’ rooms. So I feel very cluttered and lived in all the time. No pretty show house here. Open shelves of books in the dining room, we have 2 china cabinets one in the living room and one in the dining room, one is crafts and school supplies the other games and toys. We don’t have the money to buy anything additional for storing and organizing so we must put what we have to the best possible use.

I can relate! So how does a mother survive the clutter and craziness that can reign on a Monday morning?

Eliminate Visual Clutter

We can have nine bodies moving in our dining room at once (plus a yellow lab and a cat). It sometimes feels like nine rubber balls are bouncing randomly around the room. When the table is piled high with computers, pencils, books, hair brushes, salt shakers, mail, and bibs, and when little ones are playing with toys on the rug next to the table, and when pillows fall from the couch onto the flour — well, it can get a little overwhelming to my eyes.

Less really is more. The less clutter that is in the room to begin with, the more we can add in the form of school work, without looking so crowded.

  • Eliminate knick-knacks that serve no purpose.
  • Have a consistent color scheme.
  • If possible, go for a tailored, sleek look in curtains and furnishings. Avoid busy patterns and fabrics.
  • Only allow things in the room that also serve a purpose. Pretty is good, but pretty and useful is better.

Have a Place for Everything

You’ve heard the saying, “A place for everything and everything in its place.” This is important, sanity-preserving advice in a busy homeschooling room.

  • List all the activities which take place in the room each day. Do the things you use for each activity have a “home”? Have a spot for each thing, and then eliminate everything extra.
  • Eliminate visual clutter by working to have matching baskets, by keeping bookshelves neat, and by using furniture that hides things (such as dressers, cabinets, and armoirs).
  • Get rid of everything you don’t really use. Be ruthless! Do you really need 100 video tapes from the 1990s? Do you really need all that china? Do you really need so many books (gasp!)?
  • Children can have assigned seats around the table, too! In a large family like ours, we’ve found this really helps keep order.

Create Storage Throughout the House

When space is tight, you get a chance to be creative with storage solutions! Who says that everything has to be stored right in your school room?

  • We have used plastic milk crates to hold each child’s school books and supplies. Each morning, the kids bring their crates to the table, and at the end of school, they put them away on a shelf in the basement. At other times, we’ve stored their crates under the beds, in the garage, or even in the van on trips. The crates slide under their chairs, so it’s keeps the clutter down during school time.
  • Other years, we’ve used 50-cent, cloth grocery bags to hold school books. They don’t last an entire school year, but at 50 cents, it’s cheap to replace them.
  • We’ve also used kitchen space to hold school supplies. Often, kitchen cupboards are filled with items and gadgets that are rarely used. Why not clean out all that stuff and convert some of that space to school storage?
  • In closets, my husband installed hooks along the walls and extra shelves up high. These hooks can hold bags filled with supplies, too.
  • My husband also built bed frames for our beds from inexpensive 2×4 lumber. He built them up higher than regular bed frames so that we could store large plastic totes under our beds. This has given us quite a bit more storage, at a very good price.

Daily Upkeep Saves Sanity

It’s fun to plan out how to organize everything, but if we don’t maintain it, we’ve wasted our time.

  • Just like you need a place for everything, you also need a time for everything. Schedule when you’re going to pick up the room each day.
  • Put things away before you get something else out.
  • Teach the little ones to put their toys away before they get out new toys.
  • Teach the older ones to put away each subject’s materials before starting something new.
  • If someone habitually forgets to put away her shoes, her book, or her toys, you might need to “help” her remember by charging a fine, confiscating it for a week, or asking her to put it away 30 times in a row.
  • Don’t allow drinks at the table with the school books. (Don’t ask me how I learned this…)

Some Clutter Is Mental

Sometimes the clutter just hurts my head.

  • Reduce noise, if possible. In one home, we had hardwood floors, so our house could get noisy. Area rugs can help, as can pads on the bottoms of chairs. Pencils and spoons will still fall on the floor (bang!), but every little thing helps.
  • Seek quiet times each day, away from “the crowd,” for prayer and Bible reading. Yeshua did!
  • When you’re with the crowd kids, be “all there.” Don’t multi-task, or check email and Facebook, or talk on the phone. Be mentally present with them.

You know, it’s great to get good ideas, but sometimes, it’s comes down to learning to be content with what you have. A thankful heart can make the most crowded conditions into a happy home. I hope these ideas help you, but I also hope that I don’t stir up covetousness in any hearts. Make your home as lovely as you can, then let a thankful heart carry you the rest of the way.


Anne and Kraig thinking

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