Preparing a space for going back to school

By: Sarah Wojcik | C&G Newspapers | Published August 20, 2014

Whether preparing a space for a kindergarten, high school or college student, local experts have some simple suggestions to increase productivity and prepare an ideal study environment.

Barbara VanSweden, a parent and superintendent of Fitzgerald Public Schools in Warren, and Terry Ellis, a Birmingham-based interior designer and owner of Room Service Interior Design, offered tips for parents and students gearing up for the school year.

“Whether it’s a bedroom or a quiet place in a basement or a living room, there has to be a designated space,” VanSweden said. “Everybody in the family needs to understand that when that person is there, there are to be no interruptions.”

It is also helpful, VanSweden said, to have a computer in the designated study area, whether it’s a laptop, iPad or desktop computer. If the student does not have access to one at home, she said the library also is a productive atmosphere.

“There has to be some tools for the student to use; obviously, paper, pencils, stapler, paper clips, maybe even a file holder to help students stay organized, notebooks, but all unnecessary clutter should be away from that area,” she said.

She said that it is important that the student be free of distractions, so if a cellphone would distract the student, it should not be allowed in the study area.

“It can be helpful in getting homework done, as long as it is used to do the communication with a partner on a project, or if they need to research something,” she said.

Similarly, TVs should not be near the designated areas, VanSweden said.

“One of the reasons we give homework is to help kids organize their time and learn how to focus on one single thing at a time,” she said. “It’s not just to support learning that goes on in the classroom, although that’s an important part, too.”

Another tool VanSweden offered for students: a timer.

In order to designate time to study or do an assignment, she said the timer could be used to delineate 35 minutes to an hour of time for students who need extra help to keep them focused on their assignments.

“I think sometimes — for kids and families, too — a log to log homework time is helpful in two ways,” VanSweden said. “First of all, you see how much time was designated to the homework, but I also think it is a reward, too. Then you can say, ‘Wow, I spent three hours this week on my project,’ or, ‘I spent five hours this week on homework.’”

Lastly, she said parent involvement is an important tool for students, such as asking students what assignments they have or if they understood the materials. Parents also help their students find the resources they need.

“My daughter is through with college, but these were the things that we did in our house, so that’s one of the reasons why I think she was a good student,” she said.

Ellis agreed that a quiet area with no distractions was key for students.

“Many newly constructed homes are doing a new loft area, which is good for a study zone, and a certain amount of people are having homes built with a family foyer at the back of the house, which helps kids keep stuff organized because everyone has their own individual cubbies, and they put their backpacks in the same spot everyday,” she said.

She said many families are installing whiteboards or chalkboards in study areas, which serve as reminders of when students have tests, assignments due, sports practices and as a family message area.

Although not all students choose to study at a desk, she said, there is customized bedroom furniture for students, including desks with USB ports built into them.

“I just think the organizational element is really important,” Ellis said.