Last week I looked at the calendar and about had a panic attack. “HOLY CRAP!!! is it seriously the middle of July??!!” I almost hyperventilated when I realized just how close the beginning of the school year had gotten. Granted, we still had a significant amount of time until September first but MAN was it coming quickly.
Being a homeschool family I had tons and tons of prep work to do, (I had taken an entire month to not think about school stuff at all and focus on my camping and nature photography stuff.) The first thing on my school prep list is where were we going to “school” this year. We had had major issues the year before (our first year homeschooling the kiddos) with the school room being in a room that had to be walked through to get to the kids bedrooms. This had made it hard to designate the room as a school room. It was plastered with school posters and charts but the kids would migrate in and out of the room acting as if it was just another part of the living space. It was attached to the main living room and catty corner to the kitchen and separated the kids rooms. It just wasn’t the right place. They were consistently distracted by anything going on in one of the other rooms and when we had to separate kids because of behavior or individual free time NO ONE could concentrate, including us adults that were supposed to be teaching.
During our last Behavior therapy session (we have a behavior therapist come to the house once a week to help the family with cooping skills, social skills and to discuss any issues that have come up.) She also voiced concerns about the location of the school room. She suggested that we use the upstairs playroom where we were currently storing toys and the kids almost never used. We usually ended up just bringing the toys down to the main family room or school room down stairs anyway so it just ends up being wasted space anyway. I thought it was a great idea and had actually considered it a few weeks before.
We discussed how vital it is that the school room be SEPARATE from the rest of the living space. We talked about how we needed to keep it fairly bare and empty with very little on the walls and floor to distract from the kids learning. We already have major issues with ADHD which involves distractibility and lack of focus so this seemed like a brilliant idea to me. So we decided to go completely minimalist on the school room itself. I know it is a totally contradiction to all other school rooms, public, private and homeschool that I or my husband had been in. They all had bright colors, posters, signs, behavior charts and all kids of other things plastered around the room. it just felt WRONG to not be putting things up on the walls.
I started to contemplate why I thought “things” had to be all over the room in the first place. Some others have argued that the kids need visual reminders constantly to keep them “on track”. The thing is, visual stimuli do the complete opposite for MY children. They pull the kids concentration away from the task at hand and encourages their brains to wonder. This was really hard for ME, a fine arts/biology major in college, to hold myself back and NOT put pretty or helpful educational stuff on the walls. For me, I WANT that artistic visual stimulation. I almost craved it, but then I began to realize that it was pretty distracting to me too. It pushed my mind to wonder and I often found myself daydreaming. I do very much realize that it isn’t needed and I could just as easily put only one or 2 things up and maybe a white board, cork board and chalkboard to display only what is needed for the task at hand.
So, for us I did hang up a few of the colored tissue puff balls from the ceiling but only because they are high up and out of eye shot and you don’t really see them unless they are looking up or laying on their backs. These will be used for focused on your back times which encourage calming focused imaginative thinking. Other than that I think there will be very very little hung up around the room.
Moving around the room to the next corner I have a round library style table that was given to us a few years back from another church friend. This table is great because it is adjustable if you remove 4 screws and we can set it to the exact hight that we want it to be. I can also pull it out to the middle of the room if wanted. I LOVE the fact that this table is round because it gives great space in the middle for any supplies we need for the day or any daily displays that I want to put out. I also love the fact that I can space the kids out and they are far enough away from each other to KEEP THEIR HANDS OFF OF EACH OTHER!! this was a serious problem for them last year. It will be an ongoing problem for their entire education career due to their sensory, ADHD and autism issues so a round table is a great easy solution for us.
The round table will be our main education table. The older boys will spend most of their work time at this table and when all 4 kids are working together they will be at this table. It has enough room for 6 seats so it will seat all 4 kids and both parents when needed. As for the seating, I struggled with this issue. I have done much research on the benefits of “Excersize Ball Chairs” vs. regular chair seating for learning time. There are many studies that have been preformed in class rooms with kids sitting on the excersize ball chairs that say the kids focus is increased and balancing or slightly bouncing on the balls activated the whole brain. Things learned are retained and fidgets are decreased. There are even studies that talk about kids that stutter have a massive decrease in their stuttering when on a Balance Ball. Very interesting and impressive studies.
The flip side to this is the fact that when sitting on the chair it forces the person or child to sit up straight. This works on correct posture, core strength and whole body balance. For our family these are all pluses and things we are working on already in our OT all day long, so win win. But for others it might be a problem to have only the Balance Balls to sit on because it can quickly wear out the kids with “low tone” and/or who are prone to poor posture from lack of core muscle strength. The Balance Balls can cause them to be exhausted and distracted quickly and wouldn’t be a good fit for ALL class time seating but could be used part of the time to build strength.
The balls can be uncomfortable if not sat on properly so wallowing on the ball isn’t beneficial for anyone and especially not in a learning or working environment if not used properly. To rectify this situation We try to have another seating option. For us it is a child sized camping chair per child. The camping chairs encompass the kids all the way around with the arm rests and gives them a sort of boundary. WE then use that boundary to encourage them to keep their hands and eyes in their own little space or bubble area. As an added plus these chairs allow the kids to “sink in” so they sit down in the chair keeping them pretty grounded while they are working. If necessary I can add a small folded blanked, small soft pillow or even a weighted lap pad to help them feel even more comfortable, stable and grounded.
All these things seemed promising and great except for the fact that these specialized chairs run from $30 to $200. WHAT??!! I can’t afford that. I don’t know any homeschooler that can so I had to come up with a solution. I looked through the house and revisited a concept I had last year. I took a milk create and an old ball (the ones you can get from walmart that have a handle so the kids can sit on, hold the handle and bounce across the floor on) and stuffed the ball into the milk create. I remembered that an article that I recently read that stated the kids knees needed to be at a 90degree angle to the floor when sitting on the ball. I sat the kids on each one and inflated or deflated the ball stuffed into the create until the correct angle was achieved. I then thought well I guess I could have just used a sturdy beach ball and a pool noodle and accomplished the same thing by just duct taping the noodle into a circle to hold the ball in place but I like my original idea better. The milk create is sturdier and encompasses most of the ball so the kids can’t come up to it and kick it across the room like they could if the ball was just sitting on a taped pool noodle.
Now back to our set up of our school room. In our last corner I have a long rectangular folding table set up with hard wooden stools. The hard wooden stools were important for a few reasons. The stools are round like a bar stool and there fore only holds one kids. This way there is no fighting over space on the seat, it just simply can’t hold more than one fanny. next, There are only 2 seats, this means that there is only one kids per computer unless I (the teacher) put another stool from another area there. Lastly, they are hard wooden stools to that they aren’t overly comfortable. Now I know that sounds weird to some adults that spend hours at a time at a computer but we want to limit their computer time to no more than 30 minuets per sitting. The hard stool doesn’t allow them to become too comfortable and fight us when it is time to move on to the next station or activity. They are usually ready to get off the stool after about 30 minuets anyway. This took a lot of thought because I was finding that the kids were wanting to stretch out their computer time by coming up with excuse after excuse because it was such a comfy spot and they just loved doing any tech. Wooden stools work out great for our situation.
This rectangular table holds our 2 school computers. (they are our old laptops that we wiped clean when a new one was bought. Granted they are slow and probably 8 and 6 years old but they still work and teach the kids patients in the process. Or at least that is what I tell myself because we just can’t afford any other computers.) Anyway, We use these computers for the kids and they are only allowed to do educational things on them. We usually ONLY use a site called “Kidzue”. It is a great kids browsing site that has our favorite kids safe educational websites on it. We mainly use the following sites which are all on Kidzue: PBS KIDS, NICK JR., STARFALL (one of my most favorite sites for all younger kids to teach abcs and reading skills) SESAME STREET, CURIOUS GEORGE, and some DISNEY JR. All these sites are free and that is a SERIOUS plus for us because funds are extremely limited around our home. We do NOT pay for educational sights simply because we can’t afford them. I am sure there are some great paid sites out there dedicated to educational games, videos and tools but we are fully getting what we need from the ones I listed above.
So that basically covers the school room except for one key thing. We are lucky enough to have a small bonus room attached to our large school room (there is a great closet too I will use to store all our school stuff and school time play things) In this extra room I hung neon star cutouts on 2 walls and glow in the dark paint to make dots and swooshes all along the ceiling and other walls. This made the room look like a star filled dark room when used with our long black light I purchased at Walmart for only $10. It is a fabulous space for the kids to calm down when over stimulated. I also added a homemade Light table for learning and fun times. It was super easy and FREE because I had all the components already in the house.
For the light table I just used a clear storage bin that had a lid and put some old white christmas lights inside with the plug end sticking out. TADA!! McGuyver mommy light table ready to go. The great part is that I can put what ever color christmas lights in it that I want. For example, We could add blue lights for our Ocean or water theme days, green lights for Nature themes, red for Fire fighter themes or to represent HOT, and Yellow for a sunny summer theme……I am gonna let our imaginations run wild with this concept and get the kids involved. I will have all the lights on hand and have them help me pick the appropriate color for our theme that month. FUN!!
I also took a clear plastic vase and shoved a bunch of christmas lights down inside it for some extra light in the room. This room is also for Center time room. This means that each corner of the room has a small play area that the kids can use for center time. there will only be 2 kids per play area to keep encourage talking between the kids. They do this so very much better in very small groups. This will also encourage turn taking which we will monitor with a count down timer, maybe 15 minuets per center. There are not many toys in this room because we will try and keep as little on the floors and around all school rooms as possible. (Minimalist style)
So, there you have it. I will probably be adding more post on the success of the room once school time begins but for now we are VERY happy with the set up. We have been taking the kids up there for short 30 minuets burst each day to get them going on the idea of different area for each activity and learning part of our day. So far they are LOVING it.
Please make sure to leave comments in our comment section with any fun McGuyver mommy and McGuyver teacher things you have come up with. I LOVE good ideas and love to have people share them with us so we can figure out if they fit into our way of doing things. I feel we should do as much as possible to encourage each other as we strive for the best learning and daily living environments for our children.
I know this article was long but I do hope it was informative and helpful to anyone who has read it in some way. Please feel free to share it in anyway with others you know who it might help. Please just make sure to steer them back to our sight so they may explore some of our other topics, video slide shows and articles.
I will be adding a slide show to the “Video Slide Show” section of our sight to show our school room in more detail. Please take a look to help visualize the room better. Stay strong and try to keep your anxieties about the upcoming school year in check. WE WILL SURVIVE! And even when something we do fails miserably we have every opportunity to say “well THAT didn’t work. So how can I learn from that experience.” After all, life is about learning, growing and learning to find joy in the journey. God Bless.