Creating a dream study space for your child

Now that school's back in session, it's time to think about helping your child with at-home assignments. Here are our favorite ways to assemble the perfect homework spot.

By GreatSchools Staff

Get a CLUE

One of the most important keys to your child’s school success is found right at home: Your kid’s study space.

But all too often, a home study spot is given short shrift — with little thought to how and where it’s set up — undermining how well your child can do his homework. Time to get a CLUE by asking yourself these questions:

Calm — Are there distractions (such as animals, TV, and music) that keep your kid from concentrating?

Light — How is the light? Low lighting may make your child sleepy and unfocused.

Uncluttered — Who wants to work at a messy desk?

Easy — Is it easy for your child to find and organize his stuff? 

Now that you know the questions to ask, here are seven ways to create the best study area for your child.

How does your child work best?

Sure, that fancy desk and chair you’re thinking of getting for your child’s bedroom seems like a good idea. But before rushing out to buy all the bells and whistles for a catalog-beautiful “dream” space, remember the golden rule of designing the perfect area: Create it specifically with your child’s personality and study habits in mind.

If he works best around people, set him up in the dining room, kitchen, or living room (for kids who sometimes prefer lying down to work, the couch doubles as a great alternate work space). If he’s easily distracted by clutter and noise, set up shop in a quiet, secluded space.

Study that study space

Now that you've chosen the location, study the space to make sure your child is working under the best conditions. Consider his age and size to ensure he's not sitting at a giant chair and desk for his height, especially if your child is working at an adult-size computer and straining his head to look up — a winning recipe for neck, shoulder, and back pain. (If you have a young child working at a computer, consider investing in a kid-size keyboard and mouse to accommodate smaller hands.)

The overall work surface should be waist height. When your child sits down — ideally at a chair that has a back and arm rests — his elbows should rest on the table without hunching, bent at an angle of about 90 degrees or more. If it's not high enough, add a pillow or folded towel to raise the seat. His feet should be resting flat on the floor and not dangling. If they are, put a foot rest or box underneath.

To shoot for ergonomic perfection, for a typical first grader, the chair should be around 12 inches high, the table at about 18 inches; by seventh grade, the chair should be around 14 inches high and the table 24 inches high. After middle school, aim for a 16-inch-high chair and 25-inch-high desk for girls, an 18-inch-high chair and 27-inch-high desk for boys.

Finally, how's the lighting? Consider getting a desk lamp for task lighting. Squinting strains the eyes and tires the mind.

Banish distractions

Is the TV on? Is an older sibling blasting music, or are two younger ones squabbling? Is the dog barking and the bird squawking?

Some kids require peace and quiet to focus. If you notice that your child gets easily distracted, or that you're frequently asking family members to pipe down, think about relocating her study space — or moving the pets. Turn off the TV. Turn off or ignore all phones (cell and land line; she's not allowed to answer hers).

Parents might even consider creating a "Homework time" sign so that everyone remembers to be quiet as church mice between, say, 5 and 5:30 p.m. One thing to remember: Some kids do better with music in the background. But try to choose something without vocals, which can be distracting.

Stay close

Especially for younger children who need to build up their homework skills, try to stay close by to be available for questions or guidance. (But resist giving the answer!)

If your child is working in a more remote spot in the house, you can still let her know that you're there if she needs you. This lets her know you care about and value her schoolwork.

Stock up on supplies

"Ugh! I can’t find the dictionary!" "Who took the glue stick?" To avoid these stress-filled moments — and needlessly wasting time hunting for missing items — duplicate a school supply list at home. (Here's what you need for elementary, middle, and high school).

Store everything in a central area. Shoe boxes do nicely to store pencils, pens, rulers, and scissors. Consider labeling big-ticket items like staplers, scissors, and rulers with a sticker that reads "Return to homework box." That way, everything is easy to find, and nothing goes missing when your child needs it most!

Store backup materials in one spot

These days parents regularly get everything from weekly homework lists to semester calendars for big projects from the teacher. Keep your stash of homework paperwork close by so you can verify what is due when. This is especially helpful for parents of younger kids who are still mastering the fine art of keeping track of their homework.

Keep the mess at bay

Finally, your child's workspace doesn't need to be military-precision clean, but encourage her to put things away after finishing her assignments (again, so supplies and important papers don't go missing), and keep the area in order for the next day's homework.