Everyday Teaching: Spaces for learning

Turning your home into a comfortable place to learn.

Learning in the comfort of home.

Houses are not classrooms. They rarely have nooks outside the door. Kitchen tables substitute for desks. Reading areas are carved out of sofas. In kindergartens around the country, space is divided into large group areas, with enormous carpets for each child to sit on. Bookcases wind around the room, creating alcoves for small groups; tables for two provide areas for writing and math lessons. In this time of no school, one mother lamented that the surface of every table, chair, and counter was overflowing with schoolwork. The living room is now a social studies classroom, the upstairs hall is framed with spelling lists, and each bedroom is a messy museum for science. Schooling at home is not just homeschooling. Whether you live in a three-bedroom house or a rented room, families at home are submerged in notebooks, worksheets, and printed assignments.

Architects of the modern schoolhouse adapted the design of schools to include dedicated space for collaborative learning. This matched the way children learn. Rather than rows of individual desks bolted to the floor, these engineers looked at classrooms differently. They carved out “maker spaces” adjacent to learning areas. They furnished alcoves for quiet study. Technology is readily available to kids’ research and investigations.

Yet these “maker spaces” actually originated from home workshops, not schools. The idea that learning is an ongoing, cooperative process worked well. Dione Mila, library media specialist for Indian Trace Elementary in Broward County, Fla., explained how such spaces motivate kids: “Collaboration and teamwork happen naturally. You don’t have to push it. You just give them a challenge, and it will happen. Teamwork is essential.”

Creating “maker spaces” at home requires dedicating certain areas of your house to organized inquiry. These areas of your house have a purpose. The kitchen is a natural experiment space. Perhaps a sofa near a window, or a small tent outside, could become a reading/writing nook. An American studies timeline could hang in your hallways. Computers surrounded by three-quarters of a box become a study carrel. Porches and patios invite observation and art projects. What about a nature journey around your yard? Or physics exploration with distance and slope?

Your home can provide maker space for kids, without a classroom or a Zoom lesson. This period of closed schools may teach us a great deal about exploration, construction, creation, and tinkering as a viable way to learn. Home “workshops” allow our kids some freedom from boredom, through authentic investigation. A family on the Island is making a path to a treehouse, another is visiting ponds to collect samples for their microscope.

But a family does not need expensive equipment to provide a maker space. Bags of odds and ends from the kitchen or cellar can be useful for erecting a workspace. Balls and blocks, Legos and large boxes can transform into something original. A flying carpet can go anywhere.

When adults create a home office, the space itself becomes conducive to work; similarly, when children have a dedicated space to read, write, explore, build, innovate, and learn, the room becomes a classroom for the mind. If there were ever a better time to change education into an everyday practice, it might just be by the creation of maker spaces right here at home.