A child learning mathematics from a computer at home.
For countless American students, classrooms in the new school year will be next to the living room, or in the kitchen. For parents, this presents a new challenge: finding room and creating an environment conducive to in-house learning, often while they are working from home themselves.
So, what does that mean for your home if your children need a designated learning environment?
David Boronkay is the principal of Slocum Hall Design Group, an architecture and interior design firm in Watertown, Massachusetts. He started the company about 8 years ago and has distinguished himself for a number of projects, including historic restorations and a modern iteration of the Prairie Style in a Boston suburb.
“Home classrooms are no longer a luxury; they are a necessity,” he says. “No longer just a place for homework and after-school get-togethers, you’ll need a space where it’s possible to focus, and to learn.”
Boronkay knows that families today do not have the equivalent of the mythic Victorian attic-level schoolroom, so he advocates creative dual-use solutions.
“Setting up a designated workspace in a kids’ bedroom or an under-utilized dining room can provide the separation necessary for home-based learning,” he points out.
Dining rooms, in particular, do not see heavy use during this time of corona virus isolation. Families are not entertaining as they once did; guests, rare as they are, are mainly kept to porches, decks and other outdoor spaces. The dining room table can become the new classroom, with space for books, homework, projects and computer monitors.
While parents are finding learning space for their children, they are often looking for their own places to work from. Are their needs different?
“Not necessarily,” says David Boronkay. “In both cases, an area that is separate from the main flow of the house can be repurposed as a home office or classroom. Since most people use laptops and tablets, anywhere with some privacy and a good Wi-Fi signal can become an office with some small furniture adjustments.”
He points out that children do require unique elements that adults in home offices don’t.
“Ideally, a space intended to enrich a young mind will have fun, whimsical elements that make it fun for them to be in the space.”
Just as a kindergarten classroom has space for stories, space for mealtimes and space for naps, so should the home classroom differ according to the age of the students. While the basic design and needs of a space for learning remains the same, regardless of age, Boronkay points out that, for younger students, “You would want a space that allows for different activities. But for older students, it should be a space with minimal distractions.”
In fact, the one element he recommends parents try to keep out of the home classroom is a distracting screen or toy.
“It is important to create a space that can be closed off to alleviate distractions, preferably without a television or a gaming console. These can prove to be a temptation for a child if left to his or her own devices.”
Can any room function as a classroom – a child’s bedroom, say? A kitchen? Dining room?
“A bedroom and dining room, for sure – since those spaces are typically removed from the main flow of a home’s activity,” Boronkay says. “The kitchen is the hub of activity for most families, therefore it is not an ideal spot for a home classroom.”