One of my main goals for this summer has been to make our house feel like a home. Last August we experienced a whirlwind of change- we moved to a new home in a new community, and one week later I started my new teaching job. Although we managed to get the necessities unpacked in a few weeks and had a few cosmetic updates done here and there, things have mostly remained undecorated and only organized enough to get by. Now that I have the time and energy to devote to our home, first on our agenda are our play and learning spaces. This is even more important to me now that we’ve committed to homeschooling, because I want our environment to support our goal of raising children with a lifelong love of learning.
Our Play and Learning Spaces
Although living in this relatively unsettled state for almost a year hasn’t been fun, it has given us some time to observe how our family lives in our home and really evaluate how to best utilize the space we have. For instance, in our four-bedroom house, each of our twins (age 4) can easily have his/her own room without sacrificing our guest bedroom, which we like to keep for overnight visits from friends and family and will also double as my office/workspace. However, our twins prefer to sleep together in the same room (often the same bed!), so we decided to move them into a common “sleeping room” and turn the other bedroom into a small playroom. This has been one of the best decisions we have made! Getting rid of the extra bed gave us enough room to have a devoted construction area in the playroom, which I’ll be showing you in detail in my next post.
In addition to our playroom, we have a room more central to the house that was intended to be an office, which we will be using as our atelier/homeschool room because of the easy-clean wood floors and big window. We also consider the twins’ shared bedroom to be a play and learning space, as it will house our library of children’s books and quiet reading area.
Our Goals for Designing Spaces
Regular readers of Twodaloo know that I am influenced by my knowledge of child development as well as a variety of early learning philosophies, most notably the Reggio Emilia Approach. I did extensive reading and continuing education on creating stimulating learning environments for young children before I began teaching, and there are many principles that can be applied to home education environments as well. Here are some of the goals I created to keep me on track while designing our play and learning areas:
1. Use Spaces Thoughtfully
Although the size of our home is more than adequate for a family of four, I wanted to be sure that we were using all of our spaces to their full potential. Having the twins share a “sleeping room” is one example…although it seems logical for each of the twins to have their own bedroom, in our case it wasn’t the best use of our space. My end goal is for none of the rooms in our house to go unused or unloved.
2. Edit Carefully
Having a relatively small learning spaces has forced us to critically evaluate our children’s toys, art supplies, etc. in order to keep things accessible, inviting, and (reasonably) uncluttered. I welcome this challenge because I do believe that children who are overstimulated by too much in their environment are less likely to engage in focused play or exploration. We’ve managed to pare down the toys and books magnificently…the hardest thing for me is our art and project supplies. I never met a loose part I didn’t love, and it’s just so hard to give up any of our stash!
3. Maximize Light
This is one that we struggle with in the kids’ bedroom and playroom- with only one window each, they can seem rather cave-like if we aren’t careful. Although we don’t have the beautiful floor-to-ceiling windows of Reggio Emilia classrooms, I’m doing my best to work with what we do have. White walls, mirrors, and creative use of lamps and other light sources are helping us keep the rooms as light, bright, and airy as possible. I’ve been looking at lots of Nordic kids’ room photos for inspiration. Below, the old E.T. nightlight I had as a child pops against a simple white wall.
4. Bring Outside In
A respect for and interest in the natural world is a big part of our homeschool philosophy, so including natural elements such as plants, wood, and various other objects/ephemera throughout our home is important to us. Below are some found nature objects, including a possum jawbone that we found in the woods (and I cleaned myself, eek!).
5. Display Kids’ Work
Having dedicated spots for displaying the twins’ art and eventually project work will be really important throughout our spaces. Not only does it instill a sense of pride and let the children know we value their work, it also allows them to reflect and revisit their experiences and representations during an inquiry, which helps them to expand their ideas. In addition to gallery walls for their art, I plan on having a large blank writing wall for webbing and other forms of mapping/charting ideas during the inquiry process. Digital photo frames and albums are other great space-saving ways to document and display the twins’ work without covering every single inch of our walls with photographs and drawings. The photo below may just look like a jar of jumbled pipe cleaners, but it’s actually a “bouquet” painstakingly arranged and assembled with tape by my daughter. She’s so proud that we sometimes use it as a centerpiece at dinner!
6. Make it US!
It’s so easy to get caught up in the beautiful images of light-filled classrooms and dream-like home settings that are at our fingertips and feel compelled to recreate them exactly. I remember once reading an account written by a teacher who was lucky enough to have the opportunity to tour some of the amazing Reggio Emilia preschools. Her biggest takeaway was that at the end of her time there, one of the Reggio educators said, “Now go home and forget everything you saw here.” Reggio schools are so awe-inspiring and authentic because they reflect the culture of the children that inhabit the classrooms as well as the community at large. Although these schools do incorporate many similar design elements that reflect their philosophy and view of the child, each classroom is unique because each group of students and teachers has its own distinct culture. What that wise educator was trying to say is that simply recreating what you see in a classroom in a different country is not staying authentic to your own community, and is therefore not within the spirit of the Reggio Approach.
Remembering this, I want to be sure that our home education environment isn’t just a copy of something I saw on Pinterest or Instagram- I want it to reflect our interests, values, and passions as a family. I want the aesthetic to be uniquely us- I want someone who walks in the door to say, “This looks just like you guys!” We’re slowly doing this by displaying beloved collections, natural objects from the woods and lake surrounding our neighborhood, thrifted treasures we find together, and things that we make with our own hands. For example, our little play kitchen is filled with mismatched dishes and accessories that we’ve hunted down at thrift stores and junk shops- it’s so fun when each item has a story to tell!
So these are a few guiding principles I’m keeping in mind as I work on our play and learning spaces. I hope you’ve enjoyed this sneak peek into our home- I’ll be posting on each space in detail as it comes together, so check back soon! In the meantime, you can follow along with our playroom progress on Instagram.