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Creating a homework space that motivates. Maybe.

A small niche under a dormer was turned into a study space by designer Jill Litner Kaplan.
A small niche under a dormer was turned into a study space by designer Jill Litner Kaplan. (Michael J. Lee)

Though the battle against homework endures, it’s likely here to stay. Homework standards are much different than they were decades ago, with most kids beginning to get after-school assignments in first grade. Many kids find that spreading their study supplies out across the kitchen table — as many of their parents did back in the day — isn’t cutting it.

“Homework is serious business,” says Karen Kolp, an educator who runs the podcast, We Turned Out Okay. “It’s a huge part of many millions of school children’s lives. Kids and parents need all the help they can get in coping with it.”

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Meanwhile, most kids aren’t eager to dive into their homework, especially after a long day. To avoid a battle with your child, Kolp says timing is key.

“Try to get homework done at a non-pressure time. So many tears come when we say, ‘OK, there’s 10 minutes until dinner — time to finish your math homework.’ ”

For younger children, getting it out the way soon after they come home from school can be a smart choice. “With activities and dinner a solid routine can help avoid struggles,” she says. “It’s a way of teaching kids how to prioritize, too, as they get older and are involved in more after-school activities.”

Once you cover the “when” the next concern is “where.” Experts agree that having a designated study space is a key to homework success.

Jill Litner Kaplan, a West Newton interior designer, says that in every family home she designs she considers where the children who live there will study. “Even if the kids are really little at the time and the parents aren’t concerned about it, we think about where a desk could go,” says Kaplan, who is the mother of two teenagers.

Many homeowners opt to create study areas in the kitchen or in a family office/project space where more than one person can work at the same time.

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“Particularly in families with younger children, many parents want their kids to have study spaces in central areas so they can monitor what they are doing on the computer,” says Peter Sachs, an architect in Newton who designs many desk areas off kitchens or in common areas throughout the house. In one home, Sachs transformed an area off of a second-floor bedroom that had been used as an oversize closet into a study space for a family with three children.

“We were able to install counters on both sides of the room that function as a great work space to spread out,” says Sachs. Ample bookshelves line the walls and closed cabinet storage provides area to store projects and school papers.

In any kids’ workspace, storage is key, says Kaplan. “Girls especially are pack rats. They always want more storage and room to display.”

A combination of open shelving with drawers or cabinets below is
ideal. “White boards or magnetic boards are also important,” she says. Another essential is task lighting such as a desk lamp with an adjustable neck that will direct light appropriately.

Kids generate a crazy amount of paperwork. Magazine files or flat file bins work well for housings assignments, materials, and those art projects that they want to hang on to. Be wary of keeping too much stuff though, says Kolp. She recommends hanging on to a few precious assignments and projects and taking photos of others that you discard so you’ll remember them.

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For older kids, Kaplan frequently designs desk areas in their bedrooms.

“As kids get older they typically are most productive away from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the house,” she says. Built-in desks are a great asset, says Kaplan. “They don’t always have to be big, either.”

In one home, she designed a small desk to be tucked under a dormer in a girl’s bedroom. “There wasn’t a lot of space to work with; the dormer area was a throwaway space that we were able to utilize.”

John Day, an interior design principal with LDa Architecture & Interiors, recommends creating desk areas that can grow with the child. In one young boy’s room, he designed a built-in bed integrated with shelving and a desk. “When we designed the space he was big into Legos and wanted to display his creations,” says Day. As the boy gets older, he’ll display different items or use the area to store books. Drawers offer concealed storage.

Desks don’t have to be built in — an off the shelf piece will do nicely. When investing in a desk, it’s wise to choose one that can be used elsewhere in the house down the road. Before you buy, consider the height of the piece. Could it become a vanity, a desk in your home office, or a sideboard in the hallway?

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The same holds true for rooms entirely devoted to study spaces -- keep in mind what purpose they could serve after kids grow up. “Often, homework alcoves and study areas become really nice home gyms when the kids move out of the house,” says Day.


Jaci Conry can be reached at jaci@jaciconry.com.