I read an article today that talked about how the author’s family had decided the best way for them to “do school” was to “separate home and school.” I read with some interest how this family had designated a room that they would use strictly for school and not allow their school to “take over the house”. I remember being of the same opinion several years ago.
When we began homeschooling in 1991 we used the kitchen table for our book learning and the living room sofa for the other activities, like reading aloud, that worked better in a cuddling position. As the years went on I dreamed of a room that I could use just for school. A place where we could spread out our materials, projects, and experiments and not have to move everything when the school day was over. I dreamed about this for nine years and finally, when my oldest student was 17 and the youngest a newborn, I got my schoolroom. It wasn’t just any old room, it had two walk-in closets. One I turned into a library and the other, a reading room with a futon mattress on the floor and lots of pillows. It also had a set of large east facing windows that let in the morning sun. I had one wall of cabinets with shelves to the ceiling and a filing cabinet. I also had several individual desks and a large table that had come from the local elementary school. The best part was the authentic 1950’s blackboard salvaged from the same elementary school. My husband hung the blackboard and even designed a chalk tray much like it must have had in the original classroom.
It was a great room, everything I had ever dreamed of. There was only one problem. We didn’t use it. We still preferred to do our learning all over the house at all times of the day. What I had thought I wanted was what I remembered as a child; a classroom with lots of supplies and all sorts of wonderful things to explore. We had the supplies alright, we also had the space. But it wasn’t all I had hoped it would be. There was something rather sterile and squelching about trying to force learning to take place in that one room.
Something I had learned during those nine years of waiting for the perfect room was that you can’t confine truly exciting learning to a single space. We had discovered that we could learn anywhere and in fact, that was what we’d come to do naturally. We had our school room for four years and it mostly became a storage room for our materials. We still did our learning in the living room and at the table in the kitchen. We also learned on a huge quilt on the front porch and on the picnic table in the backyard. We learned in the van, at the library, at the park, and at other people’s houses.
When we moved from Ohio to Iowa in 2005 we spent many hours looking at houses. The requirements that we felt we needed didn’t include a school room. We ended up in a home that has a room with bookshelves to the ceiling on two walls and they are filled with books. We have space for the kids to play with their legos and build with other materials but we have no desks or other schoolroom furnishings. We do our schoolwork all over, just as we did in Ohio. Learning has become such a part of living that we really don’t feel comfortable confining it to a separate place as though it is something that we do apart from our everyday lives. At our house, learning is living, so we do most of it in the living room!