Create a desk space that’s too cool for school
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Homework is an important part of your child's school day – but how much thought do you give to where they study?
Whether it is learning a list of spellings or an hour or two of concentrated revision, the right kind of homework task can really help to consolidate skills picked up in the classroom.
But just how many times have you seen your son or daughter craned awkwardly over their books, squeezed onto the edge of the kitchen table or – worse still – perched on the sofa with the TV on? Getting children to focus at home can be an ongoing challenge – especially if they share a space with younger, boisterous siblings.
The end of the summer holidays provides the perfect opportunity to spruce up their desks – and communicates just what is expected of them for the rest of the year.
Because each child is different, there are no fixed rules when it comes to creating a study space at home. 'It is worth realising that what may be 'perfect' for one person, may be less than optimal for another,' advises Nick Tiley-Nunn, head of prep at Norwich High School for Girls. 'We all have individual preferences – such as background music – and these should be taken into consideration.'
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Whatever their preference, the environment is an important factor to consider – after all, the right climate can increase both productivity and wellbeing, says Nick. Choosing the right light, temperature and type of furniture are all very important, and while it might seem like the most convenient option, 'think comfortable, upright chair rather than a sofa or a bed.'
Time is crucial to any kind of learning. 'A clock can be a student's worst enemy – or best friend, depending how they use it,' says Nick. 'Set an amount of time to complete the task and stick to it.' Christopher Parsons, deputy head of Norwich Lower School and visiting lecturer at University of Buckingham School of Education, agrees: 'Routine and non-negotiable expectations have a powerful focusing effect.'
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But a solid homework routine ultimately relies on having a place to knuckle down and study. 'Have a fixed, preserved and regular place where the student knows they can work,' says Christopher – and ensure that everything they need is close by. 'Reasons to stop and move away should be eradicated where possible,' he says. 'So make sure they have everything that they need for working in that one place.'
While technology such as PCs, tablets and smart phones do just that – putting hundreds of resources and tools in one place, at the touch of a button – they can also become their very own distraction. 'Have no potentially distracting technology in the room unless it is definitely going to be needed!' says Christopher. 'Just having an active messaging service near you apparently diminishes focus and increases errors – even when you don't respond to it. According to some studies, it can be equivalent to a 10% drop in IQ.'
Of course, allocating desk space for your child simply isn't possible in every home, or for every child – and that's okay, says Nick. 'I would argue that homework should not be undertaken alone but ideally within a communal space.'
In a busy family home, this can present obvious challenges. But 'by completing homework in the company of others we are presented with a fantastic opportunity to reinforce the learning that is taking place by talking about it,' says Nick. 'Ask questions, test their understanding and appreciate the work that they have put in.'
Of course, having a fixed place to study – and access to the tools – is not everything. Nick and Christopher agree that learning should in fact be fluid, taking place in lots of different places. 'Students of all ages benefit from learning away from a desk or table,' says Nick. 'Get outside, talk to people with different experiences and viewpoints, read, visit libraries and museums and pursue passions, interests and hobbies.'
And when it comes to the final stages of revision, Christopher advises that actually getting out, about and away from the desk can help to improve recall: 'The most powerful technique for developing recall is quizzing ourselves without notes to look at. This should be done in a variety of places and situations to ensure transfer across to the different kinds of tasks and environments which you might be required to perform in.'
For more inspiration, check out Beautiful Homes and Gardens.