Homeschooling infrastructure

Published by Lori Pickert on December 27, 2008 at 05:08 PM

What has become of our infrastructure, which is so crucial to productivity? — Thomas L. Friedman, Time to Reboot America (New York Times Op-Ed piece)

What is the relationship between infrastructure and productivity?

Reggio educators speak of the learning environment as the “third teacher”:

A Space That Teaches

The environment is seen here as educating the child; in fact it is considered as ‘the third educator’ along with the team of two teachers.

In order to act as an educator for the child, the environment has to be flexible: it must undergo frequent modification by the children and the teachers in order to remain up-to-date and responsive to their needs to be protagonists in constructing their knowledge. All the things that surround the people in the school and that they use — the objects, the materials, and the structures — are seen not as passive elements but on the contrary as elements that condition and are conditioned by the actions of children and adults who are active in it.

The Hundred Languages of Children

What is your homeschooling infrastructure?

Do your children have the space and the tools they need to do the work you want to encourage?

Is their environment responsive to their needs?

Look at your children’s space with a critical eye, from their perspective — their height, their ability level. What message does it send? The space speaks to your children; what does it say? Where does the focus lie?

One example:

I visited a classroom where the teachers spoke of their frustration about the fact that all the children wanted to play in the block area. They would try to crowd into this small space together, and there weren’t enough blocks for more than two or three children. They wanted to find ways to lure the children to the other parts of the classroom.

They were floored by my suggestion that they get more building materials and enlarge the block area. The classroom resources needed to be allocated fairly across the different areas of the classroom. And the children needed to learn to share, to wait their turn. The classroom should be evenly populated, and the children needed to participate in a larger variety of activities, not just play in the block area.

I asked them to reexamine these ideas and the way they were viewing the children’s behavior.

They were taking a very negative view of the children all trying to get into the block area together — the children were being stubborn, they didn’t want to wait their turn, they all wanted access to the same materials. Observing them, however, it very quickly became apparent that the children were really motivated by excitement (by work done by a few specific children) and wanting to work together — something the teachers had been trying to encourage! They didn’t even recognize it because it wasn’t happening in the way they had planned for, anticipated, and wanted.

Sometimes observation can be a way to get beyond your surface emotions and prejudices and uncover the reality of what is happening. You see that the children aren’t fighting but frustrated, aren’t stubborn but deeply engaged.

Making room for the children to work together, giving them more materials so they could do more and better work — it transformed a difficult classroom with two frustrated co-teachers into a large, energetic project with two very excited teachers. The energy from the building then spilled naturally into the other areas of the classroom, pulling in writing and measuring, drawing and painting, etc.

The environment — the infrastructure — of the children’s learning space wasn’t keeping up with and responding to their needs. Once the infrastructure changed, the work took off. But it couldn’t happen until the teachers took a deep breath and examined their own attitudes and prejudices as well as what was really happening right in front of them.

Look at your child’s learning space and look at the work your child wants to do, the work you want to encourage. Then think about what you might change. Little changes can make a big, big difference.


Comment by Sarah Jackson on December 27, 2008 at 08:31 PM

this is very timely for me, since I'm ready to structure a learning space. I'm looking forward to seeing what other people are doing.

Comment by Lori Pickert on December 27, 2008 at 08:55 PM

i’m getting ready to make some changes, too, in both of the boys’s rooms and the studio .. nothing like the new year to focus you on goals and good changes!

Comment by Lia on December 28, 2008 at 12:58 AM

Excellent points about observation and space. Although I do not homeschool, I am always teaching my kids. We organized their library today and are planning to restructure our art/craft area for more more reading and writing. My six year old really wants to teach her sister (3) to read.

Comment by sarah on December 28, 2008 at 02:03 AM

this post is hitting home right now. our home is not that big, and with my mil living with us and many areas of our home already doing double and triple duty is hard to create that space sometimes. The need to strew and leave things out for exploring versus my unending need to tidy often conflict. on the top of my list right now is to get a microscope and make a microscope depot somewhere so it is accessible to all of us.

Comment by Lori Pickert on December 28, 2008 at 02:42 AM

lia, nice. :^) a good beginning to the new year!

sarah/krommama, yes, working with limited space is really challenging. i like hearing about other people’s solutions. a microscope is a great idea!

Comment by Nancy G. on December 28, 2008 at 04:37 AM

Lori, how can I become part of the forum? Are you still planning a study group for after the holidays?

Comment by Lori Pickert on December 28, 2008 at 04:38 PM

nancy, yes - and i will send you a key to the forum.

Comment by Aimee on December 28, 2008 at 11:01 PM

We are always switching and organizing our spaces to make them work for our whole family and it hard sometimes to combine space for play and exploration and quiet (and neat) living spaces for all of us. In January we are finally creating a dedicated studio space in an extra bedroom and I am very excited, I love planning and organizing spaces especially for my kids! I have studied all of your inspiring images of spaces for children.

I would love to be able to be a part of the forums...

Comment by Alice on December 29, 2008 at 09:17 AM

We live in a two bedroom apartment. I used to think it was too small a space to consider homeschooling - until I realised how small my daughter's classroom is!

I really miss how empty our house was 7 years ago, when my eldest was born - we have accumulated so much stuff in the meantime.

Everything in our house gets moved around a lot, depending on wether it is getting used or not. A lot of books are stored in boxes and stowed in wardrobes along with eccess toys.

Art materials are stored within easy reach of the eldest but out of the way of the 2 year old (because she likes to draw on books) on top of the bookcase/sideboard next to the very large dining table/sewing table/craft table (which is almost permenantly covered with an oilcloth). Paper for drawing is stored on the shelves along with the books - A3 horizontally, on top of the books - and cardboard is stored between bookcase and wall. Messy paints have just been moved to a shelf in the bathroom and the towels are still sitting on the edge of the bath waiting for a new home. The artwork gets displayed on our doors or on top of the bookshelves. A4 and smaller artwork gets filed in display books. Bigger stuff gets stored in flat boxes.

I was offered a very large, solid wood, wardrobe which would have been perfect for storing my sewing and art material in the corner of the dining room, but I went for a piano instead. So far, all we store on top of that is music books - and the nativiy scene - but a have a friend with a baby grand and I have seen a lot of stuff on top of that:P

We have one small desk for the computer, printer and dictionaries, all the rest of our work gets done elsewhere - either at the kitchen table, or my daughter's preffered place, a low table in the loungeroom with a kiddy sized chair. I have an aversion to sittingfacing a wall so I wasn't too preoccupied about desks.

I notice, watching my older nieces too, that everyone has their preferred writing/drawing spaces. One niece will always sit at the dining table to write, the other on the floor or lying on my bed, my daughter at her little chair and table.

Our house does look quite chaotic/lived in but no so much now as when my daughter's games/works-in-progress took up the whole living room for days at a time:) In any case, it feels quite odd to me to be in a perfectly tidy house - quite pleasant at first and then strangely impersonal.

My question is, where do you store all your childrens' work and do you ever :whisper: throw it out?


Comment by Barbara on December 29, 2008 at 11:33 AM

this is great, especially after the arrival of all the gifts from well-meaning family members. will have to make sure I keep a handle on it all in our tiiny flat. Lori, I would also love a key to the forum (that sounds so cool! hehe). thanks!

Comment by Lori Pickert on December 29, 2008 at 03:55 PM

aimee, i would love it if you would share photos of your space with us when you’re done -- before and after, if you want!

i agree with you -- making space for kids is the best. :^)

i have sent you a forum key -- the e-mail will come direct from the site, so watch your spam folder!

Comment by Lori Pickert on December 29, 2008 at 04:14 PM

alice, i *do* get rid of things, although the boys’ projects stretch out over months and so we tend to keep them for a long time first. eventually, though, i will photograph things for posterity and then let them go.

i admit i have a lot more trouble getting rid of two-dimensional (flat) works -- i store about a zillion of them in rubbermaid tubs. i have sorted the oldest bins and kept only 3, say, of 3,000 drawings of a specific thing. :^P

you make a lovely point about children liking to work in their own favorite spots, whether it’s at a particular table or on the floor. but i want to emphasize that i still think having their own undisturbed spot to collect and organize their work is a good goal.

my 9yo has a desk of his own and he tends to do a lot of drawing comics there, but he has taken to doing project work with me at the dining table. this is challenging because there is no wall space for a bulletin board, so we’re using a giant inch-thick piece of corkboard that we can slide under the couch or behind a cabinet when necessary. then he has a bin to hold his books, sketchbook, notebooks, etc.

re: *storing* the artwork i keep, i have created extra storage space by using bed boosters to raise all the beds high enough to store large rubbermaid tubs underneath. even the bunk bed, which can’t be raised, hides three large shallow containers that can hold a *lot* of drawings. sketchbooks and journals i date and store in boxes in the closet. we need to do a round-up sharing storage ideas!

estea wrote a lovely post in the forum about working to organize her space:

Comment by Lori Pickert on December 29, 2008 at 04:18 PM

barbara, i will send you your key ;^) i am the keymaster!

how do you deal with that new influx of stuff? do you get rid of old things to make room for new? luckily our boys have aged to the point where they get mostly *small* things for presents .. tiny, easily lost DS cartridges, etc. ;^)

Comment by estea on December 29, 2008 at 04:37 PM

good stuff, maynard.


Comment by Maria on January 21, 2010 at 07:27 AM

We are in a new space and trying to find the best way to set up our environment still so that it meets the needs of the 22 month old and the 6 1/2 and 4 1/2 year old...still a work in progress but getting closer.

For art our solution has been that each child has a binder filled with empty sleeves and when they do something they want to keep it goes inside...otherwise it makes its way to far away friends and relatives or is repurposed as gift wrap or something of the sort. That is in addition to their various sketch books and notebooks.

I am curious about the forum/key talk...may I ask what it all means?

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 21, 2010 at 03:03 PM

hi maria,

to post in the forum you need a password and a membership to the site. that is the forum/key talk. :^)

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