A Reality Check and a Few Answers

P1080917I am so astonished at your kind responses to my recent post, A Detailed Look Through the Learning Spaces. Thank you all so much for reading that long post…and for leaving such heart-warming comments.

Many of you had questions you left me, and some of you commented about some things I wanted to clarify. To answer, I thought I’d just leave you a post…

So…with an eye towards reality…let me try to answer your questions:

Angel writes…I just have one question… where did you get the calendar on your supply cabinet, or did you make it? (You may have posted something about your calendar in the past and I am just drawing a blank.)

Angela – the calendar on my storage cabinet was hand sewn by one of the teen girls in our homeschool group several years ago. It’s easy to make. First, you would need to print up the cards (dates, Feast days of the year, short prayers, liturgical season) on cardstock and measure them. The wall pockets are made from a sturdy cotton twill. It’s a lot of straight sewing. It is wonderful for the children to keep up with the date and liturgical time of year! There are 3 D-rings sewn on the top for hanging. The children update the calendar daily. If anyone is interested leave a comment and I’ll do an up close and detailed post on the calendar.

Knights’Mama writes…One quick question – is the room limited to homeschool stuff only? Where do your children keep their other toys?

Our toys live in the children’s rooms. That is not to say that an occassional lego man or American Girl doll doesn’t migrate downstairs occassionally…ok…often, but we have a routine for making sure upstairs toys get back upstairs. I call it the quick tidy. More on that below…

Lucy writes…I feel that, within our own limitations – I suspect our home and budget are both much tinier than yours – I need to try and make home ed a more beautiful and inspiring option for us. You have very blessed children to have such creative and motivated parents sharing such a gorgeous learning environment with them.

You know, I should have mentioned that these pictures and the materials you see in them from the art supplies to the table, chairs, copier, and cabinet are the result of collecting a little at a time for the last 10 – 12 years. We’ve been at this homeschooling thing in earnest for 10 years now. I knew from the moment our little Sweet Pea came along that this is the direction we were headed though, and I’ve been collecting and gathering some resources since that time. Rob and I decided and agreed early on that we would err on the side of generosity when it came to investing in the children’s education. And we do, as often as we are able and within our means. Not everything you see in my learning room posts are necessary for a full and complete education, but everything you see represents materials we’ve discerned or discovered would assist us in valuable ways on this journey.

We’ve added to our collection in two ways – the little at a time approach and the bulk summer buy approach. Large purchases, like our picture book library cart and our geography cabinet, are made over the summer with the large allowance Rob gives me for school for the year. Smaller purchases come out of my weekly spending allowance.

When it comes to small spaces and small budgets my advice is to stick with high-quality, one time purchases of materials that are in and of themselves things of beauty. Quality art supply materials come to mind here. I’ve bought inexpensive art materials before…only to find that they don’t express colors vividly, don’t offer quality in the experience of using them, and often cause more frustration in their use than joy in the experience. This isn’t always the case, but the more we experienced a quality pen or watercolor pencil, the more we appreciated the great beauty and richness of experience in using a material of quality. And, I’ll admit to having a bit of a weak spot for art supplies…some girls have shoe collections…I have watercolor pencils. 🙂

Tracy writes…Question (for future house hunting) what are the dimensions of your room?

Our learning room is supposed to be the dining room of the house. The room dimensions are 15 x 13 feet. It is a very open room…which is good and bad. Openness equals less walls for shelves and organizing…although the open feel is very warm and inviting and sunny.

Charlotte writes…I really love the shoe divider storage. Was it hard to remove one of the sections?

No, it really wasn’t. The grids just interlock together and slide in and out of place. I simply took one entire divider section and just slid it right out removing that horizontal divider so that taller books could fit within those sections. It has been a good solution.

And finally, I’ve needed to answer a question from a post I wrote several months ago – Kinder-Play: Play Centers for the Youngest.

Andrea writes…This is a wonderful post! I love seeing how other families handle toys. Realistically, how organized do these different stations of toys stay? I only have little ones (3 girls 4 and under) and I am afraid of constant access to lots of toys due to the mess that we would have to clean up!

We live in our home. We live in these spaces. We play here, and we dump bins out in the middle of the floor! Just as I would tidy my home before you would come over for a cup of tea, I tidy before I take pictures and post them! You don’t need to see all 20 loads of laundry piled on my couch waiting to be folded. That is hardly inspiring…and it sure doesn’t inspire me! So, when you see everything looking peaceful and cheery that’s just how it would look if you came to visit…but then, the children would play and investigate and have fun, and in the evening we would tidy. The key to my homemaking is the quick tidy.

Every afternoon, usually right before Rob gets home from work, each child gets an empty laundry basket. I tell them we’re going to run through the downstairs like backwards tornadoes, picking up everything that has been deposited downstairs all day. I tell them we’re going to move quickly and get this done in just 15 minutes…start the timer…and, GO! We all sweep through swishing items that don’t belong in a room into our baskets. Once a room is picked up, we deposit items from our baskets back on shelves, in bins, and baskets. What is left is usually what belongs upstairs. All those items are deposited in the big wicker basket that lives at the bottom of the stairs. Every evening before bed, the children take up the basket from the bottom of the stairs and dump….I mean…ahem….delicately deposit all their toys, books, and dolls back in their rooms. Some days, we might do 2 or 3 quick tidy times a day, other days, we just tidy before Rob gets home. The quick tidy is the key to my spaces and the order within them. If it can’t be picked up in 15 minutes or less (the time it takes to complete a quick tidy and the sum total of my children’s attention span when it comes to cleaning) I know I have let a space get out of hand and a deep cleaning, purging, and reorganization is required.

I sure hope these answers were helpful in clarifying our learning spaces and what they really look like at any given time. Drop me another comment if you still have a question!

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  1. Jen, I hope my comment did not come over to you – as it does to me in hindsight – as an “oh it's all right for you 'rich' people with 'big' houses” whine! I do agree that quality is better than quantity, and we have very few supplies but what we have we love. I think for me, a big limitation is that while DH would love to be generous, I basically have to squeeze my home ed money out of the grocery/clothes/medicines/shoes fund. That's something I need to work on, with some focus and attention, especially as the children are growing older and will need more money spent so their education continues to exceed that available in school – your posts have been great examples of mindfulness and prioritising education. And I know what you mean about a lack of walls – but oh, all that sunlight streaming in just looks wonderful!

  2. Oh, not at all, Lucy!!! And, I hope I didn't respond that way! I'm very blessed as my husband's work and our location afford a very generous existence! Our home, though not perfect, is quite large. I pray it does not seem that I am flaunting when I post pictures! I am aware of our blessings and so grateful for them, but we are discerning a move in our future that will likely require a GIGANTIC shift in our style of accomodation, so I know this stop here in this lovely location is not a permanent one. I just relish the spaces and the sunshine as long as I can! And, I know that whatever our accomodations in the future, I will hunt down ways to make it a joyful, inspiring space! I'm certain that is exactly what you are doing, Lucy!! Taking on the challenge of both means and location is not an easy one, but it is a worthwhile one! Even a small cushion on the floor nestled in a tiny spot of sunshine can be an oasis! The library (I hope you have a good one!) can fill in many of the spots! And the rest of the collection just comes in little bits at a time – but what a joyful way to collect and gather materials of beauty. The extra time and effort spent gathering leaves you and the children room to enjoy them and really soak them in! Ok…end of my Pollyanna moment!

    Just wanted to assure you that your comment didn't seem a whine at all to me, Lucy! Praying each of us can find joy in our circumstances and challenges and derive inspiration from each other – as unique and varied as our spaces are!

  3. Thanks for the answers to the questions, Jen. 🙂 I would like to see an up close post about the calendar when you have time… although my sewing skills are… well, I don't actually have any sewing skills. So that would be my first difficult. 😉

    Also thanks for the detail about the quick tidy. I have been thinking about this and our problem with displays for a while, and I think I will probably revist that discussion at 4Real. After I prevent a return trip to the ER for J. I don't know what it is with that kid. Time for a nap!

  4. I am so inspired. I am organizationally challenged so I am very glad you were so detailed with your descriptions. I hope to try to organize our learning space this summer also. I moved into a new house, had a baby and started homeschooling all last August. I am still not at the point where everything in our place has a home. This is my dream!:) I would love to hear more about how your daily routines go. I have many great ideas but have difficulty carrying them out. We need more structure. I am not consistent enough in this area and I get overwhelmed when I try to write out a schedule. I have 3 boys ages 6, 3, and 10 months. They are very active. My husband travels and is out of town about 4 days each week. I wish we could have a rhythm of chores, school, and play that was consistent so the kids wouldn't argue about what comes next etc…. How does your day flow?

  5. I just wanted to comment and say thanks for your previous post on your school room, as well as answering questions!!

    On another note, I had been looking for a way to organize my liturgical year and am glad that I stumbled on your post!! I blogged about it myself and gave a link to your post. http://hfclassicalacademy.blogspot.com/

    Thanks for the great ideas!

  6. Dear Jen.
    We also do the quick tidy up about 3 times a day. I also agree that when I take pictures I also tidy up before hand and that it does not look like this all day. But the goal is to live in the home environment so we clean and tidy so we can use the educational and toy supplies and then tidy up again. There is no point having beautiful toys and educational things if you do no let the children use them. Hence the quick tidy up so we can find them when we want them(thats the plan anyway) and still live in a reasonable tidy home
    God Bless

    1. Thank-you so much for the detailed photos of your beautiful home learning spaces! Very inspirational and helpful! I just moved into a new home, had a baby and started homeschooling this year, so we are trying to set up the homeschool room right now and figure out how to organize everything. Where did you get all of your wooden shelves that sit on the floor (nature center shelf, art center shelf, other 3 floor shelves? and what is in the wooden shelf with the globe on it? puzzles?? Did you build the shelves above the bottom shelves? Where did you get the blue adjustable table? I’m trying to figure out the best and most reasonable place to purchase organizing solutions like these. thank-you! I just found your site today upon the recommendation of a friend and I’m so glad!!! I LOVE the suggestion of the angel readers used with the Baltemore Catechism! My friend uses this idea from you and I’m excited to try too. 🙂

      1. Hi Colleen, and thank you for your kind comments and questions! Congratulations on the precious new little one and your new home – so much to settle into! 🙂

        The wooden shelves you ask about are part of a closet organizer system – they’re actually shoe organizers! I’ve had mine for YEARS now and they’re still in use!

        The wooden shelf with the globe on top is a Montessori Geography Puzzle Map cabinet.

        The shelves hanging on the wall are part of a standard track system shelving that you can purchase at any hardware store like Lowe’s and Home Depot.

        The blue table is an activity table. We have several (in differing sizes) in our learning room. We purchase ours here, and you can read more about them in this post.

        Good luck putting your spaces together!

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