Refreshing the Learning Spaces

As promised, I’m here to give you a glimpse into our year-considered.  There is nothing that gives me more delight than this time of year!  The plans are carefully considered, and books are delightfully arranged in baskets, on shelves, and in stacks, inviting all to look closer…to step inside.  The learning spaces are freshened and updated, and children are eager once again to embark on new adventures.  Does it sound overly romanticized?  I don’t mean for it to sound that way, but I am unapologetic about my love of learning anew through my children’s eyes.  It is a joy!  So this isn’t an inaccurate impression of the atmosphere in our home right now!  We are eager, the children and I!  It is a time full of potential treasures to be uncovered within the covers of those books!I thought today I could give you a peek into the learning spaces for this year.  I offered a ridiculously detailed look last year (LOL!), and your response was amazing – so I know you enjoy peeking in!  Though our room is the same, and the sunshine is always streaming in, the children and I enjoy a bit of re-arranging and freshening so the room appears a little different.  It helps with the transition, and making a clear impression that we have moved on from one year to the next.
Looking in and around the space…


You recognize it, right?  We just moved a few tables around.  See how something small makes such a big difference?  And the kids get so excited with a little freshness like this – a small thing like putting a table in a new position or area translates into some excitement!

Above is the view looking in from our long bowling-alley hallway.  See that big open entry space over there on the left?  The one in which my map is hanging…get ready…we’re walking over there next and looking in from that opening standing next to the picture book cart…


Bright today, isn’t it?  Very nice!  You can get a good idea of the overall room from here!  If you’re new, I should let you know up front that this room is a reclaimed dining room.  We did the best we could with it.  Drawback:  I have no formal dining room which I sometimes miss!  Benefit:  It’s one of the sunniest spaces in our home, central to everything…kitchen, laundry, play areas.  It makes living the day much smoother being here in a central part of our home.

Books are arranged in ways that help our family make use of them.  I group by subject matter, and then further sub-divide from there.  We’re blessed with a number of wonderful books, many of which I inherited from my mom’s homeschool library!  In order to be a good steward of these resources, I think it’s important to keep them organized so I can put my hands on a resource immediately!

You’ve seen my storage cabinet if you’ve looked through last year’s Learning Spaces post.  Being in a dining room, I have no closets for storage and there are just some things you don’t want everyone to see!  How I love my storage cabinet!!

Now, for the next picture I’m going to move to my left again…look above….see that area just to the left, where the little blue table and my desk meet?  That’s where I’ll be taking the next picture from.


This looks out through our room, through the hall, and into our living room.  See those book cases there on the back wall of the living room?  Those contain my treasured living history library, grouped by century, and sorted within that.  My shelves are too small, but I’ve decided that I shall have to be content this year…so I had to group and arrange creatively!  It worked!  I made more space!

Let’s look at the spaces for the little people!


This year, I put the little table right next to my desk.  I like being very close to the littlest people!  They have a small basket of favorite poetry books on their table right now.  You can see their picture book cart is near them as well!

The large blue chair you see parked under the side of my desk is our *meeting* chair.  The big kids meet with me once a week and review our plans completed, the plans upcoming, and discuss ideas for improvements, projects, and needs.  It’s a great way for me to offer and receive feedback from my older students.  With 4 in the learning spaces, it’s all about managing time wisely!


The Doodlebug, who is 2 1/2, LOVES to be read to!!  And, she of course loves to draw!  Peanut, my 5 1/2 year old is just beginning to read.   Many of the things they use during their day are contained on the shelf pictured below…


Doodlebug’s day consists of lots of time for play and she is read to…a lot!  Peanut enjoys some Montessori work, lots of books, and art and music time!  It’s gentle and generous!  A perfect combination!  I know you’re wondering what I’m using…I’ll talk more details about the specifics in a future post.  🙂


If you are sitting at the little blue table and look to your left, this is what you see.  This is our smallish geography center with our map cabinet and our puzzle maps of the seven continents.


To the right of the map cabinet is our humble collection of favorite geography resources.  There are several living geography books here, as well as our favorite National Geographic Collegiate Atlas of the World.  I get so irritated with inadequate atlas’!!  For example, some student atlas’ have just a couple of detailed maps of a region.  This is so irritating if you’re reading about an area and can’t find it in an atlas!  And, I intensely dislike twaddly atlas details – like silly little graphs of useless information.  It’s a small pet-peeve (which, upon re-reading what I just wrote…seems not-so-small.  LOL!!!)  I hunted and hunted for an affordable, accurate, detailed, and lovely atlas.  I’m very pleased with the National Geographic Collegiate Atlas.  It fits on the shelf nicely, and contains a great number of details within!  If you’re looking for the creme-de-la-creme atlas and you’ve got lots of space – look no further than the National Geographic Atlas of the World 8th edition, complete with “Ehlermann binding, which enables the atlas to open completely flat so that no information is lost in the center”.  For the rest of us, the Collegiate works great, thank you very much!



A friend shared these alphabet rummy playing cards with me, and I fell in love with them!  So, I used double sided sticky tape and split up the cards, hanging the 26 letters for Peanut to see.  They’re pretty.  🙂  If I hadn’t been so blessed as to be gifted these pretty botanical alphabet cards, I was considering these lovely Letters Flash Cards done in a traditional/vintage style for hanging and displaying.  Wouldn’t they be great?


Here’s the art center!  Still so fabulous for us!  Not sure if the little basket of finger puppets was there last year, but the kids do enjoy those!


Thought you’d enjoy taking a quick look at my desk before we head over to the big kids’ work area and the science and nature spaces!


I am always inspired by Edith Holden, so I keep a copy of the Country Diary of An Edwardian Lady out and open to the right month.  A friend recently shared that there are a number of other books inspired by the style of the Country Diary of An Edwardian Lady and I was astonished…and drooling – had to share!


Here’s my diminutive, but helpful little file basket.  I keep important papers here – notebooking pages, lesson plan outlines, home learning notes masters from Small Meadow Press, ideas and inspiration, weather study worksheets, etc.  It’s a place for those things commonly used to land and be at my fingertips.


My new notebook for the year…decorated and assembled!  I love blue!  (If you’re interested in more about making pretty notebooks, check out my other notebook post and planning in pretty notebooks.)  My inspirational quotes this year are again from Charlotte Mason:

The Life of the Mind Grows Upon Ideas
Be inspired by an Idea.


…and I had leftover paper to cover my little steno note book!  Perfect…and charming!


Now…don’t you want to go refresh your notebook planner?  Pretty scrapbook paper and a 3 ring binder is all you need to get started!  You can print inspirational quotes and verses on your home printer!


Alright…here we are in the big kids area.  We sort of alternate each year between having tables floating in the room…and having them up against a wall.  The nice thing about mounting brackets with adjustable shelves (above the chair rail and wainscoting in our room) in a space is that it leaves the lower half of the wall free to accommodate small shelves or…a table underneath.  What makes it even more convenient is that located on the shelf above the table…are all the books and supplies the older two children need on a daily basis.


Before you ask…let me explain the difference between the books on the shelf and the books in the baskets.

Shelf books:  These books are used throughout the year.  Each child’s Book of Centuries is here, as well as their copywork notebooks, nature journals, and other notebooks.  My 9th grader has some books that look an awful lot like textbooks on that shelf.  Please don’t tell anyone!  LOL!!!

I also found room for an electric pencil sharpener, and the favorite markers and color pencils used for daily nature observations/journaling.

Basket books:  These are living books used during the current quarter of work (except for that one 5th grade math book that I see I forgot to move up to the shelf…hmmm…mental note!)  Many times, we read only a portion of a book for a quarter.  Details on what’s in each of these baskets soon!

Now turning to science…which received a total overhaul!!


I had to rearrange the offerings in my science area in order to make room on some higher shelves for chemistry and biology equipment and supplies for my older students…that my younger students  Rearranging meant taking over the top of my supply cabinet for experiment kits & storage.


I thought it looked nice to display a few of our collections in these clear jars…and they camouflage the stacks of kits behind them…well, ok..they camouflage them somewhat.  The inexpensive plastic containers were just sitting in my pantry unused – so I drafted them into service!


This is the new science area.  It’s really very similar to the set up we had before.  Another broader view of the entire area…


…with all of my living science books, field guides, reference books, etc.


Here are the Doodlebug’s little shelves.  We finished up our little butterfly theme and this area needs to be freshened with something new!

So that’s it!  Our happy little learning spaces freshened for the year.  If we’re not in here…you’ll probably find us out here…


…visiting with this little fella!


We’re ready to roll here – we start our lessons again next week!  I know many of you are just starting your summer break though!  I hope your summer is refreshing, joyful, and leaves you invigorated as you anticipate the year ahead and the gift of learning through your children’s eyes!

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  1. you're inspiring me to finally revamp my school room for the pre-k to 2 grade blessings. my highshooer has her own office.
    how do you keep little ones from destructing your space while you're not looking? and what do you do with little guests? i have a hard time when little friends visit. a school room in the home seems to be a novelty and no matter how many times i declare the room off limits they always make their mark. i'm ready to install a divider of sorts.

    my room is also a former dining room (although it' a lot smaller than yours). it sits off the main hall way that every one must pass through to get the main livng area and kitchen.

    any advice is appreciated.

    pax Christi – lena

  2. JOYfilled Family,
    Though the little ones do sometimes get into something in the learning room, I work hard to establish good habits of ask-first-before-you-take. I'll also say that because this room is in the middle of our home, it's rare that I'm NOT watching in here! If someone does get into something, they must help put things away.

    As for guests, it's true, they find the room super inviting! First, I put all the things that we REALLY care about, or that might deliver damage if used improperly, behind locked doors if we're to have little guests so that they aren't tempted and I can be comfortable and at ease. Then, the kids and I acknowledge that we like that room being inviting, so we let guests explore and just accept that a certain amount of tidying will be involved. As long as no permanent damage was done, all's well!

    Mommy Moment,
    I'd love to stop by your blog and check out your classroom! Hey…if your space feels dark, why not consider some lighting with bulbs that give off more of a natural light? That really helps! And, maybe painting your room in a cheery, soft color using a semi-gloss that will reflect light and bounce it around the room?

    Thanks for your kind words, ladies!!!!!

  3. I love those Melissa Sweet alphabet cards! We have the same ones in a bigger version in Tulip's room- and my learning room walls have the bird/counting ones. Isn't her artwork the best?!

    Lovely post!

  4. WOW!!! I loved your post last year and this one is just as good. Again, I marvel at your ability to use every speck of space you can find. AND, it doesn't look cluttered! Totally amazing!

    I'm wondering how your shelves are mounted so they can hold so many books. We're overflowing our bookcases and I think there's more space with that type of shelf, not to mention being able to go to the ceiling 😉 Everything looks great!

  5. Kelly asked:

    >>> I'm wondering how your shelves are mounted so they can hold so many books. <<< Kelly,
    I can't recommend highly enough the track mounting system you can find in your local hardware store. We bought ours from Lowe's, but I've seen them at Home Depot as well. The system is comprised of tracks you mount to the wall, and brackets for holding shelves. You purchase the tracks in the length you need. Rob mounted the tracks to studs in the wall for me. Each shelf will hold 80 pounds. To the bottom shelf of each *set*, I use two screws up through the bracket and into the bottom of the shelf. This means the shelf doesn't tip or move at all.

    Another thing I LOVE about this system of shelving is that you can do it a little at a time as budget allows. It took us about a year to get all our shelves in place, but it's soooo worth it!

    Hope this helps!

  6. I love it, love it!!!! I want to come and visit:) All of it is so inspiring, and you have just given me an idea, your meeting chairs are a brilliant idea:) I'm going to use that when we revamp.

  7. what a beautiful, efficient, organized, bright schoolromm! and i clicked on all your links to your other posts, and my goodness, you are organized! loveloveit ! what inspiration you are,

  8. I could seriously cry because of the generosity you've shown by sharing with us. I cannot WAIT to see your book lists. I am having a nervous breakdown at the moment, as I'm so worried about which way to jump in my schooling. I have so many people giving me so much conflicting advice that I'm overwhelmed. Just seeing a well-organized schoolroom like yours gives me some peace and encouragement as I plan our new year. Thank you!!!!

  9. So lovely and inspiring as always Jen 🙂 Having just moved I have a blank slate to work with, oh the joy of organizing!! Much love and have a great first week 🙂

  10. I am just trying my hand at putting a curriculum together for my eldest daughter (just five) and am struggling to organise it a little. I know what I want to cover in Maths and literacy (learning to read with phonics) and science, using Montessori with fun and games mixed in to keep it fresh. I'm approaching history and geography together in a projecty way but not sure how to decide what to do when through the year….. how do you decide?

    Also would love to have a list of your living geography books….. I can't find many at all!!

    very inspired, thankyou!


  11. As always Jennifer, simply lovely!

    You may want to consider hanging the alphabet cards with velcro. I did this with an alphabet train puzzle..they could take it down to play with it on the floor or stick it to the velcro on the wall (or for us the edge of the chalkboard) already assembled! I just added a few velcro dots to the back of each piece and voila! The stickiest part was on the wall and the softer side on each piece!

    I am looking to adding these shelves to our dining room (which is our school room) We still have our table and all… but it will give us more room for it by freeing up that bottom wall space where we keep it…good idea!
    I keep many of our math manipulatives in the china cabinet…it is 1/2 dishes and 1/2 school with the extra dishes stored in the attic…

    My friend kept her formal dining room…she just covered the shelves when she had a dinner party and wrote the menu on the chalkboard…LOL!

  12. I LOVE that idea Donna Marie…about velcro-ing the little alphabet cards so they can come down on an as needed basis!


    Love the menu on the chalkboard idea! Ya think the in laws would mind eating at the little blue table? LOL!!!!!!

  13. Jenni wrote:

    >>> I'm approaching history and geography together in a projecty way but not sure how to decide what to do when through the year….. how do you decide?

    Also would love to have a list of your living geography books….. I can't find many at all!! <<< At 5, Jenni, I don't do anything formal at all…well…for much of anything. Now, what I do a lot of is picture books! So, my recommendation is to use a lot of great picture books for history and geography ideas and just enjoy them. If you're inspired to do a project based on something you've read together – that's great! If not – also great! Just read together! Let's see…some ideas…I'm going to give you some authors that you can't go wrong with…and then a good booklist to use as a guide. ** Robert McCloskey books
    ** Virginia Lee Burton
    ** Elizabeth Orton Jones
    ** Eloise Wilkin
    ** Ludwig Bemmelman
    ** Munro Leaf
    ** Tasha Tudor
    ** Beatrix Potter
    ** A.A. Milne
    ** My First Little House books
    ** Rebecca Caudill
    ** Hilda van Stockum

    While not all of the author's above wrote about historical periods, all wrote classics. Young children don't yet have a concept of time, so the idea of *history* is vague and mysterious. During these early years feed and nourish their imaginations with great *stories* from history. Read aloud from Holling C. Holling, or Rebecca Caudill, and around 3rd grade, you can gently begin to introduce the idea of time, where we are in it, and how to place some of these stories in time that you've been reading about!

    Geography is super simple!!!! If you're reading about Madeline — go to the map and find Paris. Put your finger there. Now, find where you live. Look how far apart they are…separated by an ocean. Done. Maybe tomorrow you could ask your daughter if she remembers where we live on the map…and does she remember where Madeline lived? What's that called? Paris! Right! And you're done with geography!

    How simple and fun is that?!

    Now…here's some great booklists for you to sink your teeth into!

    Ambleside's booklist compilations:

    Simply Charlotte Mason's Early Years List:

    You've inspired me! I'll get started on what my plans look like for my earliest years and post them first!

    Hope this helps, Jenni!

  14. You are such a gem, thankyou so much for taking the time to list all of that and to explain so well how my daughter will understand History and Geography at her age!! I'm off to make a cup of tea now before settling down to read you early years post!!!

    Warm Wishes, Jenni x

  15. Beautiful and inspiring, thank you, Jen! Now, I need to re-organize for our summer term!

    One quick question: how do you handle books in your entire house? You have so many in the learning room. Do they stay there all the time, do the kids take stories and read them in another room, do they need to be returned to the LR immediatly, or live on the coffee table until they're done? If you're reading books for “school”, does that only occurr in the learning room at a table? Thanks so much!

  16. Hi annemcd!

    Let's see…how do I handle books in the house?

    I don't have rules about where a book can be read…but I do provide a special basket for books in the learning room and I do ask that books be returned to that basket after being read. So, if a child wants to sit on the front porch swing and read – Great! But, when they're done, they know to return their book to the book basket. I have various baskets around the learning room – some for teatime reads, a basket for each child, and sometimes I have baskets for nature study themed books. Baskets just happen to be my favorite container for book collections. Books are returned to baskets. I'm pretty good about checking on that.

    An exception might be read-alouds. Those might live on the table next to my rocking chair. Also, if a child is really enjoying reading one of their books on their own time, I don't mind if it goes to their room.

    Does reading only occur in the learning room at a table? No way! My kids are free to take books and read wherever they like – sometimes outside! It's their choice really! Sometimes they do sit at the table…other times it's on the couch…in a rocking chair in the sunshine…porch swing…outside fort.

    Hope that helps!

  17. I know you mentioned that you use the bracket shelving. But what are the actual shelves made of? They look so solid.

  18. Hi Sarah.

    The shelves are the standard shelves offered with this system at Lowe's and Home Depot. I *think* (I could be wrong) that they're actually manufactured by Rubbermaid…but regardless, they're really just very solid pressboard. They're not real wood at all. They are displayed in exactly the same area as the brackets and hardware for the shelving system, which is usually found in the closet organizer section. There are a few different choices of colors/finishes as well as sizes. In a perfect world – they WOULD BE real wood, and you certainly COULD use wooden shelves if your budget or other resources allowed for it.

    Hope this helps!

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