Don’t let space and money constraints keep you from creating a great study space for your children. These tips from renowned designers and card experts will help you get the most out of your back-to-school budget.
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If you want to help your children do their best in school this year, consider setting up a designated homework area.
No matter where you put it, “having that place to go is an important thing to establish,” says designer Maxwell Ryan, author of Apartment Therapy: The Eight-Step Home Cure.
Whether your biggest challenge is a shortage of space or money (or both), a few top designers have 10 tips to help – including strategies they use in their own homes.
To offset costs, we’ve also included a few expert credit card hacks to get the most out of that back-to-school budget:
See related: Best credit cards for back-to-school purchases
10 tips to set up the ideal study space
1. Consider your child’s study needs
Some people do their best work surrounded by noise and chaos, while others thrive on quiet. What environment best suits your young scholar?
Also, “think about how you interact with the children while studying,” says Kerrie Kelly, author of My Interior Design Kit.
Do they need a little parental help in staying on task? Do you want or need to keep an eye on them – especially if studying involves online technology?
Different children may have different needs, says Vern Yip, HGTV and TLC designer and author of Vacation at Home. You might have one who prefers bright colors and a little background noise, while another does better with soothing colors and less distractions.
2. Use good lighting
“Even if you’re tight on space, you need a space that’s comfortable with plenty of light,” she says. Her solution: A spot that has overhead light, plus a desk lamp. “You can even put touch lighting under stuff – there are so many solutions.”
Vern Yip’s favorite: LED lights. Not only do the bulbs last for decades, but the technology can mimic the warmth of traditional incandescent lighting, he says.
- Use a variety of light sources (overhead lights, can lights, table lamps and floor lamps) to create an even light level throughout the room which minimizes eye strain, he recommends.
- Put overhead lights on a dimmer to let children adjust for changing levels of natural light, says Yip, who’s also a father of two.
3. Understand universal dimensions
Most desks are between 29 and 31 inches high, says Yip. So are most dining room tables – as well as a lot of bedside and console tables.
“What’s magical about that dimension is that it overlaps with other things in our world,” he says. Likewise, most office chairs (just like dining room chairs), are about 19 inches from floor to seat.
Don’t have room for a full-sized desk? You might be able to substitute something else that’s the right height.
With space tight in his own New York apartment, Yip opted for a bedside console that doubles as a desk. The height is the same, and the smaller horizontal surface fits the room.
See related: How to get a credit card as a college student
4. Include storage
The foundation of a study area is a horizontal surface to write and some storage above or below.
“A little rolling cart with wheels is a good solution,” says Ryan. Look for one with either cubbies or drawers to contain their school stuff.
One option he used: A small file drawer that rolls under the desk. And it’s “pretty easy to do as children need more storage,” he says.
5. Don’t be afraid to keep it simple
Study areas don’t have to be fancy or expensive. “A little Ikea desk and a swivel chair” is what Ryan set up in his own home. “You can get a nice, clean affordable surface and it can be quite small. And it doesn’t have to be a big space, either,” he says.
6. Let spaces multitask
Wireless tech makes it easy for rooms to do double duty. And that’s a real lifesaver when space is tight. Add a little hidden storage or storage on wheels and that dining room or guest room becomes a homework area and vice versa.
“In our dining room, it can convert very quickly to a homework station,” says Yip. One star of the show: A sideboard that hides a wireless printer.
See related: Your ultimate guide to back-to-school savings
7. Think outside the box
Extra space for a study area can come from the most surprising places. For one client, Kelly converted an unused closet into a cute study nook. Her team removed the door and the outside wall, then installed a horizontal slab that ran from one end to the other to serve as a desk.
Kelly put in towers for storage on either side, with a bulletin board over one side of the desk. The unique space also offered an advantage: “Because a closet has height, we were able to put a lot of stuff at a higher level,” Kelly recalls.
8. Add a punch of color and personal touches
Use your children’s favorite colors. Or let them choose colorful objects and tools for their study area.
But color doesn’t have to be expensive. Office supply stores and big box stores are loaded with inexpensive and colorful school supplies. Want to feed their creativity? You can get “Sharpies or pencils in all the colors of the rainbow,” says Kelly.
And let children help. “To make it appealing, part of it is getting the kids involved in the design,” says Kelly. “So that they want to be there.”
Ryan’s young scholar used plants. “It’s her way of making it a space she gravitates toward,” he says.
Other options to personalize can include: a bulletin board (for interests, artwork or accolades) or a unique lamp.
9. A comfortable, supportive chair is key
For reading assignments, the bed can be a comfortable place to curl up to read. But for writing, research and math, it’s better to have a place where you can sit up and write or type on a flat surface, Ryan says.
Yip agrees. “A comfortable chair is super important,” he says. Also look for something that fits the desk and supports the child’s back.
10. Demonstrate regular ‘desk maintenance’
By their very nature, desks get cluttered. Children need to go through regularly and “declutter and get rid of things,” says Ryan.
Teach your young scholars by making that same decluttering behavior part of your own routine, says Ryan, who likes to declutter work areas about once a week. Says Ryan, “The best way is to model it, and do it in your own space.”