Where They Want To Be (or, you don't need a school-room to homeschool)

The house we currently live in has the most "living space" of any home we've had.

There are three distinct shared living spaces: a small finished walkout basement with a woodstove; a one-room addition that houses our outdoor gear, the treadmill, a desktop computer, a futon and all the craft supplies - we call this "the studio"; and our living and dining room which is an extension of our open kitchen. This is the space you see most often on the blog.

chalet dining room

There are a few reasons you see this space more than any other. It has fabulous natural light, so it photographs well. It is attached to the kitchen where I spend a lot of time and where my camera is close at hand. And it's the place where nearly all the action happens, and therefore most of the photos are taken.

When we moved into this house last summer I imagined the studio (the addition I mentioned above) with its wall of windows, high ceiling, easy access to craft materials, and oriental rug floor (the only carpet in the house) would be the place for doing stuff. That's why I called it the studio.

kids painting on couch

I imagined a living room floor and futon that would remain mostly clean and clutter free. (Which would have been the first time ever in our family life, but hey, a girl can dream.) I imagined the clutter of family living and creativity would be kept in another room. I named the room in anticipation of that. Ha, ha!

It turns out, after living nearly a year in a home with ample space to spread out, my kids want to be where they have always been. Close to the kitchen and close to me.

girl on computer

Even our teen, who has a private loveseat nook in her room, spends most of her day at the kitchen counter - learning, creating, and connecting with friends on her computer.

It would seem she wants to remain smack dab in the middle of the action, surrounded by cooking and clutter. I love it. I wouldn't wish for it to be any other way.

I wonder if this is what happens when you don't push your children away as babies, toddlers and preschoolers. Maybe, when you spend years keeping them close as littles (exactly where they want to be at that age) they want to stay close when they are bigs.

kids playing lego

Or maybe it's just because we've always lived in smaller, modest homes and the only space to craft was the dining room table and living room floor. That's what they are used to.

There are other factors no doubt that contribute to our living room being a literal living room. It is a lovely space with large windows and with a direct view to the birdfeeder, a source of amusement and fascination for our family.

Also, all the children have their own portable computer devices, there is no need to use the desktop computer in the studio except for access to certain software programs.

crafting on table

So this is how it works in our home. All the stuff - the lego, the craft supplies, the books, the toys - they're all stored somewhere else. But whatever the kids want to read, use, or play with is dragged into the living area; and sometimes for days, like when they make tents or boats. And I will spend the week walking around a tent every time I move from the kitchen to the couch and around to the dining room table. (Friday afternoon is the day everything must be cleaned up and put away in time for weekend hospitality.)

For the first time ever in our family life we have space elsewhere for playing and crafting,yet the living room is where they play, the dining room table is where they craft. Just like when they were 6, 4 & 2.

And when we sit down to eat lunch we sometimes share the table with paint projects (we always clean off the table for supper), but so what?

paint on table

There are worse things than having projects on the dining room table, like no projects at all.

Dreams of a clutter free living room floor... are still just dreams. My kids are (almost) 14, 12 and 10 and I still regularly step on itty bitty pieces of Lego.

My kids will be the first to tell you I do not always approach this part of creative family living with utter equanimity. I occasionally "freak out" about messy floors and messy counters.

But for the most past I cherish this because I see what is around the bend. I have an older child that is around that bend already and I know what's coming.

imaginary boats

Our young adult is starting to live in a mostly digital world. No muss, no fuss but also none of the beauty that accompanies the hands-on creative process. No bright red paint splashed against the tin palette. No lego piles, sorted by color, strewn on the sunlit floor.

I know, after fourteen years of parenting and homeschooling three active, creative, and inquisitive children you don't need a special space to create the "right environment" for creativity or learning.

You don't need a learning room, a library, or a studio. It's nice if you have a bit of extra space for storage of supplies, a large closet will do. But the right space is not the prerequisite for creating the right environment, a right relationship is.

Right relationship is when you value relationship more than stuff and you work on how to share space and how to give and take. It's when mama lets go of her need to control and have perfection. And the kids in turn, learn how to respect and clean up when asked to do so.

boy drawing on floor

Right relationship creates the environment for learning and living together, the space is secondary.

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  • Alaina

    Alaina on May 6, 2013, 4:31 p.m.

    I love this.  I also don't have a lot of space and we only have one table for eating at, right in the middle of the kitchen.  I found though that the crazyness of the stuff all over the table all the time wasn't working for me, probably because I also end up using it for food prep as I have very little counter space.  I was really wanting (and not able to have) a seperate space for "school".  Then I realized, that it wasn't able to be cleaned up well because the place I was storing all our stuff wasn't nearby or accessible to my (young) children.  We moved some stuff around, created a small area for storing our "school" stuff and then the problem is now at least easy to clean up!  THe problem was not having no school room it was a storage problem.  Now its right there and I dragged over a seldom used playpen to block off the toddler and everything works!  


    • renee

      renee on May 6, 2013, 4:42 p.m.

      Fabulous! I too have found that effectively using storage space is more imporant than more "living space". Good storage systems and routines make it easy to clean up and easy to access what you need when you need it. And then easy to clean off the kitchen table when you need to eat!


      • Beth

        Beth on May 6, 2013, 5:05 p.m.

        Along these lines, I'm curious how you store your craft supplies (or really all the kids' stuff).  We don't homeschool but my 7 y/o is getting more into art projects (And taking his 4 y/o brother along for the ride, yay!) and we're struggling with how to store supplies where they are accessible for the kids.  Our living room and dining room area is where most of their toys live and where they play so we too have the challenge of balancing an environment friendly to the kids' play with the adults' need to have an attractive and orderly living space.  Helping them manage Legos is a chore in itself so we need to find the simplest solution.  I'm sure you can relate.


        • renee

          renee on May 6, 2013, 5:18 p.m.

          Beth, see this post. We don't live in that chalet anymore but use a simliar system:

          plastic bins with craft supplies stored a on shelf lego table (with bins tucked underneath for storage) a dresser with papers, clay supplies, beads & bling wire shelf with clear plastic fabric bags (like in the video, but no armoire this time)


  • Angie

    Angie on May 6, 2013, 6:49 p.m.

    Rarely do I read a blog post that makes me giddy, or makes me want to stand up and CHEER! But this is IT! What a beautiful post! My sons are 13 & 11 and we recently moved into a new home. I'm still not sure where the heart of it is. And while we renovate, I'm aching for one to be established. I have no idea where it will be as for now, it's chaotic here! But I loved reading about how your heart of home sprang up in a most organic way, as they do. Just lovely. Thank you for sharing. 


  • Rana

    Rana on May 6, 2013, 7:30 p.m.

    We have a perfeclty good basement set up for working/playing/crafting. But does it get used?  Nope.  My kiddos are at the kitchen table or on the living room floor.  I guess they felt to seperated from "all the action" in the kitchen where I was too. So I moved all the craft stuff up to a bookshelf in the hallway.


    • renee

      renee on May 6, 2013, 8:22 p.m.

      Yep, totally here ya'. Typed while surrounded by 3 children, literally within an arms reach of me!


  • Jill Foley

    Jill Foley on May 6, 2013, 7:42 p.m.

    I have found this to be true in our home, as well. Our current home is the place we've spent the longest amount of time as a family of 4, and we've been here almost 3 years. Because there are no designated areas for anything (except maybe sleeping and the bathroom...), learning and living takes place all over.


  • Theresa

    Theresa on May 6, 2013, 8:35 p.m.

    Loved the post! We currently live in a 2-bedroom apartment that's very open. My 3 kids (6, 4 & 2) share 1 bedroom and I thought I would turn their walk-in closet into a "work room" so their toddler sister wouldn't get into things. It took 3 days and I realized they wanted to be at the kitchen table and if they need to craft out of reach of their sister they go on top of our old pool table since it's higher! Ha! Looking into putting plywood on top of it and finding stools to go around.  I love having them at the heart of the home.


  • Brynn

    Brynn on May 6, 2013, 10:06 p.m.

    We did this too, the boy always right there in the room.  Since our hike, however, he has distinctly pulled away.  Now he will go on long walks by himself, spend the entire day outdoors specifically asking to be alone, or craft/read/play in his loft with his headphones in.  We have been assured multiple times that he is not upset.  He "just wants to be alone."  Something about all the open spaces, and the time alone in his head, has caused an introverted-ness which wasn't there before.  It was definitely an interesting shift for me. I sort of enjoy the quiet now, and when we do talk it is quite the luxury.


  • Sarah m

    Sarah m on May 6, 2013, 11:09 p.m.

    I love that picture of Laurent's boat and Brienne next to him (in a tub?)...this was like deja vu...in a few years!

    I was just telling my husband this past weeken our new storage system wasn't working because we weren't crafting as much here as we did back in our other place...things aren't as accesible. Need to think about this a little more and try to reconfigure...

    Sarah M


  • Mama

    Mama on May 6, 2013, 11:38 p.m.

    I really enjoyed this post, Renee. I remember when Buddy started making messes, as he began to travel farther from the spot I set him in on the floor as a baby, and Papa came home to see "evidence" of his travels around the house. He said he enjoyed seeing the toys everywhere because he could see how Buddy had been using his imagination. Now, we have four kids making creative messes, in a much smaller space, and yet we still manage to enjoy being together and playing together, making messes, and often leaving them out to play with again tomorrow. And it always gives me pleasure to see the kids playing together, seeing pictures of your kids playing together gives me a glimpse into the future of what our kids' play might look like.


  • Anna

    Anna on May 7, 2013, 2:07 a.m.

    I loved this post.  Even though we have room to spread out,  I find we all stay gathered close to one another. Especially when I am cooking. My cabinets are so scuffed up and so many knobs are missing ..from children's feet dangling down as they all sit on the counters while I cook. We all cuddle up on the couch to read and we all walk down the trail side by side as much as possible. I love that we are not constantly fragmented and torn. I need a break like everyone, but it truly is one of my favorite things about our lifestyle of homeschooling. There bedrooms really are for the most part..where they sleep. Our living room and our yard are where we spend most of our time. 


  • Brenda

    Brenda on May 7, 2013, 3:09 a.m.

    Thank you - I needed to hear that! You had posted something awhile back about sharing the space with your kids - not controlling it - since then I've tried not to say anything when my 18 year old plays her music in the house (not just in her room) I had to consciously keep my mouth shut at first - but I'm noticing that it's not bothering me at all anymore - thank you for the encouragement then and again now as  there are days I think if only we had more space.....a contented, joy filled Mama creates a beautiful space no matter what size it is!!


  • Amber

    Amber on May 7, 2013, 4:11 a.m.

    I'm taking this to heart.  I love the post you linked back to.  I have not been able to take the time to look back at your older posts.  That one was great though, and there were some adorable photos!!!  Thank you for another insightful blog entry.  


  • andrea

    andrea on May 7, 2013, 8:45 a.m.

    Such a beautiful post. I've been reading your blog for a while now but never really got the chance to slip in a comment. In a month's time we'll start our first year of homeschooling. We're excited but getting jittery at the same time. Encouraging words from those who've been there are nothing but inspiration for us to finally dip our feet into the water. Thank you so much!


  • Drea

    Drea on May 7, 2013, 8:26 p.m.

    Oh how true this all is!

    My kids love to be in the living room, they always have been. There is always something of theirs stored close by and toy shelves are normal in our living room decor. It really is about the relationship, clutter and messes happen in a lived in home. If we wanted a clean home, we wouldnt have had children!



  • Kika

    Kika on May 7, 2013, 11:38 p.m.

    That photo of Laurent and Brienne is awesome:) My living room, which is supposed to be toy free, has managed to dontate a dedicated corner to lego (after seeing the lego table in your older post we are planning to search out a used coffee table for my youngest). Our ping-pong table downstairs is a relatively permanent sewing table with ongoing projects covering it at all times... the creative 'mess' can frustrate me big time on occasion and then I come back to reality and realize that this is precisely what I've encouraged all these years. My big kids go off to their corners of the house sometimes but mostly stay close by...even my 17 year old likes to do his school work close by rather than hiding out in his room (yay!).


  • Jess

    Jess on May 10, 2013, 10:24 a.m.

    This speaks so beautifully into the space we are naturally navigating our way into as we slowly begin to intentionally homeachool and look toward a vision of what we would like our family, our little ones, to look like in the years to come.

    Love.  As always.


  • Catherine Forest

    Catherine Forest on May 11, 2013, 3:16 p.m.

    What a heart-warming post, Renee! We have been traveling in our 30 feet trailer for a year and I have learn to let go of my desire for order and cleanliness a lot to give my girls room for creativity... We lived in a small house, but that was a big step and we often shared one table for work and crafts and games (when it was too cold or too windy to use the picnic table outside...). Cherishing those precious moments (bless those stepping on legos moments!) is an important part of my inner work... It is interesting to witness the transition that Celine is doing... it allows me to cherish my girls creative (and messy!) enterprises even more!


  • Anastasia @ Eco-Babyz

    Anastasia @ Eco-Babyz on May 12, 2013, 3:12 a.m.

    Loved reading that post when they were little, I feel like that's where I am now (except we may add the 3rd baby in the near future). Thank you for the reminder! Coincidentally we have no room in our house to use as a 'homeschooling' room and I never had a problem with that, never even thought about it. :) It certainly IS all about the relationship!


  • Tamara

    Tamara on May 24, 2013, 10:25 a.m.

    I love this post and I read your blog on a regular basis but realized that I don't think I've ever commented! Here we go! I have always been challenged internally by what is best, the mess and the learning or the clean and organized. When we cleared out our back room and added shelves for the toys and crafs I was so excited to imagine a room just for crafts and discovery! I even bought two old wooden classroom desks for my boys' lessons (6 & 8 years old). They were thrilled about the desks and it even made lessons run smoother with their own special spots to stask work to do and in progress. 

    After time, and as winter hit here in Nova Scotia, the work again moved out of the back room and into the living room and dining room as before which is just off of the kitchen. I must admit that when I am in the kitchen it's easier to converse and be a part of whatever my boys may be doing when they are in eyesight and earshot. We've also been progressing this year into a more unschooling and project-based mode of learning which I find, for us creatives, is more along our way of 'doing' and learning.

    I can't stand messes and with our old house with no storage room or extra closets there is always something on the table, the floor and every corner of every room. It's an ongoing battle. But, that being said, when we or just my boys, get on a roll with something they are working on things naturally get spread out and I am learning to embrace this. It illustrates how life happens and how my boys think and interact in our daily lives. And yes, I am totally like you in the sense that after some days I have to get them to clean it all up - I just can't take it anymore! - and either I go on a rampage of clearing out or suddenly they must get it all back to the way it was before I explode! Haha! Okay, not every time am I like that, but I do find that it's good for us to spread out as well as clear the clutter and make space.


  • Marilize Delport

    Marilize Delport on Dec. 12, 2013, 12:55 p.m.

    HI Renee

    I came upon your blog. Just absolutely love it. Also a homeschool mum we live in Namibia, Southern Africa, three kids Mia 10 , Mienke almost 8 and Lienka 2. We have a cattle farm and also do hunting especially bowhunting. you can see our website www.toekomshunting.com

    Our children were in our towns private school and hostel, but it is 100km from us, so the logistics were turning against us and financially the private schools was also getting to us. The first year of Mia's Gr 1 I stayed in town and Jannie on the farm but for our marriage that wasn't good.

    My husband and I both decided it was time for a change for the better and brought the children home. They are very happy now. My middle child struggle sometimes with the idea of mum being teacher, thinks I know nothing sometimes!

    We also do creative things, just yesterday we made our own gift wrapping paper for christmas. Baked cookies for all the family and made lovely home made gifts.

    We get our school programme from South Africa and we work in books, I also decided to teach them in our home language of Afrikaans.

    We are still getting use to all the new challenges that lies ahead everyday, but we take it on as a family.

    On a Monday we take the children for tennis and music lessons and get our week's groceries, we also have a shop for the farm workers so we have to stock that as well.

    I will definitely keep contact with you. Maybe you can come to Africa one day and we homeschool together.


    Marilize Delport





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