What makes a star student?

Well, among other things, it sure helps to have a great homework space.

But what is a great homework space? There’s an ongoing discussion around my house as to what that should be.

There’s décor, says my daughter and her friends, but that’s secondary to functionality. And that’s quite a statement from a group of kids who seems to value style over substance.

The major consensus is that students need a large empty space upon which to spread out their papers and books. Forget that weeny little computer desk. Studying means that you need to open textbooks, spread out your notes, scrawl notes and sketches, or talk into a tape recorder, or put together models to help you remember what was taught.

A computer, although handy for research assignments, is not necessary for the majority of textbook-based homework or studying, they admit.

Another important thing they identified about a great study space was the importance of getting rid of distractions. My daughter’s friend will admit to a cluttered bedroom, but he has a desk which he sweeps clean of debris and other things when he does homework. And it works for him.

My daughter’s room, on the other hand, does distract. We know this to be true.

Homework cannot compete well with magazines, books, nail polish and other bits and pieces currently piled on her desk. A laptop smuggled up to her room (it usually lives in the kitchen office) is definitely not good because she seems to be physically addicted to Facebook, and finds its allure almost irresistible (certainly much more interesting than homework). It takes a deadline to get her detached from her accoutrements. (Hmmm, sounds familiar.)

What would work for her is to clear her desk completely, and put her distracting items into drawers, preferably not anywhere near her homework zone. For her (and many others, I suspect), the computer usage zone and homework space needs to be physically separated.

And speaking of distraction, if a television is on in the same room or anywhere close, you can bet its’ eye-glazing siren call is turning any young minds in the vicinity into jelly. Sentences leading nowhere, math equations trailing off to infinity . . . need I say more?

In addition to the importance of a study space free of distractions, I’ve found that it is also helpful to have a space (however small) dedicated to homework. By this I mean that the space should be for homework alone, and no other activity.

Yes, it can take place in a bedroom or a kitchen (if parental supervision or help is required) or a parental home office, or anywhere in a house. But it is set aside and maintained for homework only.

For example, if homework takes place in a kitchen, try to designate a particular area as the homework zone. A cleared desk or table tucked into a corner or against a wall is ideal, with nearby bins or cubbies for school supplies only.

For younger children, actually attaching physical borders (mouldings or even glued-down yardsticks) to designate the study zone can be effective.

For a study space that makes the grade ...
• Try music. Many students report being able to work well with quiet or not-so-quiet background music playing. Some say that silence is distracting.

• Rooms without a grand view. The view outside or the activities of neighbours can distract.

• Good lighting and a comfy chair.

• A homework routine. Every day at a certain time, the student should sit down at his or her table and focus on homework.

• Let your student decorate their space if they wish, so they have a sense of ownership of the space, but keep the décor simple and soothing. Think in terms of paint or wallpaper, shelving, a few storage bins, a reading lamp, perhaps an area rug to delineate the study space and upholstery for chairs.

• Stay away from distracting posters or art. Always keep the space clear and free of clutter. Only have in the study space what is needed specifically for homework, and nothing else.

• Access to healthy snacks to help the brain work.

– Sylvia Putz is a journalist with an interest in decor and design. She’s written for the TV show Arresting Design; sputz@arrestingdesign.com.

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