Create a study space

Help you student succeed in the right space

METRO CREATIVE CONNECTION An older student might prefer a more stylish, quieter study space in her bedroom, featuring a real desk that blends into her décor but offers plenty of space to work, plus a comfortable chair.
METRO CREATIVE CONNECTION A big bean-bag chair welcomes the student who settles down to work, but be sure to provide good lighting to prevent eyestrain.
METRO CREATIVE CONNECTION Studying is hard work, so parents should support their students by enforcing consistent study times and providing nutritious snacks and reviving study breaks.

Now that students are back to school, the homework is going to start rolling in.

Set your students up for success by providing them with the proper tools and environment for their studies. Carve out a space that minimizes distraction and allows them to work comfortably and peacefully.

Striking a balance between productivity and comfort can be a challenge. A study area or room should be a functional space that needs to be organized thoughtfully but should also reflect the personality of those using it. Consider the location of the study room, how many people will be using it and how best to accommodate each of them.

Larger homes offer multiple potential areas such as built-in offices, basements or spare bedrooms. If a home office is already set up for the adults, make a few tweaks to transform it into a more inclusive space for all to use by way of additional desktops and chairs. If space is an issue, get creative by setting up an area in the kitchen, a corner of an infrequently-used dining room or the student’s bedroom. It’s vital to be able to work privately, without distraction as well as comfortably. A clutter-free desk or table and a supportive desk chair are just the beginning when it comes to setting up a productive workstation. Substantial storage is key so that all necessary supplies are within reach but tucked away so surfaces are clear and ready to be used at any moment. Open shelving, storage cubbies or bookcases can corral all supplies and accessories while maintaining a sense of style. If space is an issue, a wall mounted desk, or one incorporated into a bookcase, will take up significantly less space than a traditional, freestanding desk.

Ideally, the study space should be lively and bright, with the desk placed by a window to capitalize on natural light. If the room does not feature windows, provide overhead as well as a combination of floor, tabletop and task lighting, which is also necessary for nighttime room usage. Reducing eye strain, as well as keeping the student alert, is key for any workspace.

When reading is the task at hand, encourage the student to relax in a comfy chair with an overhead light nearby. Providing a properly lit space for reading will help students get through larger chunks of text, rather than trying to do so while sitting stiffly at the desk.

Take a cue from the way that standing desks have become all the rage in professional office spaces, and consider one for a fidgety student. For a trial run before investing in a standing desk, have the student work at a bar height table or kitchen counter. Convertible sitting-to-standing desks give users flexibility and can be utilized by multiple members of the family of differing heights.

Personalize the study room or area with wall decor, comfortable textiles (rugs, pillows, curtains) and a few decorative, personal accents. The space should be fun and interesting (but perhaps not too fun or interesting), which will help to keep them engaged.

Kent Kolbow, owner of Sylvan Learning of Northern Indiana, suggests involving the student in this process for a sense of ownership and then desire to spend time in the space. An attractive, inspirational poster, awards and achievements lining the walls can help motivate while a comfortable spot for them to take breaks from time to time can help reduce burnout. Common big box office supply stores offer all the basics, but Staples has partnered with high-end brands and design personalities to bring an extra dose of style to desks and offices. Shop supplies by Martha Stewart, Cynthia Rowley, Paperchase, Poppin and more for cool storage, tools, necessities and extras.

Help students manage their time by setting a break alarm. Taking quick, fun-filled breaks will ensure their brains get a rest and can help them become more efficient over time. Kolbow advises parents to “allot about 10 minutes per grade level to the amount of time the child studies each night. For example, a third grader should spend about 30 minutes after school on homework.” Kolbow goes on to stress that “consistency and routine are incredibly important to the success of a study session. The same place, the same time; this is where and when they need to be ready to work.”

While a television in the room is strongly discouraged, a radio or MP3 player, set to a low volume, adds ambiance and helps break the monotony. Alternatively, Kolbow says, “White noise helps to block out other distractions and keep the student focused,” so consider adding a sound machine or fan to the room. Cork, chalk or dry-erase boards, which offer additional workspace and allow for keeping to-do lists or remembering important tasks or dates. These boards can help with personalization and less utilitarian options now abound.

Surprise your student from time to time with little extras for his or her study space — like new pens and pencils, a fun desk accessory or a live plant, which not only looks nice but also can help to purify the air.

Use color theory and scent therapy to help with productivity.

Color theory suggests that specific colors can help with engagement and efficiency, changing with what kind of productivity the user is after. Blue stimulates technical work, yellow inspires creative endeavors, red can help promote physicality and green encourages balance. Use a combination of complimentary colors, in various hues and saturations, to spur multiple areas of study.

As for scents, it’s commonly known the scent of lavender is relaxing but can also help to manage stress, as can ylang-ylang and sandalwood. To increase energy, rely on citrus scents or peppermint. For studying purposes, the scents of rosemary, sage and eucalyptus improve memory, concentration and cognition. Take advantage of scent memory and encourage the student to use the same oil for studying while taking the corresponding test. Essential oils can be diffused, applied topically (specific rules apply for each individual oil) or inhaled directly.

Proper nutrition is an important, sometimes overlooked, element of learning. Just as students need a protein-packed breakfast and healthy lunch to get them through the school day, they also need study snacks to stay focused. Colleen Kachmann, health and wellness expert and author of the upcoming book, Life Off The Label, says simple is best when it comes to after-school brain food. “Mixed nuts and dark berries are what I serve my kids at study time. Nuts contain satiating fiber and lots of good micronutrients while berries are loaded with antioxidants,” she said. Because nuts and seeds keep for long periods of time when stored properly, Kachmann says to stock up on various nuts and seeds and adds it’s wise to switch up the mixture with different combinations of nuts, seeds and fruits to keep snackers from getting tired of the flavors. She warns, however, to opt for fresh berries whenever possible, as dried fruits tend to be overly high in sugar. Another favorite snack at the Kachmann house is frozen grapes or berries.

“They’re fun to crunch and feel more like a treat when they’re frozen. During berry season, I freeze them in bunches to build up a supply for future snacking,” she said.

Quick Tips

• Offer seating alternatives such as a small love seat or even a bean bag chair for when students need a break from sitting at the desk. Consider a standing desk for those who tend to get antsy when seated.

• Proper lighting is a must to keep eye strain at bay. If natural light is not an option, opt for bright, overhead lighting as well as a side table light for cozy reading time.

• Arm students with brain food. Healthy snacks keep mind and body focused.

• Set a clock for regular breaks to reduce fatigue or burnout.

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