Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Learning Space

Dorian Speed asks:  "How does your schooling space fit into your home?"

For us it's a timely question. After eight years of homeschooling, first in an apartment, then in a couple of small houses, and finally in this much-larger house, which we bought because it seemed a potential goldmine of discretionary space, we finally -- as of two weeks ago -- have an actual, dedicated room for our books and our learning.

I had been sort of vaguely anti-the idea of having a schoolroom, because I'd been not-so-vaguely anti-the idea that homeschooling means the same old school model, translated to your house. To a great degree, I'm still anti-that idea. At the same time . . . well, we have all these books. Our learning, which is to say our life, is arranged around these books. And at last I've come to grips with the reality that, charming though it may be to fill the kitchen cabinets with books, they're not really all that accessible that way. If I can't see them, I won't use them. Ditto the books shelved two-deep in the butler's pantry. Ditto the books which disappear under people's beds.

Strewing, as I've come to realize, doesn't mean books and crap scattered all over your house, where you hope people will stumble on things. When I think of the parts of my own school experience which were good, what comes to mind immediately is the Lower-School library. In those days, the library was a modest thing:  it occupied a balcony in the upstairs hallway, overlooking the big lunchroom below. This was the pre-computer era, when a school library was still a library and not a media center, and smelled of books with plain library-bound covers, yellowed pages, and type you could feel if you ran your fingers over it. To say that I loved this library is an understatement. Mostly school gave me stomachaches, but to go to the library and choose a book was a glorious reprieve from the minefield of the rest of the day. In those years, in that library,  I read everything from Roller Skates to  Cherry Ames to Marguerite Henry horse stories to all the poignant Rumer Godden doll stories, with their requisite lonely and maladjusted little girls:  Fairy Doll, Miss Happiness and Miss Flower. School was an alien place, but the library seemed like home, and it, not the classroom, was where a significant portion of my early education occurred.

So when I realized that our books had outgrown the spaces to which I'd relegated them before, and I began to see that what we really needed was a space for everything together, I didn't think schoolroom so much as I thought library:  a place for books to live, a place to come and find and meet them, a place to read together;  a place where a person could come to graze and find good pasture.

Meanwhile, we had this little room at the back of the house, which we'd been calling the study. It had been home, mostly, to Aelred's books, and in the ordinary way of things, it did double duty as a guest room and a den. As such, it was mostly a pit. The room is really too small for the kind of large, comfortable couches and chairs which make a den a good crashing place, so we didn't sit there much. The kids mostly gravitated there with their toys and projects. We could close the door on on the resultant carnage rather than putting things away, so unless houseguests were coming, the room remained in a perpetual state of unusability.

Which was really too bad, because it's my favorite room in the house, the only room currently which I don't want to repaint. The apple-green walls are pleasant and soothing, summer and winter;  the ventless gas fire is a bit of a monstrosity, but it's cozy on cold mornings. Whenever we cleaned it, it was a nice place to sit and read . . . but it never stayed that way.

Part of my little series of recent epiphanies was the revelation that to be pleasant and usable, this room needed a definite, daily purpose. Meanwhile, there was the question of all these books. Aelred by this time had moved the bulk of his library to his office on campus, and the study shelves looked like a mouthful of missing teeth. Hm, I said to myself. And, Would you mind? I said to Aelred.

So, at the end of a week of exertion both physical and mental, his books had taken up residence on two bookshelves in the kitchen and in a cupboard in the dining room, where he tends to work when he's at home;  and our books were newly at home in the study. A maple drop-leaf table, a legacy from my brother's father-in-law which used to hold our printer, now occupies the middle of the floor, with stools and a chair drawn up to it -- in fact, I'm sitting at this table right now to write this blog post, my coffee at my elbow. When school starts, we'll sit at it to write and do our math together. The down-at-heels futon which our guests sleep on (sorry, guests, we're still not very four-star here) remains a good place to sit and read together. Some friends just passed on to us an old desktop computer, which the younger kids can use for learning DVDs and interactive CD-ROM things;  it and the printer sit on a coffee table and end table which used to float aimlessly about the room as, essentially, clutter instead of useful furniture. The gas fire's oversized mantel holds art supplies, binoculars and a telescope, DVDs and other sundries at one end, while I'm turning the other end into a little altar.

We've had the room set up thus for several weeks now. We read here in the afternoons and at bedtime;  the kids play on the computer or sit at the table to write. Aelred and I have escaped in here with glasses of wine or cups of coffee, because it's quieter, cooler, and more peaceful in here than anywhere else in the house. Best of all, it's stayed tidy because we're all using it to live in, the way we like to live.

But enough blah-blah. Here are some pictures:

A view of the room from the hall door.

I love this window, giving onto the dogwood tree where we can hang bird feeders.

My history shelf. All kneel.

The short-people computer station.

Futon with decorative computer-charger cable, Periodic Table,  and maps.

The Battle of Hastings

Shelves with each child's books for the year, plus resources and supplies.


Redblur63 said...

It's so nice to see these photos and bits and pieces of familiar things! We miss and love you all!

Sally Thomas said...

Yes, indeed! That book rack is the best thing ever ever ever -- I could happily own twelve of them. Your Mother Mary is on the mantel in here, too, and will soon have some candles and an incense burner for when we say our prayers.

We miss and love you all, too, and look forward to seeing you soon.

Anne-Marie said...

Oh, I love this room!

At times I've been anti-the idea of a school room as well, and at other times I've envied friends with a dedicated school space. This post, and a visit today to a friend who set up a beautiful schoolroom in her basement only to abandon it in less than a year, have given me my own little epiphany: that whatever the school space(s) is(are), it has to be connected to the rest of the house if your schooling and your life in general are interconnected. My friend abandoned her schoolroom because neither she nor her kids could spend all their school time away from the kitchen, the napping baby, the garden hose, the couch, the other books, etc.

Sally Thomas said...

Thanks, Anne-Marie. And yes, I think you're absolutely right. A learning space has to fit into family patterns -- if it's a designated room, it has to be a room where you want to be and can logistically be, given what actually goes on in your life. I have to be near the kitchen and the laundry, since I putter at both while we're doing school; I have to have what I need at my disposal; and we all have to be comfortable.

I find that we actually use this room more now that we've set it up this way than we did before, when it was . . . trashed all the time, but supposedly a comfortable den. Its new sense of order and purpose makes it a far more attractive and peaceful space to spend time in.

Anne-Marie said...

Last week on a WaPo live chat, someone asked what the purpose of interior design is--is it just decoration, or is there something more? Your library seems to me a good example of that "something more." You mention order and purpose and surely those are key. Someone should start a design company called LogosTelos.

Dorian Speed said...

Love these! Thanks - I've had a few people submit photos and mention they found the photo pool via your blog!

Victor said...

Nice educational place you live in Sally.

I don't read much but I do recall a teacher telling me that The Battle of Hastings took place in 1066 and that's all I can recall about "IT".

I hear ya! You've got to do more reading Victor!

Really? :)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the inspiration. When I get a bit of time, I want to arrange either our parlor or den in a similar way -- table for children's work, bookcases, and less furniture taking up all the floor space.