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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, September 3, 2004

Get kids involved in setting up creative homework space

By Elizabeth Betts Hickman
Gannett News Service

Setting up a workspace for your child, whether she's 7 or 17, is just as important as completing that critical school-supply list.

A child needs a regular space for doing homework. Make sure the space has adequate lighting and motivates them to work.

Gannett News Service

New children's furniture sets often incorporates bunk bed, shelves and desks into a single, space-saving unit.


Here are some options, alternatives and ideas to create a place where your child will feel comfortable and compelled to complete those assignments on time.

Plan furniture

There are plenty of options when it comes to what's known in the furniture industry as "youth furniture," and the market has boomed over the past few years.

In addition to standard desks and chairs and armoire systems, there are combinations with a bunk bed on top and a desk underneath that help make the most of small rooms, and there is a variety of shelf-and-desk combinations that also use wall space efficiently.

If you're in the market for new pieces, think longterm, says Toni Hall, co-owner of a children's shop that deals in juvenile furniture.

She says older elementary children and teens need a space where they can spread out projects and work independently, while younger children probably will be around the kitchen table or working closer to a parent.

The key, she adds, is to choose pieces that will actually be used.

For instance, children who are slightly claustrophobic aren't likely to feel comfortable working at a desk tucked underneath a bunk bed.

If you are going to keep the family's computer in your home office or a family room, you will want to look for a regular desk rather than a computer desk.

Create dedicated space

Tips for tight spaces

If you live in an apartment or small house, you probably don't have an extra room (or even space in a child's bedroom) for a dedicated desk area for your child. Working on the kitchen table probably is your best bet. Here are some ideas to make it work:

• Plan functional and attractive storage. Lidded baskets look a lot better than plastic bins and can be stacked in a corner so they're easily accessible, yet look good. Dedicate a separate basket for supplies, one for artwork and another for school information sheets/things to keep.

• Lighten up. Don't rely solely on an overhead fixture. Add a small lamp to make the tabletop more eye-friendly. Even if it's kept in a closet while not in use, a lamp can make a table feel more desklike.

• Keep the clutter and distractions to a minimum. Only keep on the table the items your child needs for the assignment they're working on at the moment. Don't feel that you have to have a separate pencil cup or fancy files.

• Ergonomics concerns. Make sure your child isn't struggling to stay upright or reach the table. Either buy a taller chair or use a booster seat if your chair is too low.

More and more large, new homes have homework centers, which basically are home offices for children.

Usually in a room near the children's bedrooms, attached to a bonus room space or near a family room, these spaces are wired just like a home office and often include built-in storage, both shelving and closed cabinetry.

If you have young children or are planning for children, consider where they'll be doing their homework.

Looking for room for a children's work area in an existing house?

Consider carving space from a closet to use as a child's work area.

By removing the doors, rod and shelf, and replacing it with a desktop (make it adjustable if you can) and shelving up to the ceiling, you can pack in a bunch of better-planned storage and get those papers and books off the floor.

Plan for the future

Some parents choose all-new furniture for their children's rooms, while others buy a piece here or there, adapt older pieces or just buy a new bed and work with shelving, desks or chairs already there.

Whatever you put in a child's room, it is important that your child be happy living with it ... at least for a while.

According to a recent parents' poll by the American Furniture Manufacturers Association, more than half of the new furniture bought for children was purchased with no input from the children at all. Only 13 percent of those polled said their children played an active role in making choices, while 22 percent said their children did help with research about what they wanted.

Thanks to the popularity of TV shows and teen magazines featuring interior makeovers, experts think children will become more involved in the future, says Jackie Hirschhaut, vice president of the manufacturers' trade group.

"With a little forethought, there's no reason the furnishings your child helps select for his or her dream room today can't transfer to a guest room, home office or hobby room later on. It can be a win-win," Hirschhaut said.

Carefully consider that new desk your child wants. If you choose well, it will see them through high school and even into their first apartment, or it might become your desk one day.