There’s a movie I wish most parents would watch, called Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story, which focuses largely on the childhood of a world-renowned surgeon who pioneered advances in separating conjoined twins.
He grew up in the projects, a poor black kid who had an illiterate young mother dreaming of a better life for her kids. Sadly, he was failing in school as late as grade four. I absolutely love the scenes where she makes changes in parenting that result in her boys skyrocketing scholastically. It’s a teachable moment for anyone who has kids in their lives.
Its point is, parents should never underestimate the power of teaching a little extra at home. Maybe it’ll mean the difference between a life lived in mediocrity or a life spent in a brain surgery O.R.
Let’s talk about things you can do to make a rec room or a spare bedroom into a great space for learning.
Bright colors are energizing and powerful. If you’re trying to make a space that’s an exciting place to learn and soak up information, consider going bold.
Reds, yellows, blues, greens — you name it, if it’s bright and filled with primary-color fun, most kids will look forward to time spent in this space. That’s half the battle.
Consider breaking the space up, color-wise. Use more calming colors — like whites, blues, greens, greys — where you want them to focus and knuckle-down with work, but if it’s where you want them engaged and involved, asking questions and feeling ready to go, fill this with the brighter, more dynamic reds and yellows. Don’t shy away from painting out blocks of color or using bold stripes, either.
Think decals, stencils, and photography here. Whether you’re finding a giant map of the world, stenciling math equations all over a wall, or creating a natural history mural of animals and geography, there are a lot of great ways to incorporate learning with decor. So many sites sell wall decals of all sizes now, even 10×12 feet across! Browse the web and I’m sure you’ll have many finds.
Keep your kids in mind. What do they most like learning about? Use that to inspire you in this room.
Do they love marine biology? Make a deep-blue wall with everything from decals of dolphins through to hand-written notes made showing the different layers of the ocean, or a giant illustration from Jules Vernes’ 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Put an aquarium against the wall and use algae and sea forests as decals across the wall behind it.
If they love music, wallpaper a section with old sheet music. Put old salvaged instruments on the wall as decor, and use that as their practice area.
Have fun with wall treatments but try to keep them on-theme in a way that will inspire your kids not just today, but in three or four years too.
Smart furniture in a smart room
Desk, bookshelves, and chairs are the obvious suspects in this case, but this time you want to think of multi-function and storage.
Installing something like a floating wall 3 feet out with storage cubbies facing the rear wall and a blackboard/bulletin board on the back, facing the center of the room, becomes a powerful built-in solution that gives you a ton of storage that isn’t an eyesore, and a focused learning wall.
Finding old-school desks with lifting tops and attached chairs is a great way to keep the day-to-day items your kids use organized just for them, plus it gives them a sense of ownership over their space.
As long as you have a comfortable table and chair configuration for your little person, you’re providing the basics.
For a perfect learning environment, you’ll want things to be easily moved and arranged. This will give you maximum flexibility if you ever want to, say, make a giant baking soda-and-vinegar volcano in the middle of the room or something. To keep things flexible, invest in lots of good quality castors and put wheels on everything.
Accessories: brilliant bits and pieces
We live in a post-globe world, but there’s something kids and pre-teens love about the hands-on quality of a globe. You can find a wide variety of them if you’re open-minded about antique and curios stores.
I like old maps and globes because there are so many different place names now. Think of all the lessons right there! Why was Burma changed to Myanmar? What’s a coup? What’s imperialism? Why do countries change so much?
Maps, science-y looking gadgets, space and planetary things (like a planet mobile), cultural pieces — these are all great learning-theme items to bring into play.
Winning with learning
This is a room you’ll never regret investing in if you strike the right balance between discipline and fun. Learning should become a life-long hobby for all of us, and this is where it begins.
With a mix of fun accessories, comfortable workspace, bright colors, good lighting, and a willingness to answer a whole lot of questions, you might find this is a project that makes it easier for you to fulfill the promise you made to see that your child will lead as good, or better, a life than you.