Ikea allows you to swap out legs and tabletops to customize your young scholar’s work space. The Limmon/Alex combination is $113.
Ikea allows you to swap out legs and tabletops to customize your young scholar's work space. The Limmon/Alex combination is $113. (Ikea)

The word "homework," greeted with anxiety by kids and parents alike, will soon be the topic of daily conversation once again. You can make things easier by taking on a little assignment of your own: Set up a designated homework area where your kids will be happier and more productive.

Choose the right location

For kids in elementary school who need assistance with assignments, choose a space that is centrally located so you'll be able to help them while you're chopping vegetables or stirring the soup for dinner. Proximity is less crucial for middle and high school students, but limiting distractions is important. If possible, involve your kids in the decision of where they'll do their work.

The Zig Zag corkboard from Container Store ($13) is a snazzy bulletin board.
The Zig Zag corkboard from Container Store ($13) is a snazzy bulletin board. (HANDOUT/Container Store)

Regardless of the child's age, the homework station should have plenty of surface space. Kitchen and dining room tables often become default homework stations because their size gives children room to spread out their supplies and paperwork. This isn't recommended, however, because you'll need to clear the clutter each time you eat, and because competing needs for the space can become a disincentive to start homework.

Find and organize supplies

Once you have identified a sizable space, begin thinking about the supplies your child will need and how best to store them. Although the size of the homework station is crucial, a fancy or expensive desk with built-in storage is not. A portable folding table will suffice, or if you would like to create a simple desk, companies such as the Container Store and Ikea allow you to mix and match table legs and table tops to create your own individualized work space without spending a lot of money.

For young children it is best to have supplies visible and easily accessible. Pencils, erasers, scissors, glue sticks and other accessories can be kept on the desk's surface in recycled glass or plastic cups or colorful products like Land of Nod's Cubby Cups and I Could've Bin a Container Art Caddy. Extra paper and ongoing or past assignments can be stored in vertical desktop files or in portable file drawers beside or beneath the desk. Other essentials include a trash can, clock, calendar and a pencil sharpener.

From left, the Container Store’s stackable storage boxes ($2.49 each) help reduce clutter; the Brite Swing Lid Can from Container Store ($13) is the
From left, the Container Store's stackable storage boxes ($2.49 each) help reduce clutter; the Brite Swing Lid Can from Container Store ($13) is the perfect place for rough drafts of students' "What I Did on Summer Vacation" essays; and Target's Room Essentials Raised Numbers Clock ($7). (HANDOUT/Container Store; Target)
To create a sense of ownership for the space, ask your kids to help choose and organize their supplies.

Create a go-to spot

Electronic gadgets allow middle and high school students to be more mobile than young kids; however, a permanent homework spot is still essential. Even though teenagers might prefer to sit on the couch or in bed with their laptop, sitting at a desk helps promote concentration and alertness. Additionally, a desk will provide a space to store supplies, spread out papers and keep a docking station for chargers.

Another advantage of a designated homework space is that you can have a set surface where you and your kids can post scheduling reminders and deadlines. You could hang a magnetic board or bulletin board, or use stick-on chalkboard or dry-erase boards that can be easily removed in seconds, without damaging the wall. A comfortable desk chair will make homework more tolerable and concentration more likely. Likewise, the work space should be well lighted. At the end of each night, your child should be expected to straighten up the workspace and put supplies back in their proper places.

Try it out and then reassess

I suggest getting the space set up before school starts. Then, after the first month of school, you and your child can determine whether the space is working well and whether any additional materials are needed. You're likely to be restocking supplies throughout the year, but the December break is a good time to declutter and reorganize the space if changes are necessary.

Finding a space where your child can complete his or her homework without getting totally stressed out, or stressing you out, is difficult. Don't be discouraged if the first place you choose isn't perfect; this will be an ongoing and evolving process throughout your child's life as a student. But having a space set up and creating a homework routine during the first week of school will help smooth the transition from summer's hot, hazy days to fall's hurried, homework days.

Anzia is a freelance writer and owner of Neatnik. She can be reached at nicole@neatnik.org.