For the last few years, our family has taken up residence in a small house near the local hospital where my medical student husband spends a lot of his time. Being near to the hospital means that we get to see him more than we otherwise might, but small space living as a family of four (with a myriad of pets) can sometimes be a challenge. Add to this the changing space needs of growing children, and I find that I often need to reevaluate how we are using our space and what we could change to do a better job of making our home a creative and useable, but also peaceful environment.
Recently, I came across Lori Pickert’s fantastic book, Project-Based Homeschooling, and found myself completely overcome with inspiration. I’m not currently homeschooling my daughter, but we do incorporate a lot of projects into our time together at home. Lori’s book made me realize that I really needed to make some changes to my daughter’s art space to bring it more in line with her needs as an older child (now eight) doing more sophisticated projects and artwork.
My idea was to increase my daughter’s actual useable surface area, while also increasing her storage for materials and giving her a little bit of room for display. Oh, and I was hoping to be able to fit all of this into an area of our living room that is about four and a half feet wide, and to do it using only stuff that we already had around the house. The medical school family bit also means that our budget is tight and that there isn’t a lot of extra money to spend on cute organizational tools, fun though they might be.
I settled on moving our existing art table to a small section of wall that is adjacent to some built-in bookshelves in our living room. Having her project space in a central area of the house is important to me; I have never been one to keep the living room decor “adult only.” The kids live here too, and I feel strongly that their activities should be folded into the common spaces in our home. Plus, we literally have no where else to put them. We hung small display shelves on the wall above her table, and she immediately filled them with favorite collections, such as her jar of beach glass and a row of pretty minerals in decorative jars. One shelf is dedicated to some clay models that she has been working on (for a diorama about penguins that she wants to make). I also hung a small bulletin board for hanging notes, displaying work in progress or for keeping lists of materials that would be useful to have for completing a project.
I cleared out some no longer needed books from the shelves next to her table, and instead, filled the space with a collection of things that she might need easy access to for creative endeavors of all sorts. There are field guides and reference books, magnifying glasses, science kits recently sent by some friends of ours, and some boxes of paper. But from her perspective, the best part of the newly organized area is the fact that she now has free access to all the household art supplies. Her baskets and suitcases contain “real” paint (good quality acrylics and watercolors), as well as modeling clay, high quality markers and colored pencils and various rolls of tape; all materials I may have been more cautious with in the past. In her book, Lori makes mention of the fact that children respond to trust about their ability to use high quality materials responsibly by producing high quality work and I am already finding this to be true.
Here is a list of what I’ve included in Mariam’s project space:
- pencils, hand sharpeners and erasers
- colored pencils, markers and crayons
- modeling clay and tools
- stickers, labels, tape, balls of string, clothespins
- paper, cardstock, stationery and bits of cardboard
- paint and brushes
- field guides, reference books, plant presses in two sizes
- a bug house, magnifying glasses
- glue sticks and liquid glues
- oil and chalk pastels
- card games
- a “project journal” where she can keep track of project ideas, make sketches, take notes
- a basket for storage of work in progress and for materials being used in the space on a more temporary basis
In all, we are already finding that having easy access to a variety of materials that are well-organized can do great things for productivity, enjoyment of creating and for clean-up too. My daughter is encouraged by her independence with using these materials and, I’m pretty pleased to have been able to find a way to incorporate a more organized project space into our small living room by making good use of what was already here.