Turns out the kitchen might be the best place for virtual learning. Here, experts outline easy steps for turning your cooking space into the ultimate study space for a streamlined back-to-school season.

By Petra Guglielmetti
August 13, 2020
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Credit: Illustration by Josie Portillo

Your home may not have totally been ready to handle distance learning when COVID-19 closed schools in the spring. But now? Parents have time to prep for the new school year by setting up a comfy and conducive learning space at home for virtual classes to take place.

While not every home has an extra room or desk for kids to camp out during the day, one thing we all have is a kitchen and a kitchen table. Here's how to put both to good use and organize everyone’s favorite room for better studying if you're distance learning or homeschooling.

Turn The Table Into A Study Spot

Create a coworking atmosphere. “Many students actually find it easier to focus in a common space,” says Alexandra Mayzler, founder of Thinking Caps Group, tutoring specialists in New York City. “When a child sits alone in their room and hears activities going on downstairs, the sounds are distracting. At the kitchen table, seeing that other family members are working—siblings doing homework, a parent cooking dinner—can motivate them to keep chugging.” Plus, you’re nearby to help with any questions and to refocus your kid as needed, notes Ann Dolin, author of Homework Made Simple

Keep the surface clear. It’s difficult to concentrate amid piles of papers. “If the kitchen table needs to be cleared for homework, that’s hard for you and your child,” Mayzler says. Make it a rule not to store anything on your table, even if it’s temporary.

Minimize distractions. Designate a quiet, productive period for everyone in the kitchen. “If younger siblings don’t have homework yet, give them something else school-like to do, such as coloring or using a paint-with-water book. Keep the TV off,” Dolin says.

Carve out personal space. To improve focus, give each child a cardboard partition. You can make your own from a cardboard box. We also like the dividers used in standardized testing (Pacon Privacy Boards) because they are inexpensive and fold flat for easy storage in a closet or in that gap between your fridge and the wall.

Separate each kid’s supplies. When children have their own materials, it minimizes any conflicts. “However you choose to organize them, it’s helpful to keep schoolwork necessities unique to each child—and portable,” Dolin says. Try a handled caddy with divided sections, pencil boxes housed in a sturdy canvas tote, or, if you have a lot of supplies, a rolling cart with drawers, such as IKEA’s Helmer drawer unit on casters.

Credit: Yunhee Kim

Find Proper Homes For Kid-specific Clutter

Edit, edit, edit. Most of us run the dishwasher daily, yet we hoard enough water bottles and food containers to last for weeks, says Ann Lightfoot, cofounder of Done & Done Home, professional organizers based in New York City. Keep only one water bottle per kid in the kitchen (maybe two if space allows). Stash just a few others you love outside of the kitchen in a clear labeled bin or an over-the-door shoe holder with clear sections. Recycle or repurpose all cups and containers that are rarely used, worn out, or missing lids. Afterward, you may discover you have only one sippy cup. No wonder you couldn’t find any!

Give favorites special treatment. Daily kid gear deserves prime real estate. Dedicate a roomy drawer, a pantry basket, or a shelf to items such as lunch boxes, or they’ll end up living on the kitchen island 24/7, says Lightfoot. If backpacks tend to pile up in the kitchen, install hooks for them there. Then put less-used items above the fridge or in the basement to free up the space. 

Centralize charging. Set up a docking station for phones, tablets, and laptops so everyone can easily find them but they won’t inhabit every outlet you need for appliances. If you can’t spare counter space, use a side table in your family room or dining room.

Credit: Illustration by Josie Portillo

Free Your Fridge

Clear the door. One UCLA study found that the number of objects stuck to a fridge door may indicate how much clutter there is in the rest of the family’s house—eek! To create an aura of organization, try removing everything. Or make your fridge reflect your family style: Keep just one great pic, one special “we vacationed here” magnet, and your weekly lunch-and-dinner menu. 

Embrace filing. Instead of displaying papers, use a large accordion file or labeled wall bins (Silver 12-Pocket Mesh Wall Organizer) to catch forms, flyers, bills, and kids’ artwork. “Go through the file weekly so only current items remain,” says Cheryl Arzewski, co-owner of It’s Organized. “Move papers you want to save longer-term to an office or a filing cabinet outside the kitchen.” 

Create a central calendar. Replace all those pinned-up reminders and stray notes with a large paper or dry-erase calendar to map out the month for school-age kids. We like Paper Source’s oversize 17-month (August 2020 to December 2021) Great Big Calendar. “Assign each family member a different color marker or pen so you can clearly see who is doing what when,” says Jordan Marks, co-owner with Arzewski of It’s Organized. You’ll also want another color marker for any activities that are for the whole family.

Automate Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner Prep

Get a head start. Shop for items that will make meals speedy. Then make them even more foolproof: Chop melon so it’s ready for breakfast, portion cereal into food-storage bags for snacks, and cut celery sticks for lunches. “We hard-boil a lot of eggs ahead of time so we can just peel and eat,” says Laura Vanderkam, author of Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done

Use your freezer. For extra-chilled water that keeps food cool, half-fill your child’s water bottle the night before and put it in the freezer, suggests Marks. Top it off in the morning. 

Designate food zones. To avoid having to ransack every fridge and pantry shelf, designate a crisper drawer or bin for items like apples and string cheese. And stash nonperishable food in a specified drawer or basket. 

Opt out. If your kid can buy lunch at school, go for it. Yes, it may not be quite as healthy as homemade, and it may cost a little more, but the time that you’ll save can make it worthwhile. 

Try a bento box. It’s actually a sneaky way to turn bits and pieces of leftovers into an appetizing ensemble.

Do a Little P.M. Prep Each Day

Have the occasional quick huddle after dinner. You and your partner (and your kids if they’re old enough) can review the week’s upcoming events together, says Morgenstern. “This keeps the family connected and builds the habit of looking ahead and thinking about how your own schedule fits into the family’s plans.”

Think of tidying as calming—the soothing first step in your unwind routine before bed. Brew a cup of tea and fire up the diffuser as you file papers and corral wayward toys. “You want to wake up to a clean slate and a house that’s ready to support you as you take care of the kids,” says Morgenstern. 

This article originally appeared in Parents Latina's August/September 2020 issue as “Kitchen Central." Read the full issue free here.

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