Small space homeschooling

Written by contributor Renee Tougas of FIMBY

This past winter our family lived in a two bedroom, 750 square foot cabin in a rural river valley. Today, I am writing this post from a two bedroom Montréal city apartment where we are living for the month.

We are a North American homeschooling family of five (three kids, not littles either) and we currently live in small spaces. On purpose.

We do this, live in small spaces, so we can work and learn together at home, have grand adventures and follow our dreams.

For all the eight years we’ve been officially homeschooling we’ve never had a dedicated school room. We’ve had kitchen tables, craft tables, a couch, bookshelves and the living room floor. This is where we “do school”.

Whatever your reasons are for living in small spaces – maybe it’s a choice, maybe you feel you have no choice – there are ways to make it work.

Tools & Practices

Let’s start with the very practical, hands-on ideas for small space homeschooling.

Organization

Just because we don’t have a school room doesn’t mean we’re not organized. In fact, I think without a dedicated school space we probably need to be even more organized.

There are designated shelves for homeschool resources and craft supplies. We use apple crates to build our library.

When there is “a place for everything and everything in its place” finding resources and cleaning up at the end of the day is much easier. And trust me, daily clean up is very necessary when the kitchen table is where you craft, study pond life (you don’t want to know all the creepy crawlies that have been on our table this past spring), do your math lesson, and eat lunch.

Technology

Technology is what makes so much of our small space lifestyle possible. Almost everything we need, resource wise, can be accessed via computer. E-books, audio stories, support and intervention, lessons and courses – all of it can be accessed online.

This is particularly important to our family since we live in a rural, francophone area (we don’t speak or read French well, yet). We’d be hooped without these online resources.

Community Resources

Many small space dwellers live in cities. Cities are teeming with learning opportunities. We’re living in one of North America’s largest cities this month and I’m amazed and simply overwhelmed (country bumpkin that I am) how much we can access here.

Who needs a school room with all these goodies waiting just beyond the metro stops?

Even if you don’t live in a large city, most moderate sized cities and towns have, at the very least, a decent library or interlibrary loan. This can be your number one homeschooling resource. Use it.

Get Outdoors

Living in a small space forces us outdoors more, because frankly I’d go crazy if we had to be indoors together all day.

One of the reasons we lived in our last rental, the 750 sq foot cabin, was because of the meadow, trees and river right outside our door. A place we felt was safe for our children to be free-range.

We were willing to sacrifice indoor space for unlimited access to the outdoors, where so much incredible learning happens.

Mindsets

Just as important as the right tools is your mindset – how you view your circumstances and living situation.

Having the right mindset has the power to change your life. This relates to small space homeschooling as much as anything else.

Shared Spaces

Cultivate an attitude of shared spaces and shared resources.

In a small home there is very little space, emotionally or physically, for “mine”. My desk, my office, etc. (I do believe that everyone should have their own retreat places, whether that’s a bed or a corner chair. And children should have toys that belong just to them. But most everything else can be shared.)

If indoor real estate is at a premium it makes more sense to share space and have rooms and furniture serve double or triple duty.

The World as Your Classroom

One of the reasons we homeschool is to remove the barriers and boundaries around learning. Learning is not limited to a school desk, a computer monitor, an opened book or the kitchen table.

Learning is available to us all the time, all around us.

We choose to live in small spaces because we want to see more of the world and keeping our housing costs low helps us do that.

By seeing more of the world our children are getting an education that a school room is simply not able to provide.

Let it Go

Homeschoolers think we need a lot of house space because we have to store, keep and maintain all those resources. The books, the curriculum we buy, the computers, the board games and everything else we use to teach our kids.

If you’re afraid to downsize because of your homeschool resources ask yourself these questions:

  1. How much of this are we really using, on a regular basis?
  2. Do we have to own it all or can we access some of this in our community? Either through the library, a homeschool co-op or the internet.

Whatever you don’t actually use, which is probably more than you realize – get rid of it.

Non-consumable curriculum (ie: stuff you don’t write in) holds its value and can often be sold in curriculum swaps, either locally or online. My preference is to give it away. Bless another homeschooler who is just getting started.

Small space homeschooling has freed up our resources in so many ways. With less space to maintain we have more freedom. Freedom to learn about the world beyond a school room.

Do you homeschool in a small space? What strategies do you use to make it work?

About Renee

Renee is a creative homemaker and homeschooling mama of three. She loves to write, take pretty photos, and be in nature with her family. Her mission is to nourish, encourage, and teach; build relationship and create beauty. FIMBY is where she tells that story. Drawing from her years of experience and training, Renee also offers individual and personalized Homeschool Coaching.

Comments

  1. I noticed in the article, “Small Space Homeschooling” there is a picture I’m guessing of a girl figuring out how to duplicate the shapes from a paper. Not sure if that makes since or is correct, but just wondering what that’s called? What resource that came from? I’m starting out and just love to see new things and creative things that I know my daughter if not now in the future would LOVE!!! Thanks!
    ~Candice

  2. Leslie says:

    We homeschool in a small space too. We have 4 people living in less than 900 sq feet. Sometimes we feel a little cramped and stir crazy, but I’m not sure I want to trade having libraries, museums, parks, and metro transit right out my door, for a bigger living space :)
    I have one 3 shelf bookshelf and one small shelf in out pantry that has to store all our curriculum, manipulatives, books, and art supplies. When the items no longer fit on the shelf, I purge.
    Candice, Google “tangram printables” to get worksheets like they’re working on in the photo ;) My kids love playing with those!
    Leslie’s latest post: Our Summer In Pictures – Week 2

  3. What great encouragement and inspiration. We live in 900 sq. ft. as a family of five (littles, though). I personally like living in small spaces, but I have wondered how that will look when we officially start school. My oldest is only 41/2 so we are still only doing learning that comes in our every day life.

    I do agree that we have to go outside more because of the small space. For us, that unfortunately means a trip to the park or something because we live in an apartment, but we make it work!
    Do you have a post on how you store art supplies? I am not very creative, but I don’t want my children to pick up on that, so I am trying to get more supplies to have around, but I often hesitate because of space.
    Johanna @ My Home Tableau’s latest post: How to Habit-train Children

  4. tawnee says:

    Great article. We have a similar setup. I need to organize better. You are so right about everything has a place.
    Question: in the 4th picture your daughter, I assume, is doing some pattern matching with geometric shapes? Is this something you made or something that is available? Could you share what it is, I’m very interested? Thanks.

    • Tawnee,
      Those are tangrams. We found a tangram printable online (see my response to Candace and Leslie’s comment below about that). We colored them in, cut them up and then tried to make shapes. This is math (smile).

      Some of us are better at doing this than others. My very visual, non-sequential, artistic son did amazing with this. Me? Not so much!
      renee @ FIMBY’s latest post: I love this month

      • Tawnee says:

        Awesome. Thanks. Funny how that happens. I’m interested to see how mine would do, we have varying levels of learning styles and special needs. Thanks.

  5. We lived in a small rental while we built the house we live in now. I often wish that we had found a way to stay in the rental — so much less to clean and look after. We also found that we did a lot more of our school in unusual places — the park, library and museum, and enjoyed that.
    Jen @ anothergranolamom’s latest post: Make This Hike Your Best Ever

  6. Heidi says:

    Great post! I think having some outdoor space is key to making this situation work well.
    Heidi’s latest post: Money falling from the sky

  7. We live and homeschool in 800 sf and like you, our kitchen table is the nexus of our school space (and my work space, and our art space, and our meal space…) and now I understand better why that is the hardest space to completely clear for the next activity.
    6512 and growing’s latest post: 19 hours

    • Oh my goodness. Our kitchen table is almost never clean. Except after supper maybe. And I will wake up early the next morning and enjoy the clear space for about one hour till the day begins again! Clean tables are so overrated!
      renee @ FIMBY’s latest post: I love this month

  8. Is it wierd that I am so jealous?!?! I have some minor packrat tendencies but I have found that I love the feeling that comes with keeping things simple. I’d love to move into a smaller place in town so we will keep less and walk more. My husband is definately a packrat though, and I’ll be lucky if I can just keep him from getting us a larger home!
    Queen of Chaos’s latest post: When it’s not really working.

  9. jill says:

    thanks for this! we’re in the process of moving, considering a smaller space for many of the same reasons. my kids are smaller: 8, 6, 3, & in-coming. i love that you’re willing to trade indoor for outdoor access! i feel the same, & am glad to know i’ve not lost my mind, in this american culture, as a homeschooler.
    jill’s latest post: lettuce is poetry.

  10. Kathleen K says:

    For nearly two years, our family of 5 lived in a 1000 sq ft apartment. The 3 boys (now 13,11,6) shared a room. The square footage worked–their bedroom was also their playroom. We schooled at the dining table. Current School books were stored on a nearby shelf. Our biggest challenge was dealing with all the books–I prefer to hang onto books/curriculum to pass down from oldest to youngest. That can mean a 6 year span! We built a tall floor-to-ceiling (9ft ceilings) bookcase on one wall in the parents’ bedroom to store most of our reading books. Other curriculum got tucked away wherever I could find the space. I found the library is a great resource for “fun” books and for specific researching. It became frustrating for our study materials that we’d need more than 2-3 weeks. Too often we’d have to wait to get the materials or hurry to get them back. Now that we are in more space (1900 sq ft house), I’m re accumulating the resources we need. Have to LOVE the used book stores!

  11. Gina M. says:

    We live in Boston, MA and have a small space to homeschool. We use our kitchen/living room and we have 1 bookshelf to store all of our stuff. One of my biggest issues is that I love books…paper books so, finding a place to store them can be an issue. Sometimes it can be frustrating to have such a small space but, it works for now. I appreciate your great tips!
    Gina M.’s latest post: New Twist…

  12. Jill Foley says:

    Although we do not live in a small space, we keep our homeschooling “small” in terms of how much stuff we keep around. The only thing we tend to maximize is the amount of books we get from the library! But those can go back to some one else’s shelves when we are done with them. And although we would have the space to create a school room, we prefer to use the kitchen table and family room couch.
    Jill Foley’s latest post: Mexico

  13. Alisa says:

    Thank you for this post! We live in a small space as well, which I love, but always struggle with thinking we need more…

  14. Ashlee says:

    Great words, Renee! I especially appreciated you saying, bless another homeschooler who is getting started. We benefitted greatly from generous homeschooling families and I plan on doing the exact same thing:)

  15. Lauren says:

    I was so excited when I saw the title of this post but then realized its missing what I was so excited to hear about. Its a wonderful post but we constantly struggle with getting enough outdoor time while living in a apartment. We don’t live in a walking friendly city and anytime we want real time outside, not in a parking lot, is to get in the car and drive somewhere. I feel like what was save in apartment living, were spending in gas! Anyone have any good advice?

  16. Dana Carlton says:

    Thanks for this! Your advice is always so practical. We are also a homeschooling family of 5, and run a business out of our home. We do not live in a small space but today besides us there are 6 other people working out of our home. I am currently purging and streamlining our resources so we can work more effectively and leave the house as necessary to work. Sometimes we just have too many people and one daughter really needs more quiet. Hoping to bless some homeschoolers on friday with our donations! Loving your posts on Montreal!
    Dana

  17. Renee, I love your perspective on things. We live in a big space, but I want to adopt more of this philosophy and not hold on to as much because it still ends up crowded and stressful. As I’ve been giving away and decluttering this last month, I feel so much lighter. I am trying to challenge myself that just because we have lots of space doesn’t mean I can cram it full of junk! Thanks for sharing your adventure with us!
    CharityHawkins@TheHomeschoolExperiment’s latest post: { rest }

  18. Rebecca says:

    I love this and am reminded how having more and bigger requires more work and maintenance. While that provides great learning opportunities-keeping life simple-is truly a blessing!

  19. Martianne says:

    We don’t live in a small space, but it feels that way b/c organizing and purging were not my strong points over the past six years or so. Now, I have the monumental task of gifting things forward and finding some equilibrium between what space and stuff. Likewise, I am in the midst of it, as planning K and 1st grade learning next year, thinking about how I might tweak our apprach and where in our home to make learning nooks, since our office/learning room has been reassigned to other things. So, your post has been inspirational. Thank you.
    Martianne’s latest post: Fold or Hold: Giving Voice and Choice to Little Ones at Mealtime Prayers

  20. Mama says:

    Excellent ideas as usual, Renee! I used to believe one needed lots of “stuff” to homeschool, but I have learned real quick that kids don’t need everything to learn.

    My hubby and I live with our four young children in a 31′ camper on a small off-grid homestead and are now homeschooling our two older kids, ages (almost) 4 and 5. We borrow many of our educational books, spend lots of time with creative toys, and still found room for all the arts and craft supplies they really want to use. I find that if your heart is in the place, you will adapt and figure out a good system for your belongings, no matter how small the home!
    Mama’s latest post: yard cleanup

  21. Cinnamon says:

    it is funny that you should write on this because I was just looking at our shelves filled with “resources” and wondering how much of it we actually use. Loved the get out and enjoy the outdoors part. So much learning takes place just walking in our yard!

    ~Cinnamon
    Cinnamon’s latest post: Just another night on the farm~

  22. The cabin set-up sounds like an incredible experience! I love the idea of being able to walk right out the door to nature!
    Andrea @ No Doubt Learning’s latest post: Model Eardrum

  23. Kim says:

    Great post, Renee! Your organizational ideas are fantastic. I enjoyed popping in on FIMBY this winter to see how life in the cabin was going. We homeschool our three littles in a small house in rural Montana. It’s been quite an adjustment especially since our winters are so harsh and we are in a very isolated location. We moved away from suburbia in the midwest eighteen months ago, so I’m still learning and loving ideas on living small. Thanks for the inspiration!
    Kim’s latest post: the big dig

  24. Pamela says:

    Thanks for this post! We live in a 630 sq ft house. I really struggle with the thought of homeschooling here, my youngest is turning 4, and we are hoping to do some sort of loose preschool curriculum in the fall. I struggle mainly with books, and paper clutter and need to become more organized in this. I am also going to check out your art supply storage! Right now everything is crammed in a dresser in our bedroom, and I need a better solution. Thanks!
    Pamela’s latest post: Menu Plan March 19 – 23

  25. educator says:

    Very interesting article. We once lived in the wilderness, and discovered that all of the THINGS most people think they need is really a full time job to maintain. Life can be so much simpler than we often make it.

  26. Eddie says:

    Renee, if you feel like a field trip out to the South Shore to meet some other homeschoolers/bloggers while you’re in Montreal, drop me a line and we’d love to meet you all.

  27. LLMom says:

    I am impressed with how you manage everything in a small space. Currently, we have a large area for schooling, but we are looking to move to a smaller place so I am looking for ideas. I have had to learn to organize my homeschool because we have 7 children which equals a lot of stuff.

  28. Susanne K says:

    we live in about 900 or so sq. feet now w/ two littles sharing a bedroom. I am about to homeschool pre-school for both and what I use now to organize everything is an old dresser in our dining room. I need to go in and do some re-arranging on it but I also plan on a shelf above it w/ a place for a map and cork board in the in -between space.

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