When Derek was a baby, I had his room decorated before I even bought diapers. At age 4, his room was robot-themed. Then at 5, it was all about the Legos, complete with a handmade Lego border that I made on my die-cut machine and painstakingly hot-glued to foam (so the tops of the bricks would be 3D.) Then there was Star Wars, then Harry Potter (huge Hogwarts castle crafted from black scrapbook paper above the bed), then the Golden State Warriors (a floor-to-ceiling basketball court made from orange electrical tape).
Yes, I am without a doubt, that mom. You should see the birthday parties. My biggest heartbreak came when Derek turned 12 and asked, “Can we please just do a party without a theme this year? Just, plain and simple?”
Um, what? Have you met me?
Turns out, much to my dismay, Derek may have been right to ask for the plain and simple. According to a fascinating study on classroom environments and kids’ cognitive performance related to visual distractors (i.e., what stuff on the walls does to learning) published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, a “busy” environment can take away from learning. The researchers who performed this study on children ages 8-12 offered up several tips for classroom teachers to ensure their walls provide maximum learning.
That got me thinking about Derek’s room (now completely spartan—no mom decorating allowed). Here are some suggestions outlined in this study, along with some other modifications you can make to your child’s environment at home to keep it warm, comfortable, and stimulating—but not too stimulating.
First, start with cleaning. Too many toys, prizes from birthday parties, and supplies strewn around the room can be a huge distraction and feel chaotic. Involve your child in making decisions about what to keep and what to donate. Sometimes when they know their stuff is going to someone who needs it, it is much easier to part with. Here’s a caution when you declutter: the second you pick up that 10-cent action figure that’s been under the bed for three years, your child will decide it is the only toy in the universe they want. Best to sweep those things into a tub and then sweep that tub…away. Later. (When Derek was younger, I used to have a tub labeled: “Little Junky Things Mom Wants to Throw Away.” It just made me feel better to see my protest in writing.)
Organize for Function, Fun, and Favorites
A functional space is a happy space. Sit down with your child and think about what they like to do most, and see if you can create a special zone for that. Derek spent about three months in a fort in the living room with rainbow loom rubber bands EVERYWHERE before I realized that maybe we should make a space in his room for them. Remember that what your child likes to do will change often, and flexible space is the most helpful when hobbies and passions change.
Display Their School Work
Kids feel increased ownership and responsibility when they see their hard work reflected back at them. As someone who has 10 tubs in the garage, each labeled Derek’s Preschool Art, Derek’s 1st Grade Art, Derek’s 2nd Grade Animal Report, and so on…I know often there is more paper coming home than anyone should have to handle. Consider a bulletin board or magnet board that features a few favorite pieces that your child is most proud of. Then, Marie Kondo it! Believe me, there will be more to come next week.
Don’t Forget the Cozy
Above all, your child’s bedroom should be a place where they want to spend time (bonus points if you want to spend time there too). I rarely cross the threshold of Derek’s fortress these days, and I wouldn’t describe it as cozy (smelly, maybe, but not cozy). But before they become teens, you have a lot more bedroom latitude. Don’t forget to cozy it up with pictures, rugs, pillows, lovies, and plants. The coziest space in a child’s bedroom is the spot where you and your kid can cuddle up and read every night. A big chair is great, but a bean bag and even the bed work just fine too.
Natural light is good for everyone. Let the sunshine in!
Use Visuals that Reinforce Learning
I wouldn’t recommend setting up your child’s room like a classroom. I mean, let’s be real. Would you want your bedroom to mimic your office? Still, there are some great ways to create a happy space at home that still supports learning. Here are three ideas:
- Labels: I love my label maker. I would label each of the dog’s paws if she would let me. Enlist your child in making labels and pictures for their stuff, because that will help with ownership and organization.
- Maps: A colorful map is always a great conversation starter, especially when you indicate where your family is from or where you have traveled.
- Books!: To me, there is nothing better than a room full of books. In your child’s room, display them so they are inviting and begging to be read. (Maybe labeled baskets?) Think about the shelves of a bookstore, where the covers face out to pull you in.
As winter approaches, it’s the perfect time to think about ways to create a warm, comforting space for your child. It’s also a great time to donate some unused or gently loved items to people and organizations who need them. Remember to involve your child in all these decisions and help them make their room their own!
By Audrey Lee, an educator with 20 years of experience and an expert on standards-aligned instruction and blended learning.