Monday, January 9, 2012

School Room Tour!

Welcome to our school room/learning space!

This tour is long overdue, I know!  November marked one year in our new home for our family.
I teased you with the "before photos" over a year ago before we began "renovations."   After having a Montessori classroom that was partly packed up all the time for nine months while we tried to sell our last house, getting the new school room ready was our first priority when we moved in.  Photographing it was another story.  Although you've all been seeing it in action the whole time, there was always one more thing I wanted to do before pulling out the camera for the official glamour shots:

  • "I just want to wait until the bookshelves are in."
  • "I just want to wait until the crown moulding is up."
  • "I just want to wait until I put the 'insert name' material out."

I finally decided to just DO IT!

In our old house, the school room was tucked away in the back of the house through the master bedroom.  It was a ranch-style home and the school was on the extreme end of one side of the house and the family room was on the extreme other end.  One thing we were excited about in this home is that the school room could be right off of the foyer, or "grand central station" here, so it would really be in the middle of things.  This room is meant to be the formal living room.  We didn't need both a living room and a family room.  The downside is that it is the first thing you see when you walk into our home.  There is no hiding the homeschooling! 

I really need to learn how to use our SLR on manual so that I can change some of the settings and get more professional photos.  I apologize in advance.  The room looks better in person than in the photographs.

Here is a BEFORE picture of the foyer looking into the school room so that you can see how the room relates to the rest of the home...

...and the AFTER!

The foyer really deserves its own post, but you can get a glimpse at some of the new front door and the new crown molding.

Here is another BEFORE picture of the school room with a bit of a better view...

...and the after!

A lot of invisible work went into this space (which is about 12'x17').  I painted the ceiling about five times until I was happy with the shade of blue.  Things are really dreary for about six months of the year in our neck of the woods and blue ceilings help me combat the gloom.

A lot of drywall repair was needed before I could paint the walls and ceiling.  This past summer we replaced all of the baseboards and added crown molding.  All of the switches and receptacles needed to be replaced.  Many of our receptacles were so worn that I couldn't keep the vacuum plugged in.

I'll take you around the room clockwise so you can get a feel for the whole space. There is a very shallow bookcase just inside the entry:

I had my eye on bookshelves like this one at Pottery Barn for about six years, but didn't want to spend a couple hundred dollars to get one.  When I spotted them at Target on sale for $30 one day (online, free shipping) I snatched up for the school room and one for each of the boys' rooms.  I keep the one in the school room stocked with books on topics we are focusing on.  The art above the shelf was drawn by my grandfather specifically for Kal-El when I was pregnant.

Next to the bookcase, this big, bay, SE-facing window does double/triple/quadruple duty for us.  It provides this room with the best light in the whole house (which is still not enough to work by in the gloomy thick of winter, even in the morning when the sun is on that side).  We hung a prism up in the window to cast rainbows all morning long.  If you look carefully you will find rainbows in some of these photographs and in our photographs in general quite often.  The window seat provides much needed storage for our geometric and botany cabinets.  The window seat also serves as a work surface or a perch for popular activities such as spying on the neighbors or the bird feeders/bath just a few feet away from the window.

The bead cabinet is just to the right of the window:

I took these photos a few weeks ago. The bead cabinet now proudly holds the 100 and 1000 chains along with the appropriate squares, cubes, and arrows. 

 Recessed lighting would be perfect in this room, however it would have required an expensive electrician who would put 14+ holes in the ceiling in order to install them.  The 14+ holes would require an expensive drywaller to make them look like they were never there.  For now, we've settled for some floor lamps, one of which barely tucked into that corner next to the start of the math shelves.

Continuing clockwise are the math and sensorial shelves.  The center section is currently quite empty in anticipation of all the big math works (such as the bank game) that Kal-El will be starting soon.

Their violins are tucked next to the shelves on the right (next to the maps cabinet). The red rods used to be there, but they have been retired. I hung their artwork in our Lil' Da Vinci art frames over the shelves so the art looks different sometimes weekly, sometimes daily depending on the boys' whims.  If they look hung a little high it is because I anticipate materials stored on top of the bookcases as the boys get older.

This is our geography corner:

It sports a Calder-esque mobile, the map cabinet, and our geography shelves.  This was also a good spot to sneak in the red and blue rods (math).  The small sets of drawers on top of the white bookcase hold my collection of miniature objects.  I use them in the language area, of course, but also throughout the culture curriculum.   I just store all of those tiny things here alphabetized for easy retrieval.  This makes it really easy to put together sound bins, or find just the right whale for the Antarctica box.

Turning the corner are the rest of our bookcases.

I ordered the tall shelves in black to break things up a bit.  All of the shelves are "Carson" shelves from Target.  The black shelf to the left holds "culture" works.  The one in the middle contains writing works.  The shelf to the left holds language materials.  The uppermost shelves are temporarily "mine." I keep spare parts to things up there, as well as works I plan to present very soon and things I need to rotate frequently (like sound bin innards).  I'll post some closer looks at what is on the shelves in the future.

Turning the corner finally brings us to the last wall of the room.

Here is a BEFORE photo of that side...

...and the AFTER!

Kal-El snuck into that one!  We have a work table here that has a child-sized chair as well as a stool that is used as often by me as anyone else.

I was sooo convinced that I needed shelf-space not couch-space in this room and lobbied heavily to get rid of this extra couch shortly after we moved in.  I was so wrong and I 'm really glad we have it!  It is a great cozy spot to snuggle up together while we work.

The short white bookcase is a work in progress.  It is shaping up to hold our music works.  The little sets of drawers on top of this shelf hold collections of manipulatives such as beads, counters, jingle bells, plastic flies, you name it!  These are used across the curriculum as well.  Jingle bells can be counters on the math shelf one day, show up as a stringing work on the practical life shelves the next, in the "j" sound bin later on, or on the tray to be weighed on the balance a few days later.

You won't see any art supplies in here because they are stored in a big closet in the foyer and are used in the kitchen most often.  We have a lot of other child-spaces scattered throughout the house as well.

Last but not least...this is where we stash our rugs.  It is a pretty large collection for just two boys.  We have various sizes and styles.  The boys usually choose the large, low-pile grey rugs from Wal-mart with the rubber backing because they roll the nicest.  I was so excited to finally order the white cotton rugs from Montessori Services only to find that they flop over in the basket terribly and the boys don't like that.

Well, there you have it.  A long post that was long overdue!

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  1. You did a SUPER job on that room!! I love your school space!! I enjoy so much reading this post, I love to see others school spaces!! Thanks for show us your beautiful and big school!!

  2. Wow! You have created a beautiful learning space. I love the rainbows dancing through the room. I was wondering what is the box next to the handwriting without tears pieces?

  3. I love it. It looks great! I am wondering if you live in the north since it is gloomy. Any way, I live in the North and it is so gloomy. What made you do blue for the ceiling? Can I also ask what color the yellow (and blue) are? I am painting my wall I think I really close blue, but you have a great eye for color!!

  4. Love your school and I love all the light in the space. I love the mobile hanging above the Geo Map cabinet. Are those planets?

  5. Mommy to the Princesses,

    No, not planets. Just colored discs :)

  6. Your room looks amazing. I'm in the process of making our room organized. You've given me some great ideas. Your so organized and it all looks so good.

    Veronica @

  7. Sarah,

    In the South (where we do not live :) ) blue ceilings are very popular, particularly on porches. That was probably floating around in my head somewhere. However, what really did it was just an urge to bring the sky indoors. Blue ceilings make me unreasonably happy. Kal-El has a blue ceiling in his room that I painted. I tried to talk my husband into a blue kitchen ceiling but he vetoed it as "too much." So, I painted the ceiling in the niche over the sink blue anyway as my secret spot of sky :)

    One of our upstairs bathrooms even has a yellow ceiling because I wanted sunshine. I think we only have one white ceiling in the house. I know that is the opposite of advice that is often heard, but it makes me happy and that's all that matters I guess.

    My favorite blue for ceilings is Sherwin Williams "Tidewater." The walls in the foyer and school are Sherwin Williams "Toasted Pine Nut."

    Good luck!

  8. Cool! We just converted our living room/dining room area into a play room/homeschool room also. So it's the first thing people see when they come in our house. We've been so happy with the arrangement though.

  9. I love your school room! It looks so welcomed, and I love your organization of the materials. I think I am have to dig in my supplies and bring out the prism. Thank you for sharing.

  10. Thanks for sharing your school room it looks so inviting and organised. You should be very proud!
    I am in Western Australia and would love to swap a photo of what your winter looks like out the window of your school room compared to ours if you are interested. Not too rub it in of course, but for my kids to see the differences between the two hemispheres : )

  11. Thanks for sharing the finished photos. Storage of so much in so small a space is always a challenge, but to do it beautifully is a real achievement. Hopefully we too will have a new though north-facing schoolroom soon and you've inspired me to paint a 'summer sky' ceiling. Maybe with a few glow in the dark planets and stars:) Best wishes

  12. Jodieplus2:

    I'd love to! I already have a picture all ready to send to you, but I notice there is no e-mail activated in your profile. Send me an e-mail through my profile and I'll send you a picture. I'd love to have one back through you guys too!

  13. Lovely classroom ... it must be so exciting to have a fresh, new space! I pinned your post to my Montessori Homeschool Classrooms Pinterest board at

  14. What a beautiful and inspiring space. Thanks for sharing. BTW, I grew up in New Orleans and we would paint the porch ceiling and the underneath the overhang blue in an attempt to trick the bees into thinking its the sky extended. I love the blue sky and loved the rainbows throughout the pictures.

  15. Thank you for the comments everyone! You are really cheering up my week!

  16. JUST PERFECT!!!! I will show your blog to every one i know and in all the courses that i will give in Spain! THANK YOU!!!!
    My personal blog is:

    Keep on the good work!!!!!

  17. BEAUTIFUL!! Our learning space is currently a mismatch of assorted shelves, but I want it to be lovely, like the rest of the house. I'm inspired to put some work into it!

    2 questions:

    (1) We are military and move a LOT. I have bookshelves from IKEA, but their backs are cardboard and have been broken every move. How are the backs on the Target shelves?

    (2) We are moving soon, and I will have a bedroom to use as the school room. I can either try to put everything in that one room, or I can put the language works on 2 free standing side boards (with doors) in the kitchen/den area. It would be nice to spread out so we won't be so tight, but I'm wondering if moving between rooms will end up feeling unnatural and therefore the kids will be less motivated to move spontaneously between activities. What do you think? Do your boys choose language works spontaneously? For us, it tends to be more initiated by me inviting them to work with me.

  18. P.S. Did you buy or make the extra shelves for the math shelves?

  19. My Thoughts Exactly,

    I made the extra shelves for the bookcases. I bought the pre-maid particle board ones from the hardware store. Then it was just me, a circular saw, liquid nails (to put on the front piece of trim), and some touch up paint. I also have one of these bookcases upstairs and I stole the shelves from it. Then, I was able to just put in some pre-made melamine/particle board shelves from the hardware store without having to glue on the front trim.

    The backs of the bookcases are cardboard, just like Ikea.

    As to the other question, in our last house we had a school set up in an extra bedroom-type space and also kept some materials on a sideboard. One question is whether the bedroom is upstairs or is the house all one story? If it is all one story you could also try allowing them to take the works out of the room to use wherever they wish as long as they return them when they are done. If the bedroom was close to another living space you might be able to use the two spaces together.

    One house we almost bought had a 20x30 master bedroom (yikes!). In that house we were going to make the "master" the school and my husband and I were going to use one of the smaller bedrooms. Could you do something like that? We figured that when he would shower in the master in the a.m. at least I could still sleep in because it would be quieter. We were going to still use the master bath and closets for ourselves.

    The answer to the language works is, "both." They know if there is an opportunity to do something later in the day like watch T.V. they have to have done a language work. It doesn't mean that there WILL be an opportunity to do something like that, but they like to be prepared when there is. I let them choose anything (play or work) all day until after rest time. After rest time if Kal-El says something like "can I go ride my big wheel in the basement" and it is after their afternoon rest I say "after you've done your reading time." Most days they have already chosen to do this first thing in the a.m. so they don't have to hear me say something like that. They can NEVER choose T.V. unless reading time is already done.

    When they've done their reading time first thing in the a.m., they will often choose language again several times throughout the day as well.

  20. What you said brought up another couple questions:

    (1) What do you think about the three hour work period in the home? I've noticed that my kids will work for awhile, want to take a break in the yard or with toys, then will come back to working some more. Or, I will need to leave the room for a few minutes, then they will wander out after me and get distracted for awhile. In the Montessori classroom environment, the structure obviously wouldn't allow for that. I keep trying to make that three hour period work in the home, but it just doesn't seem to happen. Do you think that a "work morning," say 9-1:30 would work? That way, perhaps things could flow more naturally for a home and I wouldn't be frustrated when the choose to take a break. (Also, it would allow my littles to have some time before and after their nap.) It sounds like that may be what you are doing.

    (2) Do you require that they have finished anything else besides a language work before going on to other activities (like t.v.)?

  21. My Thoughts Exactly,

    I am a strong believer in the three-hour work period. We do a three-hour work period three times a week. The other days work is on and off all day. The boys do much better and deeper work during the 3-hour work periods. Sometimes they stretch in to 4-6 hour work periods...When the boys get on a roll, I try not to stop them no matter what. There was a big discussion about this on my blog some time ago. Here's a link:

    Both boys practice violin and do "reading time" every day. Kal-El also has to do handwriting and math everyday. I staggered adding these responsibilities. "Reading time" became daily on his fifth birthday (Dec 2010). Violin was added in June 2010. Handwriting became daily in the September 2010. I haven't told him that I added math in December of 2011...he has chosen it on his own 3 out of every times or so for the past 60 days. On the days he doesn't choose it, I give him a presentation. He is practicing the collective exercises with the golden beads and those can take a good year of daily practice. So I guess I've added a "responsibility" every 4-6 months or so as he nears elementary.

    Peer stimulation as motivator is one of the main things a Montessori classroom has that a homeschool doesn't. At some point he just had to learn that there are certain things you do everyday no matter what. Each time I add something new he kicks up a fit a little bit and fights it. He's already learned well, I think, that some things aren't as fun as you'd like them to be until you get a little better at it. The pattern is always that he grumbles and fights it for a while. I try to make the choices as attractive as possible and try to offer as much choice as I can. But, we do the bare minimum while he fights it. As soon as he starts to get a little more proficient at something he will have a burst of work. He fought his handwriting without tears book every time I took it out until I made it mandatory. Then, after a week of grumbling and doing half a page each day he "got it." That day he refused to put it away and sat there for two hours and did the whole book. I haven't had to ask him to do handwriting since October...he sits down and does a lot of writing on his own daily. Violin has been a long struggle. He has become more and more proficient daily though. All of a sudden on Tuesday he declared it "fun" and both boys practiced and wrote music for THREE HOURS. He went through a stage where he fought reading time for a few weeks too.

    It can get a Montessorian's dander up when we start talking about "making" them do things. The kids do better work and are excited to work when they have chosen it. Some will say it's okay if they don't choose reading for three months because they might get motivated on their own and do three hours of it a day the next month. That's probably true, but I also believe that some things, like reading and violin, take daily work. It's like exercising. I try to make "making them" as gentle as possible by having 4-5 choices of activity and letting them choose WHEN (up to a certain point).

    I don't know when and if I will have to add anything to their daily "musts." I guess I'll see what happens as we go!

  22. I can't believe I never left you a comment about how wonderful your school room looks! I was just looking at it again in search of ideas for ours and saw I had never left a comment. Your school room is so organized and looks very inviting.

  23. I am about to purchase two of your white shelves for our new schoolroom for the Montessori materials. The shelves you added yourself, how are they attached to the bookshelf. What if one doesn't have a circular saw? I can see needing the extra shelves....

  24. The Girl Who Painted Trees,

    All of the big box stores will usually cut them for you for free. Some places have a $1 per cut fee, but I've never actually been charged and even if I had been it would have been worth it.

    The bookcases are the kind that have a long run of holes up and down each corner. Shelf supports can be inserted into the holes wherever you want and the shelves rest on the supports. The lines of holes stop and start. The manufacturer designed them imagining that you would want flexibility in placing the shelves they come with, they didn't imagine us adding shelves. So, they didn't place holes in some areas where it would have placed the existing shelves oddly close together. However, if you are adding shelves you would WANT to put them in those places if you wanted them easily spaced.

    I advise you drill extra holes BEFORE you assemble the shelves so that you are guaranteed you can put the shelves exactly where you want them. Once they are assembled the drill will not fit in the bookcases at the angle required to add the holes.

  25. Thanks! Sounds good. Thanks for the advice about drilling extra holes! The shelves are buy one get one 50% off right now.

  26. I am just visiting your site for the first time. It is great! Thank you for another wonderful resource to add to the list. I absolutely love your "classroom space" -- The before and after pics really show how much time, thought, effort and energy you put into creating this amazing working environment for your boys. Bravo! And Keep up the great work!

  27. Thank you Tya! Welcome! Happy reading and thank you for the comment. LOVE comments :) Hope to hear from you again!

  28. I'm glad I read the comments to this post, I'd missed them in the past. (email subscription is nice, but I miss out on the comment discussions!) I have been having issues with getting the three hour work period to come back lately. Adding a two year old really messed that up for us. I too struggle with the idea of making them do anything in a Montessori environment. I feel like if they were in a school with other kids, away from home, they might not have this problem, but at home, they feel like they should just play all day :) This may sound bad, but when you said " he kicks up a fit a little bit and fights it" it actually made me feel better and gives me hope :) I was under the impression that your kids want to do everything and you can't ever drag them away from their schoolwork!

    Link has lately gone to the school room and refused to choose any work. He'd rather sit and watch his brother or play around, and, in my inexperience as a teacher, I don't know how to handle it. I try doing work myself, but he's happy just watching me work too :) Anyways, thanks for adding your comments about making work mandatory. It's not something I've run across on your blog before.

  29. I love the colors of your room! If I may ask, what are they?

    Great idea with the prism, I am going to have to do that, the kids would love it.

    Stopping by from the bloghop, can't wait to come back and read some more, kids # 2 and #4 love Montessori type activities.

    Megan @ The Farmer's Kids

  30. Megan,

    Thanks! All of the paints are Sherwin Williams. The walls are "toasted pine nut", the ceiling "tidewater", and the trim plain ole "extra white" straight out of the can.

    Stop back often!

  31. I am trying to find a shelf like the shallow shelf near the entrance to the room. Can you share more information about that? What model from Target? Thank you!

  32. MBURCIM,

    Here is a link to the Pottery Barn bookcase, the Madison: $139

    The Target version is the Bentley and it retailed for $69, They were on sale when I bought ours but are not offered anymore.

    If you search for book rack on Etsy there are some options.

  33. I love your blog! Great post to learn how to set up our school room. One question - where did you get the three white bookshelves? I love how there are small shelves to hold the items that aren't tall.

  34. Sara,

    All of the bookcases are Carson bookshelves from Target. You can read about how I added some extra shelves further back in the comments.

    I'm so glad you are enjoying the blog :)