Homework Zone

New teachers, shifting schedules and sudden onslaught of paper, the back-to-school transition can be challenging for parents and kids. Manage the chaos by putting an action plan in place to handle some of your home’s hot spots — including a spot to study — and you (and your kids) can step into the new school year feeling prepared. Here’s how to set up a homework zone for your scholars, whether they’re entering kindergarten or applying to college.

Supporting Your Scholar

The needs of a kindergartener and those of a tween may seem miles apart when it comes to study space, but there are a few things that hold true for all kids:

Pick a place where your child feels comfortable to set up a homework zone. If he or she loves being in the heart of things, this may be the kitchen table.

Keep supplies close at hand. If children have to hunt for that glue stick or report cover, the whole process will feel more frustrating.

Feel free to create a separate zone for reading. No matter your child’s age, it’s often more comfortable to read in an upholstered chair than in a stiff desk chair.

Younger Children

What To Expect 

The focus for preschoolers and kindergarteners should be on cultivating a love of learning. A cozy nook for reading or being read to and a project table for practicing cutting, drawing and writing are all that’s needed. A clean, inviting space encourages children to explore good books without offering an overwhelming number of choices.


Using child-height tables and chairs helps preschoolers and kindergarteners feel ownership over their work area.

Younger kids sometimes have a hard time if there’s too much on the table at once. Keeping extras stocked on shelves above the table or on a portable cart will help avoid spills and make it easier to focus on the task at hand.

Keep an eye on the clock: If your kindergartener gets homework, be sure to ask the teacher how long it’s expected to take, and don’t force your child to work past that amount of time. At this age, it’s better to keep the homework routine short and positive!

School-Age Kids

What To Expect

As kids progress through elementary school, they’ll gradually be asked to take on more responsibility and likely more homework too. This is when organization and time management begin to come into play — and having a well-organized homework space can help.


Homework in elementary school can involve a mix of reading and writing with creative projects, so be sure to store some art supplies along with the No. 2 pencils.

Decide on a system for keeping track of homework papers, and stick with it: A simple inbox and outbox or labeled “in” and “out” clipboards fastened to the wall should do the trick.

Designate a roomy document box or bin where you can store completed schoolwork and projects. Aim to sort through it with your child once a month, choosing a few special pieces to keep and recycling the rest.

Let your child add photos, artwork and special treasures to personalize their study space.

Tweens And Teens

What To Expect 

With a heavier workload at school, more responsibilities at home and after-school commitments, middle school and high school kids have a lot on their plates. Even though they may be taller than you now, tweens and teens can still need your support — and setting up a comfy spot to work is a good first step.


Using a laptop or the family computer likely will be a necessity for doing schoolwork in the tween and teen years, so consider where you want this to happen. Especially for younger tweens, you may want to have the family computer in a main living space for greater supervision.

With teens’ increased workload, the system that has worked until now for keeping track of homework and schedules may no longer cut it. Help them experiment until they find a system they like to use: This could be a paper planner, an app or lots of Post-its — whatever works!

Working At The Dining Table? 

Kids in elementary school often feel more at home doing homework at the kitchen counter or dining table, where they can chat with you and sprawl out as they work. If that’s the case for your child, there are just a few things to keep in mind:

Ideally, your child shouldn’t have to clear away work in progress when it’s time for dinner. If that’s impossible, try to find a nearby surface that can be kept clear so there’s a place to hold your child’s supplies.

Consider using a cart on wheels to hold homework supplies. That way, your child can pull it up while working and tuck it away at mealtime.

f your child just wants to be in the same room, see if you can find a nook to put a desk in the kitchen or dining room, to avoid the cleanup issue.

Stay On Top Of Paper Clutter 

Once teens have multiple subjects to manage, paper clutter seems to expand exponentially. Built-in storage can help keep lots of paper neatly organized, making this a good choice for pack rats and organization junkies alike. Here are a few more ideas:

Use stacking paper trays to keep track of to-dos and finished work

Assign a hanging file to each subject and keep important papers inside.

Reduce paper and keep track of things digitally with an online system like Google Drive.

More Than One Kid Sharing A Space? 

Consider study partitions. Make sharing a study space easier on all involved by providing a desk with a partition between work areas. Consider building the desk unit into a closet, so when the kids are done working, the doors can hide it all away.


Keep Your Dorm Room Fun, Stylish and Functional

It is almost time for students, including my  oldest, to be going off to college or univerisity. Whether you are choosing to study from home, rent an apartment or live on campus you need a place that is organized and is a quiet place for study and sleep. Let’s look at durable furniture, small space solutions and incorporate your style to create a place to inspire and help you succeed at school no matter where you live. 

Durable, Functional Furnishings

Dorm-style furniture is often simple in design and gets top marks for durability with its typically solid wood construction. If furnishing an off-campus room, be sure to include these dorm-room necessities: a desk with drawers; a tall bookcase or if you have more floor space, go long and low to make the room feel bigger; an ergonomic chair, because you’re going to be sitting there … a lot; and if space is in short supply, look for a bed with bookshelves built into the headboard.

These functional pieces will last for years but, they might not take your breath away with their style. No worries. You can have fun with the bedding, pillows, desk lamps and other practical accessories that will add style to the space.

You can also switch things up every school year with the latest trends in smaller accessories. Make the space yours!

A Dream Closet

The benefit of most dorm room closets is that they are spacious and incorporate storage needs: rods for hanging, shelves for folded items, mirrors for primping, and hooks for hoodies, robes and jackets. But we always need more storage, right?

So, whether you’re in residence, an apartment or home, consider adding a shelf above the existing top shelf in the closet, go for a temporary one if in residence, and a multi-level shoe rack that can triple the closet floor space. Over-door hanging organizers both inside and out keep your dailies, bathrobe, shower supplies, hats, knapsacks, and more, in clear view and off the floor. By doubling or tripling your storage capacity, you should be able to forgo a bulky dresser in the room.

Make the closet as attractive as the rest of the room. In residence, that might be limited to choosing coloured hangers or you could try an easy-peel wallpaper on the door to help add pattern and colour to inspire creativity in your study space.

At home or in your own apartment you can paint the inside of the closet a colour — something that will brighten your day every time you open it.

Under the Bed

If you’re in the market for a new bed, opt for one that sits high off the floor to allow space for hiding the clutter of bins, luggage and nicnacks. Some beds even have hydraulic lift mattresses that make it easy to access storage space under the mattress.

If you’ve got a standard bed frame, consider getting bed riser blocks that sit under each bed’s leg and lift the bed off the floor, allowing more room for storage. If considering a new bed, keep in mind that a twin bed is 72-inches long and an XL is 78-inches long; you’ll probably want the longer version and remember to purchase the appropriate sized sheets for the bed’s size.

If your bed has a raised base and there is a lot of space underneath, then buy matching storage containers so storage does not appear messy or cluttered. A bed with drawers built into the base is also a great idea to create additional storage.

Easy Ways to Add Personality 

1. Fill the walls with large bulletin boards using easy-remove picture hanging hooks. This will allow you to change up inspirational images, posters and calendars throughout the school year.

2. Bring in a few small plants: They are the easiest roommate you will ever meet!

3. Love to set the mood with music? Invest in a good pair of wireless headphones to enjoy your music without interrupting others’ study or sleep.


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Characteristics Of A Secret Garden

You can design your garden to feel like a secluded backyard retreat, a world apart from the hustle of daily life

No matter where you live — in the heart of a big city or down a quiet lane — there’s an opportunity to make your yard or balcony feel like a secret, secluded space. The best feel private and have a certain magic about them, a sense of being removed from daily life and transported to another place. 

A Hidden Entrance

Gates and entryways are important features in any garden, but they are essential for secret gardens. They define a threshold — marking the passage from one garden area to a private space. Create a sense of mystery about what lies beyond with an entrance that blocks the inner garden from view. A magical garden door, a vine-draped wooden gate for example would work well to define the entrance of a secret garden and encourage visitors to leave daily stresses at the door. The gate should obscure the garden behind it — adding mystery and piquing curiosity.

An Inviting Destination

Inside, provide a seating area that draws in visitors. It can be as simple as a pair of chairs pulled up to a cafe table or a bench drawn under a shade tree. If the seating area is partially obscured by foliage or fencing, it only adds to the feeling of discovery.

Screening and Hedges for Privacy

Nothing breaks the spell of a secret garden like seeing the blank faces of adjacent buildings or looking straight into a neighbor’s windows. Use fences, hedges and trees with leafy canopies for screening. Alternatively, use screens to create private areas within a garden, such as a sheltered seating or dining nook.

Loose, Naturalistic Plantings

Secret gardens can take on any shape or style, but those that are slightly less manicured and a bit more wild have a certain romance. Get the naturalistic look by planting billowing grasses, carefree flowering perennials and native plants of all types. For more formality, balance loose plant forms with sheared hedges, a patch of mowed lawn or a few clipped shrubs for structure.

To create a slightly wild, secret garden feeling in urban yards where you have limited bed space, plant a vine in the ground or a large container. Let a trailing climber, such as wisteria, honeysuckle or a climbing rose, ramble up the sides of buildings and cloak the area with foliage and flowers.

Disappearing Pathways

Use a steppingstone path or a winding walkway to draw visitors into the garden. The trick to evoking a feeling of anticipation: Leave the destination hidden.

An Enclosed Space

In more open landscapes, adding a sheltered seating area or a small hedged-in garden can help balance a feeling of openness with one of privacy and seclusion. It’s adding a secret garden within a garden, so to speak.

A Connection With Nature

Welcome bees, butterflies, birds and other small creatures to your secret garden by offering sources for food and water, and areas for shelter. Choose native plants and others that support pollinators. Allow plants to go to seed — which can become food for birds in fall and winter.

Welcoming these connections with wildlife may give new meaning to your experience with the garden.

Seasonal Change

Tap into nature’s own seasonal magic — the emergence of new bulbs in spring and leaves changing from green to red, orange and gold in fall — by choosing some plants for recurrent interest in your secret garden.

If you don’t want to undertake larger-scale planting projects like adding deciduous trees, consider planting one or two containers for seasonal color. Plants like tulips, daffodils and other bulbs, summer annuals and perennials, Mediterranean herbs, and small-scale Japanese maples grow well in containers.

Objects With Meaning

Add a thoughtful object to the landscape to make a secret garden feel more like your own. Ordinary objects with personal meaning, such as an interesting rock picked up at a special beach, may remind you of a favorite trip or childhood memory. Historical objects or those with spiritual meaning can bring greater depth to the garden.

Whatever you choose, consider partially concealing the object within garden beds or around the bend in a path to add an element of discovery.

Dreamy Landscape Lighting

Subtle, glowing landscape lighting makes a secret garden feel like a magical retreat. Select lights that are small and subdued, rather than bright flood lights — we’re going for the look of fairy lights. Apart from providing ambience, lights can be practical too — extending the time you can enjoy being out of doors, and illuminating pathways and stairs for safety.


Ways To Refresh Your Patio

Refreshing your patio with new furniture, decor or color automatically brightens the space and draws you into it. The good news is that giving your existing patio an upgrade doesn’t need to take a whole lot of time or money. Instead, you can tackle many updates in a day or a weekend, and most apply to patios of all styles. 

Change Things Up With Color

Give your patio more color with painted walls or colorful mounted or freestanding panels. 

Painting projects can usually be finished in a day or two, depending on the size of the space and the amount of prep needed. A simple but colorful panel or screen will take even less time. Look for landscape screens made of weatherproof materials such as metal, wood, glass, fiberglass, resin or concrete to perk up the space.

You can also add color with smaller decorative pieces such as pillows, throws or outdoor serving ware that will brighten the space now and can also transition with the seasons.


Add Art

Create immediate impact with a large-scale art piece. Look for art created expressly for outdoor use to be sure it will work. Wood, metal, glass, fiberglass and resin can handle the elements. Canvas can be treated to make it more weather-resistant.

For the best long-term results, keep art out of direct sunlight and rain as much as possible. Consider bringing it inside during the winter months. Another option is to get something temporary and enjoy it while it lasts.

Tuck In a Daybed

Find a corner for a daybed that will give you a place to relax and maybe even catch an afternoon nap. While a traditional chaise lounge or outdoor sofa can fit the bill, there’s something particularly inviting about a daybed’s extra lounging depth. Add plenty of cushions and maybe a light throw to help you nest.

Choose a daybed designed for outdoor use and furnish it with weather-resistant cushions and pillows or plan to cover the piece when rain threatens. You can set it under an overhang or add a nearby umbrella or shade cloth to keep you from getting too hot.

Create Shade

Give yourself some protection from the hot afternoon, or visually divide your patio into “rooms” with a shade structure. A simple umbrella will provide direct shade; larger versions will cover more area, and a tilt feature lets you adapt to the sun’s arc. A shade cloth strung between three or four points is another easy way to gain some shade.

A fabric gazebo does double duty, providing sun protection during the day and then becoming a relaxing outdoor living room at night. You can get them with or without sides. Most fabric gazebos have metal supports and fabric made from canvas, polyester or outdoor acrylic fabric. They’re easy to install; just be sure to anchor them securely, especially in windy areas.


Fill In With Potted Plants

Use your patio to show off your favorite plants or landscape style — from a tropical-themed vibe to an homage to succulents or a cheerful collection of favorite annuals and perennials. You’ll gain additional gardening space, soften the hardscape and enjoy favorite plants up close.

Group similar plants in different size planters to fill a corner or line a row of matching plants and planters to outline the edge of the patio. You can also add interest and dimension with a living wall or other vertical garden. Consider installing one large frame designed to hold a mix of plants or mount wall planters at various heights for a similar look. If you don’t have a nearby wall, you might be able to add small patio trees in containers to give you a lush feel.

Plants in containers, especially hanging plants, will dry out more quickly than those in the ground. Be prepared to water more often.


Screen for Privacy

A landscape screen provides a sense of enclosure and privacy. Even the simplest screen will turn your open patio into a defined and separate space. Screens come in an amazing variety of sizes and materials — everything from wood and wood composites to metal, fiberglass, resin, glass and even concrete.

Upgrade Your Lighting

Hang lanterns or pendants from an overhead beam to add flair to your patio’s lighting. Battery-operated lighting means you don’t have to deal with wiring and outlets.

If overhead lighting isn’t viable for your space, scatter lanterns or outdoor lamps around the patio. You can place them on tables, tuck them into planters or set them on the patio floor to create a welcoming atmosphere during the evening hours.

If your lights have an open flame, place them in a safe spot where they won’t be easily brushed against or tipped over and where the flame can’t ignite your decor or furnishings. Be sure to extinguish any candles before you leave the patio.


Install a Focal Point

Consider installing a permanent feature center stage in your space. You can place it over the existing paving or remove part of the surface to create a base.

An oversize planter set into the middle of a patio makes a bold statement that will draw people into the space. Set it where you want on a level surface. The weight of the soil and plant will help keep it in place.

Fountains are more complicated to install. Depending on the type of fountain, you may have to plan for a water reservoir below the fountain itself and an electrical outlet nearby.

If that’s more involved than you want, consider moving the fountain to a corner of the patio. Set the reservoir on the surface of the patio, surround it with a mix of container plants to hide the sides and place the fountain in the center. Add pebbles on top of the reservoir and run the cord behind the fountain and along a wall to an outlet.

Choose a Decorative Accent

Add a decorative note to floors, tables and counters or posts and beams with outdoor tile. If tiling isn’t possible for your patio, consider adding decorative contrast with paint.

Do a Deep Clean

Sometimes, the simplest approach is also the most rewarding. Patio surfaces are designed to take a lot of wear and tear, so you may not notice when they’re not looking quite as pristine as they once were.

To keep patios looking their best, take a day to give the space a good cleaning. Clear off the moveable furnishings, sweep the floor well and then wash or treat the surface with the appropriate cleanser. Often, a mix of warm water and dish detergent, plus a sturdy broom, is sufficient. Let it dry, then put everything back in place.

While you’re at it, clean any cushions and patio furnishings that have become a bit grungy or stained. Usually scrubbing items with a solution of warm water and dish detergent, then rinsing them and letting them dry, is all that’s needed. You may have to work a bit to get off stubborn stains, but the clean look will be worth it.

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