Small-Space Homeschooling: Part 1


Small-space living changes how you homeschool. It’s a limitation—but, to my surprise, it’s also a catalyst for creative education. Yes, you can teach in an apartment!

I make educational choices based on how much specialized stuff it requires. We need some workbooks and paper goods, obviously, and a certain amount of tape, glue, and creative whatnot—but less than you might suppose.


Here’s my delightful dozen tricks for teaching in a small apartment.

  1. For ephemeral things, I choose ephemeral methods. I write our daily schedule on a whiteboard. At the end of the day, I erase it. I waste no emotional energy debating whether to keep it; no filing space is required; nobody has to carry it out with trash or recycling. I just buy new markers occasionally.
  2. I have one big table. If we really need table space for school, I have to clean up breakfast. The horror. Mostly we sit on the couch or floor, though.
  3. Pinterest is my friend. I get ALL THE PRETTY and I don’t lose that clever rhyme for teaching clocks before we get there, and I don’t have to put it anywhere. Thank you, pixel technology.
  4. I wield that library card. Did you know, if you check books out of the library, they take them back again when you’re done? And you don’t have to buy another bookshelf when you move on from Greece to Rome? It’s kind of the best. Obviously, if I find a really fabulous book I want to read over and over again, I buy just that one. I’m seriously considering purchasing this book.
  5. I raid everybody’s bookshelves. I’m sure they love me. Actually, older homeschool moms usually are delighted to share their used books and curriculum…and sometimes they’ll take it back when you’re done. Bonus points if your own parents were homeschoolers. I also lend my books to other people.
  6. I’m a more creative mama. I’d rather buy good toys than mediocre manipulatives, and everything is fair game for education. We add domino scores and graph Lucky Charms marshmallows. We sculpt Phidias’ statue of Athena from Play-doh, play Greek merchants with My Little Ponies (I got Princess Celestia), and act out the Battle of Thermopylae with dinosaurs. When that pales, we model Plato’s perfect shapes with magnet tiles.
  7. I’m a less creative mama, and I own that fact. We don’t do big, messy, un-store-able projects, like a complete set of salt-dough topographical maps for every kingdom in the ancient Near East. They’re fine if your kids are wired that way and you have somewhere to put them, but they aren’t a moral imperative.
  8. I decorate like a sane person. I have a friend who intentionally doesn’t have art on her main level so that her boys can be raucous. Her house is still attractive and hospitable. I did something similar in my extra-wide hall, and it doubles as white space for the eye and an indoor soccer field. That’s success, my friends.
  9. Paper crafts are not forever. I mean it. We send some to grandparents, and I put others up on an art wall for a few months, and then I select the very best for her permanent file. I might frame a really special piece. Everything else can be recycled. REALLY. In twenty years, she’ll want to look at a file of her kindergarten art and go, “aww,” but she won’t thank me for saving a ream of it.
  10. Songs don’t take up any space. All of us except Kate make up educational songs on the fly on any subject, and we leave no paper trail whatsoever. I’m sure Kate will also start making up lyrics as soon as she has a few more words under her belt.
  11. We can learn about animals without owning them. I don’t have an ant farm, a dog, a pony, or a tank of tropical fish, but I know where to find them all. (The mall.) (Just kidding.) (Actually Nordstrom’s does have a nice fish tank.)
  12. We leave the house. There’s a whole world out there. I browse a lot of online small-space house tours, and one of the most memorable ones said something like, “You have to treat the whole dang city as your living room.” Like that.

Pics 155

Someday we might start reading e-books as a space-saving measure, but so far, the girls and I really don’t. I’ve tried and I like paper books better. I do possess a Kindle Fire, which I use as a smartphone, and Jonathan has a smartphone, which he uses constantly as an e-reader. To each his own.

Join me next time for part two of this post. I’m going to talk about some attitudes I’ve learned from small-space homeschooling.

Click here for part 2!

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12 thoughts on “Small-Space Homeschooling: Part 1

  1. Carolyn, I home schooled in a small space the first 8 years. We took the hanging bar out of the front room closet and put in shelves. They were easy to access all day long and when it was meal time everything slid back in.


  2. We are a family of 6 living in 3 bd 1250 sq ft apt for the last year. Plus my hubby works from home at times. It has not been easy but we have made due and been humbled by this season. Thank you for writing this. I think I might write about my own experience too

    Liked by 1 person

  3. We also homeschool in an apartment! We are a family of eight living in a four-bedroom apartment, which isn’t bad except for the eating situation. We can’t fit a table that seats more than six. So we’ve gotten creative with kids splitting up and a few working on the table, others on the floor in the living room or their bedrooms. They’re still learning! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Yes! I wield the library card as well, though I also confess to owning more books than we seem to have shelf space for *ahem*. I have definitely vetoed making extensive “crafty” projects because the thought “Where could we possibly PUT this?!” crosses my mind (especially now that I have done this for many years and I am MUCH wiser than I was back in the day when we had enough craft stuff to stock a kindergarten class!).

    Thanks for the reminder that paper is recycle-able….I REALLY need to do this more often. I mean, does anyone seriously want to look at the grammar worksheets we did in second grade (all of them!?).


    • Yup. I currently have all our finished workbooks on file, as in literally in a filing cabinet, and need to decide whether to prune or convert to digital or what. We’re in the early years yet so they haven’t accumulated too badly, but they will!


  5. We are a family of 6 in a one bedroom apartment in NYC. Homeschooling in a small space is a special experience. There is no area untouched and everything has more than one purpose. Sometimes it can be overwhelming but I know that one day I will look back on this time and miss it😊! You have no choice but to remain creative in such a situation!


  6. This is exactly what I needed to read. Thank you! We are selling our house with a school room and we are traveling for the next year with just backpacks. Timely read as I’ve thought “How on earth are we going to do school without our white boards, wall maps and workbooks?” To which I’ve been encouraged with the CC mantra “stick in the sand!” Going to read your part 2 next.


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