On March 13, 2020, Gary Bilezikian sent an email that would change the scope of his company’s impact in home-based learning environments.
Guidecraft, a leader in classroom and playroom design, was founded in 1966 as a woodshop in Garnerville. More than 50 years later (and now based in Tuxedo Park), it has expanded into innovative toys and furniture that “bring families together around meaningful activities and help create wonderful environments to celebrate and nurture children,” says Bilezikian, Guidecraft’s president.
Prior to the pandemic, the company’s main focus was enhancing educational spaces to encourage creativity. However, traditional learning environments were turned on their heads a year ago, causing schools to pivot their modes of teaching. As Bilezikian and his team saw the beginnings of educational spaces dismantling and going virtual, they also saw an opportunity for Guidecraft to concentrate on home learning environments.
With shutdowns looming, Bilezikian reached out to Martha Stewart Living and Marquee Brands to collaborate on a collection that would pioneer the concept of a child’s home office space. In 2021, the Martha Stewart Living and Learning Kids’ Collection, designed for ages 5 to 15, debuted.
The collection blends independence and imagination with workspaces to ensure a steady flow of organization, studying, individuality, and brainstorming. Desks, reading nooks, storage systems, bookcases, art centers, and more can bring the classroom to a student’s home. It helps children understand that discovery and learning can occur outside of school settings.
Some might think: Why would children need an office? Bilezikian believes that analyzing adult environments and restructuring them into educational spaces is stimulating. A kitchen table might not have the same engagement and productivity levels as workspaces crafted specifically for children.
“The world has been forced to take a pause, but children don’t pause, they continue to grow,” says Kevin Sharkey, executive design director at Martha Stewart Living/Marquee Brands. The ergonomically designed Living and Learning Kids’ Collection is a perfect fit for their growing bodies and minds, utilizing form and function to help children maximize their potential, no matter the location.
Lauren Magee, director of architecture and environmental design at Guidecraft, and a mother of three, offers this advice for an effective home learning space:
Include the kids: When making plans for distance learning, allow children to provide input on how they’d like to learn. By including your kids, they feel more invested and connected to the subject. This can be as simple as choosing school supplies, or making their schedules for school days.
Plan for the long-haul: Children grow, but furniture doesn’t. Invest in furniture that can provide longevity in the household. These pieces should “grow with them” and be long lasting, so the investment is worthwhile. In addition, when selecting furniture, it should blend with your living space (i.e. no neon or rainbow!).
No distractions: Learning spaces should be clear of items and technology that could derail children from focusing. Instill expectations that distractions like TV, video games, and phones are prohibited during school hours. Over time, a distinction of “school” and “play” mindsets will blossom.
Sure, there are some setbacks in homes becoming environmental settings for an extended period of time. However, Magee believes the flexibility and independence it provides is powerful in children’s growth. The home allows kids to choose where they’re learning, to change their space for optimal engagement, and influences their ownership and autonomy in decision making.