Homeschooling in Small Spaces: Art Cart

Contributed by Jennie Marable

I just had one of those moments when I realize it’s 1 pm, I haven’t had a glass of water or eaten anything that makes sense yet today, I’m trying to answer ten different texts from three different people, I’m pretty sure I just rewashed a load of laundry because I forgot I already washed it and I’m still in my pajamas (I’m always in my pajamas). Friday is the day of the week I’m most likely to forget to breathe–it’s a work in progress.

I’m currently working more hours away from home, so I often feel like I’m cramming more of our hands-on projects into the weekend–and lately, our weather has been so nice that our usual spring pursuits, art and cooking, have been ditched for bike riding and park visiting. I love homeschooling–being free to do what we want to do according to the day, but sometimes the weeks can start to feel a little shapeless and then I find myself eying box curriculum and thinking that maybe we need more structure.

To combat the feeling that we have been playing two months of hooky, I’ve been experimenting with making activities more available to my two small learners so they can work on skills without a facilitator. In the past I’ve maintained control over art supplies, both out of fear of mess, and space issues. We don’t have a spare room, or even a designated work table. Our kitchen table (a misnomer– we don’t have a kitchen large enough for a table, but I don’t know what to call it! The by-the-front-door-table is kind of awkward…) is our home office/craft station/school room/dining table, so it’s not practical to have supplies out all the time. So, I did this:




My husband built the cart for me to hold a record player, and be a mobile, flexible project station. The plan is from an MS Living how-to. It has a very narrow footprint, and it’s on wheels, so you can move it around easily–always practical in a small space. All of the building materials are low-cost items easily sourced from a hardware store, or N. Portland’s awesome Rebuild center. It was a fun project for two small assistants, who helped plan and measure, located tools, and sanded and oiled wood.

The handled bin, which is light and sturdy, is from Ikea and the containers shown are re-purposed spaghetti jars & planters from Ikea. I keep worksheets, scrap paper, play-dough, cookie cutters, pencil sharpeners, bead boards, chalkboards, and stamps in the bin. The rule is that unlike toys, as soon as they finish with one project, they must clean up completely before starting something new. A few months in, it’s going well. The box is messy, but everything is put away properly–no dried out inks or dough:




It’s easy to access, and easy to put away. I found these small chalkboards and they have been great tools for letter practice. They have a bin of chalk, a bin of crayons, and a bin of colored pencils. In a couple of months I think they will be ready for all-access paint, but this was a comfortable place to start practicing being responsible with art supplies:




I have been really pleased with how much granting them this independence and access to materials has motivated them both to do art for art’s sake, but to also work on letters, numbers, and handwriting–all on their own. And I am really happy to have a simple, sturdy, tidy place to put everything away.




Success! It’s apparent how much they enjoy the responsibility of putting thing away neatly, and keeping their pencils sharp, and their chalkboards clean. They like to put on a record or listen to the radio on while they work, so music appreciation is getting checked off the list too. Having a child-friendly art station has helped fill those lulls in our school day with meaningful busy-ness, and given me a little more free time without compromising any valuable real estate in our very small space. Happy Making!


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