How to Marie Kondo your kid’s study area for better grades

A messy study desk can overwhelm your already stressed kid when he is revising for exams. EVELINE GAN finds out how small tweaks to his learning environment can make a huge difference.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Time and again, Science has proven that a messy, cluttered environment causes stress and affects the way we work.

It may sound cliched, but kids do actually crave structure, says clinical psychologist Vyda S. Chai of Think Psychological Services and Think Kids Intervention and Developmental Services.

“A chaotic study space can be distracting and rather overwhelming for a child who needs to focus and concentrate. Mess and a chaotic study space may also induce anxiety and discomfort,” Vyda shares.

On the other hand, a clean and tidy space not only creates a more conducive and healthier learning environment for young minds, studies have shown that it also helps them behave better, because they know what to expect, she adds.

With that in mind, Vyda shares five pro tips on how to tame clutter and create an A-grade study space. 

First, remove items that do not “spark joy”

Japanese home-organising guru Marie Kondo may not be trained in psychology, but she definitely got it right with her minimalist decluttering system.

Research shows that too many varied objects in a child’s field of view affect his ability to focus and concentrate, Vyda says.

As general rule of thumb, keep only the essentials in view on the study table. Materials that your kid does not require at that point in time should be kept in a drawer or shelf, she adds.

Cluster and mess can be over-stimulating and may affect how your kid regulates emotionally, she says.

“Having multiple study items on the table may also increase anxiety and make your child panic,” Vyda explains.

When taming your child’s chaotic study space, consider the following tips from Vyda. Remember to get Junior involved in the decluttering process and respect that there may be some precious items that are off-limits.

Rubbish and items that do not serve a positive function or purpose should be thrown away. Examples of items that may fall into this category are old baby toys, broken furniture, worn-out clothing, bags or water bottles.

Remove items that do not bring joy and happiness – your kid may argue otherwise, but gently explain why school and assessment books don’t fall under this category.

Think about the items that may be donated or given away, especially those that have not been touched or used for years. 

Get the basics right

An exam-ready kid will need a comfortable, posture￾friendly desk and a proper chair. But they should not be so comfortable that your child loses focus and ends up snoozing during revision, Vyda points out.

“It does not need to be expensive merchandise as long as it is sturdy,” she says.

You might however, want to consider adjustable desks and seats to adapt to your child’s growth.

On the table, keep appropriate stationery within arm’s reach and well-organised. You may also place a study plan or schedule in view as a visual reminder of targets your kid has set for himself, says Vyda. 

Keep technology out of sight, out of mind

Unless the laptop or computer is required for studying, all gadgets and other tech distracters should preferably be out of sight, Vyda says.

“Instagram and Facebook apps are not going to help your child absorb or learn new material. Updates and postings can be viewed after he has finished what he planned to complete,” she adds.

A study published in Computers in Human Behaviour in 2013 found that students spent only two-thirds of their time working on an important school assignment when they have access to their phones.

Media-tasking such as texting friends and using Snapchat took up the remaining time. In fact, the researchers observed the students’ “on-task” behaviour started declining at around the two-minute mark.

If you find your kid getting distracted during revision, consider a snack or a quick exercise break – at a nearby park or playground, perhaps?

A study led by the University of Edinburgh, published in Landscape and Urban Planning in 2012, found that people’s stress levels are related to the amount of nature around them. For every 1 percent increase in green space, the study participants reported less stress. 

Lighting matters

Light has a psychological effect on students, which can affect learning. For instance, studies have found that students performed significantly better on standardised tests in classrooms where windows and skylights let in more daylight.

A study area that is too dark is not only sleep-inducing, it also exacerbates eyestrain, which makes it difficult for your kid to remain focused and motivated, Vyda shares.

But overly harsh lighting, such as fluorescent light, can be hard on the eyes, too. If possible, use natural light during the day or a study lamp, she advises.

Recent research shows that the colour of lighting affects brain performance, as well.

Plain and clear lighting, or natural lighting, works best when studying, says Vyda. It is easier on the eyes for studying and facilitates concentration and alertness.

“If your child using a desk lamp, find one that it is flexible so you can minimise glare, reflections and shadows. Too much glare, reflection and shadows may strain the eyes and make it difficult to sustain focus,” she explains.

Research has found that cooler white to natural daylight bulbs, in the range of 4000K (degrees Kelvin) to 6500 K, are optimal for studying, says Vyda. 

When space is an issue

For families with space constraints, Vyda advises designating a study area away from distractions such as the television, living room or high-traffic space.

Do this by positioning the study table in a well-lit corner of a bedroom, she says. Ideally, it should not be faced a window, as that your child may be tempted to stare out of the window and daydream, she adds.