The question of where kids will be learning in the fall is a hard one to answer. While districts are doing the best they can, the ever-changing situation with COVID-19 means that distance learning is once again a realistic possibility for many children. While most parents already experienced this scenario last spring, now is a good time to intentionally design functional workspaces for your children to learn at home if this becomes necessary.
Here are a few tips to maximize the productivity of your space.
The first challenge is to set up physical locations for learning.
1. Set up a space for computer viewing.
- Designate a surface where the computer will sit, ideally out of the main traffic flow zone of the home.
- Identify the closest outlet for charging and have long charging cords on hand if necessary.
- Provide a supportive chair from which the child’s feet can reach the floor. If appropriate, stack books under the computer so that the screen is at eye-level.
- Minimize overhead and external light that might put a glare on the screen.
- If the child needs to work with papers while watching, be sure there is clear surface area next to the computer.
- Fill a bottle or glass with water that can be kept close at hand.
2. Establish a workspace for “pen & paper” homework. This can be in a separate location from where computer viewing takes place.
- Ensure that the child has a reasonably sized clear surface on which to work. Ideally, this space doesn’t face a wall, which many people find unpleasant. Picture the desks at school, which face open air.
- Provide strong task lighting, such as a desk lamp. (Tip: place the lamp on the opposite side of student’s dominant hand.)
- Establish a storage container to hold critical supplies. This can be a small caddy, mug or small divided box. The basic supplies should include a ruler, a pair of scissors, pencils, an eraser, and perhaps markers/crayons/colored pencils, depending on the age.
- Keep a good electric pencil sharpener nearby if possible.
- Provide a storage location for books, binders, folders, and notebooks. This can be a small bookshelf, crate, bin, and/or desktop sorter like a magazine file.
3. If possible, consider multiple locations for different types of work. Children often want to get up and move around, and this is something they do at school under normal circumstances. Imagine your home as a school building through which children can move from one space to another for different activities. Some of the “stations” you might have are:
- Locations for different types of homework, such as “math in the dining room” and “science at the kitchen island.”
- A quiet location for reading, such as a beanbag chair in the corner of the room or a cozy chair in the living room.
- Designated space for practicing musical instruments with stands, instruments and storage for sheet music.
- A “Library” bookshelf, where you keep the family reading material.
- Exercise space, which may include both indoor and outdoor options.
As you plan, you may want to let your children have a say in where they want to work. Some young people like to work on the floor, some at a coffee table, some upstairs in their room, and some right in the middle of the action in the kitchen. Some even like to sit in the bathtub or stand up! The key is to let them work wherever they can be most productive.
4. Visually enhance the surrounding space in a way that boosts productivity.
- Hang a bulletin board where younger children can display needed materials. (Click here for more information on how to organize your child’s artwork.)
- Use a dry erase board or large calendar to provide a visual overview of the plan for the day/week.
- Let each child have a favorite object in the space, such as a blanket, photo, slippers, action figure, etc. (Limit this to one or two to keep the space from becoming too cluttered and distracting.)
- Use a TimeTimer and/or large clock to help children see and understand the passing of time.
Once the physical spaces are set up, it is time to focus on setting a schedule. Most people thrive on consistency, so the more routine you can include, the better. Elements that need to be addressed include:
- When will students be physically in school and when will they be at home? This may differ day by day, as some schools are considering a blended model of in-classroom and distance learning.
- When is the “start” of the learning day? (e.g. school starts at 8:00am)
- When will there be breaks during the day, and how long will they be? (be sure to get children off of screens and moving around periodically)
- When will exercise be worked into the day? (the equivalent of recess)
- When and where will there be eating and drinking? (other than water)
- When will “desk work” be done, as opposed to online classes. For example, if a packet of assignments comes home weekly, how will this work be spread out over the course of the week?
- When will Mom and/or Dad be available and when can they not be interrupted? How will Mom and Dad signal that they are unavailable? (e.g. “when the door is closed it means Do Not Disturb”)
- Will the children work independently or will a parent/other adult be monitoring the learning time?
- Will there be additional tutoring as part of the day, either by a parent or by someone else? If so, when and where will this take place?
- What are the rules about checking phones and social media and playing video games? (be clear in advance about how these rules will be enforced)
To help your child keep up with the routine, set up a system for keeping track of both calendar and “to do” items. This can be anything from a hanging board with post-it notes to a paper planner to Google calendar. Check with your child’s school to see if they prefer one tool over another.
The planning materials should capture:
- When does the child have to “show up” for a particular event at a particular time? This could be in-person or virtually, and includes class, tutoring, doctor appointments, therapy, lessons, practice, rehearsals, group meetings, etc.
- When will regular homework be done?
- When will work on “long term projects” be done? (Tip: it helps to think of long-term projects as an activity that needs to be on the calendar. For example, Tuesday and Thursday afternoons from 2-3 or Saturday morning from 11-12.)
- When will independent reading be done?
- When will chores be done?
- When is free time? When can children connect with peers?
While every student learns and works differently, there are a few extra things you can do to help distance learning succeed.
1. Remove anything that is distracting, such as:
- Clutter on the work surfaces. Make them as clear as possible, even if items need to be removed during “school hours” and replaced afterward.
- Ringing phones and devices (including those belonging to parents that might ring in the vicinity)
- Computer distractions (close social media apps, disable alerts, etc.)
2. Offer tech support:
- Ensure there is sufficient charging capability.
- Supply headphones, especially if children are in a potentially noisy space.
- Adjust speed, volume and brightness of videos to best suit each child’s preferences.
- Problem solve what to do if the wifi becomes slow or fails. Consider investing in extra bandwidth if you have many users.
- Decide which printer children should use and ensure everyone is able to print. Keep a supply of paper on hand.
- Provide easy reference to required passwords and usernames.
3. Make a plan for connecting with the teacher(s)
- Know how each one prefers to be contacted and how you can best provide feedback on what is happening at home.
- Discuss in advance how you should respond if your child is having difficulty.
4. Consider providing a “fidget” distraction, such as:
- A fidget spinner or squishy ball to keep hands busy
- A bouncy ball seat or standing desk if children have a hard time sitting still (Swivel chairs can become “rides” for younger children, so are not recommended.)
- A background track of instrumental music for children who struggle with silence
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The key word for this year is “flexibility.” While your home may never be as ideal as a classroom, it can function well enough to keep learning on track.
What tips do you have for distance learning?