Setting Up For Distance Learning Success

children learning from home

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 WORKSPACES

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.

THE SCHEDULE

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?

OTHER TIPS

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.
  • Pets
  • Ringing phones and devices (including those belonging to parents that might ring in the vicinity)
  • Televisions
  • 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

*     *     *     *     *

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?

38 thoughts on “Setting Up For Distance Learning Success”

    1. I think knowing how and when to reach out makes the flow of information easier. I know some parents here who wonder how much they should help their children, and when to call in reinforcements. The more we can communicate during this difficult time, the better!

  1. I have several friends that are teachers. They still don’t know how school will be imagined. Most schools have several plans in place because things will most likely change last minute. This is challenging all around- for the teachers, administrators, parents, and students.

    And while there are many unknowns, it’s great to plan for the parts we have control over. So many of the suggestions you gave are exactly that. Even though it’s a lot to consider and coordinate, having some basics in place like where kids will do their work, what supplies they’ll need, and what a potential schedule will be like, goes a long way for alleviating additional stress.

    I love your idea of creating different spaces for doing different types of work. It’s a way of giving some movement and change of scenery to the learning/studying environment.

    1. Thanks for the affirmation, Linda! I think many of us have a hard time sitting still or working in one place all day. Sometimes mixing up the scenery can reinvigorate you and bring up the energy to focus on a new task!

  2. You did a great job here. We did remote learning from March to June here. Right now, we aren’t quite sure what is happening for the Fall here just yet here in NY. Our District submitted their plan to the state this past Friday. But now, we wait for our Governor further guidance. Plus, all can be derailed if the COVID numbers start to go up again. So it is anyone’s guess. But from our past experience, you nailed it here, and thanks for your great advice.

    1. The uncertainty makes it hard to plan, and I think there are children out there who have some anxiety about all of this. I figure being prepared always helps us manage better to shifting sands underneath us. It wouldn’t surprise me if we start with one model and then shift to another here in CT as well!

    1. Exactly, Dianne! If your tools are in place and the children end up being in the classroom, you’ve at least got a great homework space set up!

  3. Many schools are opening this week in Atlanta. Most are offering parents a choice of in-person or virtual learning. I saw a percentage report this morning on the local news which indicated 76% of students in one particular district would be in school today. I hope and pray this works out well for everyone.

    I love the way you outlined the process for turning home into a virtual learning center. As a former elementary school teacher I wholeheartedly agree that children need to move around and do different things in different places. I love the idea of a beanbag chair in the corner for a reading nook. And, advising parents how to let their children know when they can and can’t interrupt them. After all, the parents are most likely working from home and need to have uninterrupted work time. Fabulous piece, Seana!

    1. I’ve heard from many parents that the “interrupt rules” are important. As you say, they are trying to work from home as well, so clear ground rules can really save the day!

  4. You really have covered all the bases – great job!

    They announced last week that schools will be reopening here – full time, every day up to grade 8, with no reduction in class sizes. I’m scared for my grandchildren and their mothers, who are both teachers. I know the government made that decision so parents can go to work and not worry about child care, but there’s got to be a better way.
    Janet Barclay recently posted…Creating Your Blogging VoiceMy Profile

    1. I’m hoping that everyone in your family will stay safe and healthy. I’m frankly thankful that it isn’t my job to make this decision!

  5. While I do not have young kids, I do have compassion for those parents that have to do this unwanted but necessary task. I agree, creating a workspace that doesn’t distract but motivates the children to do their work is super important. I love the idea of doing an exercise space and dividing the day throughout the home. =) Thanks for sharing these great tips.
    Sabrina Quairoli recently posted…6 Critical Tasks To Do Before Starting High SchoolMy Profile

    1. My children are grown as well, Sabrina, but I’ve been in touch with many younger Moms. This is no small endeavor, and my heart goes out to everyone!

  6. Very timely and considerate post! I’ve worked with kids for almost 17 years and I noticed the digital clock phenomenon about 10 years ago. I started adding analog clocks to my classroom to ensure that my students knew how to read and use them. The passage of time is so important for learning how to manage schedules and projects and… EVERYTHING!

    I also appreciate your tip about allowing a fidget distraction. For those who are kinesthetic learners, this is a huge help!

    1. Just because a child feels the need to fidget doesn’t mean he isn’t paying attention, right? Sitting still is not required for learning. I say, whatever works best for the child is what should be employed. Maybe distance learning will allow a bit more flexibility in this area, which could be a benefit!

  7. Timely post, Seana! In addition to soothing music, I also had an oil diffuser going for my kiddo as certain essential oils can aid in concentration and motivation. Aromatherapy is such a powerful tool.
    I was just in communication with an out of state friend who is a teacher and so is her husband – in different districts of course. And their son is in elementary school. It’s a logistical puzzle for them right now. Mu husband and I just filled out yet another parent survey about our school reopening today. #goodtimes

    1. My heart goes out to all of you parents – this is just so difficult! Hard to know what the right thing to do is. I love the idea of aromatherapy for sure. I sometimes burn a candle myself, especially during dark winter days, just because I love the scent. Wishing you and your son luck as you navigate these shifting sands. You are a great Mom, Sarah, so no matter what happens, he will be ok:)

  8. Seana, you did not miss a thing! I just had a conversation with my daughter this morning about school. Even moms of preschoolers are worried. If I had school-age children, I would be hard-pressed to send them to school right now. It’s a very difficult decision and a very difficult time.
    You have terrific ideas. I particularly liked having a schedule and routine. It helps make learning and the day flow.
    I have to admit, I always liked the desk to
    face the wall. It felt private and easier to concentrate and eliminate distractions. Then the wall in front became the perfect spot to hang notes, instructions, calendars etc. Even a shelf to hold extra books and supplies.

    1. I feel for all the parents, administrators, teachers and lawmakers out there. This isn’t easy! I love that enjoyed your little “nook.” It definitely works for some people, and if you and your children like it, that is the easiest to set up! It does provide an easy way to hang a bit of inspirational and practical display within plain sight. A shelf is also perfect!

  9. Great tips. So important right now. I created a video last week that talked about the two most important things to considered when planning for the upcoming school year – Schedule and Space. So we think alike!

    1. Ahhhh… great minds think alike, right Janet? Schedule and space are what gets the job done. These times are so tricky and I really feel for the parents and teachers who are trying to figure it all out. Regardless of how it plays out, it never hurts to have a good system set and ready to go!

  10. You cover quite a lot! If I didn’t have kids, I certainly wouldn’t envy having to make these decisions right now. It’s brutal.
    We have something set up for Scarlet, but need a little more for Des so I thank you for this.

    1. Good luck, Tamara. This is one tricky landscape to navigate! My heart is going out to all the parents, kids, teachers, administrators and lawmakers trying to figure it all out!

  11. It’s so funny (but not all that surprising) that we were thinking on the same lines this week. I love your post. Excellent suggestions, and I particularly like the way you broke everything down. It’s always interesting to see someone else’s take on a similar topic.

  12. These tips you’ve shared, Seana, are invaluable for families in this entirely new school year. I especially like your idea to have multiple study locations identified. As the mother of a high school student used to changing rooms, this is a great idea.

  13. Let them work wherever they are productive. Spot on. As parents, we try to force our kids into a chair and deck. That may not be their best learning style. Great read.

    1. Lots of children don’t love the chair and desk, and does it really matter? Many children work well on the floor, so let them be where they are comfortable!

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  15. Kids with learning disabilities have extra challenges for remote learning. Contact the counselor at the school and connect with the teacher’s aid that helped them in the past to schedule regular discussions about new material. If the student had a diagnosed learning disability, they most likely have a person that helps them regularly. Make sure they are aware of what is happening at home, good and bad, so that they can give guidance.
    Sabrina Quairoli recently posted…Back to School Student Organization ChallengeMy Profile

    1. I think children with special needs may be having an especially rough time with this crazy scenario. Wonderful advice to really be extra proactive in reaching out to those who are in place to custom design solutions to get them through!

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