There is a very good chance our kids will spend at least part (or most, or all) of their week learning virtually from home after the school year starts back up this fall. And although we managed to make it through the spring with makeshift learning spaces where they completed their sporadic assignments and took part in disorganized Zoom calls, this is different. They are starting a new grade with a new teacher and new curriculum, and we’re no longer in just-make-it-to-the-end-of-the-year mode. They’re going to have to — gulp — legitimately learn from home. So they’re going to need a space dedicated to doing that.
If your kids don’t already have a defined area to work on their schoolwork, now is a good time to take a look around your home and figure out where you can set them up — keeping in mind their comfort, the functionality of the space and anything you can add to make it feel a little fun.
In the autumn, my son got into the habit of sprawling across my bed with his Chromebook for an hour or two each day to complete his third-grade assignments. His young back could handle such a position for a small portion of the day, but he’s going to be expected to sit and work from home for much longer time periods this year. So one of the first things I started looking for was a desk and a comfortable chair.
You might already have a desk or table in your home that can be repurposed for a learning space this fall, but if you don’t already have a suitable chair and you’re able to splurge on at least one thing, make it that. Check that the chair and height of the desk they’re using will make it comfortable for them to work and/or type at for significant chunks of time.
If possible, position them at or near a window. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my years of working from home, it’s that natural light and a view of the outside world are good for one’s mental health, especially right now.
Knowing that we’re going to have to keep our kids on task this school year is a daunting thought, to say the least. And yet, it’s true. There will be plenty to distract them from their work, including their siblings, your own work calls, the garbage truck clanking down the street, the proximity to a kitchen full of snacks and the fact that they’d rather be watching TV. The only hope we’ve got is to set them up with the most functional space we can.
If at all possible, particularly if you have more than one child who will need to do schoolwork and video chats throughout the day, look for a space for each kid that is semi-private and quiet, so that one kid’s kindergarten Zoom calls don’t wreck the concentration of the kid who is trying to multiply fractions for the first time. If the kids will need to work in the same room, consider also designating a space in another room as strictly for video calls so that whoever is actively working can do so in peace.
Their working space should also be big enough to fit their computer (if they have one) and any school supplies they’ll be using regularly, such as pencils, crayons, paper, rulers, binders and workbooks. If they’ve got a desk with drawers, great; if not, pull out some small containers or office organisers for them to stash away their supplies.
If they are young and you are also working from home during this time, you’ll need to consider where they’ll be working in relation to where you are set up, particularly if you’ll be the one who primarily helps them troubleshoot when they feel stuck. They’ll need to be close enough to seek out help if they need it but not so close that you’re constantly distracting each other all day. This will be tricky, and vary depending on your kids’ ages and how much assistance they’ll need, but it’s something to keep in mind.
And finally, try to make the space feel a little fun. I’ve ordered my son a bright yellow desk and a neon green chair (both of which he picked out), as well as some colourful office organisers and these emoji drink coasters. But you could also paint furniture you already own in bright colours and hang up a small cork board, white board or posters for decoration.
Next, add a funky lamp to their desk or a colourful rug under their workspace. Frame a couple of pictures of them with their friends from better, non-pandemic days. Round it all out with a small plant for ambience and a stress ball to squeeze the anxieties away. Try to make the space bright and inviting in whatever way you can so it’s less of a mental struggle for them to sit down and get to work every day.