“Learn from home” has become the new “work from home” and many parents have been left wondering how to establish an effective home workspace for their child during distance learning. One quick internet search can lead you down a rabbit hole of picture-perfect modernized mini-desks with no dust bunnies or wayward materials in sight. But unless your child is a robot, this is not only impractical; it’s also likely to induce a pressure cooker of anxiety at hot-pot speed.
Let’s break this job down into tips we can all live with.
Ask Your Child
Don’t forget to check in with the most important member of your child’s learning team – the student themselves! Your child may surprise you with valuable insight into how they feel they’ll learn best. Include them in an honest conversation about the logistics of working from home, and allow them some ownership upfront. The best-case scenario is you’ll get their buy-in. If their idea doesn’t work out, circle back with honest feedback and concrete examples such as, “I noticed you missed the instructions for homework because you were playing with your Legos.” This could lead to your child developing more insight into his or her own learning profile which will serve everyone well in the long run.
Choosing a Room
It’s helpful for children to have a consistent space where they can work. Younger children typically benefit from working in a centralized location to hold them accountable, such as the dining room table. Older students may gravitate towards a quieter space, such as a parent’s office or the basement. Just because your workspace is consistent day-to-day, doesn’t mean it won’t change over the months. A common reason for change is external distractions. If you notice your child regularly staring out the bay window or jumping at the sound of the AC turning on, it’s time for a change. This change could include moving rooms, rotating tables, adding noise canceling headphones, or simply drawing the shades.
The Table and Chair
You don’t need to spend a month’s salary on new furniture to create an effective learning space! Make sure your child has a comfortable stationary chair that can fit under their tabletop and supports a 90-90-90-degree body posture with their ankles, knees, and hips. Using pillows on the seat or back of the chair may help achieve this posture. If your child’s feet dangle unsupported, make sure to find a box or bin that they can use as a footrest to promote attention and writing skills. Ensure the tabletop has plenty of space for a laptop or computer, as well as a piece of paper or notebook. Using painter’s tape to mark off each child’s area may be helpful if multiple children are sharing one larger table. If your child is in kindergarten or younger, standing at the edge of a coffee table may be a proper height.
Computer Use and Safety
Your child’s computer will be their lifeline during distance learning, so protecting it is vital. Don’t forget to include any parental controls or network security firewalls to ensure their digital safety before the school year kicks off. Also prepare to protect the physical laptop from spilled drinks or drops. Set your child up for success by giving them a water bottle with a cap instead of an open glass, and adding a protective case to prevent cracked screens if dropped. It’s also important to ensure your internet is able to handle everyone working and learning from home at once, so a practice run for the family before day one may be helpful.
It’s safe to assume a laptop isn’t the only material your child will need during distance learning. Reach out to teachers in advance and help your child collect any additional materials they’ll need to be successful, such as scissors, pencils, and blank paper. Storing these materials in clear containers can help to keep things organized and easy to clean up, yet also visible and therefore easy to find. It is also helpful to reach out to your child’s school to ask if any additional materials or strategies are recommended specifically for your child, such as movement-based seating, visual timer, or handheld fidget.
Create a Community
One of the most difficult things to translate during distance learning is the sense of community your child may rely on in their brick and mortar school. Create a work/learn community in your home by establishing some new routines together, such as reading out announcements over breakfast for each family member, enjoying a tech-free lunch or a quick midday snack together, or starting a playlist to signify the end of the work day. Support your child’s class community digitally by hosting non-academic zoom social hours. A virtual show-and-tell can be a simple way to help students get to know each other if they haven’t met already. Establishing regular “hang out” times can help children mark the days they’re at home, such as holding a weekly Friday night dance party.
Be prepared for whatever setup you and your children choose to change over time, and know that that’s okay! Breathe a sigh of relief that you never bought that expensive mini-desk you felt you needed during the summer break. Remember distance learning is a learning curve for everyone, and the most important thing is that your child is safe, happy, and engaged.
Allison Duggan is a practicing occupational therapist with an expertise in pediatrics. She currently works in Montgomery County Public Schools. Never one to exclude an age group, she also practices in adult inpatient acute care occupational therapy. Off the clock, you’ll find her and her dog spending time with family and friends on a trail, in the sand, or watching the game. She loves to create, from paper flowers to refinished furniture, and is always game for game night.
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