Back to School Part 2: Making the Most of Learning from Home

If you have kids learning from home this fall because of the COVID-19 outbreak, you know all too well that school from home is an entirely different animal than school at school. While we can’t promise home school perfection, we offer these tips on setting up your space, helping kids stay on task, and preserving household peace.

Know your child. Keeping your child’s tendencies in mind can help you set up a workspace where your child will be most effective. Wiggly, social kids might be less engaged when they’re tucked in a far corner. Quieter kids may find it tough to focus at the kitchen table of a busy household. Some kids learn well independently. Others may not have the skills to keep at it for long stretches or without your support.

Choose a workspace. Your goal is to designate a comfortable space where kids can focus. If possible, use this space just for school time. A spare room or quiet nook where you can tuck a small table could be ideal. The kitchen table or counter can double for class time – the trick is to change it to signal school is in session. You might put on (or take off) a tablecloth or have kids change seats from where they usually sit for meals and snacks.

With your workspace selected, there are a few more practical items to check off your list, all of which will help learners stay comfortable and eliminate distractions.

Ergonomics. The ideal set up puts the work surface at waist height, feet able to rest flat on the floor, elbows able to rest on the surface without shoulders scrunching toward ears. For a better chair fit, try using a pillow or folded towel behind or underneath your child and a cardboard box footrest.

Lighting. It’s easier to focus when it’s bright enough to read with ease. Add a desk lamp if necessary.

Surface area. Allow enough room for kids to arrange books and papers for easy access.

Tools. Round up everything they might need – calculators, scissors, glue sticks, colored pencils, erasers, paper, chargers. Put it all in a bin or basket that can be easily stowed when school is over.

Set a schedule. Make sure everyone in the house understands when school time starts and ends, as well as when there will be breaks for snacks, meals, and downtime. Post your schedule where everyone can see it easily. For younger kids, alternating 20 minutes of learning with 10 minutes of active play might be just right. Make sure older kids take breaks between classes or subjects, too.

Keeping kids engaged. Many educators recommend using a timer to help kids know there’s a break coming soon. Others suggest reward systems where kids earn points for successful learning sessions that add up to a bonus. A reward could be a family game night, staying in your pjs all day, making ice cream sundaes, skipping chores, playing an extra 15 minutes of basketball or a game of flashlight tag. Brainstorm a list of ideas with your kids, and they’ll be even more likely to buy in.

Have a plan B. Some kids do better with a change of scenery half way through the day. This  doesn’t have to mean an additional workstation. Switch to the other side of the table after lunch. Stand up at the kitchen counter or at a tall dresser or sideboard for math. Read in a comfy bean bag chair. 

Suggestions for smaller siblings. If you have a toddler or preschooler at home, planning ahead for the day can help free you up to help older ones stay on task. Set up different areas – blocks, cars, crayons and paper, modeling dough, play cooking, etc., that younger ones with shorter attention spans can rotate through while older siblings work.

Be realistic. No matter how hard you try, tough days will happen. Remind yourself that even when kids are in school, they aren’t focusing on academics for seven hours straight. Hands-on learning counts, too, so switching to cooking, crafting, playing an instrument, bug collecting, or practicing sports skills is a good strategy when the going gets rough. Be gentle to yourself and acknowledge the extra stress that parents are coping with during this time.