Get Ready for At-Home Learning

I was a homeschooling parent.

My older child turned 5 in 1994; my younger child was 16 (and ready to go to the local community college) in 2007.  During those 13 years, my kids did not go to school.

They didn't have computers either, until we got our first desktop in 2001.

We lived in three different houses during that time.  The largest was just over 1200 square feet, but for four years we lived in a two-bedroom home of about 800 square feet.

Both of my children have earned college degrees with honors.

And yet I never spent a ton of money on school.

If you have children beginning distance learning this fall, you've probably seen a lot of social media images of the ideal "home classroom" situation.  These usually involve a separate "school room," a desk, and organizational items such as a large white board and a lot of cute, matching storage containers.

If you're starting to panic that you don't have a spare room for your home school, and you don't have a dedicated desk for your 6-year-old, don't.  You don't need a conventional classroom setup or even a dedicated room.  You can set up distance learning in the dining area or living room.  Just focus on the basics:  a clean, flat surface, comfortable seating, good lighting, minimal distractions, and a space to store school materials.

6 Tips for At-Home Learning

1.  Find a flat writing surface where your child can sit comfortably.

This can be one end of the kitchen table or counter, if your child doesn't have a desk.  Completely clear the surface and commit it to school needs during the day.  It's best to have a chair that offers back support.  If your child is so young that his legs dangle when he sits, set up a footstool or even a box so that he can rest his feet. 

Just as your child may move from class to class at school, you could arrange different study spots in your home.  While she may need to sit in front of her laptop for online class meetings and lectures, she could sit on a pillow at the coffee table to do math homework or to study a history text.

2.  Provide ample light and a power source.

Eye strain can occur if you try to focus on a computer screen for too long in a dimly lit area.  If you can put the table or desk near a window, that would be ideal.  Natural light is both physically and mentally healthy.  However, good overhead lighting or a reading lamp will also promote vision hygiene.

Access to a power outlet is also important, but avoid having to stretch a cord across the floor where it might be a tripping hazard.  As you do for your phones, create a spot where laptops can be charged every evening so they are fully charged for morning school.  They can be plugged in again during lunchtime, if necessary, in order to avoid a stretched cord.

3.  Maintain a rhythm to your days.

Just as you would if your child were going to school, get up and eat breakfast at the same time each day.  Plan regular breaks during the time your child doesn't need to be online, and encourage him to be outside during those breaks, perhaps taking a short walk in the neighborhood (while practicing social distancing).  Have him learn to prepare and clean up his own lunch.  

Set a time for school to be over, and help your child learn to clean up and put away his school materials.  Use containers you already have for your child's distance learning essentials.  Pens, pencils, markers, rulers, scissors, etc. can go into a shoebox.  Binders and paper are cheap right now, but don't overbuy.  One binder with dividers and paper may work for each child, as most of their work is going to be submitted online.

4.  Remove distractions.

Make sure toys are put away before bedtime so they are not in evidence while your child is trying to concentrate on learning the next day.  In fact, he may find it easier to "go to school" in the kitchen or living room and then "go home" to his bedroom and his toys or hobbies.

Turn off the TV and radio.  In fact, they are probably distracting you too.  Many studies show that we actually concentrate and learn best in silence.  If you have more than one child who is distance learning, get each a pair of headphones so they can listen to their online lessons (or TED talks for kids, or a virtual museum tour) without distracting each other.

Now is the time to declutter for a calmer, more focused learning environment.  The whole family is home, so make it a family affair!  

  • Deal with dirty dishes and food prep items after each meal so counters are clear.
  • Remove magnets and papers from the refrigerator door and create a family bulletin board with current items only.
  • Pick up toys, clothes, hobby supplies and other items that might clutter the living room and put them away. 

5.  Introduce variety.

Just as your child might sometimes sit at the coffee table instead of her regular school area, she could copy a list of spelling words, brainstorm essay ideas, or simply read a book under a tree in your yard (an old-fashioned clipboard could provide a firm writing surface).  If it's stormy or too hot to take a break outside, stream a yoga lesson for kids (there are tons on YouTube), or play some favorite music and have a dance party.

6.  Supply as many books as you can.

In the Internet Age, communication skills are more important than ever.  Reading is the key to increasing all of those skills; it's the stepping stone to success in school and any career.  Just as with anything else, the more you read, the better a reader you become.  So if you're going to spend any money on school supplies, spend it on books your kids will enjoy reading just for fun.

Your child's teachers are working very hard to make distance learning as worthwhile and productive as possible.  With a little planning and very little money, you'll be able to set up a learning space that will work great for your child.


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