Well, parents, here we are moving headfirst into the ocean of at-home learning! It’s no surprise that teachers, parents, and students felt overwhelmed with the quick change to remote learning caused by the COVID19 shutdowns in the spring. In the moment it felt a bit like riding the rapids over a waterfall on a self-made raft. The good news is that this time we have many lessons learned from the spring. And now we can prepare and pivot a well-built ship with a life-preserver in tow. As a former online educator, I have years of experience in coaching new parents and students on adjusting to online education, including creating a learning space that is both effective and usable.
Let’s dive into our five best tips for setting up your at-home learning space.
- Set expectations. “School Rules” and expectations aren’t new to learners. Every year the first few days and weeks of school are spent learning all of the things we need to know to function in the classroom. It’s no different in an at-home learning environment. Create a set of “At-Home School Rules” of your own. Students love creating rules together, it gives them shared ownership of expectations like the daily schedule, when and how to ask for help, where is the learning space, when is it ok to move about. Often school rules are written and posted. This can be a fun activity to do with early elementary and preschool learners. Older students might benefit from a contract set of rules that everyone in the family can sign.
- Design a home base. I know you are watching all of the Pinterest-worthy at-home learning spaces as you scroll through social media. Consider this official permission that you do not have to create a space that would appear in “Better Homes and Schools”. There are some very important things to consider when creating your learning space such as:
- Removing distractions. Find a space that is just for learning and selected based on the age or needs of your student. Young learners will need to be close by so they can access you quickly for help. Older students might prefer setting up in a home-office space or perhaps are comfortable learning at a desk in their room. Keep in mind what typically distracts your kiddo – if the TV or video game system in the room is too tempting, remove it or consider another space. Also, remember that it is ok to move the space after a week or two if it isn’t working out.
- Having good lighting. Keep their eyes healthy and strong! While they might try to convince you the trendy colored LED lights are fine, research would say that natural lighting is best. There are plenty of options out there for appropriate lighting in your learning space. Your students’ eyes will thank you later! Another consideration related to lighting is exposure to blue light from the computer screen. I encourage you to purchase a pair of blue light blocking glasses for extended time at the computer.
- Providing flexible seating. The at-home learning space should be a comfortable spot in your home. We have already discussed it is important to remove distractions and include good lighting. Finding a pleasant place to sit and learn adds value to your learning experience. Students’ seating should be flexible; it’s ok to allow them to move from the rigid office, or folding chair, to a bean bag or pillows on the floor, perhaps the dining room table for a change of pace. What is important is that the bean bag chair or dining room table aren’t so comfortable that your student feels sleepy and non-engaged. Take some time to explore with your learner which seating arrangements are best for them.
- Create a visible schedule. A schedule is important. It is very tempting to get lax, especially in the at-home learning environment. A visible schedule for each student in your home is imperative to keeping everyone on task. Create a schedule that outlines important times for each class and perhaps a note if that class is live (synchronous) or independent work (asynchronous). Include space for lunch and brain breaks and movement like those offered by GoNoodle. Warning: they are catchy and you’ll be singing along in no time.
- Provide access to resources and supplies. Students need supplies. I’m sure you are not surprised, since every year you spend a small fortune on tissues, glue sticks, crayons and markers. At-home learners will still need supplies just like this while at school they could access them easily and quickly by opening a desk or a locker. Similarly, at home, a centralized location for supplies is helpful and saves time. No one wants to be searching for the special pink pencil during a Zoom meeting with the teacher! Keep it simple – try a rolling cart, plastic storage unit, or a shoe box.
- Excitement! Children mimic their surroundings. While it can be difficult to mask our own thoughts and feelings about the virtual learning environment, it is imperative that we continue to encourage students with our own positive attitude. Make the day fun! When it begins to seem overwhelming, take a break, go outside, pause and have a snack. Brain breaks are a great way to redirect and refocus when things get a little stressful and your student (or you) need to step away for a moment. Teachers want your students to learn and grow and the key to that is ensuring their social-emotional needs are met.
We have high hopes you are already off to a great start and now with new resources for a positive experience you and your learners will swim in a sea of success!
About the Author: Misty Oerther
Misty leads the Vartek’s team of technology integration experts (the “iTeam”) as the Director – Technology Integration. With both a bachelor’s and master’s in education, Misty has 14 years of K-12 classroom experience in both brick and mortar and eSchools. She possesses a post-graduate certification in online and blended learning and has developed content for digital classrooms. Misty has led instructional design efforts at the university level, helping implement a new learning management system at the university. Her background in corporate training has prepared her to lead the design of engaging professional development for Vartek’s partner schools.