Create A Virtual Learning Space At Home To Help Your Kids Succeed
Rachel Burris6-Minute Read
January 05, 2021
As a parent, virtual learning has undoubtedly left you struggling to juggle. You’re overwhelmed, exhausted and anxious your kids aren’t receiving the same quality of education they were in school. But there are steps you can take to ensure they have the tools they need to succeed.
To help your kids thrive, create a virtual learning space at home that takes the pressure off of you and gives your children the confidence to take ownership of their learning. Learn how you can help your students establish a set-up conducive to learning and habits that will keep them on track.
How To Create A Virtual Learning Space At Home
The lack of physical separation between school and home life makes virtual learning far more challenging. When creating a virtual learning space at home, your kids’ set-up must be away from where they play and establish the kind of structure they find at school.
Find The Right Spot
Finding enough room for everyone working in your home can be a struggle, but virtual learning environments can be flexible. Your child’s workspace can be anywhere, be it a traditional desk in your kid’s bedroom, a dining table, a kitchen counter or a tray table in the hallway or closet.
If you’re coping with limited square footage, accommodating a full household is challenging. However, there are tricks for making the most of your space.
“Think about how your furniture can multitask,” says Betty Norton, the head of school at Xceed Anywhere, an accredited virtual school for grades 6 – 12. “Ottomans are perfect. Line the inside of an ottoman with a cut-down show organizer for holding pens and pencils, rulers, crayons and maybe a bottle of water and snack or a fidget spinner to help with focusing. Pair it with a card table, and you are ready to go.”
When learning at home, distractions are everywhere. Limit them by planning ahead. If you have more than one child, create separate spaces for each of them. You can put up a curtain between them and provide noise-canceling headphones if they share a room.
“If possible, the learner needing the most attention should be in the closest proximity to the parent(s) for support,” says Tracy Smith, the head of school at Xceed Preparatory Academy, a blended school where students spend part-time on campus and the rest learning remotely.
If your children have trouble focusing, reorient their workspaces to ensure their surroundings aren’t distracting. Turn their desks so they’re facing the wall instead of the room or window. Place only school-related items on their desks.
Make All Supplies Handy
Re-creating school’s structure means making sure your kids aren’t getting up unnecessarily when they should be working. Everything they need should be on-hand. “The school supplies, planner and daily school needs should be in reach, as well as any snacks for the day, so there isn’t a dash to the kitchen during class,” says Smith.
Ask Your Child For Help
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to creating a space that’s conducive to learning. “Some children learn best within a more structured environment. However, others may thrive best off of flexibility during their school day,” says Dr. Shauna Cooper, developmental psychologist and associate professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “I think remote learning has made it even more critical for parents to consider what works best for their child.”
Choice is a critical component of learning. To help your children excel, allow them to make decisions about their learning. Providing children with choices enhances student engagement and allows them to take ownership of their education. So, ask them to help you create their workspaces.
“Parents and children can use this as a family bonding activity, decorating in a way that reflects the individual personality of the child,” says Cooper.
Whether your child is an avid or resistant reader, having them design a dedicated reading nook can help motivate them to turn those pages. Figure out which subject your child is most dreading and set up a space that makes it exciting, whether that’s a mini-science lab or pseudo-museum.
What Your Kids Need To Succeed
Once you’ve created their workspaces, help your children establish a routine. “There should be a flow to the day, and it should be consistent,” says Patricia Adler, principal of Spruce Elementary School in New York. “Go to bed at a regular time. Get up at the time you would if you were going to school. Try to do the work at the same time daily. Make the routines at home similar to school.”
Kids need consistency. However, each child is different, and their specific needs will be as well. Figure out what works for your child, and make it habit. Here are some ways to establish a consistent virtual learning routine that works for your household.
Organization is key for keeping your kids’ workspaces tidy and maintaining a boundary between home and school. By packing up after homework is complete, kids can establish an end-of-the-day routine that maximizes space and tells them when they can relax.
“Purchase an under-the-bed plastic container to slide in and out each day with all the school supplies, so they can be out of sight,” says Smith. “All of your student’s school ‘stuff’ will be in one spot and easy to locate, so there isn’t a scavenger hunt mid-day for school supplies or the math book they can’t remember where they left.”
Norton suggests having kids pack up all their school supplies in their backpacks at night, so they can clean up in a way that provides a more familiar routine.
Virtual learning allows students to take responsibility for their education, but most kids don’t innately have the focus or motivation to do so. To foster these strengths in your children, it’s best if their virtual learning space provides them with the tools needed to transition from one class or task to another.
“Simplify: keep all pertinent information in a local spot in the house that is accessible to all. Make it fun: put it in the hallway, outside of the family bathroom. Add a whiteboard, colorful markers for color coding, copies of schedules, logins, emails and tasks,” says Norton. “Review it in the morning and at the end of the school/workday. Let your child check off the boxes, so they feel accomplished.
By ensuring they know where to find the information they need, you’ll help your kids become more independent. And, instead of arguing with your kids to keep them on schedule, have technology do the grunt work for you. Norton recommends programming an Echo to sound an alarm for each activity your children need to remember – that way, they can stay on track even when you’re unavailable.
Productive Screen Time
Since classes take place over the internet, it’s impossible to keep your children away from screens. However, you can set bounds by establishing what qualifies as productive vs. unproductive use of screen time.
“It takes our brains about 10 – 12 minutes to fully engage. Every time you are distracted, you reset your brain,” says Norton. “It’s far too easy for that 5-minute internet browsing break to turn into 45 minutes of wasted time. There are online tools parents can use to block certain websites, at no expense, for the hours their children should be working on school assignments.”
Kids can’t sit at the same desk all day. They need to move around and engage with others, which is why breaks are crucial for their learning and well-being.
“Some parents have to schedule socialization for kids who prefer to be alone because it’s critical to have as much socialization as possible right now,” says Rachelle Theise, Psy.D., licensed child psychologist and clinical assistant professor at NYU Langone. “Exercise is a great mood lifter, too. Jumping jack sessions or even dance parties in the kitchen count and lighten everyone’s mood.”
Although your children are attending virtual classes, they mightn’t be having meaningful discussions about their learning. Talking about the books they’re reading or topics they’re studying helps students process new information and deepen their understanding of it.
“Parents should check in with their children on a regular basis to ask what they’re learning, encouraging them to teach their family about something new,” says Norton. “When children are learning from home, families have a unique opportunity to see them in action. You get a front-row seat and can better understand what they are interested in or even passionate about in school.”
Regular Communication Between Parents And Teachers
To ensure your children’s academic needs are met, communicate with their teachers regularly. Ask them questions about your child’s performance and habits. Confirm that your child is consistently attending virtual classes, turning in work and participating in lessons. Find out what big assignments are upcoming.
The more you learn from their teachers, the better you can support your children. But, you should also fill their teachers in on what you’re noticing at home. As you engage in academic discussions with your kids, you’ll better understand what they’re struggling with and why. Use this information to keep their teachers updated on what skills or knowledge may need reinforcement.
There’s no question that virtual learning is challenging for the entire family, but it’s vital to remember that you’re not alone. “Schools are a resource not only for students but for parents as well,” says Adler. “We are a team, and we need to work together to support your child.”
Whether you need advice from a counselor or tech support from IT, there’s someone in the school who can help you. Don’t be afraid to ask.
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