The decision is looming as school boards try to finalize their return to school plans and parents try to figure out if keeping their kids home or sending them to school is a better choice. The reality is that school is going to look different come next month and plenty of parents will choose to keep their kids home and continue the online education they had in the spring.
This is a completely valid option for a lot of people and to help out with that here is a list from parenting and education expert, Karen Aronian, Ed.D., a former NYC public school teacher with an educational doctorate, who had some great ideas about how best to customize your home for your kids’ learning.
Picking a Designated Homework and School Work Space
Any room can be the designated study hall, Dr. Aronian says. However, it’s very important to pick a quiet spot without any distractions like TV, devices of any sort, and toys. Dr. Aronian urges families in small apartments to consider unlikely spaces like an entryway or bathroom.
Make the workspace unique to the student.
“Tell your kids that it’s their spot to do their work,” says Lisa Sugarman, a nationally syndicated opinion columnist and parenting expert. “Giving your kids ownership of their homework area is a really big deal to a kid. Next, always make sure to help them get invested in the space by encouraging them to help shop for the items they’d like and then set it up and get it organized together.” Consider decorative items like a colorful accent rug, bookends, a funky desk lamp, paintings, pictures, and anything that may match your child’s personality. Dr. Aronian also recommends adding timers or fidget toys to the mix.
Another useful decoration: academic visuals—ask your kids’ teachers for specifics about the curriculum and then hang up learning tools such as multiplication tables or word lists. Other important visuals are schedules and calendars that can be on the wall or on a whiteboard. Feel free to tack up some teacherly tips or uplifting quotes, too. A little positive reinforcement can go a long way—both for the kids who are studying and the parents who are giving their all to make at-home learning work.
Dr. Aronian also emphasizes the importance of natural daylight and recommends kids to sit near a window (preferably open to let in a little briskness). She also recommends headphones, noise machines, or focus music, and lots of fresh air.
By hanging up a corkboard for your kids to pin papers, reminders, and a calendar, you’re keeping important information within sight. “This is a space that should be within reach of their desk so they can easily add [or] remove important items on a regular basis,” says Annie Draddy, a professional organizer and co-founder of Henry & Higby, a professional organizing company in New York City. “It can also give them a chance to decorate and personalize their space—and maybe even sketch out a dream board, which will hopefully inspire them to keep using it!”
Select a good desk chair.
The goal here: to select a desk chair that’s as comfortable as it is supportive. “You don’t want a lousy chair to be the reason that your kids are doing their homework in front of the TV,” Draddy says. “Ultimately, the goal is to get them to work in a proper set-up with a table and chair instead of doing their homework on the couch. This way they establish good habits and can properly work on their handwriting and other skills.”
Conversely, there is no one-size-fits-all model for studying. While all study spaces should have a desk and a seat, parents can get creative about what furniture to use. Desks can be on wheels, lap pillows, play-tables, or trays. Chairs can be floor cushion, balance balls, or wobble chairs.
Keep the desk organized and clean.
Although it may seem obvious, keeping a trash or recycling can near your child’s desk is a win-win. “Not only will this encourage him to throw out old papers, but also—perhaps with a little coaxing—purge the garbage from his backpack on a regular basis,” Draddy says. Bonus points if you encourage your child to routinely empty that trash on her own as part of her chores.
Clear plastic bins and clearly labeled drawers are great for easily managed supplies. Try to keep only the items that are needed in the immediate present in view.
“Label everything on your supply containers [or] caddy,” Draddy suggests, adding that this includes recent tests, papers, and assignment sheets as well as bins containing supplies. “This will help teach your children how to maintain their space and hopefully put an end to the continuing cycle of them asking where to put their supplies when they are done with their homework,” she adds.
Try to keep cords like chargers and computer wires neat and organized, too.
Color-coded file folders can be vital to keeping organized. Encourage your child to stow all science papers in a green folder, English compositions in their blue folder, French worksheets in a red folder, and so on. “This helps kids keep their notes organized whether on their desk or in their book bag,” Draddy says.
With school comes tons of assignments and papers that need to stay organized. “Consider setting up an ‘in’ and ‘out’ bin where your kids can put assignments that need to be done and others that are already completed,” Draddy says. “This makes it easier to remember that everything in the ‘out’ bin needs to be packed in their backpacks and returned to school the next day.” Consider keeping papers your kids want to keep for future nostalgia in bins. By doing this, your house will stay streamlined too.
Keep supplies close at hand.
Stowing supplies within reach of your child’s desk is one of the biggest keys to your kid’s productivity. “There needn’t be twelve trips around the house looking for the tools they need to complete each project,” Draddy says. It’s easy: Just keep pens, pencils, erasers, Post-Its, highlighters, three-ring binder paper, graph paper, rulers, and a pencil sharpener within easy reach. “If desk space is an issue, consider making your own mobile supply station that can be easily wheeled in and out of the space when it’s homework time,” she says. “A version of this caddy can also be made for the road if your children won’t always be home when it comes time for homework.”
If assignments need to be timed, give your kids the tools to manage their own time by keeping a clock or timer on their workspace. “Setting time limits for each subject can help them stay on track,” Draddy says. “This is a life skill that will bode them well in life after school, too.”
The truth is there is no good decision when it comes to back to school; only the best decisions we can make for our own families. If your decision is to keep the kids home and learning at a distance then its best to set them up for success from the start. This list might just be what you need to do that.