Many of us are facing setting up our homes for the upcoming school year and virtual learning. You are not alone, and there are so many unknowns! For ideas and inspiration, we asked some of our own organizing mommas, Amanda, Becca, and Shawna, for some helpful tips. Amanda is the mother of a high school junior and college sophomore. Becca has a Kindergartener and a second grader. Shawna home schooled her three children, who are now successfully adulting. We acknowledge that these ideas don’t come close to addressing all the challenges families face. Our hearts are with you. If you are lucky enough to have children old enough for self-directed learning, are able to have a parent, relative, or friend oversee learning, or are joining a pod for division of labor, we hope that some of these ideas will help ease the transition.
When you imagine a homework station, what do you see? A desk with a chair? What if we told you that a homework station does not necessarily have to be that. Some children work best at the dining room table or laying down on the couch. It is important to take into consideration your child and the environment in which he or she works best. If you have a child that needs to move, Roland Rotz, PHD, and Sarah D. Wright’s ADDitude Magazine article may be helpful. Also, be prepared for your homework station to evolve. Each kid is different and there are so many variables that can change over time.
Shawna recommends that you set up your homework station in an area of your house that has the least distractions. For some kids, that might be their bedroom, but many parents prefer to separate school space from sleep space. To overcome this challenge Becca is all for turning rooms that can take a break from their normal uses, such as formal dining rooms, bonus rooms, or craft rooms, into classrooms for the year. She also recommends headphones, either noise cancelling or music playing, to remove distractions, which helps make limited space work for multiple children. When her kids were younger, Amanda noticed that they worked best when she was working on her computer quietly in the same area with them, so she scheduled her email and writing time to overlap with their need-to-focus time. It’s a strategy called body doubling— no-one likes to work on something boring alone when something more interesting is happening elsewhere— so just knowing someone else is working on something next to you can help you focus and keep you on task.
Distance from distractions isn’t the only variable. Consider the proximity to power outlets, placement of laptop/tablet/computer, ample lighting, easy bathroom access, and comfortable seating and work surfaces. Incorporating a bean bag chair, therapy balls, or fidget toys may be the ticket to successful learning for your child. Also, depending upon the age and learning style of the child, Becca recommends having the option to play music. Whether it is soft background music or fun music for quick movement breaks, it may be helpful to have a device like Alexa available. In addition to music, she can help children find answers to questions related to their school work. Lastly, think through whether or not to allow snacks and drinks in the homework area or limit them to the kitchen or dining room. Amanda suggests equipping every kid with a reusable water bottle that they can keep handy at their work station and limiting snacks to designated break times so that kids have an opportunity to get up, stretch, and reenergize with a snack that includes a complex carbohydrate, protein, and healthy fat. That’s as easy as apple slices and peanut butter, cheese and crackers, or carrots and hummus. Those brains need refueling!
After deciding upon the location, the next thing to think through is what should be included in a child’s work space? Our organizing moms emphasize the importance of having all supplies in the room, set up, and ready to go. If a pencil breaks, you do not want your child going on a wild goose chase to find another! Have backups at the ready! As Amanda recommends, have your supplies organized and give every item a home, but be wary of going overboard—if systems are too complicated, or there are too many supplies, it can be hard for kids to maintain order and avoid distraction.
This really goes back to the initial discussion of tuning in to your child. What works for one may not work for the next. In addition to the virtual supplies on the list for your city or county, here are some great items that can come in handy for organizing a homework station:
Paper storage is one of those things that is very personal. Shawna recommends that you take some time to think about what you need to contain your child’s papers. The organizing products that will serve you best may be completely different from those that work for others. There are so many variables; however, the following organizing tools are likely to come in handy: Three-ring binders, folders, and magazine holders. These will help keep papers contained, organized, and easy to find.
Just another reminder to make sure that all supplies that are needed are in the room your child(ren) will be working in. This includes all needed printed materials. Becca recommends taking the time each weekend to have all printed materials needed for the week ready on Monday. Or maybe you prefer to prepare before each day. This will ensure the day goes more smoothly so that there are no disruptions or surprises.
Shawna highly recommends having a printed schedule in the homework station area. The schedule helps remind parents of what needs to be completed and it helps older children know what to expect as well. This keeps everyone on the same page and gives structure to your day. Add in snack times, maybe a walk, and anything else you think is important. Amanda’s oldest likes to draw out her schedule with fancy writing and doodles while her high schooler prefers using calendar reminders on his phone. The more involved the kids are in creating their routine and prompts, the more likely they are to use them!
CLOCK AND/OR TIMER
In addition to a printed schedule, Shawna recommends using a clock and/or timer in the homework station. Setting a timer is a great way to motivate your child and a clock helps you all remain aware of the time and stay on task. For visual learners or those who struggle with transitions, Amanda also recommends the Time Timer.
Becca has lots of great ideas for rewards and incentives based on time management and staying on task. There are many ways to structure this with the use of a treasure box or weekly/monthly treat. For her family, she has structured the incentives to be in response to behavioral rewards. Think about what your child reacts best to— time with you? The reward might be a story or trip to the park. Screen time? The reward might be an extra 15 minutes on a favorite game. Stickers, treats, even praise and acknowledgement for a job well done can go a long way toward reinforcing good habits and breaking bad ones.
DRINK, SNACKS, AND LUNCHES
As we know, drinks, snacks, and lunches are an incredibly important part of the day. Remember to think through your homework station location, your supplies storage, and your printed schedule. All these factors are important to consider when deciding what works best for how and when your child will take a drink and snack break and then break for lunch. As Amanda recommends, maybe it makes more sense for you to have the goldfish stored with your supplies so that you can use them for math problems on the kitchen table. Or maybe is it better for your child to completely take a break from school and go to the kitchen for a snack break in addition to a lunch break. There is no one right answer, but taking the time to think this through ahead of time prevents unnecessary disruptions to scheduled learning time. This is especially important with lunchtime. When is the best time for lunches to be prepared so there is not additional time spent making lunch during this break in the day? Is it more helpful for you to prepare the night before or early in the morning before the day begins for your child(ren)? Find what makes the day flow the smoothest for you and stick with that.
The best way to make learning from home less stressful on yourself and your kids is to keep it fun and make it interesting. If your child needs to fidget during the homework time, let her fidget. If your child needs to sing songs, let him sing songs. Remember, this is your chance to find what works for your children and family!