home learning spaces and routines
Whether homeschooling, distance learning, hybrid learning, or working on traditional homework after a full school day, it is important that kids have effective spaces at home for learning and established routines to help them thrive.

Ensuring this can be a challenge, especially when navigating the stress and uncertainty with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last spring, when our family of six ended up unexpectedly working and learning from home, we experienced challenges. We struggled with personal space, internet connectivity, device management, access to supplies and books, which affected not only our attitudes, but also our productivity. Some of these issues were out of our control, but regardless, this school year we are trying to do better.

As an educator and a parent of four school-age kids, I'm going to do my best to approach the upcoming school year with a different, more positive attitude. The more I wrap my head around the understanding that this school year NOT going to be the same as school before COVID, the more I find room opening up in my mind for creative solutions. I am also leaning into my nineteen years of experience in education and what I know works for kids to help create a home environment conducive to learning amongst the chaos of family life in a pandemic.

Here's what we're doing:

Make it a Fresh Start.

What I was able to offer to my students and families last spring in an emergency situation is far different than what most districts are able to offer this fall with more intentional and thought out online learning models. Although we are still navigating a pandemic with many uncertainties, it will be beneficial for everyone to go into the upcoming school year with an open mind, a forgiving attitude, and with a mindset of a fresh start.

When setting up a home learning space for the school year do what you can to make it fresh and exciting. Involve your child in the purchase of their school supplies, letting them take ownership of simple decisions like picking out their notebooks, pencils, crayons and markers. If you can. splurge on some supplies that are practical, but add some fun and aesthetics to your child's home learning space. High-quality pens, pencils, markers and crayon and stylish organizational tools (pencil cases, planners and desk accessories) can help make the work more fun.

Related: School Supply Must-Haves And Tips For A Successful Virtual Year

Designate Spaces for Learning

There is not one perfect one-size-fits-all solution for creating home learning spaces that will work for every family. Depending on how much space you have in your home, your home and how many people you have in your family and the needs of your children, workspaces will look different. In our household, with four kids we do our best with what we have. My daughter has her own room and is able to set up and maintain a permanent workspace at a desk in her room. She is also very independent and organized and does not need much guidance with her learning, so this type of learning space works great for her. My three boys don't have as much space in their room, so we spread them out more around the house with more portable learning spaces that they take down when they are finished. My eldest son has found his groove using a small table as a makeshift desk in his room. My youngest boys need more support and direction, so they need to be closer to an adult to keep productive. We keep their materials in individual plastic bins that we can bring to our dining room table when it is work time and that are easy to pack away neatly when we need our table for our family meals.

We have these designated areas for learning, but also have the flexibility to move around and get the space we need from each other to do our work. Having supplies like clipboards or lap desks can help. Also accessing the outdoors, if possible is a great benefit of home learning. We utilize our deck and picnic table as well as a set of hammocks for reading and listening to audio materials.

Set a schoolwork/homework routine

When your school completes his or her school/homework will look different given your situation. But whatever model your child will be working with it is important to create and establish routines. When learning at/from home it is beneficial for kids to start the school day ready to learn. It is nice to have the flexibility of doing everything at home in your pajamas, but it is important to have some set expectations and boundaries set to encourage productivity and quality work.

I suggest making sure your child is fed, dressed, groomed (hair and teeth brushed) before they start their home learning if it is for a school day.

You may want to consider starting your homeschool day at a consistent time, or having your child complete his or her homework at a designated block of time like before or after dinner. Having a designated time allows everyone involved to budget mental energy, which can help alleviate stress and power struggles.

Adequate sleep is also a very important factor in student success, whether learning inside or outside of the home. Parents need to get the sleep they need too! When we are well-rested, it positively affects our immune systems, mental health, resilience and self-control.

Related: Establishing Rhythms, Routines and Rituals for Homeschooling

Remember the Big Picture

We are all likely to all experience some ups and downs this year with schooling.

Whichever the format, whatever the curriculum, it is important not to get too caught up in the small stuff. Sometimes little things (whether it would be a particular assignment or task) can lead to frustration or melt-downs. Sometimes we just need to let some things go, or look at different ways to meet objectives or goals if possible.

In the midst of the ups and downs it is most important to be gentle and kind with our children, with ourselves and with each other.