Since Spring 2020, homes have been working overtime. Kitchen tables turned conference rooms, garages turned gyms and bathrooms turned spas. As many parents and caregivers deal with virtual learning, they’re also looking to update their homes to become places for young minds to grow. What may have felt temporary last year has begun to feel a bit more permanent; that makeshift desk on a card table or kids taking Zoom calls from the couch may not cut it when you are staring down another virtual school term.
It can seem overwhelming, but experts say transforming your home to a virtual school room can be done quickly, cheaply and, dare we say, beautifully.
Individualized spaces for individualized learning
When it comes to creating a workspace for your child at home, think about how your child learns best.
“Not every child is cut out for seat work, so offer flexible seating in a bean bag chair or book nook,” says Taylor Cowan, a former teacher turned Administrative Director for Simplified by Emily Ley, a brand that creates minimal and meaningful tools to make life easier.
Cowan shares virtual learning tips on her Instagram page and encourages followers to use what they have when organizing school supplies. A picture frame (with a glass insert) can be used as a dry erase board and the back of a door can be used to hang a bulletin board for taping spelling words, sight words, a map or equations to encourage interactive learning.
“Whichever space you choose for homeschooling, organize their school supplies to be easily accessible, eliminate distractions and set up their laptop with tabs at the top ready to go for each class or required program,” Cowan says. “I also love the idea of setting up a small, fun surprise, like personalized pencils, a special treat or a coupon for extra recess at their workspace the night before for the first day."
Virtual learning, but make it beautiful
Setting up school in a space that’s regularly being used throughout the day comes with a unique set of challenges, and a few simple solutions, says Heather Goerzen with Havenly, an online interior design company..
“Our brains are hardwired by habit, so it’s important to create rhythms in your home to cue when it’s time to go to school and when you’re free to play or lounge,” Goerzen says. “That could simply mean sitting on the opposite side of the kitchen table from where you usually eat.”
For clients who may have more space to create a school zone, such as a spare room, Goerzen recommends investing in a devoted desk with ample storage or shelving that signifies it’s time to get to work. In addition, clutter expands far more easily when pens, textbooks and notepads are mixed with laundry, dishes and toys.
“Place baskets and bins on bookshelves and create an end of the day ritual of storing pens and highlighters, moving aside notebooks and stacking books,” Goerzen says.
Goerzen also notes that there’s a difference between making do in your space and loving your home.
“Necessity sometimes dictates that your school zone is somewhere in your home that isn’t particularly interesting, like a dark basement or the undecorated spare room,” she says. “We live by the mantra that if a space is comfortable and aesthetically pleasing, you’re more likely to want to spend time there. At the minimum, invest in a school zone that has sufficient natural light, a chair that doesn’t kill your back and, if you can, some pleasant design vibes.”
Home(school) is where the heart is
While furniture arrangements and organization are important when it comes to setting up your student for success, don’t get too overwhelmed with making your virtual learning space perfect, says clinical psychologist Dr. Jazmine McCoy.
“We’re in uncharted territory, which means things will be inevitably messy, and that’s OK!” McCoy says. “Our children don’t need a perfect learning environment in order to thrive. At the end of the day, children need caregivers who provide a sense of safety, love and acceptance. It is then that they can learn and thrive in their environment.”
McCoy stresses that learning happens everywhere, so parents should try to be flexible on how schooling looks.
“Children learn just as much, if not more, from observing an ant farm than sitting at the table tracing their letters. Free play is critical as it creates the essential brain pathways for thinking, reasoning, and social skills like empathy, flexibility, problem solving and many other lifelong skills.”
“The best way to create a home where everyone is thriving is to continuously manage your expectations of how things should be,” says McCoy. “Parents cannot be expected to recreate the school environment, nor should we try. Many of us are also trying to balance our own work-from-home schedule. The best thing we can do for ourselves and our home in general is to relax our productivity standards. We can try to accept what is and focus on creating the best learning environment for our children that we possibly can.”