• Andrea Santman

7 Tips for setting up your child's virtual learning space!

Finding a quiet corner for learning may be the first step towards a successful school year!

Once you have mentally processed the horrors of another semester of virtual learning for your child or children, it’s time to do what you didn’t have time to do in March: plan and prepare a workspace that facilitates learning in our homes. When we were all dropped into this predicament without warning last spring, we did what was easiest at the time. Some of us were all at the kitchen table working side-by-side. Some were sitting at their desks in their bedrooms unsupervised and surrounded by their favorite things, and some were on the couch. Schools have spent these summer months ramping up their online capacities and strengthening their electronic instructional delivery. As parents at home on the frontline, we need to take the month of August to do the same. We need to prepare our families and one of the ways that we can do this is by creating a home-based learning space.

While daily schedules and homeschooling rules are essential, this post focuses on designing a workspace in your home conducive to new learning. This is particularly salient for those of us who had children that spent the spring quarter sitting on our laps while Zooming into class. The following are suggestions to help support new learning and increase learning independence, especially for our kids that have attention challenges.

1. Find a corner in your home that has minimal distractions (i.e., windows, others, food, etc.). Ideally, this corner would not be located in your kitchen or your child’s bedroom. New academic learning is not normal for our children to do at home. While doing homework at the kitchen table is acceptable, families should try to create a new learning space for their child that helps to create the mental separation between school time and free time at home.

2. Place a desk or portable cards table in the corner of the selected room so that the desk is surrounded by and touching two walls. The point here is to essentially create a cubicle blocking out almost everything and everyone else when the child is to be focused on the computer.

3. If you are unable to put a desk up against two walls or feel that your child is still distracted or can easily escape this desk when you turn your back, think about creating your own visual block panels or barriers. This can be done by placing a bookshelf where you need it or purchasing a 2-ply or 3-ply/tri-fold display project board (think science project board from Staples/Office Depot, Target, Michael’s, etc.) and taping it around the desk to create the cubicle effect. Or you can consider this option:

If you feel these options are not sturdy enough for your learner, then it’s time to be creative! You can make a visual block panel by hanging a shower curtain with hooks on a freestanding structure made of PVC (plastic) piping from Home Depot (see photos, think soccer goal in the garage) or from a freestanding closet rack from Ikea.

You might even try turning the desk 90-degrees so there is only one opening to/from the desk. Adding a visual block panel or divider might also be helpful if you are trying to manage and supervise more than one child learning from home at a time while doing your own work. You can locate each child on opposite ends of the same room and place a panel between them so that they can’t see each other. Ideally, you can equip each child with a set of earphones to keep noise low.

4. Find a supportive chair to place at your learning desk to keep your child from slouching. A soft or hard chair works, but it’s best for a child to have a chair that provides full body support up to their scapulas/shoulders while enabling their feet to rest flat on the ground. This way getting comfortable won’t take away your child’s attention from class. If your child craves movement to stay focused, a small swivel desk chair or therapy ball where the child is able to keep their feet flat on the ground could help as long as you don’t think it would serve more as a distraction. (If your swivel chair is tall for the child, add a plastic or wooden step stool (from Ikea or Target) for the child to rest their feet. If your child’s arms/elbows aren’t even with the height of the desk/table while seated, try adding a telephone book or booster seat. Height adjustable desks are ideal for the growing child.) If your child needs to get up and stand during learning, make sure there is enough room to let s/he do this and you can mount a small white or chalk board that the child can use to do work while standing.

5. Try to place the computer or laptop your child is using so that the top of the screen is aligned with the child’s eye level or gaze. This can be accomplished by placing the laptop on top of a pile of books, laundry basket, shoebox, or a breakfast tray. This helps to reduce neck discomfort from excessive bending.

6. Keep the desk clear and free of pencils, pens, markers, and paper. You can keep these items on a shelf or in a drawer or under the desk in an open box, bin, or bucket that is easy to access. You can also create a bucket of fidgets if your child regularly uses these at school or during homework. If your child benefits from lap weights at school to stay focused and seated, try a 5 lb bag of rice or 1-2 lb ankle or wrist weights as substitutes.

7. Keep some play items in the learning space room at a distance from the desk that the child can use during short movement breaks provided during their school day. Items such a ball, exercise ball, hula hoop, jump rope, or a bean bag chair to simply collapse into are nice to have close-by to keep kids in the zone but only if it won’t be more of a distraction.

Hopefully, these tips will help generate more ideas as you plan and prepare for back to school.

Good luck...we are all in this together and we can do it with a little help from our friends!


Mother of two and Occupational Therapist

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