As the reality of school closures sinks in, many of us will be scratching our heads about how to keep our children learning successfully over the weeks and months ahead.
One of the ways we can do this is by setting up an environment that’ll support their work at home.
How you’ll do this will depend on a variety of factors: the space you have available, the types of work set, whether your child will be sharing it with siblings or adults who are working from home, and how your child learns best, to name a few.
But here are some ideas for setting up your child’s ‘classroom’ so they’re ready for learning.
Choose where your child will work
For children of primary age, it’s probably best to set them up in a place where you can oversee them, such as the kitchen table, although upper Key Stage 2 pupils who have desk space in their bedroom may be able to work independently.
‘A light and spacious environment is a good idea,’ says mum Georgia Handley – so if you can, station your child’s study area near a window for natural light and fresh air.
If you’re working from home, it may be difficult to share a space with your child, so think about alternative ways that it could work. For example, could you work in your child’s bedroom while they have the kitchen table?
Think about your child’s chair. Ideally, they’ll be able to sit comfortably with their feet flat on the floor, but that probably won’t be possible if they’re at the kitchen table and have little legs!
Try to make them comfy using cushions if need be, so they’re not constantly fidgeting – or if you have an office chair, you could adjust the height to suit them.
Get rid of distractions
That means no tablet by your child’s side, unless they’re using it for work, no TV to distract them, maybe even no pets in the room! Put away their mobile phone, too, if they have one: we all know how hard it is to ignore the ‘ping!’ of a new message.
Remember, though, that your child is used to working in a busy classroom, so you don’t need to shroud them in complete silence.
Some children might even find working easier with a bit of background noise, like a radio on quietly or some gentle music.
Have all their learning kit to hand
It’s very easy for kids to use sharpening their pencils or going to find a ruler as an excuse to wander off (and forget to come back!) so make sure they have all the equipment they need, including stationery and books.
Why not sit down with them and write a list of everything they’d use during the school day? You can then get them to do a ‘stock take’ every morning before they start work, so they’re ready to start learning.
If your child is using a tablet or laptop, have their chargers at their work station, too, and make sure they have the login details for any websites or apps that they might need.
Use magazine files, in trays, pencil cases or just an empty shoebox to organise your child’s paper-based work and stationery.
This will help them to lay their hands easily on the book, worksheet or protractor they need, as well as stopping their learning materials encroaching on family space.
A timetable on your child’s desk or stuck to the wall can help them see exactly what they should be doing at a glance. You can work on this together: use different coloured pens, highlighters or stickers to make it appealing. (TheSchoolRun also has free home learning timetables to download if you’d rather use something pre-made.)
‘A visual timetable (where you use pictures of each activity as well as or instead of words) can be really helpful to establish a routine, and you can get your child to add their own ideas for learning,’ says mum Jo McNulty.
You could also put a clock or watch on the table, or use a timer so your child can see how much time to spend on each task.
If you have space, consider printing or buying learning resources like a times tables poster or a map of the world to stick to the wall and create a colourful, classroom-like learning environment.
You might also want to stick up a free printable reward chart where your child can earn stickers and/or treats for each task they complete.
Get dressed for success
‘To get my two girls into a normal school day mindset whilst at home, I get them to wear their school jumpers,’ says mum Julia Pereira. ‘At 3pm they take them off, when the school day would finish.’
This can be really helpful in clearly defining the boundaries of the school day and getting your child into a learning headspace.
If they’re online learning…
Even if your child can work independently in their bedroom, if they’re going to be working online or using the internet for research, it’s worth considering setting up a laptop or computer station in a family area like the kitchen or dining room.
This means you can keep half an eye on what they’re doing, and make sure they’re not being distracted by games, messages and YouTube.
Be smart about snacks
Working from home means there’s a temptation for your child to raid the kitchen cupboards every 10 minutes – and not only will this mean they munch through a fortnight’s worth of snacks in two days, but it’ll also be a distraction from their learning.
‘I’m making it similar to school regarding routine and expectation – no, they cannot go and empty my fridge every 10 minutes! I’m putting a fruit bowl out for snacks,’ says mum Jo Colley.
One great idea is to put out a daily snack box for each child, with a selection of nibbles and treats for each day. Try making some of these brain-boosting snacks together. Once your child has eaten everything, that’s it for the day – they should soon learn to pace themselves, and not get distracted by the lure of food.
Make the most of all of your space
Remember, your child doesn’t spend six hours a day sitting in one place at school. They also go out to play, move tables, go into the hall for assemblies and PE, and more.
Give your child space and freedom to move around as they tackle different activities each day. For example, you could put blankets and cushions on an armchair in the living room to use as a comfy reading corner, have a messy area for art projects and creative learning, play board games or build with LEGO in their bedroom, and of course, use your garden or other open spaces you have access to for ‘PE’ and ‘break time.’
Keep it in perspective
Not all of us are lucky enough to have gardens, bedrooms equipped for learning, spacious kitchens with a family table, and home offices or studies, and so will struggle to create a dedicated learning space.
Try not to get stressed if you’re fighting for workspace with your child, or if there’s simply not room for them to have all their books and stationery out.
Make the most of the space you have, but don’t get stressed if you can’t provide the perfect learning environment: if need be, your child can work on the sofa or on their bedroom floor.
Schools will be realistic about what children can achieve at home, and will understand that we all have issues to work around.