Updated: Jan 22, 2021
Distance learning, home schooling, hybrid models all have something in common… kids learning at home. In preparation for this fall, many parents and caregivers are grappling with the strong possibility that their learners will be doing at least some of their core school learning at home. This poses a swath of challenges to teachers and parents alike. Included could be the question: where is the best place in the house for my child to learn, and how do I create a space that will support their learning?
Last Spring, schools and districts across the nation shifted from in person to fully remote learning almost overnight. I still remember keeping my children home on a Friday out of fear that it was no longer safe for them to go to school. That weekend, our governor announced that all schools across the state would be closed and all learning should transition to virtual. Weeks became months, and before we knew it, it was the end of the school year.
At best, we pieced things together as best we could. My kids (I have a first and fourth grader) learned wherever we had space. That included the kitchen table, a table set up in our basement family room, my office, their bedroom, even outside (when the weather cooperated). None of those places were perfect, or even close to optimal, but we made it work.
This Fall, things can be different. We won't have to just make it work, we can design the types of learning spaces that will support our children as they continue to learn at home. Not only will this reduce the stress, but it can increase engagement and make kids feel like they have a special place to learn.
What follows are some questions to ask, some thoughts to consider, and some suggestions to get you started.
Let’s begin with probably the single most important question to answer before considering how to set up your child’s learning space(s)... how will your child be engaging in their learning? In other words, will it be all online? Will it be a combination of different experiences? This is a critical thing to nail down, as it will inform all the decisions you make. Each experience type, or what I would call a mode of learning, can be supported by a learning space thoughtfully designed to support that mode.
Here are some approaches to learning (modes) in which your learner may engage and the corresponding design considerations:
Hands-on Learning: Through this approach your learner is learning through some sort of maker learning experience. (Learners may be constructing physical objects as part of the experience.)
Hands-on Learning Design Considerations:
Space: The overall space should be free from clutter and extraneous distractions, and should resemble a craft space or workshop.
Furniture: A solid, sturdy table large enough for some group collaboration, with an easy- to-clean surface that can handle the cutting, banging, and drawing that will undoubtedly happen in the course of the learning. Kids in this mode of learning will be continuously changing from a standing to seated position, so instead of a chair, provide a stool to sit on.
Lighting: In terms of furniture, it will be helpful to have In addition to some overhead lighting (and some natural light), a transitional work lamp is a great addition to the space. Easily moved and adjusted, your child will be able to move it to just the right place to help.
Storage: You’ll want to create a place for your child to store all the tape, paper, scissors, cardboard, wood, and other construction materials that will support learning. It should be easy to access, but not add clutter to the overall space. But nothing too precious, as it’s going to see a lot of use. Look around the house for old shoe boxes, canning jars, anything that can be repurposed is a great option.
Cleaning Up: To keep the space tidy, be sure to have a good sized recycling bin and a garbage can close at hand, as well as a broom and dustpan.
Traditional pencil and paper approach. Through this approach, kids will access learning in a more traditional fashion. They might work on worksheets, take notes from a text, work on their handwriting, or work through a review or learning packet.
Traditional pencil and paper approach design considerations:
Furniture: Instead of a table, a smaller desk and supportive, ergonomic chair will be important. A quick note on ergonomic chairs… while one might think that these types of chairs are really only for adults, or that they are too expensive, consider that it is important that we provide furniture that will support good posture in our learners as their bodies are still growing and developing.
Lighting: Learners will need a high quality desk lamp, preferably one with a natural light bulb. And don’t pass up the opportunity to shrink your carbon footprint… spend a little extra and pick up a few LED bulbs.
Organization: You may want to include a paper organizer, a place for pens, pencils, markers, and a pencil sharpener.
Cleaning up: It will be important to have a recycling bin and trash can handy for crumpled rough drafts, paper scraps from cutting, and the wrappers from the mid morning snacks your kids are bound to ask for.
Distance Learning: One mode that you are probably familiar with following the practically overnight switches all experienced this past spring, is online and/or technology-based. This is when your child is engaging in his or her learning using a device (laptop, tablet).
Distance Learning design considerations:
Furniture: Kids, like adults, like to change posture periodically, especially when using a digital device. The space should have a few options in terms of seating. A small couch or comfy chair, a small desk or table, a yoga mat or other pad for the floor, an adjustable height desk with an ergonomic chair. You get the idea… Choice is key.
Power. No matter the strength and capacity of the battery in your child’s device, it’s going to need to be charged. It will be important to ensure that it is easy for them to plug in and continue with the learning. Stopping to find an outlet, get the charging cable, plug it in, realize it’s not long enough, and then dig out an extension cord, disrupts the flow of learning. Recovery from this disruption can take up to 30 minutes for a learner, if it happens at all. So having ample charging options will ensure that learning continues almost seamlessly.
Lighting: The space should be moderately lit and not completely dark. You may be tempted to assume that light isn’t as important because the computer screen does not require a separate light. To reduce eye strain, it’s important to provide ambient light that is approximately half as strong as you would normally have the lights for the other two modes of learning. Glare will also affect eye sight, so it will be important to reduce the possibility of glare on the screen.
The information shared here is by no means exhaustive, and will need to be modified to meet the needs of your learner(s). They are individuals, after all! To that end, I suggest you treat this post as a guide only, and to feel empowered to make changes as you see fit. No learning space, regardless of how carefully it’s designed, is perfect on the first try. Yours won’t be either, so I encouraged you to monitor your child, ask questions, observe what’s working and what might need to change, and then change it. Small adjustments can make a big difference, so don’t be afraid to make a few changes and see what happens.
Robert Fetter, Ed.D., is a passionate change leader, creative workspace/learning space and active learning designer, and resilient optimist interested in leadership development, technology, and human-centered design. Co-founder of edcamp Buffalo & edcamp lead WNY, he completed his doctoral research on educational leadership workspaces at Niagara University. You can follow Rob on twitter @javarob75 or read more of his writing at create-ed.blogspot.com.