Setting Up a Learning Zone for Pandemic Schooling at Home

Help your child create a space to enjoy learning.

Posted Oct 11, 2020

 Robin Spano, used with permission
Source: Robin Spano, used with permission

Sadly, COVID-19 has not gone away and is, in fact, raging harder than ever in many parts of the world. Schools are closing due to outbreaks of the virus, parents who had sent their children to school are rethinking that decision, and those who had opted to keep their children home are seeing the possibility of keeping them home for many more months.

Whether you are just starting your school-at-home experience or are well into it, here are some ideas for creating an environment that will increase the chances your child will do some learning.

1. Set up a Home Learning Zone. By helping your child create a designated home learning zone, you are showing them you value their learning. You are demonstrating your respect for their academic work.

When they have a learning space of their own, they know you think it’s important they take their schoolwork seriously. Perhaps just as important, you’re also helping impose order on what can feel to you and your child like a formless and eternal chaos, an endless summer vacation, or Groundhog Day. Children (like most adults) benefit from having routines and a sense of structure and order in their lives.

2. Discuss the Details With Your Child. Creating a good home learning space starts with a conversation with the child about where they would like to set up their home school center. Some children prefer to be physically close to other family members or caregivers and are good at avoiding distractions. Others prefer a quiet, private space where they won’t be interrupted or distracted. Ideally, your child will have a couple of different spaces in the home, one where they can do work that requires focus and quiet, and another where they have some company, maybe close to the kitchen.

3. What Do You Need? Help your child set up a space they experience as safe, comfortable, and inviting, a space they want to spend time in. Ideally, they will have a desk and chair of their own, where they can keep their work in progress as messy as they like, and nobody else will touch, disrupt, or tidy.

If they’re doing online learning, they’ll need some kind of screen or computer. They’ll need books and paper, plus pens and pencils. Depending on their age, they’ll also need drawing and painting supplies, modeling clay, and anything else they might need for doing artwork. It’s best if there’s natural light, and essential that the lighting be good.

If you have the space and resources to set up something that feels like a real school, that will be useful in many ways as time goes by, long after your child returns to school. You might attach a large magnetic whiteboard to the wall, where your child can write out a daily or weekly schedule or share their work with others. You might get an easel they can use for drawing and painting and (with younger children) store their building blocks, so they’re easily accessible to the home classroom area.

4. Post Daily and Weekly Schedules and a Calendar. It’s easy to move into chaos when you’re combining schooling at home with your own work and other responsibilities. Discuss with your child what kind of daily and weekly routines work best for them. By posting schedules, helping your child follow the schedules, and updating the calendar, you will help your child feel safe and secure.

5. Relax Your Expectations—Focus on Your Child’s Social, Emotional, and Physical Development. What your child needs most now, at this time of widespread anxiety, disruption, and fear, is a sense of security, a feeling that their world is safe. It’s great if they’re also progressing academically, but if that’s not happening, my recommendation is to focus on the social and emotional development opportunities this pandemic is providing. What kids need more of always, but now more than ever, is unstructured play, creative self-expression, physical exercise, time in nature, freedom to explore, laughter, calm reassurance, and compassion.

If your child isn’t doing well with online learning or with your attempts to keep them academically motivated, step back from your normal academic expectations, and focus instead on their interests, strengths, and challenges. Help them explore and develop their areas of interest, go deeper and farther with their strengths, and perhaps cope better with their challenges, to the extent they are interested in doing that. And—infinitely more important for their long-term development than any school-generated academic objectives—help them stay calm, safe, and happy.

6. Seize the Homeschool Advantage. Robin Spano has a lively 5-year-old who should have been in Kindergarten this year. Instead, due to family health concerns, Robin kept her little girl home. Although she is frustrated she can’t invest much time in her career, Robin is making the best of this time. When I asked for her thoughts on this topic, she wrote:

“Seize the homeschool advantage. While most people will see online learning as a temporary option to get through the pandemic safely, there are enormous benefits to homeschooling that you can use to make this time together a fabulous school year to remember. Wherever you can, ditch the home classroom and try math in the park, science on a nature walk, reading signs on city streets. While the nature of COVID-19 makes it unsafe to socialize indoors, you can teach your kids a few basic distance rules to make outdoors a safe place to get them some much-needed social time—and maybe even trade skills with other parents so you give an outdoor math lesson while they teach the art of storytelling.”