The coronavirus pandemic has changed so many aspects of our lives in a very short period of time. Most non-essential workers are out of their offices and working from home. But perhaps the biggest adjustment has been for students of all ages. With temporary school closings across the nation, more than a dozen states have opted to close schools for the rest of the year. More are likely to follow suit with families left scrambling about what to do. As most schools have pivoted to online learning, parents who have never considered homeschooling their children are left without a choice.
Trying to get through the work and school day is an even greater challenge for parents who currently have or are recovering from the COVID-19 coronavirus. Diagnosed on March 22nd, it’s been especially difficult for Dave (who requested to redact his last name) of Sayville, New York. Better known as the host of the top Alternative Health podcast, Dopey— he has a relatively mild case, but a rather busy life. Producing the show, working a full-time job in marketing for Katz’s Deli, trying to take care of his wife (who also has the virus) and two-year-old, while overseeing his ten-year-old daughter’s homeschooling is “downright cataclysmic,” he reveals. “I have no time, and it feels like I get nothing done.”
However, Dave’s frustration exceeds his symptoms. He was initially worried about infecting his children, but the CDC is currently saying that younger kids are relatively safe. So, he’s actively participating in the homeschooling process— like most parents, as best he can. “I’ve learned a ton about the Dutch settlers in New York.”
Dave’s daughter does approximately 80 percent of her work in a guest room/office on a desk she shares with her pet gecko. “Sometimes she works in the basement. She has a little desk there too, and she reads in her bedroom. We are lucky we have a decent-sized house, but admittedly, we aren’t the most organized people.”
While using different spaces throughout the home is working for Dave’s daughter— is it really ideal? Is there a universal setup that’s best for children of all grade levels? I spoke with education and interior design experts to learn what parents need to do right now to establish a functional homeschooling environment for their kids.
How To Set Up A Homeschool
Architects Marissa Mead and Julia McFadden, of Svigals+Partners, specialize in designing education spaces for residences, nonprofits, colleges, and K-12 schools for challenged communities, including Sandy Hook School and the Columbus Family Academy. Their acclaimed firm has been named among the country’s most innovative.
Their goal is to create environments that help boost focus, minimize stress and nurturing learning. But the problem is that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. “This is different for children of varying ages and needs. In general, you should try to create three kinds of areas, which can be near each other or spread out,” they say.
One area is for focused academic work like studying and tutoring. This might be more formal such as a standard desk or at a kitchen table.
The second space is a comfy reading nook, with pillows piled up. “This can literally be a corner of any room of the house, or make for a nice ‘study fort’ with a small lamp, or the top bunk of bunkbeds,” they say.
Kids can also help decorate their fort by choosing accessories such as beanbag chairs. Add soft fun elements like an Eric Carle Alphabet Zoo Educational Blue Area Rug from Wayfair for young children or a plush sheepskin rug for older kids. These furnishings will also be useful for studying and homework when the kids are eventually back in school.
There should also be a space to sprawl out, for crafts and other school projects. “The dining table is an obvious spot for sprawling, but some projects might want to stay out for a few days, so taking over the dining table might not work if you are coming together for meals. Perhaps set up a folding table in another room.”
Parents can also schedule various parts of the day in different spaces. “Students don’t necessarily need specialized furnishings,” the architects explain. “We can use tables, chairs, and various home settings to create opportunities for a child or for multiple children, such as a portion of the day sitting around the kitchen table to work together.”
Work areas should not always be relegated to bedrooms or the basement— parents can set up space in the living room, dining room or even outside. “As the weather gets nicer, think about how to get outdoors. Again you can set up a study table on a deck or patio or even just the backyard,” says McFadden.
How To Feng Shui A Homeschool Classroom
It can also be helpful for parents to apply feng shui principals to their homeschooling classrooms. The easiest one is de-cluttering, which can potentially give us the illusion of control, during a time when we have little control over anything. McFadden suggests scheduling a daily time to de-clutter. “Decluttering could be incorporated into the morning routine—after a little group yoga or dance moves to get the blood pumping and upward energy. Then everyone tackles one room to put away extraneous items as much as you can.”
She also emphasizes the importance of designating different zones for calming and stimulating activities. “One principle is to create a living environment that is calming, and to contrast areas of colorful stimulus and variety against places where you can be centered and focused.”
Homeschooling In A Small Space
Jennifer Meyers is a mother of four as well as the founder of Homeschool CEO with sixteen years of experience being both an entrepreneur and homeschooling mom. A few years ago, when her two youngest children were twelve and seventeen, they decided to pack up and live in an RV for a year. “It was then I learned that kids don’t need a huge homeschool space,” she says.
During this time, she developed several rules to make homeschooling work on the road. Her system is easily applicable to any family living in a smaller home or apartment.
The first rule is to have an established spot for schooling. In the RV, it was at the kitchen table.
She also gave each child a cabinet the size of a small milk crate for storing school supplies. But any designed container will do . “There is nothing worse than searching for a pen or notebook. My favorite system for storing supplies was using shoebox-sized clear plastic totes. Each kid had their own and it contained the items they used daily such as pens, pencils, a ruler, a calculator, scissors, etc,” she says.
Meyers also kept productivity at a high by establishing due dates for all of their work. “We had clear expectations about what needed to be done when. Each Sunday, I would plan out exactly what my kids needed to complete and when.”
Homeschool Furniture And Desk Accessories
Erin Condren who is an organization expert and the founder of her namesake paper product company, recommends using a simple or portable desk and allowing kids to make it their own. This can be especially helpful to any child who is currently making a transition to homeschooling. “Our sticker books have paper tape strips in pre-made color patterns that are perfect for decorating desk drawers. Or use our washi tape to decorate the desk legs,” she says.
If a child doesn’t their have their own desk, it’s essential to buy one now. For teenagers or college students, The Novogratz White Marble Athena Desk is a great choice because it’s large enough for a computer and has built-in storage, keeping the desktop clutter-free.
The back of the desk has a long cubby to store a power strip and prevent cords from becoming tangled. The gold angled legs add an element of whimsy to the mid century modern design of this piece.
Comfort is also important to keep in mind when buying a desk for younger students. The Brutsché Kids Computer Desk with Reversible Shelves is perfect for both girls and boys.
Ergonomically sized for children from five to twelve years old, there’s plenty of space to store books and supplies. It’s also inexpensive enough to allow them to decorate it any way they want.
Parents should consider the Lovejoy Writing Desk and Chair Set for elementary schoolers. Unlike a lot of typical children’s furniture, this set looks like a miniature version of what can be found at West Elm.
It’s easy to move from a bedroom to the living room and back again. At a very affordable price, parents don’t have to worry if it becomes damaged by stickers, markers, or paint.
Condren also suggests helping kids organize their desktop space with fun school supplies and desk accessories like colorful pens, erasers, desk trays, organizers, etc. “Desk organization that kids find motivating can get them excited about homeschooling, not to mention help them focus and stay on task,” she says.
Parents should also consider accessories like Erin Condren’s Watercolor Blooms Whiteboard Wall Organization Center. Isn’t simply helpful for writing notes, listing tasks, making to-do lists, etc, it’s also a stylish accent.
Some Final Words Of Advice
Despite his trepidation, it appears that Dave is doing everything right under these very trying circumstances. Better yet, it appears his daughter is actually completing her assignments. His recommendation for other parents is to be as patient as possible. “And make it as fun as you can. Or else it’s torture…”