Last-Minute Workspace Ideas for Virtual School
Dropped the ball? Suddenly virtual? It’s going to be ok.
Over the summer, I’ve seen some parents posting about their kids’ new “classrooms” created for virtual school (or just looked up the hashtag #kidsworkspace on Instagram) and found myself questioning reality. Look, I’m happy these families are singlehandedly keeping Pottery Barn in business and converting their beloved craft rooms into Caden and Ava Cyber Academy—your repurposed barn door makes a lovely desk.
But here are the rooms in our condo: the bedroom I share with my husband, our daughter’s bedroom, the living room (that extends to an area clearly meant to be a dining room but is actually just an elliptical and explosion of LEGOs), the kitchen, a couple bathrooms, end of list. I’m not complaining—we love living in the city, and when we decided to raise a family here, we consciously made the trade-off of “no backyard” vs. “Rittenhouse Square and some chalk.” And I’m looking forward to walking to all the reopened museums on makeshift “field trips” during Philadelphia School District’s half-day Fridays this fall! But if you’re like us, creating a “workspace” for virtual school in a little home is a challenge.
Talking with the Philly Family and Main Line Parent team, I did learn I had it better than I realized—I got a kids’ desk from IKEA weeks ago, and apparently even those are hot commodities on backorder now! Plus, we’ve known we were going virtual for quite some time, while some schools just learned their fate and are scrambling before school starts next week. Let’s just acknowledge that the 2020-2021 school year is a hot mess for everyone, for various reasons, and leave it at that.
The good news is that you’re not alone, kids are more adaptable than we give them credit for, and you don’t need a lot to make this work.
Start with your Mindset
“Virtual school” itself is a mental exercise of creating space and meaning out of nothing—a simulacrum of what we remember school in “the beforetimes” to be. So, creating a “workspace” for your kids begins on the inside. As I said when considering how to prepare for this strange new school year, part of what makes the concept of virtual or homeschool so challenging is that there is no clear distinction between home life and school. Establishing boundaries can signal to kids that something new is beginning, even if their surroundings stay the same.
Buying some new clothes, setting a schedule, even packing a backpack and lunchbox (yes, just to walk to the kitchen table), might get them in the mindset of being “in school” during the week, and make the rest of your job easier.
Identify the Space (or Spaces)
Likewise, creating a workspace can help focus the mind and body to learn. Whether that’s a separate room or just a corner of their bedroom, work on making it feel distinctly apart from the distraction of toys, devices, and their comfy beds.
After six months of this, it is not news to tell you that being home all day can be monotonous and depressing. So while those Pinterest-ready school nooks are great, consider not being tied down to one area. This also grants you the flexibility to make a change if something isn’t working when school starts. Speaking of flexibility, try to build in movement breaks, especially for little ones—including outdoor “recess” during lunch break, if possible.
When planning out space, think about your kids’ ages, schedules, and the kind of work they are being asked to do. Older kids may very well learn best at a small individual desk with their laptops, while little kids might do better with a play table or even just the kitchen table so they can spread out with art supplies. Our daughter is entering first grade, so we are planning a little desk in her room for individual written work and instruction, plus ceding the kitchen table for art class and other projects (or just if she needs a change of scenery).
Block Out Distraction
While you may be tempted to brighten up the space with decorations, don’t go overboard and make it too distracting. A big wall calendar and whiteboard are great things to have in the workspace. A decorative wooden panel reminding them to Dance Like No One’s Watching? Not so sure about that one.
Our Content Director Pamela Badolato will have three of her kids in cyber school this year, and shared an ingenious (and inexpensive) hack: trifold boards. Yes, those heavy cardboard science fair staples also can help block out distractions like the colorful toys across the bedroom, or siblings at the dining room table if they’re sharing a workspace. Even better, she suggests cutting holes in the boards to send laptop wires through so they’re not awkwardly wrapping around and knocking down the makeshift cubicle.
Another great tool to keep in your virtual school arsenal is a pair of noise-canceling headphones, especially if you have multiple kids doing Zoom meetings. As with all things, this depends on your kids. If you foresee yourself repeating the teacher’s questions and reminding your kid to focus every five minutes, headphones probably won’t be that helpful in your endeavor.
Keep it Together
Small spaces mean getting creative with storage, or the sheer amount of papers and school supplies will bury you. In the city, the concept of building up rather than out applies here too. Remember when I said to not crowd your walls? Well, that means they are free to doubles as storage space! Floating shelves make use of the walls, or you can buy a simple pegboard and hanging containers (IKEA has this one for $10 and little containers that hang on it here), like so:
Another simple addition—especially if you are planning on changing rooms throughout the school day like we are—is a tiered cart that can house all the school supplies, papers, and more. Wheel it from the bedroom to the kitchen table and BOOM, instant classroom! You can find them on Amazon, Target, wherever. You can even repurpose a bar cart if you have one of those!
A little organizer to hold folders and pencils on the desk can also be helpful if it fits. You can find a simple one in stores, or—let’s be honest—use like a cute cup or decorate an empty coffee can (as a back-to-school project, of course, you fun parent!) and it will work just as well.
As I mentioned earlier, their backpacks are not useless just because they are staying home. Rather than organizing their school supplies on the desk or walls, you can pack their backpack and have them pull out what they need as they need it. If you have multiple kids working in the same space, this is also a great way to ensure their stuff doesn’t get all mixed together. And like the cart, this can facilitate movement between work areas.
Whether they already have a laptop, just got one, or are borrowing one from school, this is the most important item for virtual school so take time to get it set up and learn to use it. For small kids, this might be their first experience even using a laptop, so teaching them how to turn it on (and not mistakenly turn it off during school!), how to use the trackpad, and how to open programs, is a good first step. And if they seem intimidated or reluctant to learn, tell them it involves the same skills they will need to open YouTube on their own and watch countless toy unboxings—trust me, they will change their tune.
Taking time to make sure all the apps their teachers have indicated they need for school are installed, accounts are set up, and log-ins are preset can save so much time (and anxiety). Bookmark links like Google Classroom, their Zoom meetings, and more to save time as well.
That’s Really It
Close Pinterest now, and abandon that online shopping cart that has zero notebooks but like three different pompom garlands. You have what you need, or at the very least a short trip to Target will complete the package.
School is next week, and while pandemic nesting is a way for some parents to deal with the anxiety the new year brings, it is not making your kids any happier. Instead, deal with the clutter and doubt within—discuss your kids’ hopes, fears, and goals with them. Strategize together and try to help them feel as stable and supported as possible, no matter what the year brings.
Families sense and feed off each other’s anxiety, and in a little city apartment, there is nowhere for that to go. So please, stay (virtually) connected to other parents, and make space for yourself in all this—call a friend, schedule Skype therapy, go for a run, drink some wine with your partner after the kids go to bed, release stress by dancing like no one’s watching (even though I told you not to buy that sign!), whatever it takes. Stay strong, and stop comparing—we are all falling apart and doing way more than we planned, but we are not alone.