Today I’m sharing tips to organize your kids’ distance learning space at home. This post stems from my background as an elementary teacher, not from having the most beautiful desk or office to share. As you’ll see, we are making do with what we have, and that’s fine with me. Since the school year will start in just a few weeks, I’m trying to prep a functional space and motivate the kids for a year of distance learning. I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve, for kids of all ages, but I’d also love to hear your ideas in the comments. We are all in this together!
This post contains affiliate links. Read my full disclosure here. Thanks for your support!
Designate a Distance Learning Space
This is an obvious first step; you should carve out a specific area where distance learning happens. Once the space feels routine and familiar, it will help your child focus. The kitchen table is fine, if that works best for you. We ended the last school year with distance learning at our table, but for the coming year, I’ve set up a desk for my kids. If you can give children their own work station, it will also be easier to corral school supplies and workbooks.
I stumbled across this free desk out on the street in my neighborhood last month. Never one to pass up decent free furniture, I immediately ran back home and grabbed Wyatt to help me load it in the van. I plan to eventually paint the desk (maybe a pastel ombre?), but that’s on hold for now. Instead, I’m going to let our 4- and 7-year-old boys relax and do their work on the scratched surface. Why fix it up before a year+ of writing, coloring, gluing, cutting, stamping, and taping? #livingtheirbestlives
Add Creature Comforts
Think about where you’re reading this right now – are you comfy? One way to make distance learning feel more enjoyable is to let your child set up cozy seating. As you can see, we have a stool parked under the desk, and it’s actually a balance stool to help my son concentrate. This is a great OT (occupational therapy) device that works for many kids.
For fidgety/active kids, you could also inflate a stability ball and teach them to use it in place of a chair. You’ll be able to decide pretty quickly if it helps your child focus or is more of a distraction. If that’s the case, save it as a reward for getting work done. I found these on Amazon and they have little feet to keep the ball in place when it’s not in use. Other OT devices that work for some kids are these inflatable cushions or these wobble stools, like ours. The cushions should be somewhat squishy, so kids can still shift and wiggle a little bit.
Two more ideas. Chewing gum is both an incentive/reward and a great OT device. There’s even evidence that xylitol can reduce cavities, so I let my older son chew this sugar-free gum. Another thought is to incorporate your family pet in the learning space. Maybe your child would love to read to the dog, or just cuddle with a pet while trying to focus on work. An actual creature comfort is an upside to learning at home!
One note: please think of OT devices as positive supports, not as a sign that something is wrong with your child. There’s nothing wrong with getting a boost that helps you concentrate – we all use them! Maybe starting your day in pjs or parking your mug on a coffee warmer is your OT support. Your child might find it easier to concentrate with physical comforts, too.
Stay on Task By Posting Your Routine
One of the best ways to help your child focus on distance learning is to establish (and stick with) a routine. Oh, you’ve heard that one already? Ha! I know, but it’s so true! Yeah, it doesn’t always work at our house either, but it’s our goal. My point here is that you should post a visual of your routine in your child’s distance learning space.
You can keep a mental schedule, but making a visual schedule will be really helpful to your kids. They can even be in charge of a checklist schedule (paper or white board) or flipping cards as tasks are completed. I’m thinking about breaking out a pocket chart for our daily schedule, but I already have them hanging up for sight words and the calendar. (There’s only so much decorating in “primary classroom style” that I want to do at home. Although the room is painted three shades of pink, so it can’t get much worse…)
Other ideas for a visual schedule: type up your routine and print it out, use pictures to map out a schedule with younger kids, have your child write/draw the schedule, write it on a wall calendar, or go the pro route and buy a pocket chart.
A few tips for sticking to the routine:
– start with exercise, yoga, or meditation, then try some school work
– warm up with an easier topic before diving into harder work
– give kids choices for breaks (Go Noodle, drawing, iPad, free time, etc.)
– schedule video calls (ex: FaceTime with grandparents) for after you plan to finish school work – it will establish a deadline/incentive, in case you get distracted by snacks, phone calls, whining, life, etc.
– plan a fun activity toward the end
– BE FLEXIBLE
Organize School Supplies for Distance Learning
My best organization advice is to gather everything your child needs for distance learning in one spot. Teach your kid that those items LIVE THERE. Meaning, they start the day in that spot and end the day in that spot. Even if your child relocates to complete work somewhere else during the day, teach her to return all items back to the distance learning hub at the end of the day.
More specifically, each item needs a home. Make sure you have a designated container or space for all supplies, books, etc. This is how organized teachers keep an entire classroom sorted and neat. If you want to go the extra step, break out the sharpie and label everything.
To organize supplies, here are some teacher-tested ideas. Use magazine files to hold notebooks and papers, like this cheap cardboard 5-pack from Ikea ($2 for 5!) or these prettier wood or metal options. I used to have my students decorate and personalize the cardboard boxes and use them as their book boxes during reading. If you don’t have a desk with drawers, use a set of plastic drawers for smaller items like erasers, stickers, pencil grips, and paper clips. Or use both, like we do.
Keep all pencils/pens/markers handy and in containers. For those, you can save aluminum cans and paint them as an art project, repurpose small pots, or just buy them. I would also suggest making a rule that pencil sharpeners must be used over a trash can, unless you love to vacuum. (This is our favorite 3-in-1 size pencil sharpener.)
Where to Buy Organization Supplies
Now is the time to hit Target’s Dollar Spot for cheap school organization supplies. Target carries a ton of great $1-5 teaching supplies in late July/early August, but you have to catch them before they’re gone. You can buy some of the same items online here, but it’s not a great selection, so mask up and head to the store. GO NOW. I’ll wait.
This year I bought these word strips for practicing sight words, and I always grab stickers and incentives. In the past, I’ve found flashcards, pocket charts, white boards, incentive charts, plastic bins and supply organizers, labels, signs, nametags, and a million other items that cost more elsewhere.
Target also sells other, nicer home office supplies than those in the dollar bins. I like these hanging metal files for organizing folders and school work. Check them out in the photo of my “wall of school work” below. Here are some good choices at Target. Scroll to the right to see everything.
Ikea is another great spot for affordable organization supplies for your distance learning zone. I mentioned that I used to stock up on these cardboard magazine files for my classroom. They also sell affordable storage boxes and bins.
Amazon is also a good resource for supplies. Here are my plastic drawer sets, and I’ve been eyeing these highly-rated plastic magazine file boxes and file organizers (this triangle shape is fun). Scroll to the right to see everything.
Set Up a Display for Great Work
My last suggestion is along the theme of encouragement and pride. Think about how awesome it feels to see your own work published in a public space. If you set up a bulletin board or other “public” space in your home to display your child’s finished work, it will help mimic the atmosphere of school. If you can, take it a step further than the refrigerator, so it feels special for distance learning.
This matters because creating final work to publish and display is an important step in the learning process. Even if kids are not in a school setting, they should still practice the steps of fixing up, editing, and “publishing” their best work. When they know you will display their work, they’ll put forth extra effort. Younger kids will especially need this physical experience of sharing their best work, especially if they are not asked to publish or share very much through distance learning.
Second, it’s a visual reminder to continue to praise your child’s hard work and effort. I bet you’re already doing that, so keep it up! Even if the final product isn’t as polished as what might come home from school, let it go and find elements to celebrate in the work. You’ll also be able to track the school year through projects and see their growth and skills evolve. My main goal this year is to keep my kids motivated and moving forward. Making a special showcase can help.
Here’s a brilliant idea for using clipboards to display work. My friend Katie hangs clipboards for her kids’ projects and artwork, which they can take down and work on as needed. They rotate through assignments and display completed work on top. Love this!
How Else Can Your Organize Your Kids’ Distance Learning Space?
If you have ideas or thoughts, please send them my way. I would truly love to hear your feedback. If you have kids heading back to school this fall, whether in person or through distance learning, I wish you luck and good health!
Here’s a flashback selfie from my days as an English language development teacher. I’ve been digging out all of my classroom supplies and it’s been fun to reflect.
Read More From List in Progress
Subscribe and never miss a post!
I will only email you 2-3 times per week, MAX. No junk!