The hottest commodity right now isn’t toilet paper, or even Clorox wipes. It’s desks and chairs.
Target’s back-to-school section is usually ransacked, but this year it’s stocked with things no one is buying: backpacks, lunchboxes, pencil cases. So 2019. Ikea, on the other hand, is woefully understocked. Good luck snagging a desk at a decent price.
All summer, we tried to pretend school wasn’t happening virtually in the fall. It’s here now, and parents are scrambling. We asked three experts — an occupational therapist, a designer and a teacher — how to set up the kids for learning at home.
The occupational therapist
The important thing isn’t a particular chair or desk, it’s creating good posture. (This applies to adults, too, not just kids.)
“One thing to aim for would be good positioning for posture,” says Kerry Canning, an occupational therapist at Lowell Elementary School in Seattle. “I love to see a 90-90-90 position, which means a 90-degree angle at the elbows, hips and knees with feet flat.”
You can prop feet up on a shoebox or a small stool to get them to rest comfortably. Elevate the computer on books so it’s at eye level. Opt for a chair with a back, so it’s more comfortable for sitting for long durations.
Too much sitting? Lying on their bellies propped up on their elbows is a good way to pay attention, as long as the kids don’t have to type. Try kneeling in front of an ottoman for good core engagement. Or get a little bounce sitting on a therapy ball (but be warned that those can be too much fun).
Finding the right position for your kid takes a little trial and error. “Everyone’s different,” Canning says. “It sometimes works for some kids but not for others.
Make a point to give your eyes a break from the screen. Use the 20-20-20 rule: for every 20 minutes of staring at the screen, look 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
Remember to stand up and stretch. “I think what’s going to be important is getting up and moving.” Canning says. “At least every half-hour to hour, for sure, would be good. I can’t see kids sitting for an hour straight on a computer.”
Teachers spend hours and hours prepping their classrooms to create an exciting and engaging environment … but no one wants to feel like they’re living in a classroom.
“It can look organized and calming, and I think that’s one of the things people need now,” says Caitlin Jones Ghajar, principal designer at Caitlin Jones Design, which is based in Seattle and the Bay Area.
Instead of school supplies overrunning the house, Ghajar set up a seagrass basket for each of her three kids. Now even her 18-month-old knows that’s where her books go.
Ghajar recommends setting up a separate school zone for kids — not the dining table. For her boys, 6 and 8, Ghajar installed a floating desk in their bedroom, made from a cedar tree from their yard. In an apartment, you might use a fold-down desk. Maybe it’s something you could repurpose: A small writing desk used for home schooling can later become a console table behind your sofa. Or buy a solid core door. Do a fun painting project with the kids and let them use their favorite colors. Cut the door down, add legs, and you’ve got two personalized desks.
“I think it’s critical that, regardless of how big or small it is, that kids have their own spot to learn,” Ghajar says. “It’s an area they can call their own.”
Use big binder clips to create a grid on the wall above the desk. Now you’ve got an organized display for papers and artwork that’s easy to change up. Corral pencils, crayons and markers in big glass jars so kids can see what they need. Put their schedules in inexpensive picture frames — you can write on the glass with dry erase markers.
And get the kids involved: “If they’re able to feel connected to that space, they’ll be much more likely to want to be there,” Ghajar says.
Families with multiple kids, families in a condo or a one-bedroom apartment: Sometimes the only place to log on to school is a bedroom or the dining table. And that’s great, as long as each kid has headphones.
“The No. 1 thing I would recommend that everyone have is headphones with a speaking microphone connected to it,” says Hannah Hansen, a teacher at John Hay Elementary School in Seattle. “It’s really nice for them to be zoned in and be able to hear everything.”
Hansen also recommends having a routine for maintaining a clean, organized workspace. In her classroom, Hansen has her students clean out their desks every Friday. On screen, the kids show her weekly on the camera that their school bins are organized.
“Just make sure you’re on top of recycling old work,” Hansen says. “Otherwise you’re going to have a year’s worth of old papers. It piles up fast.”
Teachers have to be on top of kids who might — ahem — have other browser windows open, and it also helps to minimize distractions at home. Like Nintendo Switches, for example. “If you know your kid is a video-game fiend, their student workspace should be as far away as possible from that,” Hansen says.
It’ll take time for everyone to get used to this way of going to school. There might be some growing pains at first, Hansen says, but kids are adaptable.
“The teachers are partners in this,” she adds. “If parents have questions or need help brainstorming, teachers are natural problem solvers. Don’t hesitate to reach out.”