It’s a sad, confusing, frustrating time for educators, parents and students alike across the country who are about to navigate distance learning or some kind of in-class model that feels much too experimental for many of us. Whatever decision you’ve made, or are about to make, if it’s the right one for your family’s needs, it’s the right decision. Period.
And if, like us, you’ve decided to keep your kids home (at least temporarily) and tackle this “virtual classroom” remote learning situation, I wanted to share the homeschool room ideas we’ve come up with for our own space in case it helps give you some inspiration to set up your own.
While I’ll preface this post by telling you that I’m definitely NOT a homeschooling mom and this will NEVER be a homeschooling blog, I do have some resources that you may find useful as you start to figure out your own virtual classroom model:
- We used at least one of the links in this free homeschooling resources post at some point every “school” day from March to June when schools were closed
- I also put together a big list of fun things to do at home for kids that has oodles of ideas that will still work during round two of remote learning
Homeschool room ideas: what do we need to buy?
Since we’ve been down to one income since March — and it looks like I may only get one day a week to myself for work once school starts and I become a virtual classroom supervisor — I really didn’t want to spend a lot of money on our homeschool classroom.
If you’re also hoping this is a temporary situation and have no plans to be at home with your kids 24/7 long-term, investing in a makeshift space that you’ll only tear down in three, six or even 12 months could become a giant waste of money. So, before you make a shopping list, look in every corner of your house and ask family members for things you may need. I also turned to Kijiji and Facebook Marketplace to save money.
Here are the things I think we’ll need for this year’s distant learning:
- Devices — we probably put the most thought into this piece of the puzzle, because trying to make it work last March was merely an exercise in cobbling together electronics we already had and hoping for the best. Several times, Miss Q’s Asus VivoBook files had to be emptied to make room for software updates and new work; it worked but it definitely wasn’t ideal. And the more I thought about things like ease-of-use, portability (for days I need to drop them off at my parents’ house if I have a deadline), storage space, versatility, privacy and other concerns, the more I thought that adapting our iPads made the most overall sense and was a better use of our money. Instead of buying the ever-popular Chromebook, we added Apple Smart Keyboards to the kids’ iPads (which make use of something you may already have) and we’ll download things like Google Drive, Google Classroom, SeeSaw and more. There’s no need for a software suite like Microsoft Office because they’ll be able to use Google Docs for assignments. One sweet bonus with using iPads is that they’ll still be able to chat with their friends on FaceTime or Messenger Kids like they have been since March. Plus we’ll be able to keep monitoring and managing device time and downloads with Family Sharing. Full disclosure: I’ve heard mixed reports from teachers about how well iPads worked for the emergency distance learning, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that any kinks are worked out for this go-round. We had plenty of kinks using laptops, too, so I suspect it was that everyone was thrown into an urgent situation leaving little time to troubleshoot bugs. Only time will tell…
- If we’d gone with regular laptops again this time, I would have added Buddha Boards to my list because we went through SO MUCH paper doing long-form math work last time and I’m also trying to be environmentally conscious this time, too; instead, we’ll use the Apple Pencils we already have and they can find a blank “page” on their iPads to do math work without wasting paper (why didn’t I think of that last time?!)
- Don’t forget a good surge-protective electrical cord to plug everything into that has a long enough cord to sit comfortably between multiple siblings if you have more than one kid
- Desks — we toyed with the idea of using our plastic six-foot table that we normally pull out during BBQs to create a buffet table, but it just wouldn’t have given each kid enough space to spread out. In the end, we found two basic IKEA desks on Kijiji that just barely fit along the wall we designated for our remote learning space. They’re nothing fancy and they don’t have drawers or any other storage, which is why we needed…
- A bookcase — to house not only actual books but to keep all of the extras and knick-knacks out of the way. Easy enough to grab stuff but if it’s not being used daily, that’s where it will belong
- Chairs — we didn’t want to invest in new chairs so we just repurposed two dining room chairs and added cushions, but you could also use any fold-up or lawn chairs you have kicking around
- Books — from general interest books (think animals and science) to hobby reading (that is, the books your kids eagerly choose for personal reading) to books that go with virtual classroom assignments (e.g. we’ve found teaching units for Harry Potter books). Also, a dictionary and thesaurus (but if you don’t already have these, direct your kids to the online versions!)
- Personal bins — we’re using the same bins I made up for the kids in March for easy-to-grab necessities, plus some other repurposed plastic bins under their desks for work in progress, etc.
- Earphones — The K Man was going to continue to use his gaming headset but when we learned that they needed to be charged every three hours, that went out the window so we grabbed two inexpensive pairs of headphones with mics for both of them; these have great reviews and are only around $35 (P.S. none of these links are affiliate codes; they’re legit just products I researched and ordered myself)
- Notepads — for to-do lists, doodles and more
- Other supplies — pens, pencils, pencil crayons and markers and organization systems for these, erasers, rulers, glue, scissors, protractors, Post-Its, etc.
- Calculators — just last year’s leftovers, nothing fancy
- Stress-busters — fidget-spinners, stress balls, Silly Putty and other distraction-friendly manipulatives
- Paper — lined, blank, graph, construction, etc.
- Arts & crafts supplies
- Math manipulatives
- Glasses — blue-light non-prescription glasses; look, I know the jury is out on these but using my own anecdotal evidence, they work when you’re in front of a device for hours at a time. I notice a difference when I wear my glasses that have a blue lens coating on them
And a few maybes:
- A printer — we made do without one from March to June so instead of spending more money now, I’m taking a wait-and-see approach and keeping this on the radar before pulling the trigger
- White board? Magnetic board? Cork board? Combo board? Who knows…we have a few of these kicking around but I’m going to try to keep everything organized on their iPads if I can
Phew! Is that it? Gawd, I hope so. But we’ll only know for sure once we dive in.
Homeschool room ideas: where do we put the kids?
I don’t know what your kids’ bedrooms are like, but each of mine already have big desks in their bedrooms, which are part of their furniture sets. We designed their rooms right out of the gate with the right sockets for power and even old-school phone jacks and hardwired internet access.
But the idea behind this was for traditional homework — not distance learning during a you-know-what. In no universe will I have my kids in their rooms isolated with devices for five or more hours a day. I’ve said since they were born that I’d never allow TVs or computers in their rooms, so I’m not about to start now.
Although we won’t be winning any interior design awards for our remote learning space, which is set up at the back of our dining room, I’m really happy with the way it turned out. And better still, our kids are excited about it.
We used our dining room table for emergency distant learning when schools shut down in March and my table became one part art centre and one part device and basket central. It was a damn mess and, frankly, an eyesore that reminded me of our situation every time I walked down the stairs each morning.
This time, I wanted something that gave us our table back but still gave the kids lots of natural light, their own personal space, plenty of storage for All The Things and yet kept them all together in a central environment where I can ensure they’re focused and engaging appropriately and have easy access to their books and supplies. And I can do it while cooking, baking or working 20 feet away in the kitchen.
Repurposing two dining room chairs meant we didn’t clutter up the space any more than we needed to, and we can just swivel them back to the table if we have our bubble over for dinner. Easy.
Homeschool room ideas: what our at-home virtual classroom looks like
A virtual classroom is only virtual for the remote learning instructor/teacher. It’s very much like an actual classroom at our end of things!
We set up the kids’ desks as mirror images of each other (fair is important in the land of sibling rivalry, you know). Here’s a look at their desk set-ups:
And within easy reach is the bookcase that houses arts & crafts supplies in the basket on top, The K Man’s beloved National Geographic magazines and some science and animal books — with a couple of decor items to make it look like maybe we shoved that bookcase there on purpose:
Next, we lined up a series of bins that hold pens, pencils, pencil crayons, markers and pencil sharpeners:
And finally, we got some cheap cardboard baskets and organized them into the following categories:
- Science activities
- Math manipulatives
- Arts activities
- Craft activities
- Extra paper and notebooks
- Miscellaneous activities (e.g. there’s a slingshot in there along with other random stuff for breaks and outdoor “recess”)
And there you have it — our virtual classroom and homeschool room ideas brought to life! I am filled with hope that we can re-evaluate and get these kiddos of ours back into an actual classroom in January. Until then, we will continue to look for silver linings and adventure. And pray we don’t kill each other in the process. 😉
Happy homeschooling…or whatever the heck this will be.