Strategies help adjust kids’ rooms for successful virtual learning

Courtesy of Tessa Steller
Renovated kids' room in Niskayuna.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Courtesy of Tessa Steller Renovated kids' room in Niskayuna.

Categories: Fall Home

With things still unclear as to when children might fully return to in-school learning, one thing is becoming certain: Parents and caregivers should prepare for the continuation of home-based learning for this school year.

With hurdles many experienced through March, April, May and June still fresh in their minds, a pair of local parents knew they needed to get creative to make sure their kids were set to go virtual.

We’re talking about a whole different world of school supplies. Yes, pens, pencils and notebooks were still on the list, but headsets, desks, lamps and desk chairs are there, too. And for good reason.

“This past spring, my three kids were stationed at the kitchen table, each on a Chromebook, as we all tried to juggle Zoom calls and classwork,” said Tessa Steller, a Niskayuna resident and mom to third-grade twin girls and a fourth-grade son. Steller was also adjusting to her role as a virtual reading teacher employed by Catapult for Saint Kateri Tekakwitha Parish School in Schenectady. Quiet and space were at a premium, she said. And by premium, she meant hard to find.

“I tried to create a schedule to include snack time and break time, and some days things seemed to work better than others,” Steller said.

But although Steller said she would have loved to have situated each child in their own space to keep squabbles and distractions to a minimum, their bedrooms were more suited for play and sleep than work.

That’s why her to-do list this summer included a bedroom makeover, done with budget, space and virtual learning in mind. And since the girls celebrated their eighth birthday this past August, the makeover became a gift in and of itself — as much to Steller and her husband, Jordan, as to their girls.

Since the girls share a bedroom, two twin beds plus two desks and a dresser, and all of the trappings of two active girls meant that things in their previous state felt crowded and cramped. There was little to no space for “activities,” to quote that famous line from the movie “Stepbrothers.”

Steller’s solution included a set of bunk beds with built-in storage, which she felt would help the room feel bigger and more open. She compared dozens of options online and toured local retailers before landing on an “assemble-it-yourself, solid-wood” bunk bed with a trundle (ideal for sleepovers in a post-COVID world), courtesy of Wayfair.

Then, she tucked the two basic desks, purchased from Ikea last year, that space limitations and clutter had previously deemed unusable for schoolwork, in front of a pair of windows, situating desk lamps, pencil cups and notebooks at the ready.

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A few bits of flair, such as wire-frame display boards from HomeGoods and a low pile rug from Overstock, in addition to some starry string lights, fluffy pillows and accessories purchased from Pottery Barn, Target and Amazon, freshened up the space to an extent that the girls have deemed their room a dreamy oasis with plenty of space to practice their daily dance routines.

They’ve even promised to tidy it up before Zoom calls, should the occasion arise, and have agreed to wear their new sparkly, over-the-ear headsets for class so each can work without disturbing the other. It means Steller will be able to reclaim the kitchen table for her own virtual classes and meals with the family — something she’s equally thrilled about.

Steller is so pleased with the results that she’s actively scoping out a lofted bed with a built-in desk for her son while trying to remain hopeful that he’ll be doing most of his learning inside a classroom.

If you’re looking to get your kids, tweens and teens settled in a similar fashion, here are a few things to consider that won’t even require a trip to the store:

  • Lighting is everything. As the days get shorter, lighting will become increasingly important in terms of helping students of all ages stay focused and alert. Think about it: Some subjects are inherently dense; add a dimly lit room and you’ve created a snooze fest waiting to happen. Repurpose a floor lamp from another part of your house or add an inexpensive desk lamp like the ones Steller snagged at Target for $10 apiece. If you can position their desk spaces near a window, even better.
  • Distractions are everywhere. Just as clutter can stress you out as a parent, it can stress your kid out, too — or worse, tempt them away from class time and toward playtime. If you’re able, consider tucking miscellaneous trinkets and other odds and ends out of sight — in baskets, bins, drawers and closets. Even if it means you end up with a few buckets of things to sort later, make a note and take action when you feel you can.
  • A clean surface is essential. Whether it’s an actual desk, a folding TV table or a portion of a dining table, start with a clean slate — with materials you need for that day’s learning set out, and nothing else.
  • Headsets aren’t just helpful, they’re key. Over-the-ear, in-ear, bluetooth, connected … there are countless options, but if you can, choose a headset with a built-in mic to ensure that students can participate easily. If you’ve got more than one student working in a shared space, consider a headset with noise cancellation capabilities, which can help students maintain focus.
  • Take a seat, but make it comfy (just not too comfy). Even if a student’s preference is to tuck into bed and work, encourage them to take a seat, literally. Pull out your old computer chair or add a back cushion to a dining chair — whatever it might be, make sure they’ve got a designated seat that allows for good posture. Seeing as students won’t be shifting classrooms at the bell, they’ll likely be sitting in place for longer periods of time, which can create discomfort.

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