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Here’s all the gear you need to send your kids back to (virtual) school this year

School is going to be weird for everyone, make sure you’re equipped with the best tools.

virtual school education
Image: Unsplash

We’ve already shown you how to make the most of your work-from-home space, but with the start of the school year fast approaching (or already here for some), it’s time to set up a remote learning space for your kids.

With going into school physically not a viable or safe option, many school districts have taken the lead in making online learning at home the only option for the school year, or allowing remote learning as an option if you prefer to not send your kids into a building that’s likely going to expose them to the novel coronavirus. I mean, if one kid at school gets a cold, everyone picks it up, right?

If remote learning is in your immediate future, don’t panic. We’ll give you some tips on how to set up a space so your child can effectively learn, and what tools or devices you might need to buy if you don’t already have them.

Create a dedicated workspace

Image: “studying together?” by mitikusa.net

Whether you’re a lifelong learner or just getting started, your surroundings when learning makes all the difference in your ability to concentrate and retain information. That means a dedicated workspace, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a desk. I’m sure you remember growing up doing homework at the dining table, or on the living room floor with the coffee table as your study area. The important thing is to tailor it to your kid’s learning style, and not to impose your own thoughts on how a working environment should look.

Younger learners will thrive on interaction, so their workspace should be in a central area so they don’t feel isolated. Some older kids will thrive in this environment too, so have a discussion with your kids to figure it out before you go buy furniture or other items. If you already have a home office, a shared part of that for their studying will also increase familial bonding.

Older children in lots of video calls may find sharing a space distracting or embarrassing, so that’s a good reason for their own desk in their bedroom, or space in the living room if it’s not used by other family members during the day. Remember that minimizing distractions is key. You could partition off space with movable privacy screens, or even with green screens if they want to make their Zoom calls more fun with virtual backgrounds.

Some tips to consider:

  • The dedicated area should be just that, consistently being in the same place to build a sense of routine
  • It’s a known fact that most kids aren’t imbued with strong self-discipline (unless you’re lucky!), so everything in their immediate area is a distraction. That probably means you’ll have to do some supervision when it’s actually homework time, so it doesn’t just turn into “play with all the toys time.”
  • Having electronics such as computers or iPads in the bedroom tempts your kid to stay up later than bedtime. Even if this is just to finish up homework, it builds an unhealthy relationship with work so should be discouraged. There are many devices and apps that can help with limiting screen use after a set time of the day, from Circle to apps, to inbuilt options on Apple or Android devices.
  • Their desk might end up being storage, while school work is done at the kitchen table. That’s okay, just like how you might be wearing sweatpants instead of slacks now, let them work where they’re most comfortable

They might like still feeling like they’re at school and moving between classrooms. It’s easy to do that with a movable trolley, like this one from alvorog, or with a sturdy backpack like one from Hex, who is one of our favorites at the moment.

We’ll talk about headphones for older kids needing to video conference later, but if your littles have trouble blocking out external noise to watch their educational videos, Puro has some great active noise-canceling headphones that also have volume limiting so they won’t damage their hearing. Get some active noise-canceling headphones for yourself while you’re at it, like these stylish Master & Dynamic MW65’s which sound as good as they look.

Desk duty

bedroom desk

Image: “bedroom desk december” by goodiesfirst

The only hard-and-fast rule for your kid’s learn-from-home equipment needs is a stable, flat surface to work on. Sure, thousands of teen dramas show books splayed over the bed, but have you ever tried writing like that? Yeah, didn’t think so. Find some space for their creativity to blossom and you’ll have an easier time supporting the rest of their learning.

  • Preschool or Kindergarten: At this age, all they really need is enough space for art and hands-on learning tools. That could be any flat surface and a chair that they’re okay sitting in for any amount of time. Younger kids don’t sit still for long anyway, so if they’re able to get up and move easily that’s a bonus. We already had a table from Skip n Hop, so we plan on getting the chairs that match, but any low table would work well. At this age, school won’t consist of many books, notebooks, or other supplies, so you can probably get along just fine with the movable caddy mentioned earlier.
  • Elementary age: Ah, the time that schoolbooks start stacking up. A desk with integral storage would help here, just make sure that any shelves don’t cover essential worktop space. You’ll want to aim for a desk that’s at least 31 inches wide, and 24 inches deep. That’s enough for notebooks and a laptop, with space for other supplies as needed.
  • High School: Most of the school day will be structured around focused work by now, so a solid desk is a must. If you didn’t get one large enough to grow into while they were in Elementary, it’s time to upgrade, possibly with one that will also travel to college with them one day

Wherever their learning space is, you’ll want to make sure that it is well-lit.

Help them to organize by giving them the tools and skills necessary

nanoleaf canvas light panels above desk

Image: Nanoleaf

Now you’ve got a study area marked out, it’s time to create some structure in other ways.

A small whiteboard near the desk is a great place to put a list of the assignments due that week, and you can also put which subject area your learner should be doing on any given day. That helps with a more physical reminder of the day’s tasks, even while most schools have pivoted to digital tools. If you get a larger one or want to repurpose a small tablet into a digital calendar, you can also put your meeting schedule on there, so you can coordinate schedules and both get the quiet time you need for those video chat meetings.

It can be hard to adjust to the new flow when the period bells and routines of in-person school is no longer there. We’re not saying to put a school bell into your home, but there are ways that won’t give you a headache. Nanoleaf has some of the coolest light panels around, but they’re not just decorative. You can link them to your voice assistants to change color based on timers and other events, which is a game-changer for things like reminders to take a break or switch subjects. Oh, and they can be set to respond to music as well.

For those times that they actually need to take notes with a pen, we really like Moleskine’s range of no-roll pens. You could also pick up one of their handy planners, as there’s a good argument to be made over how physically writing something down helps you recall it later, and nothing is more important than those assignment due dates.

If your little learner has ADHD, or generally has focus issues, the need for structure is even more paramount. Play Attention‘s system, iLab, has been used for 26 years by therapists and other professionals that help students train their focus and mindfulness, as well as their executive function.

Make those video calls pop

Image: KnowTechie

We’re not saying that you need to add flaming Elmo gif backgrounds to your kid’s Zoom calls, but adding virtual backgrounds is a great way of hiding the rest of the physical room. Think of it as an equality maker, as they can choose to be anywhere they want (teacher willing, of course). To do this effectively, you’ll want a green screen to put behind your child’s seat. Those are pretty bulky though so if you don’t have a lot of space, there’s the Cam-A-Lot, which attaches to the back of their chair and provides enough green space to cover the close camera angle of video calls.

The other important thing for video calls is a good headset with a clear mic. Most headsets with microphones attached are hot garbage, but Sennheiser bucks that trend with mics that make you sound good. The new EPOS GSP 600, 601, and 602 headsets are all closed-back, for no sound leakage, and have lift-to-mute boom mics for those important calls.

Accessorize their devices

brother printer on side table

Image: Brother

You’ve probably already grabbed a laptop or iPad as soon as you saw an “in-stock” notification over the summer, which is just as well because the demand is vastly outstripping the supply right now for most devices. Younger learners can probably get away with an iPad for their occasional school video chats, and for virtual play-dates with their classmates, but you’ll want to protect that device as it’s the only link your little one has to education and social skills right now. Catalyst has some great, fully-waterproof cases for the iPad 10.2-inch, which will protect the iPad from bumps, scrapes, and yes, dunks. Anyone who’s found their smartphone in the toilet will know how essential that protection is.

A height-adjustable stand is also a must-buy, so they can raise the iPad camera to the right height for those video conferencing calls. If they’re using a laptop, we really like the stylish Rain Design iLevel2.

You’ll also want to pick up a Bluetooth mouse, which can be used on the iPad now, and also on a laptop later on. Unless you’ve bought a MacBook, in which case the touchpad might actually be usable for something other than a wrist rest. We love the Logitech MX Master 3, which can easily transfer between three devices, and connect via Bluetooth or the included dongle. If a stylus is a better option for handwriting practice, Adonit has some of the best third-party options for the iPad, and we particularly like the Note UV-C, which has an inbuilt UV-C lamp for sterilizing the iPad screen (or anything else really) so that’s one thing you don’t have to worry about collecting germs.

A printer is probably essential too, as not every assignment can be done digitally. We prefer to recommend laser printers over inkjets, partly because of ink costs but also because they’re less messy. The Brother HL-L3210CW is compact, prints in full color, at up to 19 pages per minute. That’s important when you’ve got multiple people in the house printing off long documents as well as assignments, and it’ll also let you print from any wireless devices in the house. You can also link it to Amazon Dash, so it’ll automatically order you more toner once it runs out. Now that’s nifty.

The last few finishing touches

my-pak first aid kit

Image: KnowTechie

Okay, since you’re now the Principal, Teacher, and also the School Nurse, it’s probably a good time to restock your home first aid kit. Chinook has some of the best kits around, and you probably want the larger ones, such as the Home & Vehicle kit. You’ll want to supplement that with the My PAK-Child kit as well, which comes with life-saving items such as Boost Oxygen for those critical minutes between a 911 call and the first responders arriving.

You’ll also want to do everything in your power to keep them hydrated while they study. Sure, the sink is only a few steps away but to ensure they’ll drink, some nice flavorings are a must. We love the LifeFuels smart bottle, which lets you load up three flavor pods and mix your own concoctions, with additions such as electrolytes, natural energy, and more, all from the handy app which also tracks your hydration.

That’s most of the bases covered, but don’t sweat it if their learning space isn’t perfect or organized to the level of a mini-classroom. Remember, you’re only the facilitator of their school’s distance learning plan, not a full-fledged homeschooler. Unless you decided homeschooling is the way forward, in which case, we wish you luck.

What do you think? Do you have any tips for parents or students that are adjusting to digital learning? Let us know down below in the comments or carry the discussion over to our Twitter or Facebook.

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