Designate the perfect space, establish a routine for optimal learning, and stock up on the best supplies, as recommended by our experts.

By Madison Yauger
August 19, 2020
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Lucas Allen

With the season of colorful foliage and pumpkin drinks approaching, so follows the traditional school year. Although "school" will look different this time around, having a designated homework space will help your children refocus on learning. "The current moment is testing everyone's resolve," says Lisa Fiore, Ph.D., chair of the education division at Lesley University and director of the Child Homelessness Initiative. She reminds parents that "everyone has individual learning styles and needs, so these are just suggestions, and in communication with your child's teachers, you can come up with strategies that work for your child, because you know them best."

As recommended by our experts, here are a few ways to design an ideal homework station for your children to get down to work at home.

Find the right space.

What does "right" mean? "It depends on the kid," says Fiore. "I suspect places with more foot traffic might be more distracting, but a homework station doesn't have to be an isolated space." She explains that using sound machines or phone apps can help if your child needs a little background noise. "I love the permission to not force silence, since classrooms are rarely silent," she says. Where your child sits can also impact learning. "Some kids might work better with a pillow on the floor, but kids with sensory integration issues tend to do better with a chair that has boundaries such as edges, side bars, and a back," says Fiore. 

Make supplies accessible.

First, check with your child's teacher to make sure you have all of the necessary supplies for the year; then you can get started on making a fun supply station. Basics for young students include safety scissors, glue sticks, construction paper, markers, and crayons; older students, on the other hand, will need calculators, notebooks, rulers, pencils, and erasers.

And expand what you consider to be the list of necessary supplies. "Something to occupy children's hands and feet, such as a squeeze ball can be good," suggests Fiore. "It actually mitigates distraction, giving their bodies something to do while their minds focus on the task." Plus, having snacks and water handy can prevent your child from leaving their homework and getting distracted. 

Stick to a schedule.

"Schools will likely have more structure this fall than in the spring because everyone was in survival mode," says Fiore. In any case, it's good to form a work routine with your children. You might have a morning meeting with your kids to go over the daily schedule and your expectations, suggests Dr. Kenneth Schuster, a clinical neuropsychologist in the learning and development center at the Child Mind Institute. Recognize developmental stages, especially if you have kids of different ages. "Younger kids are not expected to sit and be diligent workers like older kids," he says. Setting manageable time limits for assignments is a great way to ensure solid focus. Dr. Schuster mentions that for elementary-age students, 10 minutes is usually the maximum time for one activity before they should switch activities or take a break and come back; for older students, a class is usually 30 to 45 minutes before taking a break.

After the allotted time passes, move on to another activity or encourage outdoor time. "Getting kids outside in the fresh air and sunlight, moving around, will make things more effective inside," says Dr. Schuster. 

Stay organized.

With older kids, an agenda is essential for meeting assignment deadlines. For youngsters, dry erase boards or chalkboards are both good for idea stimulation and creativity, and allow your child to check off tasks as they complete them. Dr. Schuster has instilled the idea of a clean workspace in his own children, like they would find in a classroom. "The day runs more smoothly if they can find everything they need," he says. Fiore thinks that working from home might teach more self-regulation, but she still encourages parents to check in with their kids to gauge how their minds and bodies are handling the workload and possible stress. 

Create positive reinforcement.

In the transition from school to home learning, opportunities for praise and reinforcement can get lost, says Dr. Schuster. "When everyone is at home at the same time, praise slips through the cracks, as parents may not be as present due to their own work pressures." He suggests laying out a plan for the week and celebrating achievements with a pizza party or other fun activity. "Just having half an hour of uninterrupted mom or dad time is huge, especially for kids with attention disorders."

Homework can be tedious, and it's nice to have a visual of why your child is working so hard in the first place. Creating a vision board of goals and motivations can be a fun way to instill a good work ethic. For older students, this might feature images of a dream college or job, and for younger kids a picture of an ice cream sundae could do the trick. 

Dr. Schuster reminds parents to be gentle on themselves. "We're all in this together," he says, "Even me. I've counseled so many parents and families, and I'm still figuring it out as I go, too."

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